In various parts
of the Old Testament there occur several words which are translated as
OWL in the Authorized Version, and in most cases the rendering is acknowledged
to be the correct one, while in one or two instances there is a difference
of opinion on the subject.
In Lev. xi. 16, 17,
we find the following birds considered among those which are an abomination,
and which might not be eaten by the Israelites: 'The
owl, and the night-hawk, and the cuckoo, and the hawk after his kind; And
the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl.'
Here, then, we have
in close Proximity the word Owl repeated three times, and the same repetition
occurs in ,the parallel passage in Deut. xiv. The words which are
here translated as Owl are totally different words in the Hebrew, so that
if we leave them untranslated, the, passages will run as follow: 'And
the Bath-haya'anah, and the night-hawk, and the cuckoo, and the hawk after
his kind; 'And the Cos, and the cormorant, and the Yanshuph.'
Taking these words
in order, we find in the first place that the Jewish Bible accepts the
translation of the words cos and yanshuph,
to them the mark of doubt. But it translates the word bath-haya'anah
as Ostrich, without adding the doubtful mark. The same word occurs
in several other passages of Scripture, the first being in Job 30: 29:
'I am a brother to dragons and
a companion to owls.' In the marginal
reading of the Authorized Version, which, it should be borne in mind, is
of equal value with text, the rendering is the same as that of the Jewish
Bible, and in several other passages the same reading is followed. We therefore
accept the word bath-haya'anah
as the ostrich, and dismiss it from
among the owls.
Coming now to the
other words, we find in the passages already quoted the words cos and
yanshuph. Both those words occur in other parts of Scripture, and
evidently are the names of nocturnal birds that haunt ruins and lonely
places. Taking them in order, we find the word cos
to occur again
in Ps. cii. 6: 'I am like a
pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert.'
The Psalm in which this passage occurs is a penitential prayer, in which
the writer uses many of the metaphors employed by Job when lamenting his
afflictions, and describes himself as left alone among men.
The simile is equally
just and feasible in this case, the Owl being essentially a bird of night,
and associated with solitude and gloom. The particular species which is
signified by the word cos bears but very slightly on the subject,
inasmuch as in general habits all the true Owls are very similar in hiding
by day in their nests, and coming out at night to hunt for prey, their
melancholy hoot, or startling shriek, breaking the silence of the night.
Still it is necessary
to identify, if we can, some species with the word cos, and it is
very likely that the Little Owl,
or Boomah of the Arabs, is the bird which is signified by the word cos.
Whether or not the
Little Owl was used for the object of attracting smaller birds to their
traps (as detailled in our information and fact page about the Little
Owl) by the ancient inhabitants of Palestine is rather doubtful; but
as they certainly did so employ decoy-birds for the purpose of attracting
game, it is not unlikely that the Little Owl was found to serve as a decoy.
The common Barn
Owl also inhabits Palestine, and if, as is likely to be the case, the
word cos is a collective term under which several species are grouped
together, the Barn or White Owl is likely to be one of them.
the Barn Owl's shrieks from a deserted building in England can sound particularly
haunting, especially on a dark night when nothing is visible, it is likely
that in the East, where popular superstition has peopled many a well with
its jinn and many a ruin with its spirit, the nocturnal cry of this bird,
which is often called the Screech Owl in the UK from its note, would be
exceedingly terrifying, and would impress itself on the minds of sacred
writers as a fit image of solitude, terror, and desolation.
The Screech Owl is scarcely less plentiful
in Palestine than the Little Owl, and, whether or not it be mentioned under
a separate name, is sure to be one of the birds to which allusion is made
in the Scriptures.
Another name now rises before us: this
is the Yanshuph, translated as the Great Owl, a word which occurs not only
in the prohibitory passages of Levitieus and Deuteronomy, but in the Book
of Isaiah. In that book, ch. xxxiv. ver. 10, 11, we find the following
passage: 'From generation to
generation it shall lie waste; none none shall pass through it for ever
'But the cormorant and the bittern
shall possess it; the owl (yanshuph)
also and the raven shall dwell in
it: and He shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones
of emptiness.' The Jewish Bible
follows 1.110 same reading. It is most probable that the Great Owl
or Yanshuph is the Egyptian Eagle Owl.