International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
as (chamowr or chamor, compare Arabic chamar, apparently connected with Arabic root 'achmar, "red," but referred by some to root hamal, "to carry"; also, but less commonly, both in Hebrew and in Arabic, 'athon, Arabic 'atan, used in Arabic only of the females; pereh, or pere', and `aradh, or `arodh, Arabic 'ard, "wild ass," and also `ayir, Arabic `air, "a young" or "wild ass").
The name `arodh (Job 39:5) is rare; onos (Matthew 21:2).
(1) Chamor is derived from the root which means, in all probability, "to carry a burden" (see Furst, Handworterbuch, ch-m-r ii), or "heap up." While no analogies are contained in the Old Testament this root occurs in New Hebrew. The Aramaic chamer, means "to make a ruin-heap" (from which the noun chamor, "a heap," used in Judges 15:16 in a play of words: "With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jawbone of an ass have I smitten a thousand men"). The root may also mean "to be red." In this case the nominal form chamor may have been derived from the reddish-brown skin of a certain type of the ass.
(2) 'Athon, Assyrian 'atanu and Aramaic 'atana', is derived from 'atha' "to come," "go," etc. (Furst suggests that it may be derived from 'athan, Aramaic `adhan, "to be slender," "docile," etc.); 'athonoth tsechoroth, "red-white asses" (Judges 5:10) designates a better breed.
(3) `Ayir, Arabic `airu ("male ass") used of the young and vigorous animal, is derived from the root `-y-r, "to go away," "escape through swiftness" (Hommel, Namen der Saugethiere, 121-23). This name is used as a parallel to beni 'athono (Genesis 49:11) and as a compound of `ayir pere' (Job 11:12), "a wild ass's colt."
(4) Pere', "wild ass," is derived from the root which means "to run," suggestive of the animal's swiftness. (5) `Arodh, is, in all probability, an Aramaic loan-word for the Hebrew pere'. The Targum uses `arodha' and `aradha'.
From the references to these various names in the Old Testament it is clear that
(1) chamor was used for riding purposes:
(a) by men (2 Samuel 16:2, 23; 2 Samuel 19:26 1 Kings 2:40; 1 Kings 13:13, 23, 24, 27);
(b) by women (Exodus 4:20 Joshua 15:18 Judges 1:14 1 Samuel 25:20, 23, 42; compare 2 Chronicles 28:15). tsemedh chamorim, "a pair of asses" was used for riding as well as for burdens (Judges 19:3, 10, 19, 21, etc.).
(2) It was also used in tillage (Isaiah 32:20). In this connection the law prohibits the use of an ass in plowing with an ox (Deuteronomy 22:10). The she-ass ('athon) was used as a beast of burden (Genesis 45:23) and for riding (Judges 5:10 Numbers 22:21, 22 2 Kings 4:24). The 'ayir is also referred to as used in riding (Judges 10:4), carrying (Isaiah 30:6) and tilling (Isaiah 30:24).
4. As a Domestic Animal:
Besides the use of the ass in agriculture and riding it was employed in the caravans of commerce, and sent even upon long expeditions through the desert. The ass is and always has been one of the most common domestic animals. It is a much more important animal in Bible lands than in England and America. The humblest peasant owned his own ass. It is associated throughout the Bible with peaceful pursuits (Genesis 42:26; Genesis 22:3 1 Samuel 16:20 2 Samuel 19:26 Nehemiah 13:15), whereas the horse is referred to in connection with war and armies. Reference is also made to the use of the flesh of the ass in time of famine (2 Kings 6:25). The origin of the ass like that of most domestic animals is lost in antiquity and it cannot be confidently stated from what species of wild ass it was derived. There are three races of wild asses in Asia, one of which is found in Syria, but they may all be referred to one species, Equus hemionus. The African species is East asinus, and good authorities consider our domestic asses to have descended from this, and to have been introduced at an early period into the entire Orient. The Sulaib Arabs of the Syrian desert, who have no horses, have a famous breed of swift and hardy gray asses which they assert they cross at intervals with the wild asses of the desert. It is not unlikely that domestic asses like dogs are the result of crosses with more than one wild species.
As a domestic animal it preceded the horse, which was first introduced into Egypt by the Hyksos about 1800 B.C. See HORSE.
5. Figurative Uses in the Old Testament:
(1) chamorr garem, "an ass of strong bones," is used metaphorically of Issachar (Genesis 49:14); besar chamor, "the genital organ of an ass," is used in contempt (Ezekiel 23:20); qebhurath chamor, "the burial of an ass," is applied to ignominious treatment of a corpse (Jeremiah 22:19); chamor is used as a symbol of peace and humility (2 Samuel 19:26). Zechariah speaks of the future Messiah as "lowly, and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass" (Zechariah 9:9; compare Matthew 21:5, 7).
(2) Pere' is used as a symbol of wildness (Hosea 8:9), and pere' 'adham, `a wild ass of man' (Genesis 16:12), referring to Ishmael, designates a free nomad. In Job the name pere' is applied to the desert dwellers (Job 24:5). Jeremiah employs this name as a symbol of lust. He compares Israel's love of idolatry to the lust of the wild ass (Jeremiah 2:24).
6. Wider Use in Literature:
The ass ('athon) figures prominently in the Balaam story (Numbers 22 2 Peter 2:16. See Gray, ICC, "Numbers," at the place). It is interesting to note that Apion charged the Jews that they "placed an ass's head in their holy place," affirming that "this was discovered when Antiochus Epiphanes spoiled our temple, and found that ass's head there made of gold, and worth a great deal of money." Josephus, refuting this absurdity, states that the Roman conquerors of Judea found nothing in the temple "but what was agreeable to the strictest piety." He goes on to say: "Apion ought to have had a regard to these facts.. As for us Jews, we ascribe no honor or power to asses, as do the Egyptians to crocodiles and asps.. Asses are the same with us which they are with other wise men; namely, creatures that bear the burdens that we lay upon them" (Apion, II, 7).
G. A. Smith, Jerusalem, I, 307; Gesenius' and Furst's Lexicons to the Old Testament; articles in Encyclopedia Biblica and HDB.