Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bible Animals

I recently came across the above postcard for sale on Ebay. The illustration is by English Bible artist Margaret Tarrant. Her style is similar to that of Cicely Mary Barker whom she was good friends with. Like Elsie Anna Wood, Tarrant also went to Palestine in the 1930's to sketch and paint the landscape and it's people.

When I first saw this postcard, the animals struck me as being very British!
A fox, badger, cat, dog, pig, rabbits, goats, sparrows and an owl are all animals and birds that are commonly found in the British Isles. most of these animals and birds however, are found in the Bible, or at least have a close relative in the Holy Land. The Lord Jesus speaks of foxes in Matt 8:20, and dogs in Luke 16:21, He also mentions sparrows in Matt 10:29-31. Pigs, deer, owls and goats are all also mentioned in the Bible, as is the rock badger in Psalm 104:18, (although this was probably not the black and white British variety!)

Although cats are not directly mentioned in the Bible, we know that they were common in Egypt, so it's possible that there were some in Israel too, (although they wouldn't have been domesticated). It's been suggested that the reason that cats are not mentioned could be due to the fact that they were considered deities by the Egyptians.
There were no rabbits either, but there were two species of hare to be found in Syria, and one of these is very like the English variety.

We do tend to include in our pictures just the animals and birds that we readily associate with the Holy Land such as Camels, sheep, oxen, donkeys and doves. Maybe we should be a little more adventurous and, like Tarrant, add the odd fox or maybe even a cat into our Bible pictures! What do you think? If you're feeling adventurous, there's a helpful list of all the animals found in the Bible here.

Related posts:
What do ewe think?


Paul Green said...

Interesting observation Graham. But as you noted in a previous post the goat in the Middle East is much different than the goat in the UK. It's easy to be lazy and assume a goat is a goat. It isn't. Some animals vary by country.
As always the key to good illustration is good research. Oh -and a little talent. :))

Christian said...

Dear Graham,
Actually, here in America, rabbits and hares are the same animal although there are some slight differences between the two (ie hares have longer hind feet). Regardless, we tend not to distinguish between the two even though the Lord did as evidenced in Deuteronomy 14:7. :)
Good post.


deboraw said...

Graham, that is a good question, indeed. I was working over-- 'bullying a picture into subjection'-- and after I got rid of the questionable picture of Joseph with a ? cross cut saw in his carpenter shop, I also wondered about the domesticated 'kitty' rubbing against Jesus' feet. I left the kitty--I'd already done enough damage, but I did question it's presence. Also, any point in the right direction for tools they might have had in their carpenter shop? Probably something in that lovely book from the Nazareth Village that has the synagogue on the front, huh? Deboraw

Bible artist said...

I'm glad you asked that question Deboraw, because on my 'Things to do' list is to contact George Khalil to see if he will agree to be interviewed for the blog.

You may remember that George Khalil is a carpenter at the 'Nazareth Village project' (as well as being on the NVP board). He uses the same tools as those used in Bible times, and I'm sure that he can give us a unique insight into life as a Nazareth Carpenter.
Watch this space!

deboraw said...

Graham, How exciting! I'll be looking for that interview. Deboraw

Bible artist said...

Paul g:
I agree. Now we have the internet we have no excuse. It's relatively easy to find pictures of most breeds of animal found in the Holy Land on the net. It's just a matter of a little research. Margaret Tarrant on the other hand didn't have the internet and even though she visited Israel, she probably didn't spend enough time there to become acquainted with all the local wildlife.
I've just come across another of her Bible pictures which shows the Lord Jesus as a boy holding a squirrel. (I'm pretty sure that there were no squirrels in Israel). There's also an otter emerging from the stream near His feet. So I think that she probably was influenced by British wildlife. Another example of this are the breeds of animals that she uses. You've already mentioned the goats and sheep Paul, another example would be the dog. Dogs in Israel were lean short haired scavengers, not like the long haired domesticated dog in the picture.

Having said all that, I do like the fact that Tarrant has added a lot of different animals into her Bible pictures.
Another Bible artist who has included a wide variety of animals and birds in her Bible pictures in Diana Shimon. They're all biblical ones too! That's one of the advantages of actually living in the Holy Land!

Hares in the UK are bigger overall than their rabbit relatives, and their faces are slightly longer too.

Paul Green said...

Given the context of this illustration the inclusion of familiar animals works. It's a cute illustration for children who will relate to domestic and wild British animals. Ms. Tarrant was clever in illustrating for her market. Some might call it kitch but sometimes we can take Biblical art too seriously. Paintings don't always have to be historically accurate to be effective.

deboraw said...

Graham, I think Paul is correct in illustrating for one's market. The problem often is getting the illustrations both acceptable to the market, but not becoming ludicrous. We wouldn't want to use 'Bob the Builder' tools for instance in our illustrations, no matter how excited our market may get with that addition, that would be...totally foolish. Deboraw

Bible artist said...

Squirrel expert Andrew Watts emailed me to say "I believe there were squirrels in the Bible times.  There are squirrels of the species Sciurus anomalus found around the Middle East, but today they are rare in Israel."

Anonymous said...

why on earth would they put a pig there? now THAT makes no sense.

Bible artist said...

Maybe the artist is getting over the fact that all, especially the unclean, are welcomed by Jesus.

..I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Luke 5:32

Unknown said...

thats a bit of a stretch , considering the baby is blond hair with white skin i think it boils down to innocent ignorance by the artist abotu facts.