Why is Caleb's name exactly the Hebrew word for dog (keleb)? He's the spy from Judah who, along with Joshua from Ephraim, entered the promised land and decided that (against the other 10 spies) the Israelites could enter and defeat the greater forces by following God's command.

Deuteronomy 1:35-36, “Not one of these—not one of this evil generation—shall see the good land that I swore to give to your ancestors, 36 except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his descendants I will give the land on which he set foot, because of he utterly followed the Lord.”

What did the Israelites think about dogs in this era? Was this a nickname? Is he an invented character with a name to match? He was utterly obedient to God? Did the Israelites believe that dogs were obedient and was Yahweh his master?

I also found this interesting commentary from Solomon in Ecclesiastes:

Ecclesiastes 9:4, But whoever is joined with all the living has trust, for a living dog is better than a dead lion.

What does this mean to be a living dog? Joined with all the living? Why is Caleb's name also "Dog?" It seems that names are instructive here. In Numbers 13:16, Moses changes Hosea's name to Joshua. This change seems to speak to the upcoming conflict. Hosea means "saves by his own hand" (what the ten spies thought), and Joshua means "Yahweh saves" which is the stance that Joshua and Caleb thought.

Can anyone provide some insight into the concept of the dog in the exodus narrative in the Torah?

  • 1
    Young's Analytical Concordance lists the name Caleb as occurring 32 times in scripture. And Robert Young also notes in the lexical index that the word 'dog' also occurs 32 times in Hebrew scripture. Interesting. I am no Hebrew scholar but, unusually, the words appear (to me) to be exactly identical. Usually, personal names are changed slightly from place-names and such, I assume so as not to cause confusion. Here, not so. And here, an exact, it would seem, numeral. Interesting.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 12:43
  • Some scholars actually believe that caleb is a nickname he was given because he came from the calebite tribe. Thus the name caleb would apply to the entire tribe. See 1 Samuel 25:3; 30:14. and this thread hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/32557/…
    – bach
    Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 14:06

2 Answers 2


The following is from Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Vol 32.4 (2008): 487-500 https://static1.squarespace.com/static/54694fa6e4b0eaec4530f99d/t/5504ff3be4b02e0b15a08bac/1426390843190/Dogs+in+ancient+Israel+2008.pdf

In 1960, D. Winton Thomas published an influential article entitled, ‘Kelebh “Dog”: Its Origin and Some Uses of It in the Old Testament’. In the article, Thomas argued that the Israelites held a negative attitude toward dogs. They viewed the dog as ‘a vile and contemptible animal’, ‘the most ignoble and contemptible of animals’, ‘that lowly animal … despised and generally wretched’.
A look at the book of Tobit, as well as archaeological and textual evidence from Israel’s neighboring cultures, will demonstrate that the claims of Winton are exaggerations. The Israelites often used the word 3=6<6! derisively, but their attitude towards dogs was not entirely negative.
Tobit 6.2 reads, ‘When the boy left home, accompanied by the angel, the dog followed Tobiah out of the house and went with them’. In ch. 11, Tobiah and the angel return from their trip, and ‘the dog ran along behind them’ (Tob. 11.4). Although these texts are brief, they demonstrate that the dog is a travel companion who protects Tobiah and the angel from predators and bandits. Notice, too, that the dog follows Tobiah ‘out of the house’. He obviously shares the same living quarters with his owners and is not ‘excluded from dwelling-houses’ as Gray asserts. This dog may even be a pet.
the Israelites of the exilic and pre-exilic periods also interacted with Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians, all of whom valued dogs as well.

Tobiah's dog showed obedience to his master. The author of paper convinced me that the Israelites saw dog both positively and negatively.

By the time of the New Testament, we see in Matthew 15:

25The woman came and knelt before him [Jesus]. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
28Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

How can anyone not like man's best friend? :)


Keleb could also mean 'After [my own] heart,' (כ + לב) - a name of endearment. Calling your son 'Dog' doesn't make much sense. I would say, it's impossible that we'd find an instance of a mother calling her son 'Dog.'

Not to sound funny, but the subtle difference in original pronunciation may have been roughly the same as the difference between the word "dog" and the name "Doug" in English.

Jesus and the Samaritans seem to share the view that the dog is nothing more than a family pet, nothing less, similar to today in most cultures (Mt 15:26-27).

  • You say it doesn’t make much sense to call your son “dog,” but there is a strong theme of utter obedience throughout the torah. In fact that utter obedience was the reason the Caleb was not killed and entered the promised land. This theme of obedience manifests through Christ as well with his repeated “not my will but your will be done”. This stands in stark contrast to our modern USA take which matches adam and eve, “not your will but my will be done.” While utter obedience sounds gross to you and me, it seems that the ancient hebrews saw this as a virtue.
    – Gus L.
    Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 22:57
  • Just look at Abraham and his obedience to God to kill his beloved son (Gen 22:2). He is the anchor point for all nations. He meant to bring down the knife... he had let go of his hope for his own will and submitted to God
    – Gus L.
    Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 22:59

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