The following Hebrew words occur as the names of sheep: צֹאן, tson (varieties צאוֹן tseon, צֹנֵא, tsone, or צֹנֶה, tsoneh), a collective noun to denote "a flock of sheep or goats," to which is opposed the noun of unity, שֶׂה, seh, "a sheep" or "a goat," joined to a masculine where "rams" or "he- goats" are signified, and with a feminine when "ewes" or "she-goats" are meant, though, even in this case sometimes to a masculine (as in Ge 31:10): אִיַל, dyil, "a ram;" רָחֵל, rachel, "a ewe;" כֶּבֶשׂ, keseb, or כֶּשֶׂב, keseb (fem. כַּשׂבָּה, or כַּבשָׂה), "a lamb," or rather "a sheep of a year old or above," opposed to טָלֶה, taleh, "a sucking or very young lamb;" כִּר, kar, is another term applied to a lamb as it skips (כָּרִר) in the pastures. The Chald. אַמִּר, immar (Ezr 6:9,17; Ezr 7:17), is a later word, apparently indicating lambs intended for sacrifice, while עִתּוּד, attud, rendered "ram" in Genesis 31 signifies a he-goat. SEE EWE; SEE LAMB; SEE RAM.
The term קשַׂיטָה, kesitah (literally something weighed out, A.V. "piece of money," Ge 33:19; Job 42:11; "piece of silver," Jos 24:32), has been supposed by many to denote a coin stamped with the figure of a lamb; but Gesenius suggests (Thesaur. p. 1241) that specimens of that sort are probably only those of Cyprus, which bore that mark. SEE KESITAH.
This well known domestic animal has, from the earliest period, contributed to the wants of mankind. Sheep were an important part of the possessions of the ancient Hebrews and of Eastern nations generally. The first mention of sheep occurs in Ge 4:2. The following are the principal Biblical allusions to these animals. They were used in the sacrificial offerings, both the adult animal (Ex 20:24; 1Ki 8:63; 2Ch 29:33) and the lamb, כֵּבֵשׁ, i.e. "a male from one to three years old;" but young lambs of the first year were more generally used in the offerings (see Ex 29:38; Le 9:3; Le 12:6; Nu 28:9, etc.). No lamb under eight days old was allowed to be killed (Le 22:27). A very young lamb was called טִלֶה. taleh (see 1Sa 7:9; Isa 65:25). Sheep and lambs formed an important article of food (1Sa 25:18; 1Ki 1:19; 1Ki 4:23; Ps 64:10; etc.), and ewe's milk is associated with that of the cow (Isa 7:21,23). The wool was used as clothing (Le 13:47; De 22:11; Pr 31:13; Job 31:20, etc.). SEE WOOL. Trumpets may have been made of the horns of rams (Jos 6:4), though the rendering of the A.V. in this passage is generally thought to be incorrect. "Rams' skins dyed red" were used as a covering for the tabernacle (Ex 25:5). Sheep and lambs were sometimes paid as tribute (2Ki 3:4). It is very striking to notice the immense numbers of sheep that were reared in Palestine in Biblical times: see, for instance, 1Ch 5:21; 2Ch 15:11; 2Ch 30:24; 2Ki 3:4; Job 42:12. Especial mention is made of the sheep of Bozrah (Mic 2:12; Isa 34:6), in the land of Edom, a district well suited for pasturing sheep. "Bashan and Gilead" are also mentioned as pastures (Mic 7:14). "Large parts of Carmel, Bashaul, and Gilead," says Thomson (Land and Book, 1, 304), "are at their proper seasons alive with countless flocks" (see also p. 331). "The flocks of Kedar" and "the rams of Nebaioth," two sons of Ishmael (Ge 25:13) that settled in Arabia, are referred to in Isa 60:7. Sheep shearing is alluded to in Ge 31:19; Ge 38:13; De 15:19; 1Sa 25:4; Isa 53:7; etc. Sheep dogs were employed in Biblical times, as is evident from Job 30:1, "the dogs of my flock." From the manner in which they are spoken of by the patriarch it is clear, as Thomson (ibid. 1, 301) well observes, that the Oriental shepherd dogs were very different animals from the sheep dogs of our own land. The existing breed are described as being "a mean, sinister, ill-conditioned generation, which are kept at a distance, kicked about, and half starved, with nothing noble or attractive about them." They were, however, without doubt, useful to the shepherds, more especially at night, in keeping off the wild beasts that prowled about the hills and valleys (comp. Theocrit. Id. 5, 106). Shepherds in Palestine and the East generally go before their flocks, which they induce to follow by calling to them (comp. Joh 10:4; Ps 77:20; Ps 80:1), though they also drove them (Ge 33:13). SEE SHEPHERD. It was usual among the ancient Jews to give names to sheep and goats, as we do to our dairy cattle (see Joh 10:3). This practice prevailed among the ancient Greeks (see Theocrit. Id. 5, 103):
Οὐκ ἀπὸ τᾶς δρυὸς ο῏υτος ὁ Κώμαρος, § τε Κυναίδα; The following quotation from Hartley (Researches in Greece and the Levant, p. 321) is so strikingly illustrative of the allusions in Joh 10:1-16 that we cannot do better than quote it: "Having had my attention directed last night to the words in Joh 10:3, I asked my man if it was usual in Greece to give names to the sheep. He informed me that it was, and that the sheep obeyed the shepherd when he called them by their names. This morning I had an opportunity of verifying the truth of this remark. Passing by a flock of sheep, I asked the shepherd the same question which I had put to the servant, and he gave me the same answer. I then bade him call one of his sheep; he did so, and it instantly left its pasturage and its companions and ran up to the hands of the shepherd with signs of pleasure and with a prompt obedience which I had never before observed in any other animal. It is also true in this country that a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him. The shepherd told me that many of his sheep were still wild, that they had not yet learned their names, but that by teaching them they would all learn them." See also Thomson (1, 301): "The shepherd calls sharply from time to time to remind the sheep of his presence. They know his voice and follow on; but if a stranger call, they stop short, lift up their heads in alarm, and if it is repeated they turn and flee, because they know not the voice of a stranger." Henderson, in Iceland, notices a shepherdess with a flock of fifty sheep, every one of which she professed to know by name (Iceland, 1, 189).
Domestic sheep, although commonly regarded as the progeny of one particular wild species, are probably an instance, among many similar, where the wisdom of Providence has provided subsistence for man in different regions by bestowing the domesticating and submissive instincts upon the different species of animals which the human family might find in their wanderings; for it is certain that even the American argali can be rendered tractable, and that the Corsican musmon will breed with the common sheep. The normal animal, from which all or the greater part of the Western domestic races are assumed to be descended, is still found wild in the high mountain regions of Persia, and is readily distinguished from two other wild species bordering on the same region. What breeds the earliest shepherd tribes reared in and about Palestine can now be only inferred from negative characters; yet they are sufficient to show that they were the same, or nearly so, as the common horned. variety of Egypt and continental Europe: in general white, and occasionally black, although there was on the Upper Nile a speckled race; and so early as the time of Aristotle the Arabians possessed a rufous breed, another with a very long tail, and, above all, a broad-tailed sheep, which at present is commonly denominated the Syrian. These three varieties are said to be of African origin, the red hairy in particular having all the characteristics to mark its descent from the wild Ovis tragelaphus or barbatus, or kebsh of the Arabian and Egyptian mountains. Flocks of the ancient breed, derived from the Bedawin, are now extant in Syria, with little or no change in external characters, chiefly the broad-tailed and the common horned white, often with black and white about the face and feet, the tail somewhat thicker and longer than the European.
The sheep of Syria and Palestine are the broad-tail (Ovis laticaudatus), and a variety of the common sheep of this country (Ovis aries) called the Bidowin, according to Russell (Aleppo, 2, 147). The broad-tailed kind has long been reared in Syria. Aristotle, who lived more than 2000 years ago, expressly mentions Syrian sheep with tails a cubit wide. This or another variety of the species is also noticed by Herodotus (3, 113) as occurring in Arabia. The fat tail of the sheep is probably alluded to in Le 3:9; Le 7:3, etc, as the fat and the whole rump that was to be taken off hard: by the backbone, and was to be consumed on the altar. "The carcass of one of these sheep, without including the head, feet, entrails, and skin, generally weighs from fifty to sixty pounds, of which the tail makes up fifteen pounds; but some of the largest breed, that have been fattened with care, will sometimes weigh 150 pounds, the tail alone composing a third of the whole weight. This tail — a broad and fiatish appendage — has the appearance of a large and loose mass of flesh or fat upon the rump and about the root of the tail; and from the odd motion which it receives when the animal walks one would suppose it connected to the animals' body only by the skin with which it is covered." In the Egyptian variety this tail is quite pendulous and broad throughout, but in the Syrian variety the tail harrows almost to a point towards the end, and the extremity is turned tip. This is a great convenience to the animal. The sheep of the extraordinary size mentioned before are very rare, and usually kept in yards, so that they are in little danger of injuring the tail as they walk. But in the fields, in order to prevent injury from the bushes, the shepherds in several places of Syria fix a thin piece of board on the under part (which is not, like the rest, covered with wool), and to this board small wheels are sometimes added.... The tail is entirely composed of a substance between marrow and fat, serving very often in the kitchen in the place of butter, and, cut into small pieces, makes an ingredient in various dishes;, when the animal is young it is little inferior to the best marrow" (Kitto, Phys. Hist. of Palest. p. 306; see also Thomson, ut sup. 1, 178).
The whole passage in Genesis 30 which bears on the subject of Jacob's stratagem with Laban's sheep is involved in considerable perplexity, and Jacob's conduct in this matter has been severely and uncompromisingly condemned by some writers. We touch upon the question briefly in its zoological bearing. It is altogether impossible to account for the complete success which attended Jacob's device of setting peeled rods before the ewes and she-goats as they came to drink in the watering troughs, on natural grounds. The Greek fathers, for the most part, ascribe the result to the direct operation of the Deity, whereas Jerome and the Latin fathers regard it as a mere natural operation of the imagination, adducing as illustrations in point various devices that have been resorted to by the ancients in the cases of mares, asses, etc., (see Oppian, Cyyneg. 1, 327, 357; Pliny, H.N. 7, 10, and the passages from Quintilian, Hippocrates, and Galen, as cited by Jerome, Grotius, and Bochart). None of the instances cited by Jerome and others are exact parallels with that in question. The quotations adduced, with the exception of those which speak of painted images set before Spartan women inter concipiendum, refer to cases in which living animals themselves, and not reflections of inanimate objects, were the cause of some marked peculiarity in the fetus. Rosenmuller, however (Schol. ad. loc.), cites Hastfeer (De Re Oviria, German version p.17, 30, 43, 46, 47) as a writer by whom the contrary opinion is confirmed. Even granting the general truth of these instances, and acknowledging the curious effect which peculiar sights through some nervous influence do occasionally produce in the fetus of many animals, yet we must agree with the Greek fathers and ascribe the production of Jacob's spotted sheep and goats to divine agency. The whole question has been carefully considered by Nitschmann (De Corylo Jacobi, in Thes. Nov. Theol. Phil. 1, 202-206), from whom we quote the following passage: "Fatemur itaque, cum Vossio aliisque piis viris, illam pecudum imaginationem tantum fuisse causam adjuvantem, ac plus in hoc negotio divinae tribuendum esse virtuti, quae suo concursu sic debilem, causae secundae vim adauxit ut quod ea sola secundum naturam praestare non valeret id divina benedictione supra naturam praestaret;" and then Nitschmann cites the passage in Ge 31:5-13, where Jacob expressly states that his success was due to divine interference; for it is hard to believe that Jacob is here uttering nothing but a tissue of falsehoods, which appears to be the opinion of Kalisch (Hist. and Crit. Comment. Gen. 30 and 31), who represents the patriarch as "unblushingly executing frauds suggested by his fertile invention, and then abusing the authority of God in covering or justifying them. "We are aware that still graver difficulty in the minds of some persons remains, if the above explanation be adopted; but we have no other alternative, for, as Patrick has observed, "let any shepherd now try this device, and he will not find it do what it did then by a divine operation." The greater difficulty alluded to is the supposing that God would have directly interfered to help Jacob to act fraudulently towards his uncle. But are we quite sure that there was any fraud fairly called such in the matter? Had Jacob not been thus aided, he might have remained the dupe of Laban's niggardly conduct all his days. He had served his money loving uncle faithfully for fourteen years. Laban confesses his cattle had increased considerably under Jacob's management, but all the return he got was unfair treatment and a constant desire on the part of Laban to strike a hard bargain with him (Ge 31:7). God vouchsafed to deliver Jacob out of the hands of his hard master, and to punish Laban for his cruelty, which he did by pointing out to Jacob how he could secure to himself large flocks and abundant cattle. God was only helping Jacob to obtain that which justly belonged to him, but which Laban's rapacity refused to grant. "Were it lawful," says Stackhouse, "for any private person to make reprisals, the injurious treatment Jacob had received from Laban, both in imposing a wife upon him and prolonging his servitude without wages, was enough to give him both the provocation and the privilege to do so. God Almighty, however, was pleased to take the determination of the whole matter into his own hands." This seems to us the best way of understanding this disputed subject.
The relation of the sheep to man, in a pastoral country, gave rise to many beautiful symbols and interesting illustrations. Jehovah was the shepherd of his people, and Israel was his flock (Ps 23:1; Ps 80:1; Ps 79:13; Isa 40:11; Jer 23:1-2; Eze 34, and often elsewhere); the apostasy of sinners from God is the straying of a lost sheep (Ps 119:176; Isa 53:6; Jer 50:6); and the ever-blessed Son of God coming down to our world is a shepherd seeking his sheep which were lost (Lu 15:4-6). He is the only shepherd; all who do not own him are thieves and robbers (Joh 10:8); wolves in sheep's clothing (Mt 7:15). He is the good shepherd, who gave his life for the sheep (Joh 10:11); and now he gives them his own life in resurrection, and this is eternal life (ver. 28; Ro 6:9-11; Col 2:12). As the sheep is an emblem of meekness, patience, and submission, it is expressly mentioned as typifying these quantities in the person of our blessed Lord (Isa 53:7; Ac 2:32, etc.).
In the vision of the prophet Daniel, recorded in ch. 8, the Medo-Persian monarchy was seen under the figure of a ram with two unequal horns, which was overthrown by a one-horned he goat, representing the Macedonian power. We have already remarked on the propriety of the latter symbol SEE GOAT, and the former is no less correct. There is abundant evidence that the ram was accepted as the national emblem by the Persian people, as the he goat was by the Macedonians. Ammianus Marcellinus states that the king of Persia wore a ram's head of gold set with precious stones, instead of a diadem. The type of a ram is seen on ancient Persian coins, as on one of undoubted genuineness in Hunter's collection, in which the obverse is a ram's head and the reverse a ram couchant. Rams' heads, with horns of unequal height, are still to be seen sculptured on the pillars of Persepolis.