A night bird of prey, unfit for food. Several species are found in Palestine, and are mentioned in the Bible; as in Le 11:17 De 14:16 Isa 14:23; 34:15; Zep 2:14. One of the words, however, translated “owl,” probably means “OSTRICH,” (which see;) and another, Le 11:17 De 14:16 Isa 34:11, the ibis or night heron.
(1.) Heb. bath-haya’anah, “daughter of greediness” or of “shouting.” In the list of unclean birds (Lev. 11:16; Deut. 14:15); also mentioned in Job 30:29; Isa. 13:21; 34:13; 43:20; Jer. 50:39; Micah 1:8. In all these passages the Revised Version translates “ostrich” (q.v.), which is the correct rendering.
(2.) Heb. yanshuph, rendered “great owl” in Lev. 11:17; Deut. 14:16, and “owl” in Isa. 34:11. This is supposed to be the Egyptian eagle-owl (Bubo ascalaphus), which takes the place of the eagle-owl (Bubo maximus) found in Southern Europe. It is found frequenting the ruins of Egypt and also of the Holy Land. “Its cry is a loud, prolonged, and very powerful hoot. I know nothing which more vividly brought to my mind the sense of desolation and loneliness than the re-echoing hoot of two or three of these great owls as I stood at midnight among the ruined temples of Baalbek” (Tristram).
The LXX. and Vulgate render this word by “ibis”, i.e., the Egyptian heron.
(3.) Heb. kos, rendered “little owl” in Lev. 11:17; Deut. 14:16, and “owl” in Ps. 102:6. The Arabs call this bird “the mother of ruins.” It is by far the most common of all the owls of Palestine. It is the Athene persica, the bird of Minerva, the symbol of ancient Athens.
(4.) Heb. kippoz, the “great owl” (Isa. 34:15); Revised Version, “arrow-snake;” LXX. and Vulgate, “hedgehog,” reading in the text, kippod, instead of kippoz. There is no reason to doubt the correctness of the rendering of the Authorized Version. Tristram says: “The word [i.e., kippoz] is very possibly an imitation of the cry of the scops owl (Scops giu), which is very common among ruins, caves, and old walls of towns…It is a migrant, returning to Palestine in spring.”
(5.) Heb. lilith, “screech owl” (Isa. 34:14, marg. and R.V., “night monster”). The Hebrew word is from a root signifying “night.” Some species of the owl is obviously intended by this word. It may be the hooting or tawny owl (Syrnium aluco), which is common in Egypt and in many parts of Palestine. This verse in Isaiah is “descriptive of utter and perpetual desolation, of a land that should be full of ruins, and inhabited by the animals that usually make such ruins their abode.”
Ostrich, the true rendering of bath hayanah. (See OSTRICH) Yanshowph; Lev 11:17, “the great owl.” From a root, “twilight” (Bochart), or to puff the breath (Knobel). Deu 14:16; Isa 34:11. The horned owl, Bubo maximus, not as Septuagint the ibis, the sacred bird of Egypt. Maurer thinks the heron or crane, from nashaf “to blow,” as it utters a sound like blowing a horn (Rev 18:2). Chaldee and Syriac support “owl.” Kos; Lev 11:17, “the little owl.” Athene meridionalis on coins of Athens: emblem of Minerva, common in Syria; grave, but not heavy. Psa 102:6, “I am like an owl in a ruin” (Syriac and Arabic versions), expressing his loneliness, surrounded by foes, with none to befriend. The Arabs call the owl “mother of ruins,” um elcharab.
The Hebrew means a “cup”, perhaps alluding to its concave face, the eye at the bottom, the feathers radiating on each side of the beak outward; this appears especially in the Otus vulgaris, the “long-cared owl”. Kippoz. Isa 34:15, “the great owl.” But Gesenius “the arrow snake,” or “the darting tree serpent”; related to the Arabic kipphaz. The context favors “owl”; for “gather under her shadow” applies best to a mother bird fostering her young under her wings. The Septuagint, Chaldee, Arabic, Syriac, Vulgate read kippod, “hedgehog.” The great eagle owl is one of the largest birds of prey; with dark plumage, and enormous head, from which glare out two great eyes. Lilith. Isa 34:14, “screech owl”; from layil “the night.” Irby and Mangles state as to Petra of Edom “the screaming of hawks, eagles, and owls, soaring above our heads, annoyed at anyone approaching their lonely habitation, added much to the singularity of the scene.” The Strix flammea, “the barn owl”; shrieking in the quietude of the night, it appalls the startled hearer with its unearthly sounds.
oul (bath ha-ya`anah; Latin Ulula): The name of every nocturnal bird of prey of the Natural Order Striges. These birds range from the great horned owl of 2 feet in length, through many subdivisions to the little screech-owl of 5 inches. All are characterized by very large heads, many have ear tufts, all have large eyes surrounded by a disk of tiny, stiff, radiating feathers. The remainder of the plumage has no aftershaft. So these birds make the softest flight of any creature traveling on wing. A volume could be written on the eye of the owl, perhaps its most wonderful feature being in the power of the bird to enlarge the iris if it wishes more distinct vision. There is material for another on the prominent and peculiar auditory parts. With almost all owls the feet are so arranged that two toes can be turned forward and two back, thus reinforcing the grip of the bird by an extra toe and giving it unusual strength of foot. All are night-hunters, taking prey to be found at that time, of size according to the strength. The owl was very numerous in the caves, ruined temples and cities, and even in the fertile valleys of Palestine. It is given place in the Bible because it was considered unfit for food and because people dreaded the cries of every branch of the numerous family. It appeared often, as most birds, in the early versions of the Bible; later translators seem to feel that it was used in several places where the ostrich really was intended (see OSTRICH). It would appear to a natural historian that the right bird could be selected by the location, where the text is confusing. The ostrich had a voice that was even more terrifying, when raised in the night, than that of the owl. But it was a bird of the desert, of wide range and traveled only by day. This would confine its habitat to the desert and the greenery where it joined fertile land, but would not bring it in very close touch with civilization. The owl is a bird of ruins, that lay mostly in the heart of rich farming lands, where prosperous cities had been built and then destroyed by enemies. Near these locations the ostrich would be pursued for its plumage, and its nesting conditions did not prevail. The location was strictly the owl’s chosen haunt, and it had the voice to fit all the requirements of the text. In the lists of abominations, the original Hebrew yanshuph, derived from a root meaning twilight, is translated “great owl” (see Le 11:17 and De 14:16). It is probable that this was a bird about 2 ft. in length, called the eagle-owl. In the same lists the word koc (nuktikorax) refers to ruins, and the bird indicated is specified as the “little owl,” that is, smaller than the great owl–about the size of our barn owl. This bird is referred to as the “mother of ruins,” and the translations that place it in deserted temples and cities are beyond all doubt correct. Qippoz (echinos) occurs once (Isa 34:15), and is translated “great owl” in former versions; lately (in the American Standard Revised Version) it is changed to “dart-snake” (the English Revised Version “arrowsnake”). In this same description lilith (onokentauros), “a specter of night,” was formerly screech-owl, now it reads “night monster,” which is more confusing and less suggestive. The owls in the lists of abominations (Lev 11:17; Lev 11:18; Deut 14:16) are the little owl, the great owl and the horned owl. The only other owl of all those that produced such impressions of desolation in the Books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Job, and Micah is referred to in Ps 102:6:
“I am like a pelican of the wilderness;
I am become as an owl of the waste places.”
Here it would appear that the bird habitual to the wilderness and the waste places, that certainly would be desert, would be the ostrich–while in any quotation referring to ruins, the owl would be the bird indicated by natural conditions.
In the passages that speak of the unclean birds “the owl . . . . the little owl . . . . and the great owl,” are enumerated. Lev. 11:16, 17; Deut. 14:15, 16. The Hebrew for the first is bath yaanah. (See OSTRICH.) The second is kos: it occurs in the above two passages and in Ps. 102:6; and doubtless refers to the owl. The third, yanshuph, occurs also in Isa. 34:11. This in the LXX and Vulgate is the ‘ibis,’ and has been supposed by some to refer to the Ibis religiosa, a sacred bird of Egypt. There is also lilith in Isa. 34:14 only, translated ‘screech owl,’ (margin and R.V. ‘night-monster’): its reference is doubtful. Also qippoz in Isa. 34:15 only, ‘great owl,’ (R.V. ‘arrowsnake;’ LXX and Vulgate ‘hedgehog,’ reading perhaps qippod with six Hebrew MSS.) There are several well-known species of the owl, but to which of them these various words refer cannot be specified with certainty. The Athene meridionalis is the owl most common in Palestine; the Strix flammea is the white owl.
• A carnivorous bird.
Lev 11:16-17; Deut 14:16
• Sometimes translated »ostrich«
Lev 11:16; Deut 14:15; Job 30:29; Isa 13:21; Isa 34:11; Isa 34:13; Isa 43:20; Jer 50:39; Mic 1:8
Little Owl (see Owl).