The Badger

Wood's Bible Animals, 1875

Until very lately, there was much difficulty in ascertaining whether the word Tachash has been rightly translated as Badger. It occurs in several parts of the Scriptures, and almost invariably is used in relation to a skin or fur of some sort. We will first examine the passages in which the Badger is mentioned, and then proceed to identify the animal.

Nearly all the references to the Badger occur in the book of Exodus, and form part of the directions for constructing the Tabernacle and its contents. The first notice of the word occurs in Exodus xxv. 5, where the people of Israel are ordered to bring their offerings for the sanctuary, among which offerings are bold, silver, and brass, blue, purple, and scarlet, fine linen, goats' hair, rams' skins dyed red, badgers' skins, and shittim wood—all these to be used in the construction of the Tabernacle. Then a little farther on, in chapter xxvi. 14, we find one of the special uses to which the badgers' skins were to be put, namely, to make the outer covering or roof of the tabernacle. Another use for the badgers' skins was to form an outer covering for the ark, table of shewbread, and other furniture of the Tabernacle, when the people were on the march.

In all these cases the badger-skin is used as a covering to defend a building or costly furniture, but there is one example where it is employed for a different purpose. This passage occurs in the book of Ezekiel, chapter xvi. 10. The prophet is speaking of Jerusalem under the image of a woman, and uses these words, "I anointed thee with oil; I clothed thee also with broidered work, and shod thee with badger's skin, and I girded thee about with fine linen, and I covered thee with silk. I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain upon thy neck, and I put a jewel on thy forehead, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head."

So we have here the fact, that the same material which was used for the covering of the Tabernacle, and of the sacred furniture, could also be used for the manufacture of shoes. This passage is the more valuable because of an inference which may be drawn from it. The reader will see that the badger-skin, whatever it may have been, must have been something of considerable value, and therefore, in all probability, something of much rarity.

In the present instance, it is classed with the most luxurious robes that were known in those days, and it is worthy of special mention among the bracelet, earrings, necklace, and coronal with which the symbolized city was adorned. If the reader will now refer to the passage in which the children of Israel were commanded to bring their offerings, he will see that in those cases also the badger-skins were ranked with the costliest articles of apparel that could be found, and had evidently been brought from Egypt, the peculiar home of all the arts; together with the vast quantity of gold and jewels which were used for the same sacred purpose.

Now we find that the badger-skins in question must possess three qualities: they must be costly, they must be capable of forming a defence against the weather, and they must be strong enough to be employed in the manufacture of shoes. If we accept the word Tachash as signifying a Badger, we shall find that these conditions have been fulfilled.

But many commentators have thought that badger-skins could not have been procured in sufficient numbers for the purpose, and have therefore conjectured that some other animal must be signified by the word Tachash.

A species of dugong (Halicore hemprichii) is the animal that has been selected as the Badger of the Scriptures. It is one of the marine mammalia, and always lives near the shore, where it can find the various algae on which it feeds. It is a gregarious animal, and, as it frequently ascends rivers for some distance, it may be captured in sufficient numbers to make both its flesh and skin useful. Moreover, it is of considerable size, fourteen or fifteen feet in length being its usual dimensions, so that a comparatively small number of the skins would be required for the covering of the Tabernacle.

That shoes can be made of it is evident from the fact that at the present day shoes, or rather sandals, are made from its hide, and are commonly used by the Bedouins. But the very qualities and peculiarities which render it a fit material for the sandal of a half-naked Bedouin Arab, who has to walk continually over hard, hot, sandy, and rough ground, would surely make it unsuitable for the delicate shoes worn by a woman of rank who spends her time in the house, and the rest of whose clothing is of fine linen and silk, embroidered with gold and jewels. In our own country, the hobnailed shoes of the ploughman and the slight shoe of a lady are made of very different materials, and it is reasonable to conjecture that such was the case when the passage in question was written.

Then Dr. Robinson, who admits that the hide of the dugong could hardly have been used as the material for a lady's shoe, thinks that it would have answered very well for the roof of the Tabernacle, because it was large, clumsy, and coarse. It seems strange that he did not also perceive that the two latter qualities would completely disqualify such skins for that service. Everything clumsy and coarse was studiously prohibited, and nothing but the very best was considered fit for the Tabernacle of the Lord. By special revelation, Moses was instructed to procure, not merely the ordinary timber of the country for the frame­work—not only the fabrics which would keep out rain and wind—not simply the metals in common use, from which to make the lamps and other furniture—not the ordinary oils for supplying the lamps; but, on the contrary, the finest linen, the most elaborate embroidery, the rarest woods, the purest gold, the costliest gems, were demanded, and nothing common or inferior was accepted. The commonest material that was permitted was the long, soft fleece of rams' wool; but, even in that case, the wool had to be dyed of the regal scarlet—a dye so rare and so costly that none but the wealthiest rulers could use it. Even the very oil that burned in the lamps must be the purest olive-oil, prepared expressly for that purpose.

The very fact, therefore, that any article was plentiful and could easily be obtained, would be a proof that such article was not used for so sacred a purpose; while it is impossible that anything coarse and clumsy could have been accepted for the construction of that Tabernacle within which the Shekinah ever burned over the Mercy-seat—over which the cloud rested by day, and the fire shone by night, visible external proofs of the Divine glory within.

We therefore dismiss from our minds the possibility of accepting any material for it which was not exceptionably valuable, and which would be employed in the uses of ordinary life. The great object of the minutely-elaborate directions which were given through Moses to the Israelites was evidently to keep continually before their eyes the great truth that they owed all to God, and that their costliest offerings were but acknowledgments of their dependence.

We will now presume that the Tachash of the Pentateuch and Ezekiel is really the animal which we know by the name of Badger. It exists throughout the whole of the district traversed by the Israelites, though it is not very plentiful, nor is it easily taken. Had such been the case, its fur would not have been employed in the service of the sanctuary.

It is nocturnal in its habits, and very seldom is seen during the hours of daylight, so that it cannot be captured by chase. It is not gregarious, so that it cannot be taken in great numbers, as is the case with certain wild animals which have been thought to be the Tachash of Scripture. It is not a careless animal, so that it cannot be captured or killed without the exercise of considerable ingenuity, and the expenditure of much time and trouble. It is one of the burrowing animals, digging for itself a deep subterranean home, and always ready whenever it is alarmed to escape into the dark recesses of its dwelling, from which it can scarcely be dislodged. It is not a large animal, so that a considerable number of skins would be required in order to make a covering which should overlap a structure forty-five feet in length and fifteen in breadth. Were it a solitary animal, there might be a difficulty in procuring a sufficient number of skins. But it is partly gregarious in its habits, living together in small families, seven or eight being sometimes found to inhabit a single dwelling-place. It is, therefore. sufficiently rare to make its skin valuable, and sufficiently plentiful to furnish the requisite number of skins. All these facts tend to show that the cost of such a covering must have been very great, even though it was the outermost, and, consequently, the least valuable of the four. It has been suggested that these skins were only used to lay over the lines where the different sets of coverings overlapped each other, and that, in consequence, they need not have been very numerous.

But we find that these same skins, which were evidently those which formed the external roof, were used, when the Tabernacle was taken down, for the purpose of forming distinct coverings for the ark of the testimony, the table of shewbread, the seven-branched candlestick, the golden altar, the various vessels used in the ministrations, and lastly, the altar of sacrifice itself. Thus, when we recollect the dimensions of the ark, the table, the candle­stick, and the two altars, we shall see that, in order to make separate covers for them, a quantity of material would be used which would be amply sufficient to cover the whole roof of the Tabernacle, even if it had, as was most probably the case, a ridged, and not a flat roof.

We now come to our next point, namely, the aptitude of the Badger's skin to resist weather. Any one who has handled the skin of the Badger will acknowledge that a better material could hardly be found. The fur is long, thick, and, though light, is moderately stiff, the hairs falling over each other in such a manner as to throw off rain or snow as off a penthouse. And, as to the third point, namely, its possible use as a material for the manufacture of shoes, we may call to mind that the skin of the Badger is proverbially tough, and that this very quality has caused the animal to be subjected to most cruel treatment by a class of sporting men which is now almost extinct.

The Septuagint gives little assistance in determining the precise nature of the Tachash, and rather seems to consider the word as expressive of the colour with which the fur was dyed than that of the animal from which it was taken. Still, it must be remembered that not only are zoological terms used very loosely in the Scriptures, but that in Hebrew, as in all other languages, the same combination of letters often expresses two different ideas, so that the word Tachash may equally signify a colour and an animal. Moreover, it has been well pointed out that the repeated use of the word in the plural number shows that it cannot refer to colour; while its almost invariable combination with the Hebrew word that signifies a skin implies that it does not refer to colour, but to an animal.

What that animal may be, is, as I have already mentioned, conjectural. But, as the authorized translation renders the word as Badger, and as this reading fulfils the conditions necessary to its identification, and as no other reading does fulfil them, we cannot be very far wrong if we accept that translation as the correct one, and assume the Tachash of the Scriptures to be the animal which we call by the name of Badger.