Tuesday, January 1, 2019

What Kind of Animal is the Beast?

Have you ever considered what the “beast” in the book of Revelation looks like? Have you ever considered what kind of animal the “beast” is? Do you even think of the “beast” as an animal, or do you associate the “beast” with a person? And when you think of the “beast,” do you forget, as I do, that Revelation 13 actually describes two beasts?

If you are like me, you have probably never given any consideration to what kind of animal the “beast” is, and you have probably considered the “beast” to be more of a man than an animal. After all, in English we can use the word “beast” to describe a person. For example, we might describe a cruel and inhumane person by saying, “He is such a beast.”

However, the Greek word for “beast,” which is θηρίον (thērion), refers very definitely to animals, particularly wild animals. These animals were created on the sixth day along with the domesticated animals and the things that creep upon the ground. But unlike the domesticated animals such as cows and sheep, and the small animals that creep along the ground such as mice and lizards, the beasts are large, dangerous animals that live in the wild, such as lions and bears. So the word “beast” simply means “wild animal.” 

An artist's rendition of the first beast in Revelation 13
A great advantage of the English language is that it has words like “beast” and “animal” that describe large categories of things. However, languages like Enga do not have large category words like that. When they describe an “animal,” they use the specific word to describe the specific animal that they are talking about. Sometimes such categorical words can be created, by saying things like “things that have four legs” or “things that move” or “things that are alive,” but often such created categorical words do not work well in translation.

Although Enga does not have large categorical words like “animal” or “beast,” words such as “pig” and “dog” do cover smaller categories of animals. For example, the word “pig” describes any four-legged animal that has hoofs of any kind. So when animals such as cows, sheep, and horses where first introduced into Enga, the Enga people called them “pig cows” and “pig sheep” and “pig horses,” with the word “pig” describing what type of animal it was. Similarly, the word “dog” describes not just dogs but also cats, because both animals are similar in that they have four legs and claws and hunt for food. Similarly animals like lions and bears could be described as “dog lions” and “dog bears.”

A fascinating component of language learning is the discovery of how different languages and cultures classify things differently. English speakers would never describe a cat or a lion or a bear as a type of dog, nor would they describe a cow or a sheep or a horse as a type of pig. Nor would English speakers classify mice and lizards in the same category as did speakers of classical Hebrew. The words that we use shape how we see the world and what categories we put things in.

So as I was reviewing the translation team’s draft of the book of Revelation, I was eager to find out what sort of “animal” they would envision the beast to be. Now, different members of the team translated different chapters of Revelation, and so I found out that some of the translators were calling the beast a “wild pig,” while others were calling it a “wild dog.” In researching the “beast” more closely, I discovered that the first beast is described in Revelation 13:2 as being like a leopard and having feet like a bear and a mouth like a lion. That solved the problem right there. According to the Enga system of animal classification, leopards, bears, and lions all fall into the “dog” category, so the beast is obviously a “wild dog.” In English, something that resembles a leopard and bear and a lion defies specific categorization, but in Enga such an animal is clearly a type of dog.

So beware of receiving the mark of the wild dog on your foreheads or your right hands. Actually, since Enga has no word for “hand,” but simply classifies the hand as part of the arm, you should be careful not to get the mark of the wild dog anywhere on your arm at all. And since Enga has no word for “forehead” but simply uses the word “head,” you should also be careful not to get the mark of the wild dog anywhere on your head at all.