Leviticus 11:17 MEANING

Leviticus 11:17
(17) And the little owl.--With the exception of the parallel passage, Deuteronomy 14:16, this bird only occurs once more, in Psalm 102:6, where it is properly rendered in the Authorised Version by "owl," omitting the word "little," and is described as inhabiting deserted ruins. It not only feeds upon insects and molluscs, hares, rabbits, ducks, geese, and birds of prey, but devours mice and rats, which are especially detested by the Jews. Its flesh is, however, regarded by some tribes as very savoury. The name kos which is translated "owl" in the three above-named passages, is the common Hebrew word for "cup," and it is supposed that it has been given to this bird because the sitting owl especially widens towards the upper part, thus imparting to it a cup-like appearance.

And the cormorant.--Of all the web-footed birds which prey on fish, cormorants are the most voracious. They usually assemble in flocks on the rocks which overhang the sea, whence they drop down from the greatest height upon their victim, dive after it with the rapidity of a dart, and invariably gulp their prey head foremost. The cormorant is to be found in every climate, and is the destruction of all the finny tribe in any fresh-water river which he happens to occupy for a time. Hence he is called the feathered terror of the finny tribe. From the skill which he displays in casting himself down from a great height, and in plunging dart-like after his victim, he derives his Hebrew name, which denotes "darter." The flesh of the cormorant, though rank, is eaten in some regions; whilst the skin, which is tough, is made into garments. The Hebrew name only occurs again in the duplicate catalogue of unclean animals in Deuteronomy 14:17. By comp. Leviticus 11:17-18 of the list before us with the parallel list in Deuteronomy 14:16-17, it will be seen that though the two catalogues respectively enumerate in these two verses the same six birds, yet the order is different. The cormorant, which is here second in Leviticus 11:17, is in Deuteronomy 14 sixth in Leviticus 11:17. There can, therefore, hardly be any doubt that the verse before us has been disturbed, and that by placing the cormorant here sixth, as it is in Deuteronomy, we obtain the two species of owls naturally following each other, as is the case in the parallel catalogue.

And the great owl.--Rather, the night owl, as the name in the original (yansh-ph) denotes "night-bird." Besides the parallel passage in Deuteronomy 14:16, this bird of prey only occurs again once more in Isaiah 34:11, where the Authorised Version translates simply "owl," omitting the word "great," and where it is associated with the raven and other dismal birds as fit occupants of deserted ruins. According to the description of it which prevailed in the time of Christ, its eyes are directed forward, it utters frightful shrieks in the night, and has a face like a cat, and cheeks like a human being. In consequence of its repulsive visage and human appearance it was considered a bad omen if one saw an owl in a dream. That the two kinds of owls are here mentioned is probably owing to their disgusting habit of ejecting pellets, each one of which contains sometimes from four to seven skeletons of mice. Hence, instead of saying "after his kind," to include the other varieties, the lawgiver enumerates them separately.

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.
]And the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl. Ainsworth translates the words just the reverse, and takes the first word to signify the great owl, and the last the little one; the great owl may intend the great horn owl, called sometimes the eagle owl, which is thus described; it is of the size of a goose, and has large wings, capable of extending to a surprising breadth: its head is much of the size and figure of that of a cat, and has clusters of black feathers over the ears, rising to three fingers' height; its eyes are very large, and the feathers of its rump long, and extremely soft; its eyes have yellow irises, and its beak black and crooked: it is all over mottled with white, reddish, and black spots; its legs are very strong, and are hairy down to the very ends of the toes, their covering being of a whitish brown (g): and as this is called the great horn owl, others, in comparison of it, may be called the little owl. Some reckon several species of owls--there are of three sizes; the large ones are as big as a capon, the middle sized are as big as a wood pigeon, the smaller sort about the size of an ordinary pigeon--the horned owl is of two kinds, a larger and a smaller--the great owl is also of two sorts, that is, of a larger and a smaller kind (h); it is a bird sacred to Minerva: but though it is pretty plain that the last of the words used signifies a bird that flies in the twilight of the evening, from whence it seems to have its name, as Aben Ezra, Ben Gersom, and other Jewish writers observe, and fitly agrees with the owl which is not seen in the day, but appears about that time; yet the first is thought by Bochart (i) to be the "onocrotalus" or "pelican", which has under its bill a bag or sack, which will hold a large quantity of anything; and the word here used has the signification of a cup or vessel, see Psalm 102:6. The word we render "cormorant", the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan paraphrase it, a drawer of fish out of the sea, so Baal Hatturim; and thus it is interpreted in the Talmud (k); and the gloss upon it says, this is the water raven, which is the same with the cormorant; for the cormorant is no other than "corvus aquaticus", or water raven; See Gill on Zephaniah 2:14. The Septuagint render it by "catarrhactes", which, according to the description of it (l), resides by rocks and shores that hang over water; and when it sees fishes swimming in it, it will fly on high, and contract its feathers, and flounce into the water, and fetch out the fish; and so is of the same nature, though not the same creature with the cormorant. Aben Ezra observes, that some say this is a bird which casts its young as soon as born; and this is said of the "catarrhactes", that it lets down its young into the sea, and draws them out again, and hereby inures them to this exercise (m).

(g) Ray's Ornithol. p. 63. apud Supplement to Chambers's Dictionary in the word "Bubo". (h) Calmet's Dictionary in the word "Owl". (i) Ut supra, (Apud Bochard. Heirozoic. par. 2. l. 2.) c. 20. col. 275. (k) Bab. Cholin, fol. 63. 1.((l) Gesner. apud Bochart. ut supra, (i)) c. 21. col. 278. (m) Ibid.

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