Animals Named in the Bible – Part 3
Birds and Bugs
Job 39:13-18; Lamentations 4:1-3, Ostriches are fast and beautiful, but apparently cruel (8/28/17)
Job 39:13-18; Lamentations 4:1-3, Ostriches are fast and beautiful, but apparently cruel
Micah 1:1-9, “Owl” probably refers to any nocturnal bird
Genesis 8:1-12, “Raven” probably includes any glossy black bird, e.g., magpies, jays, etc
Luke 12:4-7, 13:18-21, A “sparrow” is probably any small hopping bird; a “bird of the air” flies
Leviticus 11:13-19, Birds can be clean or unclean, but only the unclean birds are itemized
Deuteronomy 14:11-20, Birds can be clean or unclean, but only the unclean birds are itemized
Song of Solomon 4:1-7; Matthew 10:16, But they did like doves
Job 39:27-30; Matthew 24:28, Eagles could be any large bird of prey or carrion eater
Leviticus 11:13, The griffon is a large bird of prey, not a lion/eagle hybrid
Matthew 23:37-39; 26:31-35, Hens and cocks weren’t common among the Hebrews until after the Exile
Exodus 28:1-35, “Scarlet” is actually “scarlet insect,” but it’s used to mean “scarlet yarn” or “scarlet fabric”
Luke 11:5-13, Scorpions are a common pest
Ecclesiastes 10:1; 1 Samuel 24:9-14, Flies and fleas
Exodus 16:12-30, “Worm” includes small, swarming animals like caterpillars or centipedes
Genesis 35:8; Judges 4:4-5; Isaiah 7:18; Deuteronomy 26:1-15, Honey implies bees.
Leviticus 11:20-25, Bugs can be clean or unclean.
Exodus 10:8-20, There are lots of locusts, and they are all hungry.
More Animals Named in the Bible
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Even if we sometimes don’t quite agree with them on exactly how animals should be divided into groups, the children of Israel were keen observers of nature. Ostriches are big, impressive birds, with beautiful plumage (Job 39:13). They make nests right on the ground (vs. 14), and they can run more than 40 mph, much faster than a horse (vs. 18). The females lay their eggs in a communal nest, which may be what gave rise to the ideas that “she leaves her eggs” and “deals cruelly with her young, as if they were not hers” (vss. 14, 16) and that they are cruel (Lamentations 4:3). According to Wikipedia
, citing a paper in Nature
, each female does distinguish her own eggs, however.
If you want real cruelty, you have to look at human beings. Jeremiah wrote Lamentations about the three-year siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, when people were starving and dying of thirst inside the walls of the holy city.
Micah 1:1-9, “Owl” probably refers to any nocturnal bird (8/29/17)
Well, today the study tip is going to be more of a word puzzle. Bear in mind that I’ve already said several times that translating the names of animals that only occur once or a few times can be difficult. Sometimes I really don’t understand the choices that translators make, though. Yesterday we read about the notsah/ostrich.
Given the plumage, the behavior, and the speed of the animal, it’s clear that the text in Job is talking about an ostrich. All 15 of my electronic Bibles, old and new translations alike, render notsah
Imagine my surprise when another word, yahanaw
, is rendered owl
by the King James Version but ostrich
by 12 of the 15 translations. One wimps out and uses bird
, but only the King James and Jubilee use owl
. Well, fine, maybe yahanaw
is another word for “ostrich.” Let’s check.
is used eight times; seven of those don’t tell us anything except that whatever they are, they are unclean and live in the wilderness. Micah says something important: they make a wailing sound that is like lamenting or mourning. Owls are sort of famous for their mournful calls, but listen to the ostrich
. Do you think that booming grunt is the sound of mourning? What I think is that translators should take more biology classes.
Genesis 8:1-12, “Raven” probably includes any glossy black bird, e.g., magpies, jays, et (8/30/17)
Quick! What bird did Noah send out from the ark? A dove, right? True, but first he sent a raven. You get bonus point if you remembered the raven, because my hubby and I agree that we never do, in spite of having read this scripture many times. “Raven” may be a general term for any glossy black bird.
Pray for everyone affected by floods the world over.
Luke 12:4-7, 13:18-21, A “sparrow” is probably any small hopping bird; a “bird of the air” flies. (9/6/17)
At our house we talk about “little brown birds.” We can tell them apart, and we even know what kind most of them are (house sparrow, house finch, bushtit, junco, etc.), but unless there’s some specific reason to identify the species, we tend to say “little brown bird.” In the same way, “birds of the air” are flying birds, and most likely “sparrows” are small birds. It doesn’t mean that Jesus and others couldn’t tell them apart, it just means that God loves them all.
Leviticus 11:13-19, Birds can be clean or unclean, but only the unclean birds are itemized (7/12/17)
There are birds that you can eat and even use as offerings (for example, turtledoves), but there seems to be no list of the clean birds. The unclean birds are listed. Yesterday I was reading a commentary on the Ten Commandments by Vernard Eller. He makes the interesting point that by enumerating what you shall not do, God has freed you to do just about anything else you want to.
It’s the same with the list of about a dozen unclean birds. According to a study
by the American Museum of Natural History, there are about 18,000 species of birds in the world. No wonder there’s no list of clean birds! As Eller says, our God is a God of freedom, not restrictions.
Deuteronomy 14:11-20, Birds can be clean or unclean, but only the unclean birds are itemized (7/13/17)
A second list of unclean birds differs only slightly from the first one. A couple of alert readers commented on the first list. Pam E. says, “No wonder there is the saying about having ‘to eat crow’ when making an egregious mistake.”
Jim D. compares the lists to an “All Risk” homeowner’s policy. It will cover anything that is not excluded. That is why in the commercial about the guy who wants his air conditioner to be covered, the agent says it cannot be covered but a Zombie Apocalypse would be covered. In the same way, most birds are clean (covered), but the unclean birds are excluded (not covered), and therefore they are named.
Many commentators have noted that the unclean birds are mostly flesh-eating or fish-eating, or else they walk on the ground, like the ostrich and hoopoe. I suspect that bats and flying insects are lumped in here because they fly and are unclean, and not because the Israelites couldn’t tell a bird from a bee.
Song of Solomon 4:1-7; Matthew 10:16, But they did like doves (7/21/17)
In my back-yard we have seen rock doves, white-winged doves, mourning doves, Inca doves, and once even a pair of ring-necked doves. Except for the rock doves, they are all lovely and peaceable.
From the fact that they are not listed among the unclean birds, we deduce that doves are clean. (In fact, they can be offered as sacrifices, e.g., Leviticus 1:14). They are so beautiful that the Song of Solomon compares the woman’s eyes to doves, and so innocent that Jesus says we should be like them in this.
Job 39:27-30; Matthew 24:28, Eagles could be any large bird of prey or carrion eater (7/24/17)
On a trip to Alaska in 1999, we saw numerous bald eagles, which are about as common there as robins are in my back yard. Bald eagles, golden eagles – any eagles – are big, dangerous, impressive birds with excellent vision, which often live on the rocky crags. Then a couple of years ago at the Grand Canyon, we saw turkey vultures – which are huge – and California condors – which are humungous
vultures, the biggest bird in North America. Vultures also live on rocky crags, and as we all learned from watching Westerns, they are especially known for gathering in great wheeling groups above dead or dying animals.
God says to Job, “Are you able to control the eagle? Then who are you to question me?” Jesus says, “Just as you can tell unmistakably from far away that there is a corpse – because of the vultures – you will be able to tell unmistakably from far away that the true Christ has appeared!”
Now, an interesting thing to me is that the eagle in Job (in the Greek Old Testament) is an aetos
, and the vulture in Matthew is an aetos
. We already know that the biblical writers could tell an eagle from a vulture (see Lev. 11:13-20, Deuteronomy 14:11-20). In the context of clean vs. unclean, the writers are specific. In other contexts, “big meat-eating bird” is close enough. Always read in context.
Leviticus 11:13, The griffon is a large bird of prey, not a lion/eagle hybrid (8/8/17)
Today we’re going to read one verse ten times. All but one of these translations agree that the first bird, Hebrew nehsher
, is an eagle; nehsher
occurs 26 times in the Old Testament, so you can look at the context and say, “Okay, that’s an eagle.” Everybody agrees that the second and third are large, meat- or carrion-eating birds; also, they have to occur in the Middle East. After that, your guess is as good as any, because each of these bird names occur only twice: In Leviticus 11:13 and Deuteronomy 14:12. The only thing we know for sure is that we aren’t supposed to eat them.
In honor of all the Harry Potter fans out there, however, take a special look at the Douay-Rheims translation: “the eagle, and the griffon, and the osprey.” The gryphon or griffin (modern spellings) is a mythical winged hybrid of an eagle and a lion. Don’t eat those, either.
You need to read more than one translation and keep an eagle eye out for places that the translations differ. The differences will give you new insight into the text, even if that insight is that no one is completely certain of the meaning of an ancient Hebrew word. Every
translation is certain that God loves you!
An excerpt from several translations.
Matthew 23:37-39; 26:31-35, Hens and cocks weren’t common among the Hebrews until after the Exile (8/11/17)
- The eagle, and the griffon, and the osprey. (1899 Douay-Rheims Bible)
- Eagles, vultures, buzzards. (Easy-to-Read Version)
- The eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture. (English Standard Version)
- The eagle, and the gier-eagle, and the ospray. (American Standard Version, Bible in Basic English, Revised Version)
- The eagle, and the ossifrage, and the sea-eagle. (Darby Bible)
- Eagles, bearded vultures, black vultures. (God’s Word)
- The eagle, vulture, osprey. (International Standard Version)
- The great vulture, and the bearded vulture, and the ospray. (Jewish Publication Society Bible)
- The eagle, the ossifrage, the ospray. (Jubilee Bible, King James Version)
- The eagle, and the black vulture, and the bearded vulture. (Modern King James Version)
I’ve read that the Jews had no domestic chickens until after they returned from the Exile. The only rooster in the Septuagint (LXX, the Greek Old Testament) is in Proverbs 30:31, and some English translations put a strutting rooster there. Most have either greyhound
, because the Hebrew has “slender-waisted racer.” (It’s worth noting that the return from Exile was around 538 BCE, and the LXX was translated around the third century BCE. Having a rooster in the LXX doesn’t prove they knew about chickens before the Exile.) There don’t seem to be any hens in the Old Testament.
By New Testament times, the Jews in Palestine were familiar enough with chickens that Jesus could use the hen as a symbol of his (unrequited) love for the people of Jerusalem and the rooster as a way of marking time.
Exodus 28:1-35, “Scarlet” is actually “scarlet insect,” but it’s used to mean “scarlet yarn” or “scarlet fabric (8/31/17)
My hubby says that these days when there’s some giant gala, the reporters ask the celebrities, “Who are you wearing?” Each celebrity responds with the name of her dress designer. The reporters would be amazed when they asked Aaron and his sons “Who are you wearing?” and the answer was “God!”
This brief passage mentions “scarlet yarns” five times. The Hebrew actually says
“scarlet grub,” where the grub is a type of maggot. Grubs (or maggots, or worms, depending on your translation) are also referred to, without the color, in Exodus 16:20, Deuteronomy 28:39, Job 25:6, and five more places (out of 43 total). In contrast, the color is referred to 42 times, and apparently in every case it’s actually used to mean the scarlet yarn or fabric made using the grubs, even when the grub is not mentioned. This is similar to our use of the word “beaver” to mean “a hat made of beaver fur” or “mink” to mean “a coat made out of mink pelts.”
“Scarlet yarns” is one of those cases where all translators know what the Hebrew means
and give us that instead of the literal words. You have to admit that if we read “scarlet maggot” in five places in this passage, we would wonder just exactly what kind of clothing God designs.
Re: “Scarlet Yarns.” Who would have thought there’d be such a lot of interest in grubs? Alert reader Laura S. sent this link to a reconstruction of the priest’s outfit. In response to questions from Jean J. and Ginger J., I found a description of our scarlet dye, and a link to a close relative (I think) of our grub. Apparently several closely and distantly related bugs produce varying qualities of red dye. I can’t figure out for sure which of them occur in the Middle East.
Luke 11:5-13, Scorpions are a common pest (9/1/17)
There are almost 2000 species of scorpions, and all of them are venomous and equipped with a stinger. Only about 25 are potentially deadly to a healthy adult human being, but all of them can give you a painful sting and make you regret meeting up with them. We are not surprised to learn that scorpions have a bad reputation in the Bible and are emblematic of wickedness (Ezekiel 2:6). When Rehoboam became king after his father Solomon, he took a hard line with his people, saying “My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions,” which led to the immediate revolt of the ten northern tribes (1 Kings 12:14).
Anyway, Jesus uses scorpions in an illustration of what we don’t give to our kids, because we give our children good things, not bad things. How much more excellent are the gifts we receive from our Father in heaven!
Ecclesiastes 10:1; 1 Samuel 24:9-14, Flies and fleas (7/27/17)
I’m sure you’ve heard of “a fly in the ointment.” That’s a small but annoying or costly defect. Apparently this idea originated with the writer of Ecclesiastes, possibly King Solomon, who compares a little folly that ruins wisdom and honor to a dead fly that ruins a batch of perfume. Little things count, he says.
David made exactly the opposite point when he was talking to Saul. “Why are you even bothering about me?” he asks. “I’m no more important than a flea!”
Exodus 16:12-30, “Worm” includes small, swarming animals like caterpillars or centipedes (9/12/17)
Once in a great while I open a canister that’s been around for some time in my kitchen, or I open a brand-new box of something from the store, and I find – in addition to the food – weevils! or maggots! or centipedes! Eww!
Some of the Israelites had a similar unpleasant surprise on that first day after the LORD started supplying them with food. They had been instructed not to keep any overnight, but being just like you and me, either they didn’t listen to the instructions or they thought they knew better. The next morning they went to the store of manna that they weren’t supposed to keep, and what did they find? weevils! or maggots! or centipedes! or some other kind of bug in the general category of “worms.” Eww!
So they all learned to follow instructions, right? Wrong.
Genesis 35:8; Judges 4:4-5; Isaiah 7:18; Deuteronomy 26:1-15, Honey implies bees. (7/10/17)
I said before that if I ever develop a new subdivision, two of the streets will Lando and Goshen
. I plan to name two more streets “Milk” and “Honey.” Then between the corner of Lando and Goshen and the corner of Milk and Honey, I’ll put a beautiful park. Buy now while the lots are still cheap. (Hah!)
Anyway, the Bible mentions “a land flowing with milk and honey” 20 times, and milk and honey together three more times. God doesn’t just give you a gift, he gives you a rich
gift – not just a land for the children of Israel of to call their own, but a rich
land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Strangely enough, bees are only mentioned once and symbolize the Assyrian army, maybe because when bees swarm, they are organized, but so numerous you can’t even count them.
The bee also occurs in a beautiful woman’s name: Deborah, which means “bee.” That’s sweet.
Leviticus 11:20-25, Bugs can be clean or unclean (7/6/17)
A cousin and I once spent most of a late-night, grade-B science fiction movie debating whether we were going to eat a can of chocolate-covered ants. We didn’t. I doubt if we would have eaten chocolate-covered locusts, either.
We didn’t know – or care, probably – that ants are unclean. Locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers are clean. Remember that “clean vs. unclean” is different from “clean vs. dirty.” You can eat things that are clean (vs. unclean), or in some cases use them in worship services. “Unclean” means that something is ritually impure – you can’t eat it or use it in worship. The laws about what’s clean and what’s unclean all too arcane for non-Jews to understand, but even as a kid I understood I wasn’t going to eat any ants!
Reader Comment: Today's passage remind me of northern New Mexico. In years when locusts are plentiful, folks roast them in a paper bag with a little salt in a warm oven. These chapulines are crunchy, delicious, and, supposedly, nutritious. My students often brought some to share with me, and I liked them. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a pretty adventurous eater.
Exodus 10:8-20, There are lots of locusts, and they are all hungry (8/23/17)
One of the plagues in Egypt was a swarm of locusts that come through and ate everything in sight. Swarms of locusts are used as a metaphor both for invading armies and for other times of great destruction in Isaiah 33, Jeremiah 51, Nahum 3, Amos 7, and Revelation 9. Even in modern times, swarms of locusts
cause trouble in the Middle East.
More Animals Named in the Bible
Animals Named in the Bible – Part 1 Animals Named in the Bible – Part 2
Animals Named in the Bible – Part 3
Animals Named in the Bible – Part 4
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