Some of you probably already knew this… but I was poking around the other day, and found out that the famous factoid (which is even the title of a book about Scripture) is incorrect, if you’re Catholic or Orthodox. I posted about it last night on my home blog, and have since been making myself obnoxious all over the Internet, contradicting people’s factoid posts.
So now I come here to post the cat verse.
It’s in the book of Baruch (in Catholic Bibles) and in the Letter of Jeremiah (in Orthodox Bibles right after Lamentations – but I don’t know their chapter/verse numbers). In some Protestant Bibles, they print it among the Apocrypha. Anyway, the letter discusses all the reasons that idols are a little bit laughable, as an encouragement to Jews living among pagans, and then gets down to idols kept inside people’s houses.
Baruch 6:21-22 –
"Owls* and swallows and other birds fly over their bodies and above their heads, and cats** walk*** on them in like manner, whereby you may know that they are no gods. Therefore, fear them not.”
(* Bats in modern translations.)
(** In the Vulgate, cattae, which is apparently Jerome’s word for she-cats. “Catta” and “cata” is uncommon, but does show up in popular Latin, as in Aesop’s Fables. Anyway, in the Septuagint, it’s ailouroi, cats of either sex. So if anybody tells you it’s a type of bird, they are wrong.)
(*** Some claim that the verb for both groups of animals is about defecating on the idols, which would go along with all the talk about the household idols up in the rafters constantly getting dirty from dust and hearthsmoke.There are other theories.)
So if cats aren’t in the Bible, it’s an abridged version.
It is curious that they don’t appear more often in the Bible, because they apparently were around a lot in the ancient Middle East. If ancient Jewish people thought of cats as useful and ubiquitous but potentially dirty, as this verse seems to suggest, they may not have wanted to think too hard about whether the cats did clean or unclean things. (Or God may just have wanted to give them a break on the laws, because cats get into everything.)
But apparently, the mouser of choice for really really ancient Jews was a house weasel, so that’s why we don’t really see cats mentioned. (Though the predilection for weasels may have had something to do with avoiding Egyptian cat worship, also.)