Animal Perceptions: Talking Animals in the Tanakh

Animal Perceptions: Talking Animals in the Tanakh

As much as science is bringing us fresh and sometimes surprising insights about animals in the present day, all our inquiry is, at the root, heavily inspired by the stories we have told about animals over millennia, and how they have influenced the popular imagination. The Bible generally sees animals as part of the natural world that humans are exhorted to tend to, but there are a couple of unusual cases where the laws of what is today’s fantasy or science fiction intervene – and the animals speak.

Most famous in the Hebrew Bible are a certain duplicitous snake, and a noble donkey who transmits a message from the Divine. What is the literary significance of these episodes? What do they have in common, and what impact may they have had on how we view and treat our nonhuman “others”?

This Scientists in Synagogues event at Kol Ami: the Northern VA Reconstructionist Community on November 19, 2023 explored animal stories from two very distinct perspectives – contemporary encounters with and observations of animals, and the important metaphorical and allegorical roles that two animals in the Hebrew Bible play. The video in this post is of the second half of the talk by Dr. Diane Sharon, which discusses the second topic. Part 1 can be found here.

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