Birding and the Bible

August 14, 2009

A reflection on my sabbatical

Filed under: Biblical thoughts — chrisrev @ 5:21 pm

Below is an article I wrote for the church newsletter reflecting on my sabbatical.

You will have realised by now that I have returned from my sabbatical. First of all I want to thank you all for respecting my sabbatical and not getting in touch with me during the last three months. A couple of weeks ago when I met Ian Whyte one of my predecessors in the Circuit . Ian always asks about church life when I see him and I normally tell him the news but on this occasion I had to tell him that I had no idea how things were going on simply because I  had not heard any news myself. That said I realise I have missed out on some significant events. It would also have been good to be around to offer my support to those who have been ill or bereaved over the last few months hopefully I can offer some support now but I do know that John Wiggall has done an excellent job in my absence.

From my point of view the sabbatical has been a great success. You will realise that I did a lot of bird watching over the 13 weeks of my sabbatical. I saw 161 different species of bird in Britain mainly in Wales or North West England and I picked up a further 18 species of bird while I was on holiday with Ruth on Menorca. The best single birding experience was watching two spotted flycatchers raise a family as we sat in the hotel bar. On the first night mother was brooding freshly hatched chicks however by the time we left Menorca the family of four chicks had all fledged and mum was beginning to make a new nest for the next brood. To have the chance to sit and watch nature in action is a wonderful thing.

So have I learnt anything during the last few months? Well I can tell you that in the bible there are approximately 129 verses which mention birds and about 29 species are specifically named. Some of these you will know about like sparrows and eagles but also mentioned are swallows, vultures and even herons. My studies have also reminded me that translating the bible is a complex business. As my studies took me farther into the bible I realised that different people translated the words for birds differently for example in one place there is a reference to people shaving their heads to make them as bald as an eagle but other biblical translations talk about being as bald as a vulture.

Another point of interest for me has been issues surrounding the whole idea of God’s creation itself. On the Internet I found several websites looking at a similar theme to my own but they all came from a very different perspective. These sites took a very literal view of the bible and particularly of the creation story in Genesis chapter 1 refusing to countenance any argument for evolution. In this significant year when we are marking both the two hundredth anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the Origin of the Species I found that very challenging and I have been doing some reading around the subject to help me come to some sort of view on the matter. I will say at this point that I believe that the ideas behind evolutionary biology are based on good sound scientific principles but that that does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that God is not behind the process. I also would say that the bible is not to be read as a scientific journal explaining how things happen but rather the bible is the word of God and speaks to us of about God and God’s desires for us.

The last thing I want to say about my sabbatical is that it has been a really refreshing time for me. Physically I am more relaxed than I have ever been since entering the ministry and probably fitter too. I am mentally more relaxed than I have been for at least the last ten years of my life i.e. since entering the ministry. Spiritually it has been an excellent time, I have had the chance to enjoy worship and prayer and more particularly I have had to the opportunity to reflect on my calling as a Methodist Minister. It is with a deep sense of joy that I can say that the sabbatical has confirmed my calling by God and my desire to serve God as a Methodist minister.

Pelican

Filed under: Biblical thoughts — chrisrev @ 2:15 pm
Pelican

Pelican

A friend of mind has pointed out to me that my list of birds in the bible is missing a species, the pelican! It is true that the Pelican does appear in some translations of the bible. Particularly the King James Authorised Version. Where there are three references. Although other translations have Screech Owl, or Cormorant instead. Also there is a footnote to Zephaniah 2:14 which suggests that cormorant could be translated as Pelican here as well. This is very confusing to me and just reinforces the view that the bible translators have had a very difficult time dealing with the birds!

August 4, 2009

Quails

Filed under: Biblical thoughts — chrisrev @ 3:06 pm
Common Quail

Common Quail

While I was preaching from Exodus 16 on Sunday I realised that I had not yet mentioned Quails in my blog. The quail is a very difficult bird  to see in Britain although they can be heard calling in the right location (to my knowledge I have never seen or heard one.) They are a small game bird and of course quails eggs are considered a delicacy in some places.

They are mentioned in three places in the bible Exodus 16:13, Numbers 11:31-32 and Psalm 105:40. The basic story being that the people of Israel are on the long Exodus journey from Egypt to the promised land. A particular problem has beset them in that they are now becoming hungry as the supplies they brought with them from Egypt have begun to run dry and so the people have begun to rail against Moses and Aaron for bringing them to this awful place. They even begin to think that they would have been better of staying put in slavery in Egypt. However God hears the grumbling and decides to act saddened that the people are turning on Moses and Aaron and also aware that there real complaint is about God who they are starting to think has brought them out of Egypt only to starve them in the desert. God acts in these stories to provide the people with bread and meat. The bread being the manna from heaven and the meat coming from Quails. The quail is a migratory bird and can travel at night in very large numbers. There are many accounts in history of people trapping quails in the Middle Eastern region for food and so there is no reason to think that this was a completely impossible or implausible event.

I suppose the important thing is that the Israelites felt that God had brought the quails to them in their hour of need and they were reminded above all else that they should not complain about God because God is the one who provides for all there needs. Psalm 78 also mentions these events although it talks about birds rather than quails specifically but the gist of that passage is certainly a reminder to trust in God and God’s provision for us all.

On Sunday the lectionary made the link with Jesus feeding the five thousand and his subsequent reminder that the people really should be seeking not the bread that perishes but the bread of life i.e. Jesus.

July 21, 2009

A Biblical Bird List

Filed under: Biblical thoughts — chrisrev @ 6:49 pm

Some body asked me the other day about how many species of bird are mentioned in the bible so I thought I should check it out with a quick search on Biblegateway.com

Accordingly there are 29 Birds species or families mentioned in the bible. However care needs to be taken here because of the translation problem which I have already noted. Particularly in the list below we should note that the Swift is not mentioned and if you look at my post on Swallows and Swifts you will realise that the Swift probably should be in this list. (Biblegateway.com uses information from NAVE Bible dictionary which I think in turns use the King James translation.)

I would also comment that a Glede noted in this list and mentioned in Deuteronomy 14:13 is probably a Kite. An Ossifrage is probably a type of Vulture known as a lammergeier. So the list could be 29 (as shown below) or 27 removing Glede and Ossifrage or 28 if we add Swift.

As you look at the list it is also worth remembering that some of these references are simply in the list of clean or unclean birds. 

BITTERN
CHICKEN, HEN
CORMORANT
CRANE
CUCKOO
DOVE
EAGLE
FALCON
GLEDE
HAWK
HERON
KITE
LAPWING
NIGHT HAWK
OSPREY
OSSIFRAGE
OSTRICH
OWL
PARTRIDGE
PEACOCK
PELICAN
PIGEON
QUAIL
RAVEN
SPARROW
STORK
SWALLOW
SWAN
VULTURE

July 8, 2009

On Eagles Wings

Filed under: Biblical thoughts — chrisrev @ 5:46 pm
Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle

While I was on holiday in Menorca is saw Booted Eagles on a couple of occasions. These eagles are not one of the four types of eagle found in Israel which are, the golden eagle, the spotted eagle,  the imperial eagle and the short toed eagle. I have seen a golden eagle on one occasion when we visited Haweswater where you can view the only golden eagle in England. The thing that struck me about this bird apart from how lonely he was,  was the huge size and also the effortless way in which he flew.

 The Hebrew word which is mostly translated as Eagle is Nesher which means a bird who tears food with the beak this could refer to either the Vulture or Eagle. This is why we have already seen that several verses could either be translated as Eagle or Vulture and the decision as to which sort of bird to refer to is really based as much on the behaviour of the birds reported in the text. Vultures for instance are gregarious bird who eat in flocks and mainly eat carrion. The Eagle is much more of a hunting individual.

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible has 29 references to the eagle. Most of the references in the bible have to do with the skilled and powerful flight of the eagle including the speed with which the birds can swoop down on their prey and also the general ability of the birds to see brilliantly when hunting. Eagles are also referred to in some of the apocalyptic literature of the bible often these are reference to being having wings like eagles.

The best known reference to Eagles in  the bible comes from Isaiah 40:30-31

“30 Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

The people are in need of encouragement in this chapter it begins with the line “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” Particularly the people have complained that God seems to be distant from them. In verse 27 they say “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God?” But Isaiah reminds them that God is everlasting, God is the creator and God is there with them. What they really need to do is to put their trust in God. What is important is that they try not to do things in their own way and strength but to trust in God, for even the young will get tired. What really matters is that people wait for God put their hope and trust in God and then the Lord shall renew them and they will sore like eagles.

Remember if you see an eagle their flight almost seems easy and even effortless they catch the thermals rising from the ground and just go. Do we work to hard perhaps on our own trying to do to much in our own way? Surely we need to wait for God to put our hope in God and fine that we to can sore like eagles if only we allow God to help us.

June 30, 2009

Osprey and Kite

Filed under: Biblical thoughts — chrisrev @ 3:50 pm

I did a quick Internet search to find out whether Kite or Ospreys were mentioned on the bible. They are but rather disappointingly only in the section of Leviticus and Deuteronomy were birds which are uncleaned are discussed. Even then we are left with the difficulty of translation.

June 25, 2009

Vultures

Filed under: Biblical thoughts — chrisrev @ 5:39 pm
Egyptian Vulture

Egyptian Vulture

When I was holidaying in Menorca I had the pleasure of seeing a number of vultures. Egyptian Vultures to be precise. We saw these magnificent birds on at least three separate occasionssoring over our heads. Vultures of course have always had a bad press because they eat carrion and other rubbish. In fact I saw a programme on TV the other day that described a vulture as being natures waste disposal unit because of the amount of rubbish they can consume. This probably explains why in the bible they are named amongst the unclean birds. It also explains why most of the biblical references talk about them in a bad light, often they are used by the prophets as a warning against bad behaviour. Of course this is not surprisingly similar to what was said in the section on Birds of Prey.

It seems that in biblical times there were probably three Vulture species, the Griffin Vulture being the most common, Egyptian Vultures were also around as were the massive Lammergeier. The two different translations of the Bible which I looked at both have 8 references to Vultures, confusingly though they have a different set of references. (NB I tend to use the New Revised Standard Version NRSV and the New International Version NIV) This is the problem we first encountered when we considered swifts and swallows. It seems mainly to be an issue about whether the Hebrew should be translated as eagle or vulture. There is no clear hebrew word which can be directly translated as vulture. I think this is due to the lack of biblical birdwatchers. People perhaps had more pressing concerns. I do however think that it is important for us to be aware of these issues all to often we as English speakers read our translations and treat it as if that was the way that the original was written. We forget that things get lost or altered in translation. This is not to say that we cannot trust the bible as God’s word but that we need to take care when reading it.

 So now let’s look at the passages which refer to the vulture either in the NRSV or NIV translations of the bible.

Leviticus 11:13,18 and Deuteronomy 14:12,17 are parallel passages setting out which particular birds are unclean. Given that Vultures eat carrion this should not surprise us much.

Job 15:23 this verse might not have the word vulture in it indeed of the major modern translations only the NIV has the word Vulture. In the verse the wicked man is wandering around and he is either looking for food and crying out where is it as he is about to starve or he is wandering around starving, food for the vulture.

Proverbs 30:17 A proverb about respect for our parents rather a brutal way to deal with a lack of respect I think! How do we deal with this sort of verse do we simply ignore it or do we threaten the kids with it?

Hosea 8:1 The Hebrew hear is uncertain it could be translated  eagle as it is in the NIV. This is a prophesy warning people against idolatry.

Micah 1:16  In this verse most translations talk about being as bald as the eagle but in actual fact eagles are not bald but vultures of course are. (The Bald Eagle is seen in the Americas not Israel) The Prophet is lamenting about the failings of Israel and he calls on the people to show their mourning for Israel or more particularly he calls on the people to change their ways so that mourning is not needed.

Habakkuk 1:8 Again this verse could be referring to vultures or eagles most translations go for eagle and I prefer that simply because the eagle is more likely to swoop to devour its prey. An eagle hunts for food and will swoop to take its prey but a vulture mainly eats long dead carrion. A Falcon is actually more likely to  swoop so would  falcon fit better, not being a Hebrew expert I do not know the answer to this.

Matthew 24:28 and Luke 17:37 are very similar verses, Jesus in both cases is talking about the end times. In particular these verses seem to be a warning to Jesus’ listeners not to go with the crowd. Vultures flock together for food but it is after all only a dead carcass. In Matthew this is slightly more explicit because  here Jesus is talking about people rushing to see the son of man. Surely we should be seeking the one who brings life not death.

June 24, 2009

Birds of Prey

Filed under: Biblical thoughts — chrisrev @ 5:25 pm

Over the last few weeks particularly while I was away on holiday I was able to see several Birds of Prey or Raptor as birders tend to call them. So I thought it was high time I took a look at the Birds of Prey mention in the bible.

When first searching for Birds of Prey in the bible it becomes clear that they are not necessarily seen as good things probably because of  the tendency of these birds to eat meat particularly carrion. This is particularly noted in Genesis 15:11 where Abram drives them away from some carcasses. The propensity of these sorts of birds to eat carrion is also noted in the prophets where Isaiah 18:6 Ezekiel 39:4 and Jeremiah 12:9 all offer the threat that God may allow Bird’s of Prey to eat the corpse of the people who fail to do the will of God in some way. Obviously have your corpse eaten rather than being properly buried is seen to be a real threat. What is clear is that in biblical times the practice was always to give a person a proper and honourable burial.

We should also note that not all Birds of Prey eat carrion so it seems likely that birds such as Kites and Vultures would seem to be the sort of birds we should think of in this situation.

Apart from Kites and Vulture there are other types of Raptor mentioned in the bible. Hawk and Falcons in general are noted as are Ospreys and of course eagles. Owls are also mention on a few occasion’s although technically they are not Bird’s of Prey. In the next few biblical post I will look in more detail at particular sorts of Bird’s of Prey.

June 19, 2009

Evolution and Creation

Filed under: Biblical thoughts — chrisrev @ 6:22 pm

One of the things that I did when I began this sabbatical was to surf the web looking Christian Birding websites. There are a few out there all you need to do is to type those two words into a search engine and a number of links will appear, there are even a couple of blogs on a similar theme to this one. However I soon realised that all of them came from a Creationist stand point. That is that they held the view that Creation took place literally in the way that the bible say’s it did i.e. they believe that the world was created in exactly six days by God and that on the seventh day God rested,(they would probably say he!) I do not wish to quarrel with anyone about whether God created the earth, I believe whole heartedly that God is my creator and has created the world, but I do think that the balance of the scientific evidence suggested that Genesis 1 is not an explanation of how the world came into being rather that it tells us more about God and our relationship both the God and the world at large. That is that God is our creator and that God in some way requires us to care for this planet.

I also found one website that argued that not every species we now have on earth could have fitted in the Ark and so  this meant that some species had to develop after the Noah Flood. What I found novel was that they were at pains to point out that this in no way could be considered or seen as being evolutionary.

This got me wondering is it possible to be a Christian and an evolutionist? Are the two compatable?

Fortunatley I recently recieve a small booklet in the post from the Bible Society. The booklet is called Rescuing Darwin: God and evolution in Britain today and is available from the Theos Think Tank Website. It comes out of some interesting research on British atitudes to Darwinian Evolution and Christian Faith. I personally have found it very helpful in my own thinking and so I am able to say a bit more confidently that yes I think the evolutionary theory best explains how the world came into being and that this in no way conflicts with my own Christian faith.

This will be a subject I will return to in the future.

May 27, 2009

Swifts and Swallows

Filed under: Biblical thoughts — chrisrev @ 4:06 pm
Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

I thought that I should follow my previous post on the Sparrows by looking at the birds mention in two of the Sparrow verses which are swallows. So I went to crosswalk.com and searched there for Swallow or Swallows in bible. I got 19 verses which pleased and surprised me  but then I looked closer and realised that all but 4 of these references where to something being swallowed! :-)

Things then got more difficult as I began to check out the for remaining passages. The first two which we have already encountered with the sparrows (Psalms 84:3 and Proverbs 26:2) are straightforward but the second two passages caused me a few more problems. These verses are:- 

Isaiah 38:14  Like a swallow or a crane I clamour, I moan like a dove. My eyes are weary with looking upward. O Lord, I am oppressed; be my security!

and

Jeremiah 8:7 Even the stork in the heavens knows its times; and the turtledove, swallow, and crane observe the time of their coming; but my people do not know the ordinance of the Lord.

For the the first set of verses the bird we know as the Swallow (or more correctly the Barn Swallow) fits the behaviour described. Swallows would nest in a similar place to house sparrows for example and the certainly flit from one place to another quite happily.  However when it comes to our second set of verses the behaviour described for example is not quite right. Particularly with the Jeremiah passage which refers to migration. In the UK Swallows and Swifts are both migrants but it appears that that is not so in Israel/Palestine. The Swallows there are in fact resident. So it makes little sense to have a verse talking about migrants which then refers to swallows.

Swift

Swift

The swift is however a migrant and it behaviour fits the Isaiah and Jeremiah passages in a much better fashion. Also it is clear that we are dealing with two different Hebrew words both of which have been translated as swallow but one which probably should be translated as swift. If you want to read up on this a bit more you could start at http://net.bible.org/dictionary.php?word=swallow For me all this is a very timely reminder of the effect that translation has on what we read in the bible. Unless can can go back to the original language i.e mostly Hebrew and Greek then we have to rely on translators to translate the bible for us. (I have no knowledge of Hebrew and my NT Greek is ropey.) This is then made harder because of course somethings have to be interpreted as we the translation is made and of course there are some bible translation in which the translators have tried to interpret things a bit for us such as the Good News Bible which can be easy to read but sometime loses some of the meaning in the translation. For example in Psalm 23 the GNB says “you welcome me as an honored guest and fill my cup to the brim.”  This has a very different meaning to the idea that “my cup overflows”

Swifts are remarkable birds who spend much of there time on the wing. Indeed the only time you will see when they are not flying is when they are in the nest breeding. All other activities are done in flight including sleep! Once a juvenile swift has fledged they will not land again for 2 or 3 years.

Incidentally there is increasing concern about swift numbers apparently in Londonthere numbers have decreased by something like 50% since the 1970’s. Mainly it is suggested because modern building do not have the space for them to nest in. we like are homes to be well sealed against drafts etc and that means the swifts cannot nest.

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