But wasn't calling a woman a "dog" always insulting in the Jewish world of Jesus?

[Oct 23/2006]

Someone came through and asked a follow-on question to the story about the Syro-Phoenician woman and Jesus (qcrude.html):

Dear Mr Miller,

I have visited your site Christian Thinktank more than once and have found it constructive and enlightening. But I have a small question about a minor thing in one article, about Jesus’s reply to the Canaanite woman in Matt. 15.

The image Jesus has chosen is an image of endearment, not insult. The picture of supper-time, with little kids at the table, and their pet "puppies" (the Greek word for 'dog' here is not the standard, 'outside' dog--which MIGHT BE an insult--, but is the diminutive word, meaning 'household pets, little dogs') at their feet, maybe tugging on their robes for food or play. The puppies, dear to the children and probably so too to the master (cf. 2 Sam 12.3f: but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.), were to be fed AFTER the children (notice: not DENIED food--there was no "NO" in Jesus image--only "WAIT").

At school, I was always taught that Jews had no dogs for pets, because dogs were unclean (unlike lambs!). Is that simply untrue?

Thank you in advance, and I hope I’m not taking too precious time. ;)

You’re doing great work! God bless you!


I dug up some additional data for them:

Actually, the lady herself wasn't Jewish--she was gentile--and they didn't have a problem with this; plus, by NT times, the attitudes had softened among the Jews (cf below):
"Jewish people did not regularly call non-Jews “dogs,” as some commentators have argued. Rather, Jesus is making his point by way of illustration, as wise teachers in his day often did. Worthless food would be cast to the dogs (cf. Ex 22:31). In Jewish Palestine, dogs were regarded as scavengers, but in well-to-do households influenced by Greek custom (more familiar to the Syrophoenician woman), dogs were sometimes pets. Jesus is making an illustration: the children must be fed before the pets, and the Jewish people therefore had first claim (e.g., Ex 4:22).  [BBC, at Mk 7:27]
"In many parts of the East the dog is still basically a scavenger. It was useful in disposing of refuse but was by its very nature unclean and a potential carrier of disease, and therefore could not be touched without defilement. Heb. kebeḇ and Gr. kyōn are without doubt the semi-wild dogs which roamed outside the city walls waiting for rubbish or dead bodies to be thrown over. Dogs were differently regarded in other lands, especially in Egypt, where they were used in hunting and also held in reverence. A second Gk. word, the diminutive kynarion, is used in the incident of the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mt. 15:26ff.). The context suggests that this was a pet dog allowed about the house. [New Bible Dictionary]
"Job 30:1 (cited above) refers to the use of dogs to guard flocks; and the comparison of inefficient watchmen with dumb dogs (Isa. 56:10) implies that at least some dogs are useful. In the apocryphal book of Tobit, Tobias’ dog is his companion on his travels (Tob. 5:16; 11:4). " [ISBE]
"Plat. Euthyd., 298d; Xenoph.Cyrop., VIII, 4, 20; Epict.Diss., IV, 1, 111; also κυνίδιον, Euthyd., 298d; PhiloSpec. Leg., IV, 91; diminutives of κύων for the “house dog” as distinct from the “yard dog” or the “dog of the streets.”In the NT κυνάριον occurs only in the figurative saying of Jesus at Vt. 15:26; Mk. 7:27. It is debatable whether Jesus is adopting the Jewish habit of calling the person of a different Faith κύων (cf. the figurative saying at Mt. 7:6). The saying in Mt. 15:26; Mk. 7:27 brings the claims of children and house dogs into comparison. The choice of κυνάριον shows that Jesus has in mind little dogs which could be tolerated in the house [footnotes point to Rabbinic sources, b. Ket. 61a ("woman who plays with little dogs or chess"),  and b.Shab., 155b on feeding little dogs]." [TDNT]
"κῠνάριον, τό, Dim. of κύων, little dog, puppy, Pl.Euthd.298d, X.Cyr.8.4.20, Theopomp.Com.90, Alc.Com.33"  [Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., Jones, H. S., & McKenzie, R. (1996). A Greek-English lexicon. "With a revised supplement, 1996." (Rev. and augm. throughout) (1010). Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press.]
I hope this helps, friend--and thanks for your encouragement and kind words!

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