The Lion is Hungry, and the Chameleon does not Eat

Jewish Midrashic Traditions Concerning the Animals in Noah’s Ark


  • Abraham Ofir Shemesh Ariel University



Noah’s ark, the flood, aggadic homilies, Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, Midrashic literature, rabbinical literature, biblical animals, zikita, illustrated medieval sources, lions and bears


The Midrashic literature relates to several lacunae in the story of Noah’s ark in the biblical text and presents the reader with a wider narrative that includes educational and theological messages. The current study focuses on how the Midrashim combine various species of animals in the narrative of the flood. While the text does not note any of the animals by name, aside from the raven and the dove that have a role in the events, the Midrashic literature reports a list of animals that entered the ark. The animals are mentioned in the process of retelling the events, rather than in order to fill the zoological vacuum in the story. Aggadic homilies mention approximately fifteen animal species and they are documented in the context of each of the story’s stages: the preparations for living in the ark, the stage of entering the ark, and the life in the ark during the flood.


Adelman, Rachel. 2009. The Return of the Repressed: Pirque de-Rabbi Eliezer and the Pseudepigrapha, Leiden: Brill.

Aharoni, Israel. 2001. The memories of a Hebrew Zoologist, Jerusalem: Ariel.

Amar, Zohar, Bouchnick, Ram and Bar-Oz, Guy. 2009. “The Contribution of Archaeozoology to the Identification of the Ritually Clean Ungulates Mentioned in The Hebrew Bible.” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 10: 2–24.

Arbel, Abraham. 1990. “Chamaeleonidae.” In Plants and Animals of the Land of Israel: An Illustrated Encyclopedia: III: Reptiles and Amphibians, edited by Azaria Alon, 79–81. Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defense.

Aristotle. 1965. Historia Animalium. Volume I: Books 1–3. Translated by A. L. Peck. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Babylonian Talmud. 1882. Vilna: Reem.

Bodenheimer, Simon F. 1957. Animals in Biblical Lands. Volume II. Jerusalem: Mossad Biyalik.

Broshi, Magen. 1987. “Regarding the Foods of the People of Eretz Israel in the Roman Period.” Cathedra 43: 15–32.

Buber, Solomon. 1880. Pesikta Zutrata (Lekach Tov). Vilna: Reem.

———. 1885, Midrash Tan?uma. Volume II (Exodus and Deuteronomy). Vilna: Solomon Buber.

———. 1894. Midrash Aggadah, Vienna: Abraham Fanta.

Cassuto, Moshe D. 1959. From Adam to Noah: A Commentary on the Book of Genesis I–VI. Jerusalem: Magnes.

Dale, Patrick. 1985. Old Testament Law. Atlanta, GA: John Knox.

Dayan, Elisheva. 2017. Fauna in the Bible: Traditions of Identification of Animals in the Bible. Avne Efetz: The Author.

Dor, Menachem. 1997. Animals in Biblical, Mishnah and Talmudic Periods. Tel Aviv: Grafor-Deftel.

Felix, Yehudah. 1967. Mixed Sowing Breeding and Grafting. Tel Aviv: Dvir.

———. 1972. The Animals in the Mishnah, Jerusalem: The Mishnah Research Institute.

Felix, Yehudah. 1983. The Plants and the Animals in the Mishnah. Jerusalem: Mishnah Research Institute.

———. 1994. Fruit Trees in the Bible and Talmudic Literature. Jerusalem: Reuven Mass.

Frankel, Rafael, Avitsur, Shmuel and Ayalon, Etan. 1994. History and Technology of Olive Oil in the Holy Land. Arlington, VA: Oldarius.

Genesis Rabbah. 1885–1887. Vilna: Reem.

George, Andrew. 1999. The Epic of Gilgamesh. London: Penguin.

Ginzburger, Moshe. 1903. Translation of Yonatan ben Uziel on the Torah. Berlin: Kaloari.

Goor, Asaf. 1974. The Fruit of Land of Israel. Tel Aviv: ha-Kibbutz ha-Mehuchad.

Gunkel, Hermann. 1901. The Legends of Genesis. Chicago: Open Court.

Heinemann, Joseph. 1974. Aggadah and its Development. Jerusalem: Keter.

Horowitz, ?aim Meir. 1972 [1544]. Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer (Attributed to R. Eliezer ben Horkenos). Jerusalem: Makor.

Jerusalem Talmud. 1523. Venice: Daniel Bomberg.

Kass, Leon R. 2003. Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kil, Yehud, ed. 1997. Sefer Bereshit with Commentary Daat Mikra. Jerusalem: Mossad ha-Rav Kook.

Kislev, Mordechai. 1989. “The Principles of classification to Groups of Animals in the Torah and their demonstration on Eight Insects.” Halamish 7: 27–40.

Lieberman, Saul. 1955. Tosefta. New York: Jewish Theological Seminary.

Loewenstamm, Samuel Ephraim. 1968. “Mishpat” and “Mishpat ha-mikra.” In Enziklopedya Mikrait, Volume V, edited by Naftali H. Tur-Sinai, Haim Beinart, and Menachem Haran, 614–636. Jerusalem: Bialik Institute.

Löw, Immanuel. 1924–1934. Die Flora der Juden. Vienna-Leipzig: R. Löwit.

Margalioth, Mordechai. 2000. Encyclopaedia of Talmudic and Geonic Literature. Tel Aviv: Yavne and Sifre Hemed.

Mendelssohn, Heinrich and Yom-Tov, Yoram. 1990a. “Canidae.” In Plants and Animals of the Land of Israel: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, Volume VII: Mammals, edited by Alon, Azaria, 180–182. Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defense.

———. 1990b. “The Distribution of mammals in Israel and the local factors which influenced it.” In Plants and Animals of the Land of Israel: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, Volume VII: Mammals, edited by Alon, Azaria, 44–47. Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defense.

———. 1990c. “Syrian Brown Bear.” In Plants and Animals of the Land of Israel: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, Volume VII: Mammals, edited by Alon, Azaria, 165–166. Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defense.

Mishnah. 1952. Mishnah. Edited by ?anoch Albeck. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: Mossad Biyalik and Dvir.

Musafia, Binyamin ben Emanuel. 1665. Musaf ha-Aruch. Amsterdam: Immanuel Benbenishti.

Ovid. 1977. Metamorphoses. Books I–VIII, translated by Frank Justus Miller. Loeb Classical Library, No. 42. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Paz, Uzi. 1992. “There were Bears [in Israel].” Teva va-Eretz 250: 21–25.

Pliny the Elder. 1938–1962. Natural History. Translated by H. Rackham. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Schaller?, George B. 1972. The Serengeti Lion: A Study of Predator-Prey Relations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Schechter, Shlomo Z. 1954 [1887]. Avot de-Rabbi Nathan. Vienna: PUBLISHER.

Shemesh, Abraham O. 2018. “Ostrich is a Fowl for any Matter’: The Ostrich as a ‘Strange’ Fowl in Jewish Literature.” HTS Teologiese Studies-Theological Studies 74(1):

Skinner, John. 1910. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis (International Critical Commentary), New York: Scribner.

Sunquist, Mel and Sunquist?, Fiona. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Theodor, Julius and ?anoch Albeck. 1903. Genesis Rababh. Berlin: Itzkowski.

Treitl, Eliezer. 2012. Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer: Text, Redaction and a Sample Synopsis. Jerusalem: Hebrew University and Yad Itzhak Ben Zvi.

Yalkut Shimoni. 1960 [1878]. (attributed to R. Simeon of Frankfurt). Jerusalem: Goldmam.

Yasif, Eli (ed.). 2001. Elazar ben Asher ha-Levi, Sefer ha-Zichronot. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University.

Zunz, Yom Tov Lipman. 1947. The Sermon in Israel and Its Historical Development. Jerusalem: Bialik Institute.



How to Cite

Shemesh, A. O. (2021). The Lion is Hungry, and the Chameleon does not Eat: Jewish Midrashic Traditions Concerning the Animals in Noah’s Ark. Religious Studies and Theology, 40(1), 44–65.