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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

 

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OWL

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 Israel. 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 Lev 11:17 and Dt 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 11:17,18; Dt 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.
Gene Stratton-Porter

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'OWL'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE; 1915.

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