The Bible’s Grizzly Bear Attack

Bar Room Banter
The Bible’s Grizzly Bear Attack

There’s a difference between book smart and bar smart. You may not be book smart, but this series can make you seem educated and interesting from a barstool. So, belly up, pour yourself a glass of something good, and take notes as we look at the deadliest bear attack in written history.

The Good Lord works in mysterious ways, but one mystery caught my eye lately. When God wishes to smite sinners with a bear attack, what sort of bear will he deploy?

Grizzly. Of course. The Bible and biology tell us so.

Crack open the Good Book and you will find the brief, obscure, and enigmatic case of God’s Own Bear Mauling at 2 Kings 2:23-25. Despite my status as a retired Sunday School teacher and author of a book about bear attacks, this story slipped my awareness entirely. And small wonder, it’s just two little sentences. But it is also perhaps the bloodiest bear attack in written record.

Let me recap.

The hero of the story is the Prophet Elisha. Elisha is a major player in the Old Testament, a prophet so renowned that he also shows up in the Quran and the Book of Mormon.

The setting is 900 B.C., nearly 3,000 years ago. Elisha is walking near the town of Bethel, north of Jerusalem. Elisha was mobbed and taunted by a large group of boys. In particular, they tease Elisha for being bald, which, as Ol’ Cal will tell you, is a cheap shot.

Elisha took no shit. According to the New International Bible:  He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. 25


As a journalist, I am left hungry for more information. I’ve reported on maulings where more than one person is hurt—usually when a panicked bear ping-pongs down a trail between two groups of hikers, swatting them around in turn. But this attack is downright, dare I say… Biblical.

Imagine, a mama bear and a cub maul half a school bus full of brats. Seems a little harsh, but hey, I’m not God. And it’s maddening to not know the extent of injuries. As one biblical scholar wrote: “Were there 42 funerals? There’s no way to know.”

Theology aside, I was left wondering what manner of bear roamed the eastern shore of the Mediterranean back in the day. After all, there are eight species of bear worldwide to choose from.

Answer is, the Syrian brown bear, a relatively small and light-colored subspecies Ursus arctos syriacus/arctos, or as we call them in North American, brown or grizzly bears. This subspecies tops out around 550 pounds. Historically brown bears roamed from Turkey to Turkmenistan, but have extirpated from Jordan, Israel, and Palestine. You may be surprised to learn that brown bears still roam rugged and remote corners of Iran, Iraq, and Turkey.

The story, as so much of scripture, is subject to interpretation. But let me offer this: Beware of teasing a bald man or a mama grizz. Nothing good can come from it.

Feature image via Wiki Commons.

Sign In or Create a Free Account

Access the newest seasons of MeatEater, save content, and join in discussions with the Crew and others in the MeatEater community.
Save this article