Well, yeah, wolves eat lambs, but...
July 30, 2016 5:31 PM   Subscribe

And the lion shall lie down with the lamb. It's in the Bible, right? Well no, Isaiah 11.6 says the wolf will lie down with the lamb. Why do I and so many other people remember it as a lion?

Now wolves spend more time around lambs than lions. But lion and lamb are so alliterative. And so symbolic of worldly power and worldly innocence. And there are certainly many translations of the Bible. Or maybe the phrase is in a hymn? Shakespeare? I don't have the skills to follow this up any further, but would really appreciate suggestions of trails I could follow. I don't even know how to access translations of other than King James to do a simple search of lion-and-lamb.

Note: I don't mind if your answer is "Bernstein/Bernstain," but what I really want is ways to find an explanation other than (CERN timeline slippage).
posted by kestralwing to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There's a lion later on in Isaiah 11.6, and lots of art featuring the peaceable kingdom has prominent lion imagery.
posted by yarntheory at 5:44 PM on July 30, 2016

Best answer: I always assumed that somewhere along the line, someone thought "lion and lamb" sounded more poetic than "wolf and lamb" and it stuck. Not an answer, just speculation. And of course TONS of bible verses are misquoted all the time, so...

But this is a rare chance to squeeze in this version from Woody Allen: "“And the lion will lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.”
posted by The Deej at 5:54 PM on July 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

"The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them."

We misquote things all the time. I'd throw this in with "Play it again, Sam" "Beam me up, Scotty" and the rest.

(Or if you believe the people in the Reddit hole I just fell down, Satan has been changing all the bibles in existence, because that it a more rational explanation of people having faulty memories)
posted by ELind at 5:58 PM on July 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

Shakespeare seems to have talked about lions and lambs a few times, maybe meaning that the lion/lamb contrast is a more popular one that sticks with people more for whatever reason.

"And when the lion fawns upon the lamb,
The lamb will never cease to follow him."

"he hath borne himself beyond the
promise of his age, doing, in the figure of a lamb,
the feats of a lion"

"Whiles lions war and battle for their dens,
Poor harmless lambs abide their enmity. "

"In war was never lion raged more fierce,
In peace was never gentle lamb more mild, "
posted by ELind at 6:06 PM on July 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I think my question is not quite clear enough. I don't remember "wolf." Not one person that I've asked remembers "wolf." We all remember "lion." Just say we all mis-remembered doesn't quite hit the mark. I'm guessing there is somewhere else this phrase occurs, a common somewhere, and I've gotten curious about where that somewhere might be. It would be interesting to learn that lots of other people remember wolf; perhaps lion is only common to the white American middle class?

And thanks, Deej, loved the Woody Allen quote!
posted by kestralwing at 6:06 PM on July 30, 2016

There are also a lion and a lamb in Revelation so people may mix them together in their memory.
posted by interplanetjanet at 6:17 PM on July 30, 2016 [7 favorites]

Best answer: That lion/lamb line is in the lyrics to "Peace in the Valley"...

I'm sure more people have heard the song than read the bible passage, so
you could blame Mahalia Jackson, Elvis, Johnny Cash and a few others!
posted by mdrew at 6:18 PM on July 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

Not religious, but I remember learning in grade school that the month of March "comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb" (there was even a little lion and lamb illustration on our calendar!) so is it possible the wires got crossed somewhere?
posted by btfreek at 6:25 PM on July 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

My first thought was wolf is "lupus" in Latin, but lamb is "agnus," so I don't know if Latin and translation issues are relevant or not.
posted by katemcd at 6:25 PM on July 30, 2016

It also seems to be a misquote people have been making for a long time, here's a book that says the "Lion and Lamb" was a popular symbol on English signboards in the early 1600s.

I wouldn't say it's really a misquotation but more jumbling up of all the lion/lamb symbolism in the Bible.
posted by interplanetjanet at 6:26 PM on July 30, 2016

And now there's a whole generation of Twilight fans who think Stephanie Meyer wrote it...
posted by cecic at 6:30 PM on July 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not an answer to your question but a possibly relevant data point:
I grew up in a Methodist church, then later attended a (relatively) evangelistic church. I've heard and read many teachings on both the writings of Isaiah and the end times. I have never, that I can recall, heard anyone use the phrase, "the lion shall lie down with the lamb". Perhaps this is coming from people who don't have much Biblical knowledge, or haven't spent much time reading the Bible themselves?
posted by pecanpies at 7:19 PM on July 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd personally find it odd if people were misremembering the Revelations passage. Jesus is called the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God - they wouldn't lie down together, since they refer to the same entity. This makes me wonder if more if people who recall an image of a lion lying down with a lamb just perhaps don't have much firsthand knowledge of the Bible?
posted by pecanpies at 7:23 PM on July 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

And, sorry, that was supposed to be all together in one answer...I didn't mean to sound so repetitive.
posted by pecanpies at 7:35 PM on July 30, 2016

Best answer: There's a 1937 song called "Peace in the Valley" that was written for Mahalia Jackson and recorded by many many singers in the twentieth century, including Elvis, Little Richard, Johnny Cash, and Connie Francis. It has the line "And the lion shall lay down by the lamb." I would expect that this goes back further than that. The Bible gets misquoted a lot. For instance, people say, "Money is the root of all evil," but it's really "The love of money is the root of all evil." I would think that it would be next to impossible to figure out who was the first person to get it wrong.
posted by FencingGal at 7:46 PM on July 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh sorry - mdrew already wrote about the song, and I missed it.
posted by FencingGal at 7:47 PM on July 30, 2016

Best answer:
"The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them."

We misquote things all the time. I'd throw this in with "Play it again, Sam" "Beam me up, Scotty" and the rest.

I think ELind has it here: the verse quoted gets elided and bits get mixed around. Same deal as with the bit in Proverbs, which everyone recalls as "pride goeth before a fall." Actually it seems pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Lion and lamb make for a pleasing juxtaposition in English verse. That is likely what contaminates other sayings where one animal or the other is present.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:02 PM on July 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

>MeMail if you want me to hunt this up because I do not have the book itself, but there's one researcher (if not a few) that relate bible passages to constellations - for example Sampson slaying a lion and then returning later to scoop honey from the lion carcass had something to do with the constellation Leo at different times of the year passing through different parts of the sky... It's legit but I can't hunt it up now.

interplanetjanet above mentioned lambs and lions on English sign boards in the 1600's. Elvis Costello has a lyric from the song Little Savage that goes, "Now the Lamb lies with the Lion, he's just a little savage."

To go back to my original reference, I'm pretty sure the constellations are fixed in space and it is our perspective on them from Earth that moves and changes, but there are definitely myths from cultures all over the world that reference groups of stars and where they are in the night sky to track time of year and the seasons and such. These stories change by location but are true to the night sky for the people in that location. For thousands of years before industrialization the night sky was "TV" or media - it was the only show to watch. Plus it was how people tracked the seasons and weather, all important for staying alive before we had modern stuff like refrigeration, the ability to grow food all year, and the ability to comfortably navigate and survive fluctuations in temperatures without traveling to more temperate locales, etc..

So that's one near and another very far away in time reason the lamb/lion thing is A Thing.

Also Nthing that "March comes in like a Lamb, goes out like a Lion" having to do both with weather and constellations in the night sky. At least in the Northern Hemisphere....

If I may? I know the director of the Griffith Observatory here in LA has written a book called, "Echoes of the Ancient Skies." Um, you can call the Griffith Observatory anytime and someone with an appropriate background in Astronomy will answer your random questions. Their number is 213-473-0800. I bet they can tell you someone knowledgeable to email this question to if you agree there might by an astronomical connection to the phrase of lamb/lion.

This is a bit of a data dump, but I hope it gives some clues to pursue!
posted by jbenben at 10:25 PM on July 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can search different translations of the Bible on Bible Gateway. To the right of the search box there is a dropdown menu which allows you to choose from a wide variety of translations.

A search for lion + lamb brought up three verses, none of which was "the lion will lie down with the lamb." I checked because that is the way I remember it too. We do readings at church during Advent when we light the wreath. There are four candles, one is lit the first week, two are lit the second, etc. and each week we add a verse to the reading. So we hear the first verse of the reading on four consecutive weeks leading up to Christmas. When you said the phrase was not lion and lamb, I was sure our reading must be using a similar passage in which the phrase WAS lion and lamb. Nope. Apparently there is no such passage.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:03 AM on July 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

There is an entry on this in David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature, p. 456:
One of the characteristics of the messianic kingdom of the future described by Isaiah is a return to prelapsarian innocence, in which "the wolf also shall dwell with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. . . . And the lion shall eat straw like the ox" (Isa. 11:6-7). The passage is frequently rendered as saying "the lion shall lie down with the lamb"; the text is quoted or alluded to by a number of major English poets, usually in the context of a utopian or millenarian imagination. In Shelley's Queen Mab (124-28) [...]

Henry James, in "The Death of the Lion," depicts the soirees of socially predatory Mrs. Weeks Wimbush, "proprietress of the universal menagerie," as times in which "the animals rub shoulders freely with the spectators and the lions sit down for whole evenings with the lambs." [...]
A Blake Dictionary, p. 242, says "A common misquotation of Isaiah xi:6 prophesies that the lion shall lie down with the lamb (SoI, 'Night' 42)." It would be great if we could pinpoint the very first such misquote, but that's unlikely.
posted by languagehat at 8:14 AM on July 31, 2016 [8 favorites]

Best answer: JayDubs
posted by humboldt32 at 10:46 AM on July 31, 2016

Best answer: It's the Bible version of "Luke, I am your father" and "Play it again, Sam". Here's a religious text from 1729 that includes "the lion shall lie down with the lamb". It's also in a Mormon hymn from 1835. The strangest thing is that people of that period would know the Bible by heart so how coud they possibly misquote it? This 1822 text about "Oriental literature" notes the similarity of certain Arabic and Persian legends with Isaiah but quotes the latter correctly. On the other hand, Voltaire's Memoirs cites Aesop's fable "The Lion and the Goat" (which may not be from Aesop actually) and the English translator (1784) still turned it into "the Lion and the Lamb", even though the goat in the story is clearly wary of the lion. Strangely the lion/wolf confusion also shows up in 19th century French texts too but not before (according to Gallica anyway).
posted by elgilito at 12:44 PM on July 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

Here are the present and historic geographical distributions of lions and wolves.
posted by aniola at 4:41 PM on July 31, 2016

Best answer: I know it's a bit late, particularly in light of elgilito's post, but you can visualize the age of the saying and some variants on google ngram viewer ("... the lamb" is too long a phrase to search for)
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 6:30 PM on July 31, 2016

While I don't read Hebrew (which is what Isaiah wrote in, not Latin), this side-by-side Hebrew with English translation compared with Google Translate (it would be better to have someone who knows Hebrew confirm this) seems like the original is definitely wolf.

But I wouldn't discount the proximity of the lion laying down with the calf in the rest of the line for the conflation in popular (throughout history, apparently) works.

There is also a strong association of lions with Saint Jerome and a winged lion with Saint Mark, though I didn't find any imagery of the saints with their lions and a lamb. The only wolf association I could remember (or find) was with Saint Francis of Assisi, who is more generally associated with animals, though there is a story of him taming a wolf that was terrorizing a village.
posted by carrioncomfort at 1:24 PM on August 1, 2016

The juxtaposition of lion and lamb goes a very long way back in Christian tradition, back to the Church Fathers in fact. Here, for example, is Chrysostom on Isaiah 11:6:
I have heard many saying, 'The threats of a king are like the wrath of a lion,' (Proverbs 19:12) being full of dejection and lamentation. What then should we say to such? That He who said, 'The wolves and the lambs shall feed together; and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox,' (Isaiah 11:6-7) will be able to convert the lion into a mild lamb. (Homily 3 on the Statues)
There's also a long tradition of portraying Christ as combining the attributes of the lion and the lamb. Thus Augustine:
Who is this, both lamb and lion? He endured death as a lamb, he devoured it as a lion. Who is this, both lamb and lion? Gentle and strong, lovable and terrifying, innocent and mighty, silent when he was being judged, roaring when he comes to judge. Or perhaps in his passion both lamb and lion, and also in his resurrection lamb and lion. (Sermon 375A on the Sacraments)
What has this got to do with Isaiah 11:6? The answer is that the passage from Isaiah has traditionally been interpreted in terms of the classic fourfold sense of scripture (literal, moral, typological, anagogical). Morally: the lion's strength and the lamb's humility are united in Christ. Typologically: the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God (i.e. the Jewish law and the Christian gospel) are united in Christ. Anagogically: Isaiah foreshadows the prophetic vision of the lion and the lamb in Revelation 5:5-6.

To sum up: 'the lion shall lie down with the lamb' has a long and rich history in the Christian interpretation of the Bible. It only looks like a 'misquotation' if you take a narrowly literalistic approach to the text of scripture (as of course many Evangelical Protestants do).
posted by verstegan at 2:31 AM on August 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

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