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it." That sacred mountain, where the temple stood, whither the tribes of Israel went up at the solemn festivals, where the voice of unnumbered worshippers was daily heard, is now left without a tenant or single visitor, save the solitary fox, which has chosen his retreat in the silent courts, and, undisturbed by the foot of man, walks at his ease in the holy cloisters.
Like other beasts of prey, he is exceedingly voracious; fruits and flesh of all kinds are agreeable to his taste; and, like the wolf, he visits the field of battle, to prey upon the dying and the dead." This trait in his character has not escaped the observation of David; for, in the sixty-third psalm, he fortels the destruction of his enemies in these terms: "Those that seek my soul to destroy it, shall go into the lower parts of the earth, They shall fall by the sword; they shall be a portion for foxes." It was reckoned by the ancients more dishonourable to be devoured by foxes, a feeble and deceitful race, than by wild beasts of a higher class. In some places, criminals were cast headlong into deep pits where they were torn to pieces by these voracious animals which entered the place by means of subterraneous passages." When game fails him, or when the sword has ceased to supply his wants, he devours with equal greediness, honey, fruits, and particularly grapes. In allusion to his eager desire to the fruit of the vine," it is said in the Song of Solomon, "Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines, for our vines have tender grapes." In Scripture, the church is often compared to
m Bochart. Hieroz. lib. iii, p. 849. Aristotel. Politicor. lib. i, cap. 8. n Plin. Hist. Natur. lib. xi, cap. 37. Buffon's Nat. Hist. vol. iv, p 218. Theocritus, Idyll. 1 and 5. Varro de Re Rust. lib. i, cap. 8. • Varro de Re Rustica, lib. i, cap. 8.
a vineyard; her members to the vines with which it is stored; and by consequence, the grapes may signify all the fruits of righteousness, which those mystical vines produce. The foxes that spoil these vines, must therefore mean false teachers, who corrupt the purity of doctrine, obscure the simplicity of worship, overturn the beauty of appointed order, break the unity of believers, and extinguish the life and vigour of Christian practice. These words of Ezekiel be understood in the same sense: "O Jerusalem! may thy prophets, (or as the contest clearly proves) thy flattering teachers, are as foxes in the deserts;"P and this name they receive, because, with vulpine subtility, they speak lies in hypocrisy. Such teachers, the apostle calls "wolves in sheep's clothing;" deceitful workers, who, by their cunning, subvert whole houses; and whose word, like the tooth fox upon the vine, eats as a canker.
The book of Judges contains a singular anecdote, of the mischief which Samson did by means of this animal to the property of his enemies. He "went and caught three hundred foxes, and took fire-brands, and turned tail to tail, and put a fire-brand in the midst, between two tails; and when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives." On reading this curious statement, the infidel asks with an air of triumph, How could Samson procure so many foxes in so short a time? To this question it may be answered, the concurring testimony of travellers, clearly proves, that the land of Promise abounded with foxes. The same fact is suggested by the prediction of David, that his enemies should become the prey of foxes; 4 Jud. xv, 4.
P Ezek. xiii, 4.
and by the invitation of Solomon already quoted from the Song. Some districts and cities in that country, take their name from the fox; a sure proof of their numbers in those parts: "Thus, the land of Shual, mentioned in the first book of Samuel, signifies the land of the fox;" and Hazarshual, the name of a city, belonging to the tribe of Judah, or Simeon, means the fox's habitation. Besides, the term foxes, in the opinion of Bochart, embraces the thoes, a species of wolf, which very much resemble the fox, and are extremely numerous in Judea, particularly about CæBellonius asserts, that they may be seen in troops of two or three hundred, prowling about in quest of their prey: and Morizon, who travelled in Palestine, says, that foxes swarm in that country, and that very great numbers of them lurk in hedges and in ruinous buildings. To find so many of these animals, therefore, could be no great difficulty to a person accustomed to the chase, as this renowned Israelite may be reasonably supposed to have been. Nor is it said, that Samson caught all these foxes in one, or even in two days; a whole week, or even a month, might be spent in the capture, for any thing that appears to the contrary. Add to this, that, although Samson himself might be a most expert hunter, we have no reason to think he caught all these animals alone. So eminent a personage as the chief magistrate of Israel, might employ as many people as he pleased, in accomplishing his purpose. When, for example, it is said, that Solomon built the temple at Jerusalem, no man supposes, that he executed the work with his own hands; he only caused the work to be done and, in the same manner, Samson may be said
Song ii, 15.
$ 1 Sam. xiii, 17.
t Josh. xv, 28, and xix, 3.
to do what he only commanded to be done, or assisted in doing. Nor can it be reasonably denied, that the God who made the world, and by his special providence, watched over the prosperity of his ancient people, and intended at this time, to deliver them from their enemies, could easily dispose matters, so as to facilitate or secure the capture of as many foxes, as the design of Samson required.
In this singular stratagem, he is thought by some writers, to have had two things in view; at once, to deliver his country from those noxious animals, and to do the greatest possible mischief to his enemies. No kind of animals could be more suited to his purpose, especially when coupled together in this manner; for they run long and swiftly, not in a direct line, but with many windings, so that, while they dragged in opposite directions, they spread the fire over all the fields of the Philistines with the greater rapidity and success, and were at the same time prevented from getting into the woods, or holes in the rocks, where the fire-brands had been extinguished, and the stratagem rendered ineffectual.
Mr. Burder, on this incident, observes, "There is reason to think, that there was nothing new or uncommon in this operation, as it was most obvious for the end proposed, that the wit of man could devise. We accordingly find,” says he," that Ovid alludes to the practice, and mentions, that foxes and fire-brands were every year exhibited at Rome, and killed in the circus. For it was the custom in many places, to sacrifice by way of retaliation, every animal which did particular injury to the fruits of the earth. In consequence of this, they introduced these foxes, which had been employed for that purpose, with fire-brands.
"Cur igitur missæ vinetis ardentia tædis
Terga ferunt vulpes causa docenda mihi."
He then mentions an instance of much injury done by a fox so accoutred by fire:
"Qua fugit incendit vestitos messibus agros
Damnosis vires ignibus aura dabat."
On this account, the whole race, according to the poet, were condemned at the festival, called Cerealea, to be in their turns set on fire:
"Utque luat poenas gens hæc Cerealibus ardet,
The same custom is alluded to, proverbially, more than once, by Lycophron, and seems to have been well known in Greece. He makes Cassandra represent Ulysses as a man, both of cunning and mischief, and styles him very properly, λμgos, a fox with a fire-brand at his tail; for, wherever he went, mischief followed. Suidas also takes notice of this custom, when he speaks of a kind of beetle, which the Boeotians named tipha. They imagined, that, if to this they were to fasten some inflammable matter, it would be easy to set any thing on fire." He adds, that this was sometimes practised with foxes.▾
The coincidence between the practice of Samson and the custom of the Greeks and Romans, is undoubtedly curious and interesting; but it will not prove, as this respectable writer imagines, that the custom was general in the east. In the two first lines quoted from Ovid, the poet says, that when he went from Rome to Peligni, he passed through the town of Carseoli, and there he learned from his host, an old man, that the custom of binding a fire-brand to the tail of a fox, was done in memory of an animal of this species at Carseoli, which a peasant, when he had catched it, wrapped in straw, which he set on fire. The fox fled in the utmost terror; and, wherever he came, burnt down ▾ Burder's Oriental Customs, in loc.