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Israel Environment & Nature: Buffalo

BUFFALO (Heb. מְרִיא, meri; AV "fat cattle" or "fatling"), animal which in biblical times was sacrificed and the flesh eaten (II Sam. 6:13; I Kings 1:9, 19).

The Dead Sea Scroll text of Isaiah 11:6 has yimru instead of meri ("they shall pasture") for the masoretic reading "Meir" and this corresponds to the Septuagint reading. The reference is to the water buffalo, the Bubalus bubalis, which until the end of the 1940s roamed in the Ḥuleh marsh, where the Bedouin reared it for food. It is also reared in the Beteha Valley at the foot of the Golan Heights, the biblical Bashan, which was famed for its buffaloes (Ezek. 39:18). The buffalo originates from a wild species found in India. It is a powerful animal suitable for work and was employed in Ereẓ Israel for plowing.

In addition to the identification of the meri with the buffalo (see also the Bible translation of Saadiah Gaon who uses the Arabic word jamūs), some have identified the buffalo with the te'o (תְּאוֹ) listed as a clean animal (Deut. 14:5) and which Isaiah mentions as being caught in a net (51:20). This identification is improbable, however, since in Ereẓ Israel it was a domesticated and not a wild animal. The te'o has also been identified with the bison (Bison bonasus). Others have identified the buffalo with the koi (כּוֹי) mentioned in the Talmud in connection with the doubt whether it belongs to the category of behemah (domesticated cattle) or ḥayyah (wild beast), which would involve differing regulations concerning ritual slaughter (cf. Ḥul. 80a, where four opinions are expressed as to its identity).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.