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Biblical Archaeology Review 49:2, Summer 2023

Epistles: Biblical Bestiary: Ibex

Biblical Archaeology Review

Ibex refers to several species of wild goat from the genus Capra that live in the mountainous regions of Europe, Southwest Asia, and North Africa. These include the Nubian ibex (Capra ibex nubiana), which was known in ancient Israel, and the West Asian ibex (Capra aegagrus), or Persian wild goat, which is the ancestor of the domestic goat. In the southern Levant, the ibex was hunted to near extinction by the early 20th century but has rebounded and is now counted in the thousands throughout the Negev and Judean deserts.

Although male ibexes are easily identified by their large, semicircular, knotty horns and black beards, it is almost impossible to distinguish ibex from domestic goat in the archaeological record since their bones are nearly identical. But across the ancient Near East, these majestic creatures appear in many artistic representations, including this bronze incense burner from southwestern Arabia. Dating to the mid-first millennium BCE, it stands 11 inches tall. Its decoration includes a round disk set within a crescent flanked by two snakes. This religious imagery complements the apotropaic role of the ibex in ancient South Arabia.

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