Original Research - Special Collection: Eben Scheffler Festschrift

The ‘wonderful’ donkey – Of real and fabled donkeys

Hendrik Viviers
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 75, No 3 | a5479 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v75i3.5479 | © 2019 Hennie Viviers | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 March 2019 | Published: 30 October 2019

About the author(s)

Hendrik Viviers, Department of Religion Studies, Faculty of Humanities, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa


An ethological appreciation of the donkey has confirmed that it is a special and unique animal. The donkey is a well-adapted, sensitive, sociable, intelligent and notably loyal animal. Their so-called ‘stubbornness’ (dumbness) points rather to a species-specific intelligence to survive. Because of their domestication, they have been incorporated into the human world, mostly as pack, draught and riding animals. In the Ancient Near East (ANE) they sometimes also acted as ‘divine agents’, for example, in Balaam’s fable (Numbers 22). An ecological hermeneutic focus on this fable has evoked sympathy for the donkey. Even if there is over-ascription because of the ANE mytho-poetical worldview, an authentic donkey can still be discovered behind this ‘speaking’ animal. Perhaps we need far more animal-centric fables instead of anthropocentric fables nowadays to appreciate the donkey as a remarkable animal.


Donkey; Balaam’s fable; Anthropocentrism; Donkey ‘stubbornness’; Ethology; Ecological hermeneutics; Suspicion; Identification; Retrieval


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