Leviticus 11:18
And the swan, and the pelican, and the gier eagle,
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(18) And the swan.—The word here translated “swan,” which, besides the parallel list in Deut., also occurs in Leviticus 11:30, among the names of the lizards, denotes, according to tradition, another variety of the owl. Whatever difficulty there may be about the true import of the word, it is certainly not the swan. It has, however, also been translated “ibis,” “bat,” “purple water-hen,” “heron,” “pelican,” and “goose.”

And the pelican.—The pelican is one of the largest and most voracious of the web-footed birds. It fills its capacious pouch with fish almost to suffocation, which it disgorges either for its own future consumption, or for the nourishment of its young, by pressing the under mandible against the neck and breast to assist the vomiting up of the contents. Hence its Hebrew name, which denotes “the vomiter.” During this operation the red nail of the upper mandible comes in contact with the breast, thus imparting to it the appearance of blood, which is most probably the origin of the fable that it feeds its young with its own life-blood. The pelican often builds in deserted places as far as twenty miles from the shore. When it has filled its expansive pouch with prey, it retires to its lonely place of repose, where it remains with its head leaning against its breast almost motionless till impelled by hunger to fly to the water in search for a fresh store of victims. It is to this melancholy attitude of lonely desolation that the Psalmist refers when he says, “I am like a pelican of the wilderness” (Psalm 102:6), and it is to its habit of building in deserted places that the prophets allude when they describe the desolation of Edom and Nineveh by saying that “the pelican shall possess” them (Isaiah 34:11; Zephaniah 2:14). In the last two passages the Authorised Version, which wrongly translates it “cormorant” in the text, has rightly pelican in the margin.

And the gier eagle.—As the name of a bird, this word (racham), which is here in the masculine form, and denotes “the merciful,” only occurs again in the parallel passage, Deuteronomy 14:17, where, however, it is in the feminine (rachamah). The species here intended is most probably the Gyps, called alternately the sacred or Egyptian vulture and Pharaoh’s hen, which is often figured on the ancient Egyptian monuments. It was regarded with religious veneration in Egypt, both because it prevented epidemics by acting as scavenger, and because of its extreme devotion and tenderness to its young, since it was believed to watch over its offspring a hundred and twenty days every year, and to feed them, if necessary, with the blood of its thighs. Hence it was used to denote both “mother” and “merciful” in Egyptian, and hence, too, its name “merciful” in Hebrew. The ancients also believed that there were no male vultures, and that the females conceived through the wind. It was probably to counteract this superstitious belief that the lawgiver uses here the masculine form and the feminine form in the parallel passage in Deuteronomy 14:17. The vulture is most loathsome in its habits, and feeds upon the foulest carrion, for which reason it is put in the list of unclean birds.

11:1-47 What animals were clean and unclean. - These laws seem to have been intended, 1. As a test of the people's obedience, as Adam was forbidden to eat of the tree of knowledge; and to teach them self-denial, and the government of their appetites. 2. To keep the Israelites distinct from other nations. Many also of these forbidden animals were objects of superstition and idolatry to the heathen. 3. The people were taught to make distinctions between the holy and unholy in their companions and intimate connexions. 4. The law forbad, not only the eating of the unclean beasts, but the touching of them. Those who would be kept from any sin, must be careful to avoid all temptations to it, or coming near it. The exceptions are very minute, and all were designed to call forth constant care and exactness in their obedience; and to teach us to obey. Whilst we enjoy our Christian liberty, and are free from such burdensome observances, we must be careful not to abuse our liberty. For the Lord hath redeemed and called his people, that they may be holy, even as he is holy. We must come out, and be separate from the world; we must leave the company of the ungodly, and all needless connexions with those who are dead in sin; we must be zealous of good works devoted followers of God, and companions of his people.
]The swan - More probably the ibis, the sacred bird of the Egyptians. "The gier eagle" is most likely the Egyptian vulture, a bird of unprepossessing appearance and disgusting habits, but fostered by the Egyptians as a useful scavenger.18. the swan—found in great numbers in all the countries of the Levant. It frequents marshy places—the vicinity of rivers and lakes. It was held sacred by the Egyptians, and kept tame within the precincts of heathen temples. It was probably on this account chiefly that its use as food was prohibited. Michaelis considers it the goose.

the pelican—remarkable for the bag or pouch under its lower jaw which serves not only as a net to catch, but also as a receptacle of food. It is solitary in its habits and, like other large aquatic birds, often flies to a great distance from its favorite haunts.

the gier eagle—Being here associated with waterfowl, it has been questioned whether any species of eagle is referred to. Some think, as the original name racham denotes "tenderness," "affection," the halcyon or kingfisher is intended [Calmet]. Others think that it is the bird now called the rachami, a kind of Egyptian vulture, abundant in the streets of Cairo and popularly called "Pharaoh's fowl." It is white in color, in size like a raven, and feeds on carrion; it is one of the foulest and filthiest birds in the world. [See on [40]De 14:17.]

No text from Poole on this verse. And the swan,.... This is a bird well known to us, but it is a question whether it is intended by the word here used; for though it is so rendered in the Vulgate Latin, it is differently rendered by many others: the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem call it "otia", which seems to be the same with the "otus" of Aristotle (n), who says it is like an owl, having a tuft of feathers about its ears (from whence it has its name); and some call it "nycticorax", or the owl; and here, by Bochart (o), and others, the owl called "noctua" is thought to be meant; and with which agrees the account some Jewish writers give of it, as Aben Ezra and Baal Hatturim, who say it is a bird, which every one that sees is astonished at it, as other birds are at the owl, are frightened at the sight of it, and stupefied. But as the same word is used Leviticus 11:30 among the creeping things, for a mole, what Jarchi observes is worthy of consideration, that this is "calve (chauve) souris" (the French word for a bat), and is like unto a mouse, and flies in the night; and that which is spoken of among the creeping things is like unto it, which hath no eyes, and they call it "talpa", a mole. The Septuagint version renders it by "porphyrion", the redshank; and so Ainsworth; and is thought to be called by the Hebrew name in the text, from the blowing of its breath in drinking; for it drinks biting, as Aristotle says (p):

and the pelican; which has its name in Hebrew from vomiting; being said by Aben Ezra and Baal Hatturim to be a bird that vomits its food; and it is observed by several naturalists (q), of the pelican, that it swallows down shellfish, and after they have lain some time in its stomach, it vomits them up again; where having been heated, the shells open, and it picks out the meat:

and the gier eagle; or vulture eagle, the "gypoeetos" of Aristotle (r), and who says it is called also "oripelargos", or the mountain stork; and which Pliny (s) also makes to be an eagle of the vulture kind. Dr. Shaw says (t), that near Cairo there are several flocks of the "ach bobba" (white father, differing little from the stork but in its colour), the "percnopterus" or "oripelargos", which like the ravens about London feed upon carrion, and nastiness that is thrown without the city; this the Arabs call "rachama", the same with Leviticus 11:18 and in Deuteronomy 14:17 and whatever bird is here meant, it must be one that is tender toward its young, as its name signifies, as Aben Ezra and Baal Hatturim observe; and though both the eagle and the vulture are rapacious birds, yet have a great regard to their young; of the eagle see Deuteronomy 32:11 and the vulture, with the Egyptians, was an "hieroglyphic" of a tender mother, or any merciful person; it being reported of it, that during the one hundred twenty days its young are under its care, it very rarely flies from them, being so solicitous of nourishing them; and that by making incisions in its thigh, it lets out a bloody flow of milk, when it has nothing else to support them (u). The Talmudists (w) say, that the bird "racham", as it is here called, is the same with "serakrak", and is by the Targum of Jonathan, and in the Syriac version, here rendered "serakraka", so called from which signifies to "squall"; and, according to Munster (x), is thought by some to be the "pica", magpie, or rather the jay; and Dr. Shaw (y) observes, that by a small transmutation of letters, that and the "shagarag" of the Arabs are the same; which he says is of the size and shape of a jay, though with a smaller bill, and shorter legs; the back is brownish; the head, neck, and belly, of a light green; and upon the wings and tail there are several spots or ringlets of a deep blue; it makes a "squalling" noise; and, he adds, it has no small affinity both in voice and plumage with the jay. The Septuagint version renders the word by the "swan"; which if not intended by the first word in this text, may by this, being kind to its young, though otherwise reckoned a cruel and unmerciful bird, as Bochart (z) observes; some think the woodpecker is meant, so called from its love to its parents (a).

(n) Hist. Animal. l. 8. c. 12. Vid. Plin. l. 10. c. 23. (o) Ut supra, (Apud Bochard Hierozoic. par. 2. l. 2.) c. 23. (p) Ut supra, (Hist. Animal. l. 8.) c. 6. so Plin. l. 10. c. 46. (q) Aristot. Hist. Animal. l. 9. c. 10. Aelian. de Animal. l. 3. c. 20, Plin. Nat. Hist. l. 10. c. 40. (r) Hist. Animal. l. 9. c. 32. (s) Nat. Hist. l. 10. c. 3.((t) Travels, p. 449. Ed. 2.((u) Horns Apollo & Pisidas apud Bochart. ut supra, (o)) c. 27. col. 388. (w) T. Bab. Cholin, fol. 63. 1.((x) Dictionar. Chald. p. 4. 18. (y) Travels, p. 183. (z) Ut supra (o)), c. 25. col. 300. (a) Plin. l. 10. c. 33.

And the swan, and the pelican, and the gier eagle,
18. the horned owl] (swan A.V. and R.V. mg.) another kind of owl. The Heb. root (also used in Leviticus 11:30 for the chameleon [mole A.V.]) suggests a bird that makes a snorting sound, or breathes hard. The LXX. trans. πορφυρίων. Tristram (Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 249) and Driver (Deut. in loc.) ‘the water hen.’

the pelican] In the lists and Psalm 102:6 [Hebrews 7] (‘a pelican of the wilderness’); Isaiah 34:11; Zephaniah 2:14 (cormorant A. V.) it is used of a bird inhabiting desolate places.

the vulture] (the gier-eagle A.V.) It is distinguished by zoologists as vultur percnopterus.

The cormorant follows in Deut. at the close of Leviticus 14:17.(cf. Deuteronomy 14:9 and Deuteronomy 14:10). Of water animals, everything in the water, in seas and brooks, that had fins and scales was edible. Everything else that swarmed in the water was to be an abomination, its flesh was not to be eaten, and its carrion was to be avoided with abhorrence. Consequently, not only were all water animals other than fishes, such as crabs, salamanders, etc., forbidden as unclean; but also fishes without scales, such as eels for example. Numa laid down this law for the Romans: ut pisces qui sqamosi non essent ni pollicerent (sacrificed): Plin. h. n. 32, c. 2, s. 10. In Egypt fishes without scales are still regarded as unwholesome (Lane, Manners and Customs).
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