based on two enduring symbol
s with biblical roots
, meaning essentially to speak truth to power
. Also used as "beard the lion in his den
The use of the word "beard" has as its source the culture from which the Old Testament is drawn. Among ancient Hebrews, and among Orthodox Jews and fundamentalist Muslims today, the greatest scorn one can hold for a man is symbolized by pulling, or even touching, his beard.
"The lion" refers to a powerful figure or interest. The tribe of Judah, for example, is referred to in Genesis 49:9 as "a lion's whelp," (which I'm only guessing would be another lion); and David, a descendant of Judah and founder of a powerful Israelite dynasty, is dubbed simply the Lion of Judah.
The phrase probably was first used in a Latin proverb, based on I Samuel 17:35, which, ironically, tells how David pursued a lion that had stolen a lamb, grabbed him by the beard, and killed him.
see also: Daniel 6:16-24