Monday, March 21, 2011

Bear Power

Two versions of Hosea 13:8:

I will meet them as a bear that is bereaved of her whelps, and will rend the caul of their heart, and there will I devour them like a lion: the wild beast shall tear them. KJV

I will rip you to pieces like a bear whose cubs have been taken away. I will tear you apart and devour you like a hungry lion. NLT

From biblical times until World War II, the golden Syrian bear roamed wiled in the forests of the Middle East, menacing farmers and travelers. A symbol of power in biblical lore, it was especially noted for its ferocity.

The young David boasted that he would slay Goliath as he had single-handedly slain the bear and the lion that had once threatened his flock. David himself was later compared to an enraged she-bear, “as desperate as a bear in the wild robbed of her whelps.” The prophet Hosea used the same image to describe God’s wrath against the wayward Israelites: “like a bear robbed of her young.”

In later writing, the bear became a symbol of Persia, the most powerful kingdom in the period of Daniel. In a vision, Daniel sees a “beast, which was like a bear but raised on one side, and with three fangs in its mouth among its teeth.”

The rabbis extended this image to describe the Persians themselves who “eat and drink like the bear, are fat like the bear, are hairy like the bear, and are restless like the bear.” Hence, the bear is associated with Purim, the holiday celebrating the Jewish triumph over Persian persecution.

(Frankel, Ellen, and Betsy Platkin Teutsch. 1992. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc., pgs 17-18)

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