A werewolf is a human being who can transform into a wolf or wolf-like creature. Mostly, in the older folktales, magic is the means of transformation. In more modern retellings, the change may result from a hereditary disease or scientific experiment. Some researchers suggest werewolf myths find their origin in medical conditions, such as hypertrichosis in humans or rabies in animals. There are many other explanations, from berserker warriors to working-class barbarians!
Linguists tell us the term werewolf derives from the Old English wer (also were), meaning ‘man’, and wulf, that can mean both ‘wolf’ or ‘beast’. Psychologists tell us that that the werewolf symbolises the beast within us, hidden by civilization but ready to come out for hunting and killing when the opportunity is right. Are there any biblical stories show this brutal, animalistic side of our nature?
The man who ate and looked like a wild beast
Nebuchadnezzar, the god-king of ancient Babylon, was struck down by God for hubris. As punishment, his reason was removed and he reverted to a bestial form of behaviour. It impacted not only how he lived but also how he looked.
At that moment the sentence against Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from mankind. He ate grass like an ox, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.Daniel 4:33
The story is very descriptive of Nebuchadnezzar in this animalistic state. Take a look at how William Blake depicted him in his famous work Nebuchadnezzar.
Men who hide the hungry beast inside
In more than one occasion, Jesus compared his enemies to ravenous wolves. But these aren’t ordinary wolves. They appear like one of his own flock. But what they are on the inside – their true nature and real selves – are very different from how they appear to men.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.Matthew 7:15
It’s interesting that Jesus’ solution to this problem is to recommend the use of some animal traits to his own followers.
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.Matthew 10:16
The man who felt and smelt like a beast
Esau was the old twin brother of the biblical patriarch Jacob. The account of his birth and childhood is full of animal implications.
When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau… Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field.Genesis 25:24, 27
But it doesn’t end there. Jacob pretended to be his brother to receive the blessing of the firstborn. He wore his brother’s best clothes and put goatskin on his arms and neck. This was enough to trick Isaac their father.
He [Isaac] did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau… When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed.”Genesis 27: 23, 27
A man with bestial appetites and aggressiveness
It wasn’t just Esau who has these animal traits. Jacob has a son called Benjamin, his youngest son and the brother of Joseph. When it was time for Jacob – now called Israel – to bless his sons and die, this is what he said about Benjamin.
“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder.”Genesis 49:27
This was not just a personality type of one man. It was a characteristic of all his descendants and their entire tribe of Benjamin. They were known as a fierce, warrior-like clan, deadly killers, both for good and evil (Judges 3:15; 20:21, 25).
A crouching beast ready for the kill
Speaking of killers, the first murderer in the Bible was Cain, who slew his brother Abel. Just before he committed this act, God had confronted him about his bad behaviour and warned where it would lead. The language used is evocative of a hunter stalking its prey.
“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”Genesis 4:7
Right after this, Cain made himself like a beast by taking his brother out into the fields and killing him. Then God drove him out from civilization, to wonder the earth like an animal.
(While not strictly relevant to the theme of this blog post, Blake has a terrific work of art on this story called The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve.)
Desert beasts and magic monsters
One of the most mysterious versus I’ll refer to in this blog post is from the Old Testament book of Isaiah.
The desert creatures will meet with the wolves, The hairy goat (satyr) also will cry to its kind; Yes, the night monster (lilith – vampire) will settle there And will find herself a resting place.Isaiah 34:14
Here, wolves meet in the desert with other creatures of their kind, which may or may not be of a supernatural variety. The hairy goat may also be a satyr, a type of hairy demon. And the night monster in the original Hebrew here is Lilith, a female vampire!
Enemies like beasts and beasts as enemies
There are awesome passages in the Old Testament that list all of King Davi’s mighty heroes and record their great deeds. Here is what it says about one of the, a hero called Benaiah.
Benaiah was the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man from Kabzeel, who had done many deeds. He had killed two lion-like heroes of Moab. He also had gone down and killed a lion in the midst of a pit on a snowy day.2 Samuel 23:20; 1 Chronicles 11:22
It’s not entirely clear if these lion-like men were described in this way because of their ferocity, their size and strength, their bravery, their appearance, or for some other reason. For example, they may have held some sort of champion status, level of fame or relationship to royalty in Moab, depicted in the title ‘lion of God’ (which is how the original Hebrew describes them).
Evil men are brute beasts
One way the Old Testament describes fools is to called then “brute beasts” (Psalm 49:10). In the original, this means dull, stupid, senseless, or somewhat more literally, to act like cattle. Perhaps this description sounds more like zombies than werewolves.
The brutish man doesn’t know. The fool doesn’t understand.Psalm 92:6
Pay attention, you brutes among the people! You fools, when will you become wise?Psalm 94:8
If anything, the New Testament is stronger, comparing certain types of people to irrational animals, living by mere instinct and destroying their own lives in the process.
But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves.Jude 1:10
These verses are, in my opinion, the closest the Bible comes to any sort of werewolf depictions. I have to agree with the author of the article Werewolves in the Bible? Mmm, kinda.
“Are werewolves mentioned in the Bible? In a word, no. Not specifically. However, there is a great deal of imagery that, while not overtly lycanthropic in nature, melds quite nicely into the body of common knowledge concerning werewolfism.”