The Owl signified by the Lilith and Kippoz in the Bible

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As well as the passages mentioned in our previous page about the Owl signified by the Cos and Yanshuph in the Bible, two more passages yet remain in which the word Owl is mentioned. Curiously enough, both of them are found in the Book of Isaiah, the poet-prophet, who seized with a poet's intuition on the natural objects around him, and converted the simplest and most familiar incidents into glowing imagery and powerful metaphor.

In Isaiah xxxiv. 13-15, the following passages are found, which are, in fact, a continuation of the prophecy against Idumea, which has already been quoted. 'And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls.

' The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.

' There shall the great owl make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow.'

As already mentioned, the word which is translated as Owl, in the first of these passages, is bath-haya'anah, which is generally considered to signify the ostrich. In verse 14 we come to a new word, namely, lilith. In the marginal reading of the Authorized Version, this word is rendered as 'night monster,' and the Jewish bible takes nearly the same view of the word by translating it as 'a nocturnal one,' evidently basing this interpretation upon the derivation of the word. Several of those who study the Hebrew language have thought that the word lilith merely represents some mythological being, like the dread Lamia of the ancients, a mixture of the material and spiritual - too ethereal to be seen by daylight, and too gross to be above the requirements of human food. The blood of mankind was the food of these fearful beings, and, according to old ideas, they could only live among ruins and desert places, where they concealed themselves during the day at the bottoms of wells or the recesses of rock-caverns, and stole out at night to seize on some unlucky wanderer, and suck his blood as he slept.


Although it is very possible that the prophet may have referred to some of the mythological beings which were so universally supposed to inhabit deserted spots, and thus to have employed the word lilith as a term which he did not intend to be taken otherwise than metaphorically, it is equally possible that some type of nocturnal bird may have been meant, and in that case the bird in question must almost certainly have been an Owl of some kind. As to the particular species of Owl, that is a question which cannot be satisfactorily answered; especially as so many scholars find reason to doubt whether the word lilith represents an Owl, or indeed any ordinary inhabitant of earth. As, therefore, we have no data whereon to found a positive opinion, the question will be allowed to remain an open one.

The last word which is translated as Owl is kippoz. and occurs in ch. xxxiv. 15: 'There shall the great owl make her nest.'

Many people who study the Hebrew language think that in this case the word kippoz is a mere clerical error for kippod, or hedgehog, and have translated the passage accordingly. The Septuagint and the Vulgate follow this reading; Buxtorf, in his Hebrew Lexicon, translates kippoz as Thrush, deriving the name from the dipping character of its flight. The Jewish Bible, following several other authorities, renders the word as 'arrow-snake,' while several scholars translate it as 'darting serpent.'  This interpretation, however, is scarcely tenable, as the description of the Kippoz as making its nest, laying its eggs, and gathering them under its shadow, clearly points to a bird, and not a reptile. It is very true that the boa or python snake has been seen to coil itself round a heap of its eggs, but the sacred writer could hardly have had many opportunities of seeing such an act, while the custom of a bird gathering her young under the shadow of her wings must have been perfectly familiar to him. There is, moreover, the fact that the context speaks of the vultures, so that a bird of some kind was evidently in the mind of the writer. 19th century bilblical scholar HB Tristram suggests that the Kippoz might be intended for the Scops Owl, called Marouf by the Arabs, and which is very common about ruins, caves, and the old walls of towns. Its qualities are well represented by the word kippoz.

' It is a migrant, returning to Palestine in spring. It is the smallest owl in the country, being little more than seven inches in length, with long ear-tufts, and its whole plumage most delicately mottled and speckled with grey and light,brown.'

This species is very plentiful on the continent of Europe, though it is rare in the British Isles. It feeds, as might be presumed from its diminutive. size, on mice, small reptiles, and insects.

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