Richard Whitekettle, «Rats are Like Snakes, and Hares are Like Goats: A Study in Israelite Land Animal Taxonomy», Vol. 82 (2001) 345-362
Israelite taxonomic thought drew a contrast between a land animal taxon referred to by the words Cr#$ or #&mr that contained animals such as rats and snakes (Land Animals I), and a land animal taxon referred to by the words hmhb or hyx that contained animals such as hares and goats (Land Animals II). This essay shows that the Land Animals I taxon was characterized by locomotory movement in the horizontal plane and the Land Animals II taxon was characterized by locomotory movement in the vertical plane. Thus, the contrast was between land animals that were perceived to move along the ground (Land Animals I) and land animals that were perceived to move over the ground (Land Animals II).
I. The Two Classes of Land Animals
The world is inhabited by an enormous number of living things that evince an immense variety of anatomical, physiological, and behavioral characteristics. Confronted with the diverse plurality of living things, all human societies group what are perceived to be similar organisms into labeled categories, or taxa to form a classification system1. A society will divide its entire Plant or Animal inventory into several primary level taxa (e.g. Animals --> Quadrupeds/Fish/Birds/Insects). These primary level taxa are then subdivided into several, more exclusive secondary level taxa (e.g., Quadrupeds --> Reptiles/Mammals), some or all of which are then subdivided into several, more exclusive tertiary level taxa (e.g., Reptiles --> Turtles/Lizards), and so forth. The process of subdivision ends in a terminal level of specificity beyond which categoric distinctions are no longer made (e.g., Turtles --> Blanding’s Turtles/Smooth Softshelled Turtles).
While all societies form classification systems, each society divides living things into taxa in an idiosyncratic manner, a reflection of the fact that each society uses an idiosyncratic set of criteria to determine similarity. Israelite thought (as reflected in the Hebrew Bible) divided its Animal inventory into primary level taxa in several ways 2. One way was a fourfold primary level division of the Animal Kingdom into what one might label a Land Animals I taxon, a Land Animals II taxon, an Aerial Animals taxon, and an Aquatic Animals taxon. This schema is found in Gen 1,26; 9,2; Lev 11,46; Deut 4,17-18;