Biblical Archaeology Review 5:6, November/December 1979

“Do You Know When the Ibexes Give Birth?”

By Avinoam Danin

The Hebrew word ya-el appears three times in the Bible. In English translations it is usually translated as “wild goat,” and in some modern translations, as “mountain-goat.” In actuality, the Hebrew ya-el is the ibex (Capra ibex nubiana), one of the loveliest and most agile members of the cattle family.

Each Biblical reference to the ibex reflects how well our ancestors understood nature and how subtly they used this knowledge to give deeper meaning to the text.

In the book of Job when God wants to tell Job that there are some things that man is not intended to understand, He speaks to him “from out of a whirlwind” and asks, rhetorically, “Do you know when the ibexes give birth?” (Job 39:1).

This is one of nature’s secrets—certainly it was to our ancestors, although sighting an ibex is not uncommon. They live principally near cliffs in the desert. But the ibex is very private about both copulation and giving birth. After more than 30 years of intensive observations by Israel’s host of keen naturalists, the ibex has been observed copulating or giving birth in its natural habitat no more than four times (through November 1978).

This passage from Job is saying that there are some things which God deliberately hides from man: no one knows when the ibexes give birth.

Join the BAS Library!

Already a library member? Log in here.

Institution user? Log in with your IP address.