|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Antiques And Arts News||Home|
( Originally Published 1936 )
It is a curious fact that in the Bible, chronicle of a people who were not only contemporary with the cat-worshiping Egyptians but were closely associated with them, cats are not once mentioned. There have been many surmises as to the reason for this. One guess is that the Jews so hated Egypt, whose rulers "made the children of Israel to serve with rigor," that they included in their detestation the animal it held sacred.
That might be. Genesis tells us that Tubal-Cain, seventh in descent from Adam, was "an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron." So it is not impossible that the descendants of his pupils, carrying on their skill, were set by Pharaoh to make effigies of his favorite cats and coffins for their mummified bodies, which, to a captive people who had been taught to despise graven images, would have been quite enough to turn them against cats.
Still, if the Israelites had really seriously hated the cat, it seems as if they would (with their genius for magnificent denunciation) have made it the subject of at least one thunderous psalm. Cats are mentioned in the Talmud, the contents of which, though not reduced to writing till the second, fourth, and sixth centuries of the Christian Era, may be just as old as the Mosaic books. The Talmudic name for cat is "the pouncer," and there are references to its mousing habits and its attachment to the home it has chosen. The fact that the cat is in the Talmud makes it the stranger that it is left out of the Bible.
Even the New Testament, in the instances it gives of Christ's love and pity, never speaks of the cat. However, there is a gospel, not indeed included in the canonical books of the Bible, but vouched for by a clergyman of the Church of England, which supplies this want. It is The Gospel of the Holy Twelve, which was set down by the Rev. G. J. Ouseley, who declared that he received it in visions, and that it was a translation of an early Christian document "preserved in one of the Buddhist monasteries in Thibet, where it was hidden by some of the Essene community for safety from the hands of corrupters." The book was first published by Mr. Ouseley, and republished in 1923, after his death, by Edson, Ltd., London.
I once heard an imaginative cat-lover say that there ought to have been a mother cat with kittens in the manger where the infant Christ was cradled; it was the touch that was needed. Well, The Gospel of the Holy Twelve tells us that there was one. Describing the birth of Christ in a cave, it goes on, "And there were in the same cave an ox and a horse and an ass, and a sheep, and beneath the manger a cat with her little ones, and there were doves also, overhead, and each had its mate after its kind."
In one of the later chapters we find this legend: "As Jesus passed through a certain village he saw a crowd of idlers of the baser sort, and they were tormenting a cat which they had found, and shamefully treating it. And Jesus commanded them to desist and began to reason with them, but they would have none of his words, and reviled him. Then he made a whip of knotted cords and drove them away, saying, This earth, which my FatherMother made for joy and gladness, ye have made into the lowest hell with your deeds of vice and cruelty. And they fled before his face."
And this:"As Jesus entered a certain village he saw a young cat which had none to care for her, and she was hungry and cried unto him, and he took her up, and put her inside his garment, and she lay in his bosom. And when he came into the village he set food and drink before the cat, and she ate and drank, and showed thanks unto him. And he gave her unto one of his disciples who was a widow, whose name was Lorenza, and she took care of her. And some of the people said, This man careth for all creatures . . . are they his brothers and sisters that he should love them? And he said unto them, Verily these are your fellow creatures, of the great Household of God; yea, they are your brothers and sisters, having the same breath of life in the Eternal. And whosoever careth for one of the least of these, and giveth it to eat and drink in its need, the same doeth it unto me; and who so willingly suffereth one of these to be in want, and defendeth it not when evilly treated, suffereth the evil as done unto me."
Could there be a better statement of the humane creed?
Christ spent part of his childhood in Egypt, and, remembering the regard in which cats were held there, it must have gone hard with him to see them ill-treated. At any rate, whatever the authenticity of The Gospel of the Holy Twelve, it is so simply, naturally told, it shows the tenderness of Christ so truly, that though this book is not in the New Testament it seems as if it belonged there.