Daughter of Greed.

I was enjoying the splendid lament in Micah 1:8, which in the King James version reads “Therefore I will wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked: I will make a wailing like the dragons, and mourning as the owls,” and wondered why the Russian version has страусы ‘ostriches’ for the final word, and upon investigation I discovered, as you will if you click the above link, that some versions have one and some the other. That’s odd, thought I, and googled up A Commentary on Micah by Bruce K. Waltke, who on p. 66 quotes G. R. Driver:

The literal meaning of bat ya‘ănâ . . . is either ‘daughter of greed’ (Gesenius) or ‘the daughter of the wilderness’ (Wetzstein), and it has consequently been always explained as the ostrich […] for this bird is noted for its voracious appetite and is found only in the wilderness. Not all, however, that is said of this bird in the O.T. is applicable to the ostrich. This indeed inhabits the open wilderness but requires water […] but it does not haunt deserted or ruined cities (Is. xiii 21; Jer. i 39); it certainly does not wail (Mic. i 8) but booms; nor is it raptorial. These are all habits of owls, so that the bat ya‘ănâ may well be the eagle-owl, a large owl which is found in semi-desert areas covered with scrub, where it rests on bushes during the day and hunts partridges, hares and rodents, by night […]

Which is all well and good, but I’m always suspicious of arguments from scientific plausibility when dealing with poetic biblical texts (cf. this LH post from last year). Does anybody know anything about what “daughter of greed” might have meant to the author of the Book of Micah?


  1. Savalonôs says

    I have no particular insight, but I noticed a similar example a while back when my father asked me to find a Bible verse featuring owls. Job 30:29 reads “I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls” per KJV (which makes Job sound pretty cool) but “I have become a brother to jackals And a companion of ostriches” per NASB.

    Young’s Literal kind of splits the difference: “A brother I have been to dragons, And a companion to daughters of the ostrich.”

  2. J.W. Brewer says

    I see the Vulgate has the ostrich: luctum quasi strutionum. The LXX, on the other hand, has πένθος ὡς θυγατέρων σειρήνων — “mourning as [the] daughters [of the] Sirens.” I don’t know if “Siren” was poetic for a particular sort of bird, or just meant the Siren-Sirens of mythological fame.

    The switch to owl appears to have been a KJV innovation. Here’s at least a partial catalog of the prior English tradition:

    mournyng as of ostrigis (Wycliffe 1380’s)
    sorow as ye Estriches (Coverdale 1535)
    sorowe as the Estriches (Great Bible 1539)
    mourning as the ostriches (Geneva Bible 1560)
    sorowe as the Ostriches (Bishop’s Bible 1568)

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    The Kusaal Bible (which owes a lot to the various English versions) has jackals and owls in Job 30:29; I’m sorry to say that in Micah 1:8 the dragon has been downgraded to a wild dog (which does make more sense of the wailing, I guess; my concept of dragons has never really included much wailing.)

    They are mere jackals in the original if Brown-Driver-Briggs is to be believed. A pity, if not quite as sad as Behemoth being tagged as a hippopotamus.

  4. Alter has “jackals” and “ostriches” for Micah 1:8, but notes that while the H. generally means ostriches, “some scholars think it may indicate a kind of screech owl”.

  5. January First-of-May says

    The Kusaal Bible (which owes a lot to the various English versions) has jackals and owls in Job 30:29

    …do they even have ostriches over in Kusaal land? I’m not sure if it’s the right part of Africa.

    (Some googling tells me that there is a Kusaal word for “ostrich”, and that the natural range of ostriches no longer reaches that far southwest but did historically.)

  6. Oh, so you want to go into the interpretation of biblical animal names?

    Actually, don’t be “suspicious of arguments from scientific plausibility when dealing with poetic biblical texts”. Biblical writing makes great use of the minutiae of animal behavior as fodder for poetry. These animals were intimately familiar to these writers and to their audiences.

    There are two words in question: תַּנִּים tannīm, and בְּנוֹת יַעֲנָה bǝnōt ya‘ănā. Both are plurals. The two parallel each other also in Isaiah 34:13 and 43:20, and in Job 30:29.

    — The first word is a plural of tan or tannā. tan is used in Modern Hebrew in the meaning ‘jackal’. I don’t know how far back that goes. However, that is certainly not the meaning here. The noun comes from the root tnh which may mean ‘to cry’. The tan is elsewhere described as dwelling in the desert and in abandoned places. Jackals don’t live in the desert and prefer living near human settlements, then as now. The biblical word for ‘jackal’ is likely šū‘āl, which is now used for ‘fox’.

    — To confuse things, the singular noun tannīn or tannīm refers at places to a crocodile (as the metaphor for Pharaoh in Ezekiel 29) or to a whale (as the one that swallowed Jonah). The Vulgate took the noun here to be that singular, and translated it as draco, which the KJV adapted. The number doesn’t match, the zoology doesn’t match with bǝnōt ya‘ănā, and neither crocodiles nor whales wail or mourn.

    — The second word is a plural of bat ya‘ănā.

    — First of all: ben and bat, once and for all, literally mean ‘son’ (or ‘son of’) and ‘daughter’ (or ‘daughter of’). But these nouns were grammaticalized, to derive nouns for things or people of a given characteristic. “Daughter of Greed” is bad translation. “Greedy one” is clearer and more accurate. (Likewise ben māwet is ‘deserving of the death punishment’, not ‘son of death’.)

    — The etymology of the root y‘n is obscure. Gesenius tried to match it with a similar Aramaic root meaning ‘greedy, voracious’, and hence connect it with the ostrich. I’m not convinced, especially since the bird is probably not an ostrich.

    bat ya‘ănā is mentioned among unclean large, mostly carnivorous birds in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. So, so far bat ya‘ănā is a large carnivorous bird, which dwells in ruins, in deserts, and has a mournful voice. These are all good descriptions of owls.

    — Israel Aharoni, the pioneering early 20th century zoologist of Palestine, goes as far as identifying tan as Bubo bubo interpositus (Aharoni’s eagle-owl), and bat ya‘ănā as Bubo ascalaphus (Pharaoh eagle-owl). I don’t understand his reasoning for those exact identifications. I think it is based on a reading of Job 30:29–31.

    — All the early interpreters and translators read bat ya‘ănā as ‘ostrich’. I find that to be a greater mystery than the biblical meaning of the word.

    — One scholar, Zohar Amar, tries to rescue the ostrich theory, since the early sources are so unanimous about that identification. He says that ostriches do live near ruins, and that male ostriches make a booming call during mating season, which could conceivably be considered a ‘mourning’ sound. I think it’s a stretch.

  7. Owlmirror says

    Jackals don’t live in the desert and prefer living near human settlements, then as now.

    Wikipedia, and its references, indicate otherwise.

    This is the Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan for Canids: Foxes, Wolves, Jackals and Dogs, Edited by Claudio Sillero-Zubiri, Michael Hoffmann and David W. Macdonald, published by IUCN – The World Conservation Union.

    The chapter for “Golden jackal (Canis aureus) Linnaeus, 1758″ states, in “Habitat”, that:

    Due to their tolerance of dry habitats and their omnivorous diet, the golden jackal can live in a wide variety of habitats. These range from the Sahel Desert to the evergreen forests
    of Myanmar and Thailand. They occupy semi-desert, short to medium grasslands and savannahs in Africa; and forested, mangrove, agricultural, rural and semi-urban habitats in India and Bangladesh (Clutton-Brock et al. 1976; Poche et al. 1987; Y. Jhala pers. obs.). Golden jackals are opportunistic and will venture into human habitation at night to feed on garbage. Jackals have been recorded at elevations of 3,800m in the Bale Mountains of Ethiopia (Sillero-Zubiri 1996) and are well established around hill stations at 2,000m in India (Prater 1980).

    So jackals do live in some deserts, or areas that might be called deserts (which is another area of debatable nomenclature).

  8. Owlmirror says

    Other things I gathered: There is a subspecies of jackal that is apparently specific to the Levant; Canis aureus syriacus. The coyote is/was considered by some to be an American species of jackal. And the two sub-Saharan species of jackal (Black-backed jackal, Side-striped jackal) seem to be the most distantly related of the canids; the golden jackal, on the other hand, is much more closely related to wolves and coyotes than to those two species.

    Of linguistic note, the PDF I linked to has indigenous names for the various canids.

    So, coyote is:

    English: brush wolf, prairie wolf, American jackal; Spanish: coyote; Indigenous names: Aztec: coyotl; Maya: pek’i’cash (Central America); Cree and Saulteaux: mista-chagonis; Dakota: mica or micaksica; Omaha: mikasi; Mandan: scheke; Hidatsa: motsa; Arikarus: stshirits pukatsh; Klamath: ko-ha-a; Piute: eja-ah; Chinook: italipas; Yakima: telipa; Flathead: sinchlep

    Golden Jackal is:

    English: Asiatic Jackal, Common Jackal; Albanian: Cakalli; Arabic: Ibn Awee; Croatian: Èagalj; Czech: Šakal Obecný; Danish and Swedish: Sjakal; Dutch: Jakhals; Estonian: Šaakal; Finnish: Sakaali; Faeroese: Sjakalur; French: Chacal Doré, Chacal Commun; German: Goldschakal; Greek: Tóáêáë; Hungarian: Aranysakál; Italian: Sciacallo Dorato; Latvian: Zeltainais Ðakâlis; Maltese: Xakall; Norwegian: Gullsjakal; Polish: Szakal Zlocisty; Portuguese: Chacal-dourado; Romanian: Șakal; Slovakian: Šakal Obyèajný; Slovenian: Šakal; Spanish: Chacal; Turkish: Çakal; Indigenous names: Amharic: Tera Kebero (Ethiopia); Fulani: Sundu; Hausa: Dila; Hindi: Giddhad; Kanada: Nuree; Kiswahili: Bweha wa Mbugani, Bweha Dhahabu (Tanzania); Marathi (India): Kolha; Nepali (Nepal), Bengali, Gujarati and Kutchi (India): Shiyal; Singhelese: Nariya; Songhai: Nzongo; Tamil (India): Peria Naree; Wolof: Tili.

    Hm. That mess of accented characters for Greek is in the PDF, sorry. Wikipedia indicates that should be “(Χρυσό) τσακάλι”. The Croatian also has a wrong character; it should be “(Zlatni) čagalj”. Now I’m not sure any of the indigenous non-European language names can be entirely trusted, if they messed up the European language ones.

  9. Greek: τσακάλι
    Croatian: Zlatni čagalj
    Latvian: Zeltainais šakālis
    Slovakian: Šakal zlatý /šakal obyčajný

  10. Owlmirror says

    One reason that I can think of to support the identification of the biblical tan with the jackal (or some sort of canid) is that jackals (and other canids) are more likely to howl together in small family groups, making a chorus to a human listener that would strongly suggest a plural when describing them: tanim.

    If it turns out that eagle-owls hoot in chorus as well, hm.

  11. David Eddyshaw says

    do they even have ostriches over in Kusaal land?

    Used to, I think. Never saw one …

    I don’t know an Agolle Kusaal word for ostrich, and it looks to me as if the Bible translators didn’t either, or at least didn’t expect their readers to. In Job 39:13 where ostriches specifically would make sense, the Kusaal version has “big bird” (a rare example of Muppet influence on Bible translation); in lists of treyf foods it’s just left out; in Lam 4:3 they’re spelt out as “big savanna birds” rather than given a particular name.

    However, Urs Niggli’s nice dictionary of the other major dialect, Toende, has na’amɛɛŋ: this would literally mean “chief-turtle”, and I would say its very opacity is a guarantee it’s not just a word created for the purposes of Bible translation (which happens.) Moreover, the closely related language Mooré has the cognate nàmèoongó.

    The Kusaal Bible translators had no hangups in general about transposing alien animals into familiar ones: Biblical wolves get regularly transformed into jackals, for example, which after all makes a lot of sense in a Nidaesque dynamic-equivalency way.

  12. Charles Perry says

    The Arabic is ibn āwā, colloquially ibn āwī or more commonly ibn wāwī. When I was recalling it my memory slipped and I connected it with ‘awā “to howl” (of a wolf or dog or jackal), which would make sense, but wrong initial consonant. Both the noun and the verb seem onomatopoeic, though.

  13. David Eddyshaw says

    @Y: Thanks. I had been wondering in particular how the dragons ever got in on the act.

  14. John Cowan says

    Biblical wolves get regularly transformed into jackals

    From Ernest Best’s book From Text to Sermon (1988):

    Our culture, many of our situations, much of our world-view are different from all of those of the New Testament. Perhaps that does not need to be proved. For the moment one example will suffice; by choosing an extreme case it will easily be seen how much is involved. It is a very well-known example.

    How is the lamb of God to be explained to an Eskimo? It is possible to render “the lamb of God” as “the baby seal of God” [and supposedly this was actually done]; but the seal occupies a different place in the mind of an Eskimo from that which the lamb did in the mind of a Palestinian of Jesus’ day. The seal only exists to be hunted, its flesh for food, its skin for clothing; it is never fed or cared for. The lamb may be killed eventually for food or clothing, but someone, the shepherd, has looked after it from its birth; he has given it a name and has led it from pasture to pasture even though in the end he may eat it or bring it to the temple as a sacrifice. For the Eskimo there is no seal-herd; “the Lord’s my seal-herd” [*] is an impossible thought; the seal is not an object for sacrifice to God nor the center of a Paschal feast. The affectionate relationship of the shepherd for his sheep, seen in the way he gives them pet names, is unknown to the Eskimo in his attitude towards seals.

    [*] My footnote: I can’t use herd productively this way; it would have to be herder.

  15. Y and Owlmirror: Thanks for all the detail! I guess I’ll just have to live with the uncertainty, as is so often the case.

    So how is the lamb of God to be explained to an Eskimo?

  16. J.W. Brewer says

    BTW, I don’t know what it is with the LXX translators and Sirens, but in the Job passage, they go with “companion of ostriches” (ἑταῖρος . . . στρουθῶν — although στρουθός can apparently also mean either “house sparrow” or “flatfish/flounder”), but the “brother to dragons” bit is “ἀδελφὸς . . . σειρήνων.” Maybe “Siren” was a default word used for “okay we don’t know exactly what the Hebrew means but probably some weird sort of beastie/monster/thingie”?

  17. Sounds plausible!

  18. And the ostrich/house sparrow/flounder thing is very weird. Does anybody know what’s going on there?

  19. J.W. Brewer says

    Liddell and Scott say it has even more meanings. http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/lsj/#eid=100134

    L&S also suggest that the more precise way to indicate “ostriches” was σ. αἱ μεγάλαι or οἱ μεγάλοι σ. It’s certainly true that ostriches are more “mega” than sparrows . . .

  20. “There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.”

    Somehow if you replace “sparrow” with “ostrich” it isn’t as poetic.

  21. So how is the lamb of God to be explained to an Eskimo?
    Maybe this could give a hint? I somehow don’t think they used a puppy, though.

  22. Owlmirror: Aharoni writes (my translation):

    tannīm or t̠annā are always mentioned as creatures characteristic to the desert (e.g. Malachi 1:3, “…to the tanōt of the desert”). I have crossed the heart of the desert every which way, and never discovered in it this howling mammal. Yet there is not one village in Palestine and Syria, to which packs of this mammal don’t come to rob a chicken or some other fowl from the coop.

    Palestine of the early 1900s is a fair approximation of that of biblical times, although there were no domesticated chickens then. Jackals have adapted to making use of human habitations in some lands, even if not in others.

  23. J.W. Brewer says

    The late Professor Best was writing almost two centuries after sustained Christian missionary work began among Eskimos (maybe even earlier for those on the Siberian side of the Bering Straits although I’m not sure about that). There are villages in Alaska where virtually everyone is at least nominally Christian and that has been the case going back maybe five generations of more. He confesses later on in the passage that he has “never talked with an Eskimo” and it’s unclear if he’s ever talked to anyone who has talked with an Eskimo, much less talked with an Eskimo about various metaphors in the New Testament. He was an academic who spent virtually his entire career in Northern Ireland and Scotland, for whom Eskimos were perhaps simply an arbitrary token of exoticism. To his credit, he does then pivot to the notion that perhaps late 20th century urban/industrial society is in different ways just as remote from the cultural setting in which the New Testament was written as pre-Westernization Eskimo society was, and that is probably the point more relevant to his readers, who were more likely to be preaching to late 20th century urban/industrialized Westerners than to exotic indigenes in farflung locales.

    Somewhat less exotically, I found myself one Sunday morning almost 30 years ago in the same place (in the Deep South, as it happened) as a retired Australian bishop whose diocese had many more sheep located in it than human beings. And His Grace was giving what was presumably one of the stock sermons he used when traveling in the Northern Hemisphere which was about how if your 20th century childhood exposure to sheep primarily involved making pictures of cute little lambs by gluing cotton balls onto construction paper, you were missing much of the subtext of many of the Biblical metaphors obvious to anyone who’d grown up around actual sheep and was aware that they were particularly stupid and dirty creatures compared to other sorts of livestock, and less able to keep themselves out of trouble by their own native wits. With such awareness, His Grace asserted, you would understand the “we are the sheep and He is the shepherd” sorts of analogies in a different way.

  24. That’s great.

  25. His Lordship, unless he was actually an archbishop.

  26. David Eddyshaw says

    JWB is absolutely right (about everything.) In particular, sheep are really quite epically dim; much less so goats (an intelligence test would be quite a good way of achieving the Biblical goat/sheep-sorting exercise.)

    The thing about “Lamb of God” specifically is that the nature of the animal itself is pretty much irrelevant: the point is that it was a sacrifice for sin. These concepts are just as alien to modern secular Westerners as to any imaginary unevanglised Eskimo, and need just as much explaining beforehand to get the implications across. Indeed, the Westerners probably go farther astray because what associations “lamb” already has for them are irrelevant at best and positively misleading at worst. An exotic animal would at least collocate with the exotic concepts.

  27. J.W. Brewer says

    Which ecclesiastical dignitaries get which sort of fancy title or form of address/reference varies by time, place, and flavor of Christianity and I will admit I’m not up on the specifics of the Australian Anglican dialect. And this particular diocese and its current bishop are (according to the internet) very Low and “conservative evangelical,” which might plausibly lead to a certain studied hostility toward pomp-and-circumstance linguistic fripperies.

    The already-retired-as-of-1990 bishop of my anecdote, FWIW, was a Welshman by origin. He had been a Royal Navy chaplain during the Late Unpleasantness of 1939-45, in which capacity he had somehow gotten to Australia, and then he stayed.

  28. David Eddyshaw says

    Welshman by origin

    Positively nothing to do with sheep, then. Just thought I’d better make that clear.

  29. The LXX σειρήνες is sometimes translated as “demon”. Menahem Dor notes Isaiah 13:21, “bǝnōt ya‘ănā shall dwell there, and śǝ‘īrīm shall dance there.” śā‘īr is ‘demon’ in this context, and based on that and on the LXX, Dor argues that bat ya‘ănā is also a demon.

    Hayim Moyal agrees that bat ya‘ănā is an owl, but not an Eagle-owl, which doesn’t live in ruins, but rather the Little owl (Athene noctua), which does. If ya‘ănā comes from the root ‘nh ‘respond, reply’, says Moyal, that matches the Little owl’s cries echoing in valleys and mountains.

    On the other hand, the Little owl is usually identified with a different biblical bird name, כּוֹס kōs.

  30. Owlmirror says

    I don’t know what to say about Aharoni’s statement. Does he positively state that he did see and hear eagle-owls during his desert travels?

    It occurred to me that one difference between the Levant area in biblical times and the 1900’s might be the invention and dissemination of the long gun. Rifle shots might encourage changes in jackal behavior so they would be much more circumspect when humans are anywhere nearby. But that’s just an idle thought.

    Another idle thought is that people might have used different words for animals they can see as opposed to animals whose cries they hear. So they might have called any small canid that they could see raiding livestock or farms “shu’al”, and any chorus of howls they heard as being made by “tannim”.

    My favorite howler (heh) from the LXX is that in Isaiah 13:22 and Isaiah 34:14 (for śǝ‘īrīm), they used the term “ὀνοκένταυροι”.


  31. David Marjanović says

    And the ostrich/house sparrow/flounder thing is very weird. Does anybody know what’s going on there?

    Mockery. Think “overgrown sparrows”.

  32. J.W. Brewer says

    There’s some discussion of the symbolic valence of ostriches in this piece. Feel free to ponder whether it is a bug or a feature that one can now get an entire scholarly article out of discussing how one specific verse in the LXX handles a total of three words in the Hebrew (one freestanding, the other two a NP). https://www.academia.edu/13438335/Daughters_and_Dragons_in_LXX_Lam_4_3

  33. I don’t see where the identification tan = ‘wolf’ comes from to begin with. The earliest to make that identification is the 13th century writer Tanḥum of Jerusalem, whom I haven’t read. Gesenius mentions Arabic تنان tinān ‘wolf’, which is not the standard word, and I don’t know where it comes from.

    On any case, the pairing of a mammal and a bird in all those verses is not plausible.

  34. J.W.B., thanks. It’s nice to know that not only me finds that famous and oft-quoted verse (Lamentations 4:3) incomprehensible.

  35. “Daughter of Greed” is bad translation. “Greedy one” is clearer and more accurate.

    Greedy daughter is even more accurate. Why the hesitation to appoint gender?

    “(Likewise ben māwet is ‘deserving of the death punishment’, not ‘son of death’.”

    An awkward attempt to de-personalize the phrase.

  36. Greedy daughter is even more accurate.
    It is less accurate, because no family relation is implied.

    Why the hesitation to appoint gender?
    Because English nouns are mostly not gendered, and in the ones that are, gender indicates biological sex (like “father” and “waitress”). Hebrew gender is arbitrary, so tan is masculine, bat ya‘ănā is feminine, but both refer to similar birds of whatever biological sex.

    An awkward attempt to de-personalize the phrase.
    In this case ‘a man deserving of being put to death’ may be more accurate, since the Hebrew gender in this case reflects biological sex. However ben māwet could in principle refer to any creature which is referred to by a masculine noun, in which case the less specific version works better.

  37. Owlmirror says

    On any case, the pairing of a mammal and a bird in all those verses is not plausible.

    I don’t see why not. If you’re describing the animals that have taken over a place made desolate, you might think of the animals as having dividing up the place in terms of earth and sky; some hunting, haunting, and howling below, and some above.

    Although I guess I’m thinking that in that case, that means that the bird is most plausibly an owl. The wastes and desolations being described in context are often rocky, hilly places; the ostrich’s defense against predators, running fast, is best suited to the savannah.


    I remembered that Natan (or Nosson) Slifkin has commented on animals in the torah, and wondered if he had anything to say on the tanim topic. I see that in Sacred Monsters: Mysterious and Mythical Creatures of Scripture, Talmud and Midrash, pg 166, he sides with the “jackals” interpretation, relying on Rashi’s commentary on Isaiah 34:13, the verb form of letanot in Judges 11:40 (the (in)famous story of Jephthah’s daughter), and Malachi 1:3. He also refers to Lamentations 4:3 ¹, where “tani(m/n)” offer their breasts to their cubs/offspring.

    However, that book was published 2007.

    1: The book makes the error (on page 164) of labeling the verse as being from Job, a mistake that is somewhat more understandable in Hebrew (איכה->איוב), but should really have been caught by a more punctilious copy editor or author review.

  38. Owlmirror says

    In this blog posting from 2012, Slifkin points out that our understanding of animal biology should not be taken for granted as being known in the past, and at least some people seem to have thought that animals likes snakes or birds could give milk, thus undermining the mammalian implication of Lam 4:3. Perhaps most strongly, he references the Targum Yonatan, and references to that in the Talmud:

    As R. Josh Waxman pointed out in another context, there was an ancient belief in a strange type of owl called a strix, which was thought to nurse its young on milk.

    There are advantages to positing that tanim are strix owls rather than jackals. Tanim are always translated by Targum Yonasan as yarudin, and the Talmud Yerushalmi (Kilayim 8:4) identifies these as birds. Thus, the most ancient traditions for the identity of tanim favors owls rather than jackals (whereas the earliest source for positively identifying them as jackals is Tanhum Yerushalmi, in the thirteenth century).

    He doesn’t quite end on committing to that interpretation, but: “Still, it seems that Chazal, at least, understood the term to refer to lactating vampirous strix owls.”

    I’m not sure about that last — the strongest you can get from “yarudin” being birds is that they could have been lactating vampirous strix owls, until we can find out more about what sort of birds “yarudin” were supposed to be.

    Finally: “And one thing is clear: the identity of the tanim of Scripture is certainly not as straightforward as is often assumed.”

    Well, I should think so.

  39. Owlmirror, parallel couplets are perhaps the most common poetic device in the Old Testament. The two parts of a such couplets (of which there are many examples in Micah) are typically very closely symonymous, or at least evoke one another. Jackals and owls are too dissimilar.
    The main thing is, as I said, there really isn’t any positive evidence to associate tan with the jackal, and it joins a large number of misidentified biblical species, some in ancient times, some recently, some erring on the species level, others on the order level.

  40. Owlmirror says

    The two parts of a such couplets (of which there are many examples in Micah) are typically very closely symonymous, or at least evoke one another. Jackals and owls are too dissimilar.

    Hm. Yet owls and ostriches don’t seem very similar to me.

    Could “tanim” plausibly mean “jackals” if “b’not ya’anah” means, say, “hyaenas”?

  41. David Marjanović says

    Striped hyenas occur in the region, but are already mentioned in the Bible by another name, says the Wikipedia article. Spotted hyenas appear not to have occurred there in historical times.

    And now I wonder about the etymology of hyaina. Is ya’anah one of those words with a *w > y shift?

  42. David: “However, Urs Niggli’s nice dictionary of the other major dialect, Toende, has na’amɛɛŋ: this would literally mean “chief-turtle”, and I would say its very opacity is a guarantee it’s not just a word created for the purposes of Bible translation (which happens.) Moreover, the closely related language Mooré has the cognate nàmèoongó.”

    With that glottal stop, this looks suspiciously like a borrowing of Arabic naʕāmah “ostrich” – not what I would expect a priori, but several Sahelian languages borrow the Arabic word for “rhinoceros”, so it’s not that implausible.

  43. Trond Engen says

    Names for traded goods are borrowed into the supplier’s language. Fur hunters tend to talk of their prey as furs, not animals.

  44. J.W. Brewer says

    By coincidence I recently learned that strix / στρίξ (as a sort of owl) is the etymon (perhaps through some intermediate links) of Italian “strega,” meaning either “witch/sorceress” or “a brand of liqueur.”

  45. if “b’not ya’anah” means, say, “hyaenas”

    Let’s not lose sight of the fact that even if we don’t know the exact referent, the bat ya‘ănâ בַּת יַּעֲנָה was a bird. It occurs embedded in the lists of unclean birds in Leviticus and Deuteronomy (at Leviticus 11:16, Deuteronomy 14:15):

    וְאֵת בַּת הַיַּעֲנָה וְאֶת-הַתַּחְמָס וְאֶת-הַשָּׁחַף וְאֶת-הַנֵּץ לְמִינֵהוּ

    wəʾēṯ bat hayyaʿănāh wəʾeṯ-hattaḥmās wəʾeṯ-haššāḥap̄ wəʾeṯ-hanneṣ ləmînēhû

    (“and the ostrich, and the nightjar(??), and the sea gull, and hawks of every variety…”?)

    Unfortunately many of the other bird names in these lists are also obscure.

  46. David Eddyshaw says

    this looks suspiciously like a borrowing of Arabic naʕāmah “ostrich”

    That’s a thought. There are actually a good number of Arabic loans in Kusaal, mostly but not exclusively mediated through Hausa. Given the fact that there don’t seem to have been all that many ostriches around in the area for a long time, borrowing is not a fanciful idea a priori.

    Against it is that the division na’a+mɛɛŋ in fact fits a common pattern in Kusaal for animal names, a lot of which have a na’a prefix. It’s homophonous with the combining form of na’ab “chief”, but if that’s really the origin the semantics are pretty obscure. But then quite a few animal names seem to have some sort of basis in folklore: “preying mantis”, for example, comes out as “Mr Hyena’s-Father-in-law.”

    On the other hand, it would make sense for a loanword to be adapted to fit a common preexisting pattern.

  47. No hyenas, no jackals, no monkeys, no ostriches here. Only owls mirrored in the parallel verses (sorry).

  48. John Cowan says

    Unfortunately many of the other bird names in these lists are also obscure

    Which is why most bird flesh is not kosher, because you never know if you might be consuming one of the prohibited-but-unknown birds. So only those birds that Jews have been eating since time immemorial (e.g. chickens, ducks, geese, quails, pheasants), plus the turkey, are kosher today. The sacrificial birds like pigeons are also explicitly kosher; meat-eaters (including fish-eaters and carrion-eaters) and predators are not kosher by analogy with the similar rules for mammals. (Human flesh is technically kosher, but forbidden on other grounds.)

  49. “It is less accurate, because no family relation is implied”

    A female “person of a given characteristic” but never a family relation. That’s cutting the diamond to a favorable facet. All those other biblical Sons & Daughters must be feeling abandoned.

  50. Owlmirror says

    [bat ya‘ănâ] occurs embedded in the lists of unclean birds in Leviticus and Deuteronomy

    *grumbles at inconvenient facts in the torah*

  51. Owlmirror says

    A female “person of a given characteristic” but never a family relation.

    When girls are called “b’not mitzvah”, is “mitzvah” considered their parent?

  52. “Hebrew gender is arbitrary, so tan is masculine, bat ya‘ănā is feminine, but both refer to similar birds of whatever biological sex.”

    How would you translate She-Owl into Hebrew? Would the result be comprehended as gender noncommittal?

  53. “However ben māwet could in principle refer to any creature which is referred to by a masculine noun, in which case the less specific version works better.”

    From the specific to the less specific is a handy tool when practicing grammatical gymnastics.

  54. For she-owl in Modern Hebrew, an ornithologist would probably say yanshuf nekeva ‘female owl’. A children’s book might say yanshufa.

  55. Owlmirror says

    For whatever it’s worth, I note that in the paper linked to by J. W. Brewer above @ May 15, 2019 at 6:22 pm, “Daughters And Dragons In LXX Lamentations 4:3”, footnote 25 states:

    The translators of the Peshitta, however, consistently rendered ‫תנים‬ with forms of the Syriac word for “jackal”, ‫ ¹ܝܪܘܪܐ‬ (Sokoloff 2009:584).

    If this is correct, and the Peshitta does date to the 2nd century (per references), it would push the identification of “tan” with “jackal” back quite a bit from the 13th C. Tanhum Yerushalmi.

    Which is not to say that Syriac speakers would necessarily have a perfect grasp of Biblical Hebrew, but there it is.
    1: Rendered in Hebrew characters, I think the Syriac reads “ירורא”. While I tediously checked this using the character app, I found a nifty Semitic language character converter that supports what I picked out. I’m not sure what the vowels would be, though. Maybe it reads “yarura”? Does Syriac also use vav as a mater lectionis?

  56. David Eddyshaw says

    Does Syriac also use vav as a mater lectionis?

    Yup. And it is indeed ya:ru:ra:.

  57. David Eddyshaw says

    (Or yo:ru:ro:, of course, depending on your Christology and how Persian or Roman you’re feeling.)

  58. “at least some people seem to have thought that animals like snakes or birds could give milk, thus undermining the mammalian implication of Lam 4:3.”

    Pigeon/dove milk is real (even controlled by prolactin, though not from mammary glands) and perhaps they generalized? Emperor penguins have something similar but that may not have been accessible to the writers. And then there’s the recent spider milk.

  59. Owlmirror says

    Pigeon/dove milk is real (even controlled by prolactin, though not from mammary glands) and perhaps they generalized?

    I think there is a real problem of nomenclature here. We, taking our cue from modern pigeon/dove breeders, call the substance “crop milk”, but would everyone in the past have used the same term? It is not particularly “milky” in appearance (Wikip: “a semi-solid substance somewhat like pale yellow cottage cheese.”), after all.

    I am unable to figure out the exact provenance of the phrase. The OED has no sub-entries for “milk” under either “crop” ¹ or “pigeon” or “dove”, nor does the term appear in the entry for “milk”, even though it has many other uses and combining phrases ². Very frustrating.

    However, Google scholar found some interesting results. There is an openly-available USDA document ³, which has:

    In 1786, Hunter (36) described the so-called “crop milk” of pigeons, and Hasse (37) in 1865 further discussed the same matter. This body fluid is often secreted by the crop of pigeons at breeding time and is furnished to the newly hatched birds

    [Where the references are:]

    36: HUNTER, JOHN. Observations on certain parts of the animal economy. 3 p. 1., 225 pp., 18 pis. 4°. London. 1786.

    37: HASSE, O. Ueber den Oesophagus der Tauben und das Verhiiltniss der Secretion des Kropfes zur Milchsecretion. Ztschr. f. rat. Med., Leipzig & Heidelberg, 3 R., Bd, 23, Heft 1-2, pp. 101-132, pis. 7-8. 1865.

    Now, the latter reference does not seem to be available online, but the former is ⁴. And one can see (on page 149 of the PDF) that Hunter describes the phenomena clearly, but at no point calls the substance “milk”, nor does he state that pigeon/dove breeders do so. He draws the parallel to lactation, and calls that which forms in the crop a “secretion” or “substance”, and says that it resembles “curd” (cottage cheese), but not that it is, or should be called “curd”, let alone “milk”. So this strongly suggests at some point between 1786 and 1865 (per the German citation above, which could perhaps be the first usage), the substance began to be called “crop milk”, and this term then disseminated among zoologists, ornithologists, and pigeon/dove breeders.

    Another interesting hit was The Milk of Birds”: A Proverbial Phrase, Ancient and
    Modern, and its Link to Nature
    , by Martha Payne. Apparently, “bird’s milk” is a phrase in Greek, with both Modern and Ancient forms, that is used rhetorically to suggest some rare and desirable/tasty substance ⁵. Yet this does not seem to refer to crop milk. She cites one classical writer, Anaxagoras, as suggesting that it means egg white. ⁶

    Payne then turns to the topic of actual pigeon/dove crop milk. The ancients seem to have had a confused idea as to what the pigeons/doves are doing. She cites Athenaeus as saying that male pigeons/doves spit onto their chicks (to ward against the evil eye) and Aristotle as saying that the male spits chewed food into the chick’s mouth to feed them. But she notes that they are not correct in the details; what chicks eat from the crop of both parents is not chewed but secreted. More importantly, there is no spitting, as an action. She concludes: “Neither author is cognizant of the crop-milk substance.”

    So all this suggests that ancient pigeon/dove breeders, even if they knew about what pigeons/doves secrete, would not have called it milk. They might well have called it “spit/saliva”, given its origin inside the birds’ mouths, which could have led to Aristotle (and others) thinking that the action of spitting also occurred.

    Emperor penguins have something similar

    And also flamingos, I see from Wikipedia/Google. But no other bird is so mentioned.

    1: One of the citations for (a bird’s) “crop” has the spelling “crap”. Oh, those hilarious vawəl shifts.

    2: Almond milk is surprisingly old, with a citation from a 15th-C cookbook: “Take gode Milke of Almaundys, & flowre of Rys.”

    3: “Digestion Experiments with Poultry”, by E. W. Brown, published by USDA, 1904.

    4: Observations on Certain Parts of the Animal Economy (or Œconomy), by John Hunter, with notes by Richard Owen, 1840.

    5: For some reason, this meaning appealed to a Polish candy manufacturer, and now there is Ptasie Mleczko, “Bird Milk” chocolate.

    6: I note that frothed egg white is the basis of meringue. Could “bird’s milk” have been a reference to some treat made by frothing egg white with sweeteners and flavorings?

  60. John Cowan says

    Almond milk is surprisingly old

    It was a major ingredient in fast-day dishes among the upper classes in both Christendom and the Dar as-Salam from early mediaeval times onward. The recipe is trivial: grind, add water, simmer, the sort of thing one might almost discover by accident.

  61. Owlmirror says

    Getting back to Lamentations 4:3, the terms used strongly suggest a mammal of some sort. The verse does not actually refer to “milk”, but to extending a teat (shad), suckling (heynik), their cubs (gurim). In addition to not having teats, birds cannot suckle, since they have no lips. And as Slifkin notes, gurim is “elsewhere used only to describe lion cubs”. So the author either had in mind a mammal, or a bird/snake/mammal chimera.

    It seems plausible to me that the authors of the different books had different ideas about what tanim/tanin referred to. Also, different authors might have had different ideas about how strictly poetic parallels needed to be adhered to.

    Getting back to Micah 1:8, which started all this, I note that the Hebrew reads:

    עַל-זֹאת אֶסְפְּדָה וְאֵילִילָה, אֵילְכָה שילל (שׁוֹלָל) וְעָרוֹם; אֶעֱשֶׂה מִסְפֵּד כַּתַּנִּים, וְאֵבֶל כִּבְנוֹת יַעֲנָה.

    The Peshitta for that same verse reads:

    ܥܲܠ ܗܵܠܹܝܢ ܐܲܪܩܸܕ݂ܝ ܘܐܲܝܠܸܠܝ: ܘܗܲܠܸܟ݂ܝ ܚܸܦܝܵܝ ܘܥܲܪܛܸܠ: ܘܲܥܒܸܕ݂ܝ ܡܲܪܩܘܼܕ̇ܬܵܐ ܐܲܝܟ݂ ܕܝܵܪܘܿܪܵܐ: ܘܐܸܒ̣ܠܵܐ ܐܲܝܟ݂ ܕܒܲܪܬ̣ ܝܵܪܘܿܪܵܐ.

    But with the handy-dandy character converter I linked to above, this can be seen as:

    עַל הָלֵין אַרקֶדֿי ואַילֶלי: והַלֶכֿי חֶפיָי ועַרטֶל: וַעבֶדֿי מַרקוּדתָא אַיךֿ דיָרוֹרָא: ואֶבֿלָא אַיךֿ דבַרתֿ יָרוֹרָא.

    And it looks to me like “b’not ya’ana” was translated as “bart yarora”; “daughter of jackal”. That is what “bart” means, right? The feminine of “bar”, “son”? Or is it actually the feminine plural, “daughters”? Regardless, the word for “jackal” is used twice. Hm.

  62. Curiouser and curiouser!

  63. David Eddyshaw says

    The r is silent in bath, just to confuse everyone, but it is indeed the construct singular of “daughter.” The plural construct is bna:th, so it’s not that, even if you disbelieve the vowels.

    I can’t find any set expression bath ya:rur:a:, but my reference materials for Syriac are not what you would call exhaustive. Maybe it just means a baby jackalette (ya:ru:ra: is feminine.) Or maybe the translators were stumped as to just what was meant and just went for a bit of elegant variation. Or felt that the Hebrew b’not ought to be represented somehow. Or both.

  64. David Marjanović says

    37: HASSE, O. Ueber den Oesophagus der Tauben und das Verhiiltniss der Secretion des Kropfes zur Milchsecretion. Ztschr. f. rat. Med., Leipzig & Heidelberg, 3 R., Bd, 23, Heft 1-2, pp. 101-132, pis. 7-8. 1865.

    ii is an OCR error for ä; Verhältnis, in 1865 generally spelled with -ss, means “relation(ship)”.

  65. Owlmirror says

    For the record, trying to trick the comment posting system just pisses it off.

    I had two comment attempts with a few verses of the converted Peshitta of Leviticus 11:13-20 just disappear; boojumed, I figured, rather than moderated, since neither of them ever reappeared.

    So I thought to myself, “How about I post the text without those verses, and then use the editing window to add them in?”

    I posted it without the verses, which worked as usual. I then edited in the verses . . . and when I tried to save the changes, the edit buttons and countdown disappeared, and the last line changed to: “You can no longer edit this comment”. It certainly looks like this comment attempt was boojumed also.


  66. Damn. Feel free to send me the comment and I’ll post it for you. As ever, I apologize for my Satanic software.

  67. Stu Clayton says

    It must be way easy to modify the timed edit window in order to allow one link in a comment, instead of immoderately sending all comments with a link into moderation. But where there’s no Will, there’s no way anything will change Will.

  68. Stu Clayton says

    I spend a lot of my time fighting intelligent software. The main problem is that it’s Martian intelligence at work, so a lot of that time goes into analyzing stool samples to figure out what the hell is going on.

    The most effective tactic is to find a Martian (WordPress/whatever adept) who will fix it for a fixed fee. Let’s raise a couple of hundred bucks to enhance the quality of life at LH. All the proprietor must do is find a Martian and set up a PayPal account.

    I pledge 100 USD.

  69. Owlmirror says

    Let’s see if this works. Here’s the Peshitta conversion of Leviticus 11:13-20:

    ן. 13. ואַנֵא חָשבִֿיתוֹן מוּרדָר מִן פָרַחתָא: לָא פָישִי [א]כִֿילֵא: מוּרדָרוּתָא [י]נָא: נֶשרָא: ופֶרֶס: ונֶשרָא דיָמָא. 14. דַיתָא: ובָזָא לגֶנסוּהי. 15. כל עוּרבָֿא לגֶנסוּהי. 16. ונַעָמָא: ובוּמָא: ושָלֵא נוּנֵא(רבים): ונֶצָא לגֶנסוּהי. 17. וקוּפתָא: ושָלָך: ויַנשוּף. 18. ותֶנשֵמֶת: וקָקָא: ורָחָם. 19. ולַגלָג: אַנפָא לגֶנסוּהי: והוּדהוּד: ופָרחָא לַילֵא. 20. כל רַחשָא דפָרַחתָא: דחָדֶר עַל אַרבַע: מוּרדָרוּתָא [י]לֵא אֶלוכֿוֹן.

    Going purely by sequence, “bat ya’anah” is there translated as “na’ama”. Deuteronomy 14:15 seems to have the same translation. Lameen above @May 16, 2019 at 7:01 am, says that in Arabic, naʕāmah means “ostrich”. I don’t suppose the Arabic could be from the Syriac? Probably not.

    It’s always interesting to me to spot the cognates with Hebrew in other Semitic languages.

    So “nesher” (“eagle”, usually) is “neshra”. I also see “neshra d’yama”, which looks to me like “sea-eagle” (it translates the Hebrew “azniyah”, which is “osprey” in many translations; some translations actually do go with “sea eagle”). And “orev” (“raven”, usually) is “oorva”; “yanshuf” (some sort of owl), is the same in Syriac; “tinshemet” (another kind of owl) is “tenshemet”; “racham” (some sort of vulture, usually) is the same in Syriac; “anafah” (“heron”, usually) is “anfah”. As always, the same caveat as above applies: “Unfortunately many of the other bird names in these lists are also obscure”

    The Hebrew “min”(+suffixes indicating possessive), “kind”/”sort”/”species”, seems to be in Syriac “gensuhi”(where “uhi” certainly looks like a possessive suffix). That “gens” makes me think of Latin, gens/genus, but that’s probably a false friend.

  70. Owlmirror says

    @Stu: I understand that multiple links go to moderation. But the only time that I have seen comments go to /dev/null repeatedly here has been when there are “too many” Hebrew characters (where “too many” is an obscure quantity — a few words seem to be fine, but several verses, as in my attempts, trigger the system tossing the whole thing into the bitbucket).

    If I were more paranoid, I would accuse the system of being literally anti-Semitic, but I recall seeing other complaints with regards to Cyrillic and Greek texts disappearing. It might be a relic of long-ago(?) spammer practice of posting a wall of non-Latin characters, usually Chinese, no doubt in order to drive SEO rankings.

  71. I have replaced the link with the text; congratulations on that effective solution!

  72. Stu Clayton says

    @Eulenspiegel: there are a number of problems. Link-pinching is one that frustrates many people, and should be easy to fix without opening the floodgates of spam – or of endless democratic discussions here

    Other problems with code pages need more analysis and consideration – and consultation with the software owners. These are not matters that programming chipmunks are equipped to deal with.

    One baby step at a time.

  73. Stu Clayton says

    As for LH regulars who want to post non-ASCII text – a simple whitelist of their mail addresses (maybe with an extra auth step) would solve that problem.

    These issues have been discussed here repeatedly over the years. Not much has improved, except due to volunteer work by John Cowan and Songdog. In such circumstances i have found that throwing some money at the issues can be effective.

  74. Stu Clayton says

    By “programming chipmunks” I mean the enthusiastic young programmers that one is likely to encounter on the open market.

  75. @Stu Clayton: That reminded me that the chipmunk in The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes is named Chippy Hackee. (Timmy himself is a gray squirrel, unlike the earlier and much more famous Nutkin, who is a red squirrel. The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes also provides an example of a badly stylized drawing of a bear, quite unlike Beatrix Potter’s usually detailed and precise illustrations. I have remarked on the poor quality of bear drawings by Europeans who had little experience with the animals before.)

  76. Stu Clayton says

    Hackee, funny coincidence.

    # After a terrible misunderstanding, poor Timmy Tiptoes ends up deep inside the trunk of a dead tree, with no means of getting out. Luckily, the chipmunk who lived there was very friendly and kind to Timmy. #

  77. Owlmirror says

    @languagehat: Thank you kindly! I did also want the explanatory line above the paragraph:

    “Here’s the Peshitta conversion of Leviticus 11:13-20:”

  78. Done, and I’ve alerted Songdog to the problem of vanishment; he may or may not be able to do something about it.

  79. Owlmirror says

    Despite my griping, I think I’m actually impressed by how spam-free the blog languagehat is, especially given that it’s completely open; that is, with regular posts with open comments going back 17 years or so, and no CAPTCHA or user registration involved. I have seen blogs with interesting posts and relevant comments just overwhelmed by later spam comments, where the blog owner was either unable or unwilling to prune the crap. So, kudos!

    In searching for information about Akismet, I see that per this page there is a “Strictness” option for “Silently discard the worst and most pervasive spam so I never see it.” Is that involved here?

    Sorry. I see from searching that this has been discussed before, multiple times.

  80. Owlmirror says

    An interesting paragraph from Akismet’s developer page:

    Submit Spam and Submit Ham are follow-ups to let Akismet know when it got something wrong (missed spam and false positives). These are very important, and you shouldn’t develop using the Akismet API without a facility to include reporting missed spam and false positives.

    So Akismet can be re-trained to be less zealous and censorious.

  81. OK, Songdog has increased the number of permitted links to five — let’s see if that improves matters!

  82. David Eddyshaw says


    Payne Smith’s Syriac dictionary does indeed give naʕa:ma: for “ostrich”, and interestingly enough gives as plurals not only the expected naʕa:me: but also bna:th naʕa:ma:, literally (of course) “daughters of the ostrich.”

    Quite a few Arabic words are thought to be of Syriac origin, I believe; no idea in this case if it’s a loan or simply cognate (Lameen will know, if anybody does.)

    Syriac gensa: is borrowed from Greek, like quite a lot of Syriac vocabulary, so it is in fact (indirectly) related to genus. So a fairly non-false friend.

  83. @Owlmirror, thanks for looking up the Syriac examples. That is very interesting.

    The Aramaic forms yārōrā~yārūdā~yālūlā (I forgot the references to the other two) all mean ‘cry’ or ‘howl’ or things like that. So tan means ‘howler, cryer’, and could refer to either a jackal or an owl. Even in Biblical Hebrew the word tinšemet (from nšm ‘breathe’, so something like ‘huffer’) refers to both a reptile and an owl (it is nowadays used for ‘barn owl’.) As before, their approximate identities are gleaned from their contexts in the lists of unclean animals.

    And, incidentally: tinšemet immediately suggests another owl word, yanšūf, from nšp ‘blow, exhale’. Unless it comes from nešef ‘night’, which connects it with another owl, lilit, as in lail~lailā ‘night’. Unless lilit comes from yll ‘cry, howl’, which connects it to tan and ya‘ănā

    It seems that the Peshitta read both tan and ya‘ănā to mean ‘cryer’. Whether this was based on knowledge now lost of older Hebrew vocabulay, or guesswork such as that of modern scholars, who knows?

    As to Lamentations 4:3, it reads gam tannīn ḥālṣū šad hēinīkū gūrēihe. The verb ḥlṣ means to pull out of a tight place, as a foot from a shoe (or metaphorically to rescue from trouble). So ḥālṣū šad means something like ‘undo a teat’. Some have used this meaning to go with singular tannīn ‘whale’ (like Jonah’s tannīn), since a whale’s teats are covered except during feeding. The problems are, how did anyone back then know about the feeding habits of whales? And, ḥālṣū is in the plural, so singular tannīn is a poor fit. On the other hand, tannīn as a plural of tan is a poor fit for ḥālṣū šad, since a jackal’s teats are uncovered, like a dog’s (I presume. I haven’t checked.) And while the -īn plural instead of the usual -īm is explained as an Aramaism, I’d like to be reassured that such is expected here.

  84. Miraculously, the entire 5-page entry on tan in the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, by Frevel, is available on Google Books. Frevel prefers to think tan is a canid, but concedes that the problem is difficult.

  85. I had another thought. The Syriac and other translators read tan and bat ya‘ănā as nouns having to do with ‘crying’. The LXX translated ya‘ănā as σειρήν. The sirens are famous for howling/crying/singing. Hmm?

    The etymology of σειρήν is uncertain, from what I read.

    TR, do you have an opinion on this?

  86. David Marjanović says


    An aptronym meaning “sacrilege” in German.

  87. Corrections to my last long comment: lilit > līlīt, gūrēihe > gūrēihem, “feeding” > “nursing”.

  88. Owlmirror says

    I note that the Targum Onkelos for Leviticus 11:16 has “בַּת נַעָמִיתָא”, bat na’amita, for “בַּת הַיַּעֲנָה”.

    One of the things that’s been on my mind, ever since seeing Lameen’s comment about “naʕāmah”, is that at least in Hebrew the root “נ-ע-מ”, (nun-ayin-mem) is used for terms meaning “pleasant”/”beautiful”, and it’s part of the names “Naomi” and “Noam”. So my natural inclination, when seeing “bna:th naʕa:ma:” is to think that it means “daughters of pleasantness” rather than “daughters of the ostrich”.

    I realize this might be me being lead astray by a coincidental resemblance, of course. It’s possible that “י-ע-נ” was a better match for whatever “נ-ע-מ” was meant to convey in Arabic/Syriac/Targum Aramaic. On the other hand, it could be that the name was changed for some reason in Hebrew. For example, perhaps “bat na’amah” is a name or epithet of a goddess that the animal was sacred to, and YHWH monolatrists were annoyed enough to insist that the animal be called a more negative name.

    I guess I’m wondering whether “nun-ayin-mem” is the root for a positive concept like pleasantness or beauty in other Semitic languages.

    Syriac gensa: is borrowed from Greek, like quite a lot of Syriac vocabulary, so it is in fact (indirectly) related to genus. So a fairly non-false friend.

    Interesting. Targum Onkelos has “zinah”, and related forms.

  89. David Eddyshaw says

    In Syriac, the verb naʕem is “to sound, utter”, and its aph’el form anʕem is “rebuke, chide”, which seems quite ostrich-y. Indeed the formation may agree in meaning if not etymology with the Hebrew, I suppose.

    As you will certainly know, Aramaic/Hebrew ʕayin represents two different original sounds, corresponding to Arabic ʕain and ɣain: the “pleasant” one has ʕain in Arabic, and there is an Arabic naɣma(tun) “tune” which is presumably cognate to the Syriac “sound/rebuke.”


  90. David Eddyshaw says

    Targum Onkelos has “zinah”, and related forms

    I believe that that is actually a loan from Persian; I would guess that it, too, is cognate with genus!

  91. “On the other hand, it could be that the name was changed for some reason in Hebrew.”

    You must be literally kidding! Why would anyone do that?

  92. David Eddyshaw says


    It’s a thing: e.g. Ishba’al/Ishbosheth (and Meribba’al/Mephibosheth)


    I don’t think it could work in this particular case, though. Apart from anything else, the Syriac root in question is not in fact “pleasant.”

  93. TR, do you have an opinion on this?

    Mostly just that “the 13th century writer Tanḥum of Jerusalem” had a suspiciously appropriate name.

    Looking further into the Greek words isn’t turning up anything particularly useful so far:

    The Suda says that the Σειρῆνες were women from the chest down and στρουθοί from the chest up, which here must mean sparrows rather than ostriches, since the same entry then quotes the LXX version of the Job verse and explains that in that verse the word means not sparrow but what you or I would call a sparrow-camel, that is, a bird that’s part sparrow, part donkey (sic).

    One of the meanings Hesychius gives for σειρήν is ὀρνιθάριόν τι ποιόν “some kind of small bird”, but that doesn’t seem to suit any of the candidates. He says στρουθός means a lecherous person (ὁ καταφερὴς καὶ λάγνος), but in Attic also an ostrich.

    The putative “flounder” sense of στρουθός seems to be found only in Aelian’s third-century CE De Natura Animalium, whose text is a mess, so it could easily be an error.

    Aristotle in the Historia Animalium also lists the σειρήν among bees and wasps, which might make sense if the word originally meant something like “emitting a high-pitched noise” (wild conjucture: onomatopoeic *tw- as in tweet?).

  94. Very interesting! And yet, people have tried to link σειρήν to σειρά ‘rope, snare’, i.e. ‘ensnarer’, with no regard to birds or bees.

  95. Stu Clayton says

    From time immemorial, the human species has been ensnared by the birds and the bees (and to an equal extent by the flowers and the trees, and the moon up above).

  96. people have tried to link σειρήν to σειρά ‘rope, snare’, i.e. ‘ensnarer’

    That’s inevitable given the formal similarity and maybe it’s right, but it looks more like a folk etymology to me. If you were coining a name for fantastic singing bird-women (who don’t use ropes) would you really call them “Ropers”?

  97. This is a roper monster.

    There is actually a translation issue related to this monster name, which I only noticed relatively recently. The roper monster, at least to the extent that is definitely identifiable by its name and nature (sitting disguised as a stalagmite, until it comes to life and whips its tentacles at you) was not taken from folklore, but was invented for the Dungeons & Dragons game. Although not as famous as the beholder, it is still one of the “mascot” monsters of the game.

    The action-RPG video game Hydlide, which was fairly impressive when it was released in Japan in 1984 (although not so much when it reached the rest of the world in 1989), used some D&D monster names, including “roper,” for a tentacle creature. However, the game also includes a more powerful version of the same monster, which was named “hyper” in the English release, combining an element from the name “roper” with the power implied by “hyper.”

    (Let’s see whether four links in a comment works now.)

  98. Owlmirror says

    On the other hand, it could be that the name was changed for some reason in Hebrew. For example, perhaps “bat na’amah” is a name or epithet of a goddess that the animal was sacred to, and YHWH monolatrists were annoyed enough to insist that the animal be called a more negative name.

    Incidentally, the page on Lilith also states that:

    From these ancient traditions, the image of Lilith was fixed in kabbalistic demonology. Here, too, she has two primary roles: the strangler of children (sometimes replaced in the Zohar by Naamah)
    [ . . .]
    [Lilith] is generally numbered among the four mothers of the demons, the others being Agrat, Mahalath, and Naamah.

    See also Naamah (demon), although I note that there is also an Ammonite wife of Solomon named Naamah, and a descendant of Cain with the same name (and also possibly a different woman who was a descendant of Seth? Who married Noah, maybe, in Midrash/Apocrypha?)

    I’m pretty sure that this identification of a demon-mother with the name “Na’amah” is probably too recent to have affected the word for “ostrich”. And as David Eddyshaw notes, it seems likely that the ostrich was originally called the word with a ghayin rather than an ‘ayin anyway. Nevertheless.

  99. For some reason, this meaning appealed to a Polish candy manufacturer, and now there is Ptasie Mleczko, “Bird Milk” chocolate.

    In Russian, too, as can be seen here:
    птичье молоко

  100. sparrow

    There is something mysterious about sparrows, as I found in looking at translations for ‘bird’ in various Turkic languages. For the most part, it’s quş/qoş, but it’s çıpçıq in Karachay-Malkar, which is ‘sparrow’ (+ chumchuq) in some other Turkic languages. And what about quş in Karachay? It means ‘eagle’, paralleling ὄρνις and erne/örn in Indo-European.

  101. David Marjanović says



    (I can’t seem to link to a Google Images search result without including way too much extraneous information about my computer. This is the general search, click on “Images”…)

  102. Ha, I just noticed this line in Leonid Girshovich’s Суббота навсегда:

    Глядишь, а отпускает конфеты «Птичье молоко» Анхесенпаатон.

    But look, Ankhesenamun is handing out the “Bird’s Milk” candy [at the British Museum].

    (He’s making a point about how the past is close to us; it’s complicated.)

  103. Owlmirror says

    He’s making a point about how the past is close to us; it’s complicated.

    I’m really not sure if that’s “close to”, meaning “near to”, or a simple haplographic typo for “closed to”, meaning “unavailable”.

  104. No, “near to”; he has a whole passage about how we can only see the past, not the future (which doesn’t exist anyway), and we look back at our ancestors and can only see the backs of the heads of the previous couple of generations, but if we stand to one side we can see the whole line, back to the first creatures who crawled out of the sea; the novel begins “…Из морской же пены вышли на сушу обитатели последней” […From the sea foam its inhabitants came out onto dry land].

  105. It’s one of the most difficult and allusive novels I’ve ever tackled; I’ve read almost a hundred pages (annotating feverishly as I go) and am still on the prologue (the whole book is almost 750 pages).

  106. Interesting, so Girshovich subscribes to the point of view that the past is in front of us, unusual for a Russian, but necessary for his purpose. But the language doesn’t let him do it easily (hello, Whorf!): Всего лишь полтораста человек за нами, то есть перед нами./ There is only one hundred and fifty people behind us, that is, in front of us.

    LH, you probably understood “Bird’s milk” phrase correctly, but your translation doesn’t reflect it, as I see it.
    Всего лишь полтораста человек за нами, то есть перед нами. То же, что протиснуться без очереди к прилавку. Глядишь, а отпускает конфеты «Птичье молоко» Анхесенпаатон.
    There is only one hundred and fifty people behind us, that is, in front of us. It’s like cutting the line to the counter. But, look at it, the “Bird’s Milk” candy are dished out by Ankhesenamun.

  107. Owlmirror says

    Ah. Given the single sentence, I guess the interpretation that was foremost to my mind was that the candy-provider would be costumed as Ankhesenamun, in order to profit off of (or synergise with) the crass exploitation of the exoticism of the past.

  108. But, look at it, the “Bird’s Milk” candy are dished out by Ankhesenamun.

    Thanks, I changed mine to reflect that improvement.

  109. So “nesher” (“eagle”, usually) is “neshra”.

    Hm. I see now that “usually” depends on whether you’re a zoologist or not. Israel Aharoni, as a zoologist, insisted that “nesher” meant “vulture”, and traditionalists insisted that “nesher” meant “eagle”, going back to Talmudic/Mishnaic Hebrew and the Septuagint.


  110. I can’t find Aharoni’s book online, but the article mentions Henry Tristram, whose book “The natural history of the Bible” is in the Internet archive, and ties “nesher” to the Griffon-vulture, via Arabic.

  111. Another history of the nesher/‘ayiṭ debate (in Hebrew), also touching on kelev yam, lit. ‘sea dog’, once used for the otter, nowadays for the seal.

    One chapter of Aharoni’s book is online, the dramatic story of the golden hamster, the ancestor of all lab and pet hamsters since then. I have the book; let me know if you want me to look up anything in it.

  112. Correction: WP says that hamsters from another wild stock was brought to the US in the 1970s, but have left no trace of mtDNA in the current pet population.

  113. Aharoni’s Hebrew WP article led me to Egon Kisch, with whom Aharoni worked on a Zionist newspaper while the two were still in the Gymnasium. Kisch was an adventurous journalist, and a lifelong Communist. Following his escape from Germany in 1933, he attempted to enter England, and was refused as a subversive; he then proceeded to Australia, where he was refused again. He jumped ship—literally: he jumped off the ship in Melbourne, landing on the dock and breaking his leg. He was forced back on the ship, but became a cause célèbre by the time it got to Sydney. Then,

    Under the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, visitors could be refused entry if they failed a dictation test in any European language. As soon as Kisch was released, he was re-arrested and was one of the very few Europeans to be given the test; he passed the test in various languages but finally failed when he was tested in Scottish Gaelic. The officer who tested him had grown up in northern Scotland but did not have a particularly good grasp of Scottish Gaelic himself. In the High Court case of R. v. Wilson; ex parte Kisch, the court found that Scottish Gaelic was not within the fair meaning of the Act, and overturned Kisch’s convictions for being an illegal immigrant.

    The details of the Gaelic test and the court’s reasons for rejecting it are here.

    Ed. It is quite clear from the arguments in the case that the reason for the test was to exclude “Asiatics”. Kisch clearly wasn’t one.

  114. David Eddyshaw says

    A just judgment based on (numerous) false premises, inter alia

    “In any country there is only one standard language.”
    “Gaelic is not a language.” [at all: not merely “not a standard language”]

    It puts me in mind of the (absolutely sound) syllogism:

    All men who habitually wear pink tutus in public are Presidents of the United States.
    Donald Trump habitually wears pink tutus in public.
    Donald Trump is President of the United States.

  115. Donald Trump habitually wears pink tutus in public

    It is rather a ridiculous orange hairstyle, but other than that it is quite correct.

    All men who habitually wear pink tutus in public are Presidents of the United States

    The aforementioned hairstyle is also unique.

    According to the rules of modern logic, the consequent doesn’t need to follow from the premises in any derivational way. There is some circularity to this argument, but it is much late here and I am not going to think it through.

  116. Lewis Carroll created a number of symbolic logic puzzles that were presented as sets of statements, with the goal being to link them all together into a single statement. The one I remember particularly had the solution: No badger can guess a conundrum. (Some of the puzzles, including that one, can be found here, curiously interleaved with some unrelated paintings.)

  117. David Eddyshaw says

    The conclusion of my favourite one is:

    Therefore, no good kitten will play with a gorilla.

  118. A recent National Geographic article on ostriches, in case anyone is interested.

  119. Since I am reading Jane Eyre for the first time since this was posted, I noticed something that I had missed before. Jane—or her creator, Charlotte Brontë—is fond of Biblical allusions. (I much prefer Charlotte’s style in this regard to her sister Emily’s. Among other things, Emily has a theological affectation of referring to human lives as “immortals.”) I noticed this passage in Jane Eyre, which uses owls to describe a scene of desolation but in which I had not previously recognized a scriptural correspondence.

    “I dreamt another dream, sir: that Thornfield Hall was a dreary ruin, the retreat of bats and owls. I thought that of all the stately front nothing remained but a shell-like wall, very high and very fragile-looking. I wandered, on a moonlight night, through the grass-grown enclosure within: here I stumbled over a marble hearth, and there over a fallen fragment of cornice. Wrapped up in a shawl, I still carried the unknown little child: I might not lay it down anywhere, however tired were my arms—however much its weight impeded my progress, I must retain it. I heard the gallop of a horse at a distance on the road; I was sure it was you; and you were departing for many years and for a distant country. I climbed the thin wall with frantic perilous haste, eager to catch one glimpse of you from the top: the stones rolled from under my feet, the ivy branches I grasped gave way, the child clung round my neck in terror, and almost strangled me; at last I gained the summit. I saw you like a speck on a white track, lessening every moment. The blast blew so strong I could not stand. I sat down on the narrow ledge; I hushed the scared infant in my lap: you turned an angle of the road: I bent forward to take a last look; the wall crumbled; I was shaken; the child rolled from my knee, I lost my balance, fell, and woke.”

  120. Kate Beaton ruined the Brontës for me forever, in a good way.

  121. I always forget about Anne. Has anyone read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall? Is it more than a curiosity?

  122. I’ve never read anything by the Brontë sisters except the two really famous novels. Maybe I should try one of Anne’s.

    @Y: “Hark! A Vagrant” did an entire series on Wuthering Heights, covering more or less the entire plot. You can find them all under “literature” (or “literarure”) here.

  123. Has anyone read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall? Is it more than a curiosity?
    I read it, over 30 years ago. It was in a combo with Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. It’s not a bad story, but much less memorable than the other two, basically for the reason in Kate Beaton’s cartoon – it’s much more conventional and romanticizes characters and situations much less (or rather, to use Kurt Tucholsky’s terminology, its mild romantic, not wild romantic). But its view of what the relationship of man and woman should be like is arguably more modern than that of the other two.

  124. bringing it back to the ostriches (the birds, not the hapsburgs):

    while watching the amazing documentary on the recreation of the gwoździec synagogue’s roof & painted ceiling (Raise the Roof), the panel with a bird identified as an ostrich jumped out at me – not just because it doesn’t look like an ostrich*, but because it’s the only critter in the mural to get an identifying label. that’s interesting in itself, since the other exotic bird (a very naturalistic north american turkey) and the various mythical creatures (unicorn, griffin, and quite a few others) are not given labels.

    though what caught my eye was that what the label says is בתהיענה – which looks to me like a variation on our old friend bat ya‘ănâ**. i don’t know whether there’s anything interesting in it, but apparently that’s what was in use in yiddish-speaking bukovina in the 1640s or 1720s (the two periods of painting in gwoździec).

    here’s the filmmakers’ explanation of the image, which doesn’t go into the word itself (copied from here, where you can see the picture itself (and buy a reproduction, if you want)):

    In a large medallion on the ceiling above the entrance, an eagle-like bird is shown landing on the top of a tree trunk, looking directly down at three eggs in its nest. The artist, uncharacteristically, labeled the figure as an “ostrich” in Hebrew. This figure is the only animal in the entire synagogue that was given a label. The artist painted other animals realistically, so the fact that he labeled the painting “ostrich” probably indicates that he did not know what an ostrich looked like. Most Polish Jews of the Early-Modern period would have been familiar with the term “ostrich” because it was used in legends and biblical stories, especially one about the ostrich’s practice of hatching her eggs by the power of her vision. Such stories emphasized the power of vision and the importance of looking at good things and refraining from looking at evil things.


    * it does look a bit like an owl, though more like a fighting cock. i don’t see ‘eagle’, myself (pace the filmmakers).

    ** or possibly “bat hyena”, if we read it more phonetically.

  125. What are the standard Christian stories associated with ostriches?

    The ב of the inscription looks like a כ, and there’s no space between the two words בת היענה. Which suggests to me that the artists weren’t used to reading Hebrew. The art is beautiful, in any case.

    The use of the definite article ה is intriguing. I don’t remember seeing that usage before in such explanatory captions, but most of what I’ve seen are Western European medieval manuscripts.

    Art aside, are these synagogues built without nails, just with joinery?

  126. There are several Tuareg proverbs that open with “As the ostrich said”; a quick search only gives me “The sun half-hidden by clouds is worse than a lance between the wings” and “One who wants “white” (an egg/money) should lay it”, but there are others.

  127. i think, based on the film, that they’re done with pure joinery. if my memory of a visit 20 years ago is right, that’s true of the wooden church in ieud, which is part of the christian wing of the same architectural tradition. the reconstruction does have screws in some places, i think so that the Polin museum meets current polish building codes, not out of necessity.

    suggests to me that the artists weren’t used to reading Hebrew

    i’m not sure – i don’t know enough about the conventions of that kind of hebrew text in the period to judge, but i think that kind of compression is pretty common in similar captions (i’m thinking about the monastery murals elsewhere in bukovina).

    but i wouldn’t be surprised if you were right! i’m generally inclined to believe the idea of widespread familiarity with hebrew (language and texts) in traditional jewish communities before quite recently is largely fantasy. (i’m definitely willing to be persuaded otherwise, but i don’t think i’ve heard arguments that aren’t based on ignoring the extreme bias of surviving textual sources – max weinreich, for example, often writes as if yeshiva learning was practically universal, instead of the preserve of a tiny elite)

    i do also wonder, given the time period and location, whether at the time of the early-18thC refurbishing gwoździec was a sabbatean or crypto-sabbatean community. that would make it more likely that the unusual spelling would be there because of gematria.

    i could make an argument for the paintings as sabbatean iconography – the leopard in the paintings (with its very human cartoon-y face that’s clearly referring to someone) looks like nathan of gaza around the moustache and eyes; the lion opposite it is obviously luria (“the ari”); so the deer (“tsvi”) each cat is paired with must be the messiah himself – but it would be a bit of a stretch without some more direct evidence.

  128. PlasticPaddy says

    @Lameen, I suppose you know the story…

    annan kel awal / anil inna “er eran amellel / arut !“
    disent les gens de la parole / l’autruche a dit : / “celui qui veut quelque chose de blanc / qu’il accouche !”
    Traduction améliorée : “les gens de la parole disent : l’autruche a dit : celui qui veut un œuf, qu’il le ponde”.
    Ce proverbe fait référence à un conte dans lequel un chacal, profitant de l’absence d’une autruche, se met à couver ses œufs et s’en déclare le propriétaire : confrontés devant un tribunal, le juge demande au chacal de faire la preuve de sa prétendue matemité en faisant pénétrer en lui l’œuf contesté. Le chacal, ayant tenté en vain l’expérience, doit reconnaître son imposture; l’autruche triomphante court en sautant (ijagamjagam) et s’écrie: “celui qui veut quelque chose de blanc, qu’il le ponde”.
    Source: Edmond Bernus, PAROLES CONVENUES – MOTS ET JEUX DE MOTS TOUAREGS in GRAINES DE PAROLE, Ecrits pour Geneviève CALAME-GRIAULE, Editions du CNRS, Paris, 1989.

  129. The rendering of ב with a very short lower projection, confusing it with a כ, is something that you see in Hebrew signs in the United States, but never in Israel. When we first came to the States, it became a family joke to pronounce signs advertising בּשר כּשר basar kasher ‘kosher meat’, as “kasar basher”, because the ב looked so similar to the כ. The use of dagesh in niqqud-less orthography is also a peculiarity absent in Israel.

  130. David Marjanović says

    All hail the hypnotoad bat hyena.

  131. Owlmirror says

    I recently stumbled upon a new (to me) source of open-access books: Mohr Siebeck.

    One that is germane to the topic of the OP is: Banned Birds: The Birds of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, by Peter Altmann

    The dietary prohibitions in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 represent one of the most detailed textual overlaps in the Pentateuch between the Priestly material and Deuteronomy, yet study of them is often stymied by the rare terminology. This is especially the case for the birds: their identities are shrouded in mystery and the reasons for their prohibition debated. Peter Altmann attempts to break this impasse by setting these flyers within the broader context of birds and flying creatures in the Ancient Near East. His investigation considers the zooarcheological data on birds in the ancient Levant, iconographic and textual material on mundane and mythic flyers from Egypt and Mesopotamia, as well as studying the symbolic functions of birds within the texts of the Hebrew Bible itself. Within this context, he undertakes thorough terminological studies of the expressions for the types of birds, concluding with possible reasons for their exclusion from the prescribed diet and the proposed composition-critical location for the texts in their contexts.

    I haven’t read it yet, but there it is.

    Another open-access book on a similar topic is Food Taboos and Biblical Prohibitions: Reassessing Archaeological and Literary Perspectives
    Edited by Peter Altmann, Anna Angelini, and Abra Spiciarich

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