2 Samuel 3:8 English Standard Version

Then Abner was very angry over the words of Ish-bosheth and said, “Am I a dog’s head of Judah? To this day I keep showing steadfast love to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers, and to his friends, and have not given you into the hand of David. And yet you charge me today with a fault concerning a woman.

Did the Jews had something against dogs?

  • 1
    'Dogs are without' saith the scripture. Dogs, in scripture, are not pets. They are scavengers, they have appetites which do not discriminate between food and vomit, and they roam around outside the city keeping away intruders.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 30, 2020 at 18:20
  • @NigelJ - I think that is a valuable comment that should be expanded into an answer. I would have said similarly but do not wish to steal your thunder.
    – Dottard
    Sep 30, 2020 at 22:02
  • @Dottard I am short of time this week (and possibly next). Steal away, sir. Feel free.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 1, 2020 at 19:10

1 Answer 1


In both the OT and NT, dogs are never pets but regarded disdainfully as very unclean animals. The reasons for this are several:

  • Dogs were unclean animals according to Torah regulations
  • Dogs were scavengers (or at least allowed to be such)
  • Untamed dogs are vicious and dangerous
  • Dogs were almost never used in agrarian Israel and so they had no utility
  • Cultural - dogs had a bad reputation in Israel

Therefore, one of the standard insults was to compare someone to a dog such as: Job 30:1, 2 Kings 9:10, 1 Kings 16:4, 21:24, 22:38, 14:11, Isa 56:11, Ps 68:23, 22:16, 59:6, 14, etc, etc.

In all these cases, the dog is used as a metaphor of something very low, disgusting and repulsive. (How times have changed!)

Therefore, when Abner used the metaphor of [dead] "dog's head" (2 Sam 3:8), he was accusing Ish-bosheth of lacking any civility toward him as his previous supporter. The Cambridge Commentary succinctly observes:

  1. Am I a dog’s head, &c.] Render, Am I a dog’s head belonging to Judah? This day do I shew kindness … and thou hast charged me! &c. i.e. Am I at once despicable and hostile to your interests? Nay, I am faithful to the house of Saul, otherwise I should long ago have made terms with David by surrendering you into his hands.

In the East in ancient times as at the present day, dogs, although used for guarding flocks and houses (Job 30:1; Isaiah 56:10), were chiefly seen prowling about towns in a half-wild condition, owning no master, living on offal and garbage. Cp. Psalm 59:14-15; 1 Kings 21:19; 1 Kings 21:23-24; 1 Kings 22:38. Hence the aversion with which they were regarded, and “dog” became (1), as here, a term of reproach and contempt; cp. 1 Samuel 17:43; 1 Samuel 24:14; 2 Samuel 9:8; 2 Samuel 16:9; 2 Kings 8:13 : (2) an expression for fierce and cruel men (Psalm 22:16): (3) a name for impure persons (Matthew 7:6; Php 3:2; Revelation 22:15). See Tristram’s Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 78.

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