November 3rd, 2013
06:42 AM ET
The surprisingly badass birds of the Bible
Opinion by Debbie Blue, special to CNN
(CNN) - As long as humans have been breathing, they've invested birds with meaning.
They fly all over the Bible - from beginning to end - and they have a prominent place in the founding narratives of almost every culture and religion. They are not just bones and feathers. They are strength or hope, omen and oracle.
In the Bible's first book, Genesis, God hovers over the face of the water like a dove, the Jewish sages suggest in the Talmud. In its final book, birds gorge on the flesh of the defeated "beast" in Book of Revelation.
Birds are the currency of mercy, sacrificed to God in the hopes of winning blessings or forgiveness. They bring bread to the prophets. Abraham has to shoo them away from his offering, and a pigeon accompanies Jesus on his first visit to the temple.
Jesus told us to "consider the birds." I love this about him, and I've taken his advice to heart.
In doing so, I've found paying attention to these wild, awesome animals reveals hidden layers of meaning in the Bible and new lessons for modern Christians looking for grace in unexpected places.
Here are a few of the surprising things I've learned about Bible birds.
Take the one bird everyone thinks they know: the dove.
In each of the four gospels, the Spirit of God shows up at Jesus' baptism in the form of a dove. In the popular imagination this Holy Spirit dove is snow white.
But the bird at the baptism was more likely a rock dove, a species much more prevalent in Palestine. These birds are grey with an iridescent green and violet neck. They're more commonly known as the pigeon.
Though most of us have separate categories for pigeons (dirty) and doves (pure), ornithologists will tell you the names are interchangeable.
That means the symbol for the Holy Spirit is just a hair's breadth away from the symbol of urban trashiness.
The dove has come to seem a bit bland as far as Christian symbols go. Maybe it would be helpful to imagine the Holy Spirit as a pigeon instead of a dainty white dove.
Pigeons are ubiquitous, on the streets. They are forever leaving droppings on our sidewalks and windowsills. What if the spirit of God descends like a pigeon, somehow - always underfoot, routinely ignored, often disdained?
The Hebrew word "nesher" is often translated in English versions of the Bible as eagle, but most scholars agree that "griffon vulture" is at least an alternate, if not a more fitting, translation.
When God reminds Moses how He bore the Israelites on "nesher's" wings, and when the prophet Isaiah promises that the faithful will rise up with wings like "neshers'" - think vulture instead of eagle.
Vultures may be loathsome to the average westerner, but they are some pretty badass creatures.
They are remarkable purifying machines. They take care of rotting remains that could otherwise spread diseases. They have uniquely strong digestive juices that kill bacteria and nasty pathogens.
The Mayans referred to the vultures as death eaters. This struck them as a good, godlike thing. It makes sense. We need something to eat death (digest it, rid it of its toxicity). Vultures stare death in the face and fear it not at all.
Before Noah sends out the dove from the ark, he releases a raven. Which apparently never comes back.
Commentators have often come to the conclusion that the raven must have failed in its mission. Maybe it got distracted while eating the corpses of the people drowned in the flood.
Philo, the Jewish commentator, called the raven a symbol of Satan. Augustine said it personified impure men and procrastinators.
In the book of Proverbs, we meet ravens plucking out the eyes of disobedient children. But it is also the raven that flies to feed the prophet Elijah when he is stranded in the desert.
In Luke, Jesus asks his hearers to consider the raven. He says this might free them from anxiety.
This takes on more meaning when you've followed the bird through the text. The raven fails, it blunders; it is noble, it is voracious; occasionally its succeeds in doing the right thing - much like us.
Jesus says, consider the raven, and don't be anxious: God feeds the carrion-eating procrastinator, which means God will care for you as well.
4. The Rooster
The rooster announces Peter's betrayal on the night before Jesus dies.
Other than that, the bird usually doesn't get much attention. It announces the dawn. Yawn.
But the rooster is symbolically loaded.
The cock has long been associated with masculine virility (the slang term for the male body part is not an accident).
The rooster was believed to be so potent that if a man smeared himself with a broth of boiled cock, the fiercest of beasts could not harm him. Rabid lions cowered before it. Even the most terrible monster would be so struck with fear at the sound of a cockcrow that it would simply die of fear.
We miss something in the story of Peter's betrayal if we don't consider this barrel-chested badass.
Of all the birds Jesus might have compared himself to, he chose ... a chicken.
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem ... how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings," Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke.
It's a loving image, but there's a certain fragility in it as well.
The chicken was domesticated from the wild red jungle fowl nearly 6,000 years ago. They've been caged, stuffed with garlic, wrapped in bacon, Kentucky fried.
In other words, it is vastly different, in the cultural vernacular, to be a chicken than it is to be the slang term for rooster.
That makes me think that God's power may be different than how we're used to imagining it.
It's quieter, slower.
More like a mother hen than a strutting, crowing rooster.
If considering the birds can change our ideas about what holy means, what God is like, then maybe we can begin to see grace in wild places where we’d never noticed it before.
Debbie Blue is the author of "Consider the Birds," and a founding pastor of House of Mercy, a church in St. Paul, Minnesota.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
what about the flamingo? what does the Bible say about the flamingo?
what about the penguin. what does the Bible say about the penguin?
Not a lot, but....One time, the Pope was in the Vatican when he heard a knock at the door. When he answered, he saw Dopey, of the Seven Dwarfs standing there looking embarrassed.
Pope: Well hello, Dopey, and what can I do for you?
Dopey: Well, your Excellency, are there any midget nuns in the Vatican?
Pope: No Dopey, there are no midget nuns in the Vatican.
From behind some bushes in Saint Peter’s Square, the six other dwarfs snicker and giggle. So, Dopey tries again:
Dopey: Well, your Excellency, are there any midget nuns anywhere in Italy?
Pope: No Dopey, there aren’t any midget nuns that I know of anywhere in Italy.
Again, from the behind the bushes, the other six dwarfs giggle, snicker and mock Dopey.
Dopey: Well, your Excellency, let me give it one last shot. Are there any midget nuns anywhere in the World?
Pope: No Dopey, come to think of, I don’t think there are any midget nuns anywhere in the World.
From behind the bushes: Ha, ha, ha…Dopey fvcked a penguin, Dopey fvcked a penguin!
Ok, the Rottweiler called “Jesus” inspired me.
Who would have thought the "HOLY LAND" was Palestine, except for some propagandist BS artist and not Israel? Perhaps CNN might bother to check on the origins of "Palestine"
"Most people think of the Holy Spirit as a white dove." ??? I did not know that.
It's symbolic in the way that the cross was a tool of execution but now represents salvation. The spirit is pure and thus the tendency to view it as white makes it more in alignment with the rest of the teachings. Nothing more, nothing less. Or the symbol of the fish representing other parts of the teaching.
Far less farfetched than many corporate logos as symbolism goes.
Methods to address the mysteries of our existence:
Method 1: Reveal/define the answer, then create explanations of the observable universe to fit the defined answer.
Method 2: Observe the universe, pose hypotheses to explain observations, test those hypotheses, retain hypotheses that are consistent with tests.
If both methods arrived at the same answer there would be no issue. That is not the case. No answer by method 1 (religion) is consistent with answers from method 2.
Method 2 has been wildly successful, our entire technological world is based on it. It constantly advances and improves by every measure. Method 1 is static and is not competi tive.
Method 1 was useful in domesticating humans and preparing humans for the era of method 2. At this point is is like a vestigial organ and it will likely wither going forward. This as sertion is consistent with the decline of religion in countries where most are educated. As education rates increase throughout the world, religion will likely recede.
Oh, bless your heart.
Thanks for the warm tidings, they are returned.
You are welcome and have a wonderful day : )
Many Christians do not deny science, where science is fact and not theory. Science and theory do however, change over time as well as social interpretations of religion and belief. God isn't a magician and didn't operate outside of the laws of science. I think you're misinterpreting both here by boiling everything down to two methods.
Of course science changes over time, it learns. The vast majority of change is refinement not overturning of the general view. The theory of relativity improved Newton's laws, it didn't overturn gravity, it just improved the scope of the description of gravity.
Please, tell me how my description of the 2 methods is oversimplified or wrong.
You could argue that since god is supposedly the end all and be all, that he has access to scientific knowledge that we don't...just like electricity seemed like voodoo magic to some in the old days...I say this in the spirit of comparing Superman and Batman and why Bat man is far superior because he wasn't "gifted" with super powers and how Spiderman is still a pu $$ ee...
Method 2 suggests that meaning might be at the core of all creations ( information=meaning, if there is no meaning it is not information, it's meaningless symbols, again, information= meaning). Method 2 cannot say as of yet if everything predictable or not ( on subatomic level ). So we got at least two core principles that are very similar in both methods: meaning and destiny
Methods don't suggest anything, they are a process. You may be projecting your internal bias.
I mean, it very well might be that everything is destined to happen in a certain way, no freedom but all is full of meaning...how weird and spiritual , don't you think? This is not me talking, this is method 2 talking.
That is a philosophical question that may be accessible by method 2. You may want to look up non-linear dynamic systems, chaos theory, and information theory. Even in deterministic systems, there is unpredictability, even in principle, without infinite knowledge.
To bostontola: I know, but if you take meaning and unpredictability in a way it makes "free will", sub atomic particles with free will:) this is even better then Jesus:) I don't believe nor I deny god, I just don't know. I love science and I love how even science makes everything seem spiritual, philosophy is a great tool that allowed humanity to navigate through life in the past and still does today. Best scientists are dreamers.
Free will in principle is different than free will in the world we live in as humans. Humans have consciousness and make choices, but are also, it has been shown that some actions are directed by subconscious processes. It is how we evolved, pure free will is less efficient than having some automatic systems.
@OD: "Method 2 cannot say as of yet if everything predictable or not ( on subatomic level )"
What about the Higgs boson?
The Higgs was predicted many years ago. Quantum theory is all about energy, probability and prediction.
Method 1 is worthless in terms of predicting outcomes except in things which cannot be measured such as the existence of an immortal soul which by default is destined for hell for those who don't ascribe to method 1.
What about the bat? The bat is a bird in the Bible. Figured God would know better.
God gave man the responsibility to name and categorize the animals.
Perhaps this god knew bats were mammals and not birds.
The point of the dove was "descended like". Not that doves are also pigeons and leave droppings.
Vultures being in the same family does not mean that there weren't over a dozen types of eagles in the region as well as vultures. Eagle could very well have meant eagle. Or falcon if you want to play the conjecture game. In either case the point wasn't carrion of flesh.
The hen reference was obviously the covering, protecting and nurturing aspect, nothing more.
Again, if you're going to play conjecture, then at bare minimum you need to keep it in line with the "spirit" of the message, which you've deviated from rather clearly.
Pigeon droppings and these points fall under the folly of mans wisdom.
If Jesus compared himself to a chicken and the author thinks we should think of God's power differently... quieter and slower... like a mother hen strutting than maybe we should think about actual chickens in general a little differently.
Over 9 billion chickens are killed annually in the USA, most of them are factory farmed and most of them are slaughtered very inhumanely... as poultry are not protected by the Human Slaughter Act and are shackled and sometimes bled out while conscious (cattle, sheep, and swine who are protected by the humane slaughter act get the luxury of having it be law that they are rendered unconscious before being shackled and bled out).
So my question is: If we can use birds to help us find grace and ponder holiness, is it just symbolic birds we care to think about or do the living breathing little beasts deserve for us to actually DO something to make their existence or even process of death better?
As a farmer that routinely eats chickens I raise and "bleed out" its not really that inhuman if you know what your doing. You hit the jugular in the first cut and they are gone in seconds. Compared to cutting their heads off its really quieter. Either way, if Jesus is a chicken. I say eat more chicken.
I am not saying stop killing or eating chickens. You missed my point. The way YOU describe killing a chicken is quite different from the process at the slaughter house. I imagine the way YOU raise chickens is also quite different than factory farming.
What the heck is the point in this article? Why don't we just run other drivel like "The animals in Lord of the Rings" or "The aliens of Star Trek" both would have just as much meaning.
Because...although they are all fiction, apparently (and astonishingly) the majority of people in the US actually believe the Noah/flood myth and all the other myths in the bronze age text called the bible.
One thing is for sure, God exists at least as a concept, so does the Devil and tiny little strings of energy that make up everything. One has to ask him/her self, when you send an email and it flies through the air as ones and zeros but actually means "hello", what is it ? Is it "hello"? is it ones and zeros? is it radio waves? It's all of those things, but the most important thing is the meaning, "hello" in this case. It's an abstract thing non existent in nature just by itself but it's there, "hello"...We humans come up with meanings, we then share them and the more people share a meaning, the more powerful and influential it is. So, is God real, is no longer a quastion, is it? The real quastion is, was it there before us?
Yes, the existence of a god as an active, involved entity is still highly in question, and there is no clear evidence to support such an entity's existence.
What we can be absolutely certain of, though, is that the god presented in the Christian religion does not exist.
Psalm 14:1 – "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." Not my words, although I certainly believe them.
Have you ever thought about who's words are these? No really, who's words are these, and how do you know it?
The book that tells you what to believe tells you that you are a fool for not believing what it tells you. And you fell for that?
When you want to teach a kid about something, the best way is to come up with a story especially when we are talking about morals. When you got a village full of young people who know nothing , but you are an elder ( 40 year old:)) who understands that just taking things from each other because you are stronger, would destroy the society but having a system based on morals and rules would increase the chances of survival, the best way to make everyone believe in this structure is to come up with a story about a supernatural supreme being that commands us to follow the rules. We all know that making an 18 year old to understand your reasoning, can be impossible. Most of people up until 200 years or so ago, died before the age of 30. This is why there was a need for unquestionable rules. It's humanities guide for survival. Now in the Information Age there is no need for such absolute guidance. We live longer, we know and understand more, we can be much more flexible and daring then ever before. One thing though, with more awareness comes more responsibilities.
You can be "certain" of no such thing. He is not real to you, alright, but you cannot conclude from your experience that He doesn't for others.
I didn't say he or she for that matter, real or not. I'm agnostic, I just don't know. What I am saying is that probably if he or she exists independent of humans, it is probably different from the classic notion of "it", unless we live in a simulation:) I love this stuff, those debates, just think about it, whatever the answer is, it nothing short of amazing!
lilq, it is not from my experience, but from reasoning and logic, that I conclude that the "god" of the crazy Christian myths as presented in the bible does not exist. That described being has inconsistent, contradictory characteristics, and for that and other reasons, it can be safely concluded that it does not exist.
But what about the hummingbirds ?
Where was this found.
Rare fossil with its feathers intact found in Wyoming.
May 1 2013 – 7:15am
What a stupid article. Where is the rigorous journalistic or let alone historical investigation ? No real information here, only a point, easy to figure out, trying to be made.
FYI, thousands of biblical places or facts have been already identified by archeologists, and there are continuous of such discoveries demonstrating the Bible archeological proofs. Did you know for instance that the Bible mentions that the earth was round way before secular scientists did?
sgnyk is wrong and in denial.
Typical bible thumper.
Actually, the bible did not say that the world was round. That is just just christian apologist spin - yet another reinterpretation of the bible in an effort to keep it relevant in an age when we are capable of listing it's errors.
Also, a site believed to be Troy was found, using clues from the Iliad. By your logic, the Greek pantheon must be real as well.
Yes, before humans sent hundreds of thousands of species into extinction, there were many beautiful animals that had evolved. Thank goodness we protect endangered species better now, although I believe something like 1000 species go extinct each day.
The author left out bats! Bats are birds, right? The bible says so!
Excellent point. Just one of the many mistakes in the bible, from the frequently erring Christian "god".
Evidence seems to be that birds evolved from dinosaurs, with quite a direct lineage. Quite interesting if you google "feathered dinosaurs".
Actually, bats are not birds. They are mammals.
What? No talking birds? Of course not. Birds can't talk like snakes, donkeys, and shrubs do.
So a thief breaks into a house at night. He is trying to find out what is in the house.
Suddenly he hears, "Jesus is watching you."
He wonders who said it but doesn't see anything. He keeps looking.
He hears again, "Jesus is watching you."
The thief finally notices a bird and asks, "What's your name?"
The bird replied, "Moses."
The thief says, "What kind of person names a parrot Moses?"
The parrot responds, "The same kind of people that name a Rottweiler Jesus."
I second that. Even though I'd heard it before.
10 out of 10, ROTFLMAO
Thank you for the smile Dennis!
As usual, christians change recorded facts to fit their story. The author states chickens were domesticated 6000 years ago(so it fits into the myth of a 10000 year old world. Do a little research for yourself and you will see the truth. Covered up by lies and misdirection by your religious leaders to fool you into believing something to build on the mythical writings in the bible. Chickens have been domesticated since well before the common error began.
Christians, don't believe everything your leaders tell you without doing a little research yourself. If you believe everything you are feed from religious leaders you are selling yourself short. I don't care if you believe in god, it probably makes you a better person and if you need to believe in a mythical creature(s) in order to act right, so be it. Just don't let your leaders blow smoke up your rear ends.
Chickens were domesticated around 2,500 BC. The bible has nothing to do with it.
"The author states chickens were domesticated 6000 years ago(so it fits into the myth of a 10000 year old world. ... Chickens have been domesticated since well before the common error began."
The myth is of a 6,000 year old world, not 10,000, and 6,000 is 4,000 before the common era began. Not seeing your point.
The Earth is less than 130 years old. Everything else reported before then is just another plot by those evil scientis....er, atheists. (same difference).
I challenge any of you to prove to me earth didn't get formed by God 130 years ago. No, don't read me any books or show me any pictures – I need proof! It's like Obama's, er, Cruz's birth certificate. I need to see it myself or it ain't proof.
Every one knows that the earth was not consummated until the first pirates began plying their trade, all events before that are irrelevant. Yes I do mean screwed.
I'm not Christian – I'm not even religious of any sort – but I have read many religious texts (most in their English translations, and some in other languages).
My conclusion – not profound – is that religious texts do offer a mythos around which people can coalesce their values systems. Anthropologists too suggest that the 'iceberg of culture' has its foundation in myths and metaphors. These stories have meaning for the people who are party to their reading as a tool of upbringing and growth. But, poor translation can effect profound differences in the interpretation of this meaning.
If you are a vehement or fundamentalist follower of any religion, you owe it to yourself to study your faith's texts in their original language. Yes, this is difficult and time-consuming, but we're talking about one of the – if not THE – foundation of your entire being.
So your driving in a back section of a city (choose your city – Chicago, New York, Oakland, Los Angeles, Stockton) at 11:30 at night. Suddenly your car breaks down. You have no cell phone. All of the sudden you see a group of young men walking in the dark towards you. Does it matter to you if these men just left Bible study?
It changes your perception of the problem. I don't understand why people have to attack. While I find the article lacking, really lacking. I think it is best to just shrug it off. Who really cares about what type of birds are in the Bible. It's really a dumb article.
Dennis, Hitchens did an answer to that question, which you may or may not have read. To pick up on it, if I was in Belfast and a Protestant and the Bible class was Catholic, I would be terrified.
That said, your point is well taken. Generally it would give one comfort, but that is quite aside from the truth of the book. If it were a group of devoted Sihks or Buddhists, I would feel just as secure (unless I were a Tamil in Northern Sri Lanka or a Muslim in costal Myanmar, of course).
I guess it matters what your devoted to and what is expected of a person as a devotee to certain things. I would agree with you on most counts although there are many parts of the world where it is very unsafe to be a Christian. The problem is not when devotees are in agreement but when they are different. In what place would you feel safe having a differing opinion? I guess that is the real question.
* Please learn the difference between "your" and "you're".
In your imaginary scenario, replace "bible study" with "chess club", "soccer practice", "biochemistry lecture" or even "meeting of the secularist society of Durham, NC". Kind of dilutes your point, doesn't it?
For the record, I would find those better.
And some people think Christians live in a dream world. I can't remember hearing about any of those other groups lately. I haven't heard somebody say how a biochemistry lecture, a soccer practice, or chess club has changed their life. I have heard of people who talked about being lost souls and on the road to ruin when they came across somebody who shared the good news of the gospel and their lives were transformed. So, I guess my answer is no, it doesn't dilute my point at all.
Thank you for reading my post so carefully and responding to the point that I raised – that it may be the fact that they have a reason to be together in a group other than looking for trouble, rather than the particular nature of that reason, that removes one's fears in such a scenario. Although I did not spell out this point explicitly – since of course the question implies it rather starkly – you understood it immediately and without further explanation. I'm gratified that my faith in the average citizen's reading comprehension was not misplaced.
It is always gratifying when someone takes the time to understand your points and address them. You, sir, have restored my faith in the intelligence and integrity of my fellow Americans.
I also thank you for pointing out that I have – up until now – mistakenly believed in the existence of chess clubs, soccer teams, biochemistry lectures and secular alliances. Thanks, once again.
Humans seek comfort in social networks. In one social network you need to be physically fit, in another perhaps in order to converse with others you would be expected to be able to understand a first order differential equation and in another all that is required is that you have the capacity to believe in stories of long standing tradition.
The "story circle" is probably the oldest form of entertainment and social network.
The flora and fauna of Greco-Roman Palestine (obviously) figure prominently in the Bible. Most people think there are just the 10 Commandments in the Bible. There are actually just over 600 sprinkled throughout its pages. They go into great detail about how Greco-Roman Jewish farm and trading life should be lead, down to telling the Jews in detail what animals humans can and cannot eat and how to cook and prepare these plants and animals indigenous to Greco-Roman Palestine.
Oddly, these 600 odd rules tell the ancient Russians, Chinese, Celts, Sub-Saharan Africans, Australian Aboriginals, nor any of the thousands of other races and cultures of the time how to cook or do anything. Nor does the Bible mention any human activity that would develop after it was written and how it should be conducted.
It is blindingly obvious, beyond any sane doubt, that the Greco-Roman Jews made God in their image and not vice-versa. Why we still give any credibility to these ancient Mediterranean myths in the21st Century is the ONLY interesting question in the entire Judeo-Christian saga.