Dr Claude Mariottini , Blog, October 21, 2009,
Cats and Dogs in the Old Testament
Cats do not appear in the Old Testament because of their association with pagan gods.
The domestication of cats probably had its beginning in Mesopotamia 10,000 years ago. In a study of the domestication of cats, Nicholas Wade wrote that early farmers domesticated wild cats in order to protect their granaries from rodents. The domestication of cats occurred at “the beginnings of agriculture in the Near East, and probably in the villages of the Fertile Crescent, the belt of land that stretches up through the countries of the eastern Mediterranean and down through what is now Iraq.”
Cats are only mentioned once in the Apocryphal book of Baruch (Baruch 6:21), a text that is ridiculing the gods of Babylon:
18 They light candles to them, and in great number, of which they cannot see one: but they are like beams in the house. 19 And they say that the creeping things which are of the earth, gnaw their hearts, while they eat them and their garments, and they feel it not. 20 Their faces are black with the smoke that is made in the house. 21 Owls, and swallows, and other birds fly upon their bodies, and upon their heads, and cats in like manner. 22 Whereby you may know that they are no gods. Therefore fear them not (Baruch 6:18-22).
In this text, cats are associated with the pagan gods of Babylon. The text purports to be a letter that Jeremiah wrote to the exiles in Babylon. Thus, it is possible that the reason cats are not mentioned in the Bible was because the Babylonians kept them in their temples and probably used them in their rituals.
Cats were also worshiped in Egypt. The Egyptians worshiped the cat goddess Mafdet and the cat goddess Bastet. Bastet was often depicted as having the body of a woman and the head of a domestic cat. Thus, since Israel was oppressed by the Egyptians, it is possible that the reason cats are not mentioned in the Bible is because of their association with the pagan gods of Egypt.
As for dogs, they were known in ancient Israel. In fact, dogs are referred to forty-one times in the Bible. However, most times, the word “dog” is used as a word of contempt. One of the few exceptions where dogs are presented as a useful animal was when they were used to protect the flock. Job said: “But now they laugh at me, men who are younger than I, whose fathers I would have disdained to set with the dogs of my flock” (Job 30:1).
In general, however, Israelites used the word “dog” as a word to express contempt. “You shall not bring the fee of a prostitute or the wages of a dog into the house of the LORD your God in payment for any vow, for both of these are an abomination to the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 23:18). The mention of the dog in this Deuteronomic legislation is a reference to the male temple prostitutes who served in the cult of Baal.
Isaiah scorns the leaders of the nation by calling them “dumb dogs” (Isaiah 56:10) and “greedy dogs” (Isaiah 56:11). The psalmist calls an evil man a “dog” (Psalm 22:20). Dogs were considered unclean animals because they ate the flesh of unclean animals (Exodus 22:31) and because they ate human flesh (1 Kings 14:11). The breaking of a dog’s neck was a pagan religious practice condemned by the prophet (Isaiah 66:3).
Thus, the use of cat and dog instead of ox and donkey in Isaiah 1:3 would be completely out of place in light of the way cats and dogs were viewed in ancient Israelite society. Since cats were associated with pagan gods and dogs were seen with disfavor by people in Israel and because the book of Isaiah used the word “dog” to insult some of the leaders of Israel, it is doubtful that the prophet would use the obedience of a cat and a dog to contrast with the disobedience of Israel.
However, the most important reason not to use cat and dog in Isaiah 1:3 is because “God Didn't Say That.” To remove the ox and the donkey from the text in order to add cat and dog would give readers who are unfamiliar with the original language an idea that is not present in the text.
The introduction of cat and dog in Isaiah 1:3 would help modern readers understand the text because of the popularity of cats and dogs in today’s society (even though cat owners know that cats are not that obedient). However, a cat and a dog would not express what Isaiah said. To use cat and dog would not only undermine the prophet’s message but would also contradict the way the word “dog” is used in the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 56:10, 11; 66:3).