When reading about Samaria's condition, I have came across the following:

2 Kings 6:25

And there was a great famine in Samaria: and, behold, they besieged it, until an ass's head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of dove's dung for five pieces of silver.

However I didn't fully grasp the meaning of "dove's dung" here so I went to the Hebrew.

From BlueLetterBible, one can see that the Masoretic text is the following:

6:25 וַיְהִי רָעָב גָּדֹול בְּשֹׁמְרֹון וְהִנֵּה צָרִים עָלֶיהָ עַד הֱיֹות רֹאשׁ־חֲמֹור בִּשְׁמֹנִים כֶּסֶף וְרֹבַע הַקַּב חרי יונים בַּחֲמִשָּׁה־כָֽסֶף׃

And from it, we take Strong's H1686 that matches the Hebrew דִּבְיוֹנִים (dibyown), as we can see here.

From the Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon we have the following:

 דִּבְיוֹנִים dibyown

This expression is hard do comprehend.

I appreciate any guidance on understanding it this expression, specially with it's practical component, so that I can grasp why would one buy dove's dung for five pieces of silver.

  • 1
    I would assume that it represents something not that desirable, as it seems to me that the verse reveals us that famine may increase the prices even of undesirable products, such as ass's head. Commented Jun 27, 2020 at 9:51

2 Answers 2


There is some uncertainty as to whether this actually means "dove's dung" or not (More on this below). I am inclined to accept as is because Josephus reports that in one of the Roman sieges, the citizens were reduced to eating excrement. Note this quote from Josephus, Wars, V, 13, 7.

And they told him further, that when they were no longer able to carry out the dead bodies of the poor, they laid their corpses on heaps in very large houses, and shut them up therein. As also that a medimnus of wheat, was sold for a talent: and that when, a while afterward, it was not possible to gather herbs, by reason the city was all walled about, some persons were driven to that terrible distress, as to search the common sewers, and old dunghills of cattle, and to eat the dung which they got there: and what they of old could not endure so much as to see, they now used for food.

Whether "dove's dung is understood literally or not we should note the following:

  • A donkey is an unclean animal and the head is the cheapest part of the donkey and so it was usually very cheap. During the siege of Samaria, it was selling for 80 silver coins - an exorbitant sum.
  • Dove's dung (assuming it is literal) could be used either for food or fuel, most likely the former. Again a small porting attracted a price of 5 silver coins, equally exorbitant!

Thus, the listed prices shows how desperate the Samarians had become in the face of imminent starvation.

The Pulpit commentary has similar suggestions:

The ass, being an unclean animal (Leviticus 11:4), would not be eaten at all except in the last extremity, and the head was the worst and so the cheapest part; yet it sold for "eighty pieces" (rather, shekels) of silver, or about £5 of our money; as in the Cadusian famine mentioned by Plutarch ('Wit. Artaxerx.,' § 24), where an ass's head was sold for sixty drachmas (about forty shillings). "Dove's dung" is thought by some to be the name of a plant; but it is better to understand the term literally. Both animal and human excrement have been eaten in sieges (Josephus, ' Bell. Jud.,' 5:13. § 7; Cels., 'Hierobot.,' 2. p. 233), when a city was in the last extremity.

Benson, Barnes, Gill and Bochart suggest that "dove's dung" is either a kind of pulse (vegetable), but this is uncertain.


First off, keep in mind that dove's dung was pretty common in the olden days as they raised doves in columbaria. Doves were common since they were used as sacrifices, among other purposes. A natural byproduct of raising doves is large quantities of dove dung, or guano. While dung could be used as fertilizer, or as fuel for fire, it would normally be very cheap to acquire since it was basically just a byproduct.

So why over here is the dung being bought for 5 silver coins? It's an expression of how desperate the situation is as a result of the famine. The normally cheap dung is being sold for an exhorbitant price.

Why did they want to buy the dung?

There are a few opinions offered among the classic Jewish commentators.

According to Radak and Metzudos Zion, the dung was needed as fuel for fire since they couldn't access the forests to get wood (since they were under siege.)

According to Ralbag (Gersonides), the doves were able to fly outside the camp and eat from the available grain. When they came back inside the camp, there were some kernels of grain which passed undigested out in the excrement. The famine was so severe that people were buying the dung in order to seek out these kernels. The Radak quotes his father with a similar explanation.

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