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Chameleon [EBD]

a species of lizard which has the faculty of changing the colour of its skin. It is ranked among the unclean animals in Lev. 11:30, where the Hebrew word so translated is coah (R.V., "land crocodile"). In the same verse the Hebrew tanshemeth, rendered in Authorized Version "mole," is in Revised Version "chameleon," which is the correct rendering. This animal is very common in Egypt and in the Holy Land, especially in the Jordan valley.

Chameleon [NAVE]

CHAMELEON, forbidden as food, Lev. 11:30.


a species of lizard. The reference in (Leviticus 11:30) is to some kind of an unclean animal, supposed to be the lizard, known by the name of the "monitor of the Nile," a large, strong reptile common in Egypt and other parts of Africa.


CHAMELEON - ka-me'-le-un (koach, the Revised Version (British and American) LAND CROCODILE (Lev 11:30); tinshemeth, the King James Version mole, the Revised Version (British and American) CHAMELEON (Lev 11:30)):

Koach, which in the King James Version is rendered "chameleon" and in the Revised Version (British and American) "land crocodile," means also "strength" or "power," as in Gen 4:12; 1 Sam 2:9; Ps 22:15; Isa 40:29, and many other passages. The Septuagint has chamaileon, but on account of the ordinary meaning of the word, koach, it has been thought that some large lizard should be understood here. The desert monitor, Varanus griseus, one of the largest of lizards, sometime attaining the length of 4 ft., is common in Palestine and may be the animal here referred to. The name "monitor" is a translation of the German warnen, "to warn," with which has been confused the Arabic name of this animal, waran or waral, a word of uncertain etymology.

The word tinshemeth in the same verse is rendered in the King James Version "mole" and in the Revised Version (British and American) "chameleon." The Septuagint has aspalax (= spalax, "mole"). Tinshemeth also occurs in the lists of unclean birds in Lev 11:18 and Dt 14:16, where it is rendered: the King James Version "swan"; the Revised Version (British and American) "horned owl"; Septuagint porphurion (i.e. "coot" or, according to some, "heron"); Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) cygnus, "swan." It appears to come from the root nasham, "to breathe"; compare neshamah, "breath" (Gen 2:7; Job 27:3 the King James Version, etc.). It has therefore in Lev 11:30 been referred to the chameleon on account of the chameleon's habit of puffing up its body with air and hissing, and in the other passages to the pelican, on account of the pelican's great pouched bill.

The common chameleon is abundant in Palestine, being found also in North Africa and in Spain. The other species of chameleons are found principally in Africa and Madagascar. It is not only a harmless but a decidedly useful creature, since it feeds upon insects, especially flies. Its mode of capturing its prey is most interesting. It slowly and cautiously advances until its head is from 4 to 6 inches from the insect, which it then secures by darting out its tongue with great rapidity. The pigment cel ls in its skin enable it to change its color from pale yellow to bright green, dark green and almost black, so that it can harmonize very perfectly with its surroundings. Its peculiar toes and prehensile tail help to fit it for its life in the trees. Its prominent eyes with circular lids, like iris diaphragms can be moved independently of each other, and add to its striking appearance.


Alfred Ely Day

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