Biblical Ornithology

Why do you think it odd? Synonyms existed in ancient Hebrew just as we also have them in modern English. (Of course, modern English tends to have synonyms by the barrel because of its fascinating history—but I won’t pursue that tangent here.)

I happened to turn on my TV this morning and a “reality program” showed a veterinarian treating a guinea pig. However, he alternated that term with the lesser used but not at all uncommon synonym: cavy.

If a guinea pig can also be called a cavy, why should anyone be surprised that there were at least two words for “ostrich” in the Old Testament?


There have been times you bring in the YEC card to explain away evidence and support speculation (b/c it fits with a YEC worldview)

The question is if we are dealing with real creatures or mythical creatures. The terms can be used for both. Leviathan is certainly used both ways. Behemoth is a feminine plural of the normal word for land animals (sometimes specifically domesticated animals). But the use of a plural form for a singular animal, within the context of a potentially mythic creature like Leviathan, opens up the possibility that Behemoth means something like “mega beast.” If mythical, then the point is that, imagine the most terrifying creature you could imagine, God is more powerful than that. If more realistic animals are in view, then certainly they would be known animals to the characters and the narrator (hippo and crocodile are the usual candidates, except for the dino view of many YECs).

The point is that the natural world described in Job 38-41 is a world God delights in, yet it does not depict some people’s views of what a “good creation” should be. But God doesn’t seem to mind a world of, e.g., predation.

It’s a good observation, but it’s not necessarily odd. Perhaps it means something; perhaps it doesn’t. Hebrew exhibits synonyms like any language. Different authors prefer different terms. And the same other may prefer variety. This is especially true in poetry (like Job 39). The hypothesis that the terms refer to different species is fine, but it then needs to be tested for confirmation or falsification. The problem is that I’m not sure we have any mechanism (evidence, like enough data from cognate languages, since the biblical data is insufficient) to test it. So it remained an interesting observation.

Poetry often prefers rare vocabulary as well, which might explain a different word for “wild donkey.”

Tremper Longman III just came out with one. John Walton has one, including a series of videos you can find online (begin here). I’ve found Richard Belcher’s book on Wisdom Lit helpful. The textbook I use in my Wisdom Lit class is the one by Bartholomew and Dowd. But it’s focus is theological; it won’t likely get into the historical/scientific stuff you might be interested in.


I’m a little bit annoyed that they didn’t cite me, 6 years before the study they did cite. But what do you think is confused?


Agreed. The late Gleason Archer was a great resource when I had a question like this one. (“Can we learn anything significant from the cognates of this Hebrew word X?”) Gleason always responded to such questions with a hint of surprise that it wasn’t obvious to me that “X is quite clearly related to the Northwest Semitic root Y which meant A—but don’t assume that you can safely ignore the Arabic cognate Z which emphasized the B aspect. Also, don’t be fooled by the vowel shift which obviously can be explained by the development of . . .”

Dr. Archer had the advantage of a photographic memory of the vocabulary of something like 48 languages. (My colleagues provided estimates in a range +/-3 languages.) However, in lunch-time conversations with Gleason, I soon began to realize that the wealth of etymological and historical linguistics information actually worked against him—because he (at least in his later years) seemed to ignore a basic rule I had learned as an undergrad: etymology is not all of lexicography and can even work against it. I was reminded of that truth when Gleason would go into a long etymological tangent only to come up with far-fetched speculation about the meaning of a Hebrew hapax legomenon [a word which appears only once in a corpus like the Old Testament] based on a hapax legomenon from Ugaritic—and I’d notice Barry Beitzel frown just a little as he ate his ham sandwich to Gleason’s left. [That’s another ivory-towered tale for @Dan_Eastwood’s entertainment.]

My story-telling tangent indeed has a purpose and that is to reiterate @deuteroKJ’s caution: I’ve read AAR/SBL papers where a young scholar trying to build his/her C.V. will explore obscure questions like two Hebrew synonyms (in this thread’s case, for ostrich) and generate a lot of vapid speculation based on far too few contexts and little supporting evidence. (Of course, another incentive for writing such a paper for a major academic conference was so that the young professor’s institution would pay for the airfare and hotel expenses. A lot of mediocre papers found their origins in economic if not profoundly academic justifications.)

Thanks for the link, John. I’ve never had any great interest in ratites but that is an extremely interesting article you co-wrote. And I learned something striking–to me, at least–in the very first sentence:

Living birds are divided into two major groups, Palaeognathae
and Neognathae . . .

I reflexively process the morphemes of unfamiliar words and in this case immediately learned that living birds are divided into old-jaws and new-jaws types of birds. I’m very appreciative that ornithologists and taxonomists have employed Greek morphemes in such helpfully mnemonic ways.

But, John, how do you really feel about this?


I’m disappointed in myself if that’s your impression of me. I can respect that people disagree (though I will do my best to change their minds) but I believe strongly that the biblical, logical, and philosophical evidence is on the side of YEC. Science always changes, so I’m filtering interpretations of science through that, as well as how science affects biblical interpretations.

As far as speculation goes, I like to think about possibilities and enjoy imagining. There’s obviously a limit when it comes to evidence. So if my speculation is stupid or ridiculous, then tell me. But I usually don’t take someone’s word for it, unless they give me a reason or evidence of against an idea.

Thanks for the resources! I appreciate it.

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A post was split to a new topic: Question about Ornithology and Mass Extinction

It isn’t. But I don’t expect to change your mind, so I will leave it at that.

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The great thing about YEC is that is does not require your vote of approval or anyone else’s to stand firmly on its own merit. And contrary to what you think, the YEC view is not built on a foundation of faith. There are testimonies of open-minded people without your bias who were clearly able to discern the scientific merit of YEC and recognize that other scientific views were just that - views, differing viewpoints of the same evidence.

And you can second my very strong disagreement as well. Job is without question historical narrative as God and the saints speak directly to the matter:

Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord God. Ez 14

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. Js 5

You might try dropping the personal attacks (accusations of bias).

For science, personal testimonies mean nothing. It is the evidence itself that matters.


Referencing Ezekiel and James on Job as an historical person is light years (even on a YEC scale) from establishing the genre of the book of Job as an historical narrative. The strength of your disagreement not withstanding (and entirely irrelevant to the evidence).


Thanks for the reminder. This had struck me as I’m reading through Ezekiel but I had forgotten it.

How would the Israelites recognize Job as a historical person and have heard of his steadfastness if the book of Job wasn’t in some way considered historical?

So something’s not adding up…

Job appears in the 6th-century BCE Book of Ezekiel as a man of antiquity renowned for his righteousness, and the author of the Book of Job has apparently chosen this legendary hero for his parable.[20] Rabbinic tradition ascribes it to Moses, but scholars generally agree that it was written between the 7th and 4th centuries BCE, with the 6th century BCE as the most likely period for various reasons.[[21]]The anonymous author was almost certainly an Israelite, although he has set his story outside Israel, in southern Edom or northern Arabia, and makes allusion to places as far apart as Mesopotamia and Egypt.[[22]]

The language of Job stands out for its conservative spelling and for its exceptionally large number of words and forms not found elsewhere in the Bible.[23] Many later scholars down to the 20th century looked for an Aramaic, Arabic or Edomite original, but a close analysis suggests that the foreign words and foreign-looking forms are literary affectations designed to lend authenticity to the book’s distant setting and give it a foreign flavor.[22][24]

Has a hypothesis been considered that may fit more of the evidence? Doesn’t hurt to think about it - as I said I like to be imaginative. :slight_smile: The Land of Uz could have been in northwestern Arabia. Moses could have penned the story as it was passed to him while in Midian in the language of that country. Perhaps it was later found and translated. My son’s Bible story tonight was Josiah finding the Book of the Law. Perhaps Josiah could have found another book? :slight_smile:

I realized after rereading Job 39 I wasn’t reading to understand what it was saying. Now I see that it’s saying God designed these animals but they can adapt in whatever ways he wants to - maybe even an evolution: the donkey had been domesticated and yet God has let it adapt to the wild when set free. I see predation as an explanation of suffering too - we don’t know why the fall happened, but ultimately it’s God’s plan.

I’m leaning toward the Job 30 word being related to a wild ostrich and the Job 39 referencing a domesticated bird.

Thanks for the link to your article. I learned some new vocab looking up the words.

In the video - at 4:04 it describes ratites independently losing the ability to fly at least 6 different times. Then also independently many evolved to be large. It doesn’t strike me as very plausible.

Plus this

These morphological results are provocative in light of recent sophisticated analyses of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) that show equivocal support for ratite monophyly (22, 23). Given the profound implications of this group for Gondwanan biogeography and the evolution of flightlessness, determining the true phylogeny of ratites is a key question in avian systematics.

I was thinking today - what’s a more simple explanation?

Well, for all the reasons below there’s another hypothesis that’s somewhat obvious:

Humans took a few species of birds with them when they migrated across the southern hemisphere. No need to postulate drifting continents or losing, regaining, then losing flight again. Maybe they had flight and just lost it once.

  • Meat: The meat is red with lower fat (3.0 g), cholesterol (83 mg) and calories (142 KCal). It is also a good source of iron (3.2 mg) and protein (26.9 %) (Iwuoha, 2013).
  • Eggs: The eggs are about 6 inches long, 5 inches wide and weighs 2 kg. The ostriches can lay about 15-45 eggs per season. The ostrich egg is rich in protein, 1 ostrich egg is equivalent to 25 chicken eggs . Ostrich eggs are believed to protect houses from lighting and their shells can also be used as a water vessel, cups and vase. In addition, the eggshells are used in making necklace beads.
  • Feathers: The feathers are extremely valuable and durable. Feathers should be harvested when the birds weigh 60 kg of more (Engelbrecht, 2014). The feathers are used to make dusters for cleaning, hat and home decorations.
  • Skin (leather): Ostrich leather is of high quality being thick, soft and durable . It is used to makes handbags, carpets, clothing, boots etc.

Why not?

That’s only an obvious hypothesis if you ignore all the data. Fortunately that’s one of your chief skills. But nobody is losing, regaining, and then losing flight again. The ancetral bird could fly, and hundreds of lineages lost it at different times. In one family, Rallidae, it’s been lost over 700 times on various Pacific islands.


They all independently have to be small, fly to another continent, independently lose flight, independently become big. That’s weird - the becoming big part at the very least.

OK - I checked this out. That is highly plausible. Between continents on the other hand…then several species becoming gigantic in a similar way through random evolution…hmm… :slight_smile:

Also this is fascinating from the ostrich farming link above, and it’s too bad they don’t have the reference.

Ostrich farming originated in the 1860s in South Africa (Hastings, n.d). However, there is contradicting information about their origin as palaeontologists displayed evidences that ostrich farming has its origin in Asian steppes in the Eocene Epoch about 40 to 50 million years ago. In the 18th century, ostriches were on the verge of extinction because their precious feathers were highly demanded.

And this:

Homo erectus bones found to the east of the Black Sea have been dated to roughly the same period, making it more than likely relatives of our ancestors not only shared the bird’s territory, but might have even hunted it.

Again, why? First off, there’s fossil evidence of ancient, flying paleognaths (“lithornithids”), and there is one group that can still fly (tinamous). Second, these aren’t independent. Flightlessness and large size have an obvious correlation.

This has to be a typo of some kind. No, it isn’t true. Please stop citing random stuff you pull off random web sites.


History is not a genre, but a way of referring to the past. If Job is a figure in history (and i think he is), then Israelites had lots of ways of knowing this. Nothing requires the book to be “historical narrative”–a frequent genre label, though I find it nebulous. Still, a narrative is written in prose, not poetry. So, by simple definition, the book cannot be historical narrative.

Now, how much of the story is “historical”? Are we really to suppose the book represents verbatim speeches? Even in historical narratives, that would be a wrong assumption. This is where, as wisdom literature, this question is sort of irrelevant. My guess is that there is a memory of a man named Job who suffered and struggled to figure out why (this was and is a ubiquitous worldview question, isn’t it?). Then, likely within the years of the kingdom (8th c or later?), someone crafted a story around that memory. As it stands, the book of Job offers wonderful lessons about wisdom, faith, and suffering; within the OT canon, it offers a healthy tension with Proverbs and Ecclesiastes on the topic of wisdom.

I don’t agree with all this, particularly the point about authorship. Dating is a tricky thing to have much confidence, though the Hebrew is fairly late in its present form. It’s possible the text we have is an update from an earlier version (if so, we have no evidence pro or con). The only possible relevance of assigning a specific date (or author) is that it would nuance a bit the type of wisdom being polemicized (e.g., ANE and Greek views of wisdom are a bit different). Otherwise, the book’s message is consistent, and obviously continues to be relevant.


Essentially the entire history of Egypt.

As far back as the 5th dynasty, two ostrich plumes are typically found in the Atef crown worn by the Egyptian god Osiris. The goddess Ma’at is depicted with an ostrich feather - the feather of truth. Upon entering the underworld, your heart was placed in a balance against this feather of truth, and if it were weighed down by unworthy sins, the goddess Ammit would eat it and your prospects were done. I suppose the bigger the ostrich feather the better. Ostriches also feature in depictions of everyday life, and ostrich eggs were turned into various artifacts from well before the dynasties began.

Also see:
Ostriches in Ancient Egypt (Pharaonic& Coptic epochs)

This means there is eyewitness account that ostriches have indeed been around, indistinguishable from the modern bird, since three millennia BC, which of course poses a problem for the YEC flood date of ~2348 BC.

For what its worth, I had this ostrich burger in Cape Town and it was delicious.
Ostrich Burger


Thanks for the response, but this is simply not true. Narrative poetry - Wikipedia

I think it is pretty good proof of YEC since the data shows that the modern bird is actually nearer to the common ancestor than other ratities. To me, it shows familiarity with the species before the flood and they were domesticated again right after. I was doing some searching and it seems ancient Chinese culture also has depictions.

I emailed the organization to ask for a source. I searched a bit but couldn’t find anything that specific. I’ll let you know if they respond.

Wrong. You are simply not accurate. Did you actually read the details? Honestly, I don’t see how you raised this as a credible rebuttal.

So you’re saying that the Egyptians and Chinese knew about the ostrich, then those cultures were completely wiped out, then descendents of Noah’s kids settled in Egypt and China and continued cultural traditions that existed prior to the flood?

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