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,
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
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.