Leviticus 11:1-47 . BEASTS THAT MAY AND MAY NOT BE EATEN.
16. the owl--It is generally supposed the ostrich is denoted by the original word.
the nighthawk--a very small bird, with which, from its nocturnal habits, many superstitious ideas were associated.
the cuckoo--Evidently some other bird is meant by the original term, from its being ranged among rapacious birds. DR. SHAW thinks it is the safsaf; but that, being a graminivorous and gregarious bird, is equally objectionable. Others think that the sea mew, or some of the small sea fowl, is intended.
the hawk--The Hebrew word includes every variety of the falcon family--as the goshawk, the jerhawk, the sparrow hawk, &c. Several species of hawks are found in Western Asia and Egypt, where they find inexhaustible prey in the immense numbers of pigeons and turtledoves that abound in those quarters. The hawk was held pre-eminently sacred among the Egyptians; and this, besides its rapacious disposition and gross habits, might have been a strong reason for its prohibition as an article of food to the Israelites.
17. the little owl--or horned owl, as some render it. The common barn owl, which is well known in the East. It is the only bird of its kind here referred to, although the word is thrice mentioned in our version.
cormorant--supposed to be the gull.
the great owl--according to some, the Ibis of the Egyptians. It was well known to the Israelites, and so rendered by the Septuagint ( Deuteronomy 14:16 , Isaiah 34:11 ): according to PARKHURST, the bittern, but not determined.
18. the swan--found in great numbers in all the countries of the Levant. It frequents marshy places--the vicinity of rivers and lakes. It was held sacred by the Egyptians, and kept tame within the precincts of heathen temples. It was probably on this account chiefly that its use as food was prohibited. MICHAELIS considers it the goose.
the pelican--remarkable for the bag or pouch under its lower jaw which serves not only as a net to catch, but also as a receptacle of food. It is solitary in its habits and, like other large aquatic birds, often flies to a great distance from its favorite haunts.
the gier eagle--Being here associated with waterfowl, it has been questioned whether any species of eagle is referred to. Some think, as the original name racham denotes "tenderness," "affection," the halcyon or kingfisher is intended [CALMET]. Others think that it is the bird now called the rachami, a kind of Egyptian vulture, abundant in the streets of Cairo and popularly called "Pharaoh's fowl." It is white in color, in size like a raven, and feeds on carrion; it is one of the foulest and filthiest birds in the world.
19. the stork--a bird of benevolent temper and held in the highest estimation in all Eastern countries; it was declared unclean, probably, from its feeding on serpents and other venomous reptiles, as well as rearing its young on the same food.
the heron--The word so translated only occurs in the prohibited list of food and has been variously rendered--the crane, the plover, the woodcock, the parrot. In this great diversity of opinion nothing certain can be affirmed regarding it. Judging from the group with which it is classified, it must be an aquatic bird that is meant. It may as well be the heron as any other bird, the more especially as herons abound in Egypt and in the Hauran of Palestine.
the lapwing--or boopoe; found in warm regions, a very pretty but filthy species of bird. It was considered unclean, probably from its feeding on insects, worms, and snails.
the bat--the great or Ternat bat, known in the East, noted for its voracity and filthiness.
20. All fowls that creep, &c.--By "fowls" here are to be understood all creatures with wings and "going upon all fours," not a restriction to animals which have exactly four feet, because many "creeping things" have more than that number. The prohibition is regarded generally as extending to insects, reptiles, and worms.
21, 22. Yet these may ye eat of every flying creeping thing that goeth upon all four, which have legs above their feet--Nothing short of a scientific description could convey more accurately the nature "of the locust after its kind." They were allowed as lawful food to the Israelites, and they are eaten by the Arabs, who fry them in olive oil. When sprinkled with salt, dried, smoked, and fried, they are said to taste not unlike red herrings.
26. every beast . . . not cloven-footed--The prohibited animals under this description include not only the beasts which have a single hoof, as horses and asses, but those also which divided the foot into paws, as lions, tigers, &c.
29. the weasel--rather, the mole.
the mouse--From its diminutive size it is placed among the reptiles instead of the quadrupeds.
the tortoise--a lizard, resembling very nearly in shape, and in the hard pointed scales of the tail, the shaketail.
30. the ferret--the Hebrew word is thought by some to signify the newt or chameleon, by others the frog.
the chameleon--called by the Arabs the warral, a green lizard.
the snail--a lizard which lives in the sand, and is called by the Arabs chulca, of an azure color.
the mole--Another species of lizard is meant, probably the chameleon.
31-35. whosoever doth touch them, when . . . dead, shall be unclean until the even--These regulations must have often caused annoyance by suddenly requiring the exclusion of people from society, as well as the ordinances of religion. Nevertheless they were extremely useful and salutary, especially as enforcing attention to cleanliness. This is a matter of essential importance in the East, where venomous reptiles often creep into houses and are found lurking in boxes, vessels, or holes in the wall; and the carcass of one of them, or a dead mouse, mole, lizard, or other unclean animal, might be inadvertently touched by the hand, or fall on clothes, skin bottles, or any article of common domestic use. By connecting, therefore, the touch of such creatures with ceremonial defilement, which required immediately to be removed, an effectual means was taken to prevent the bad effects of venom and all unclean or noxious matter.
47. make a difference between the unclean and the clean--that is, between animals used and not used for food. It is probable that the laws contained in this chapter were not entirely new, but only gave the sanction of divine enactment to ancient usages. Some of the prohibited animals have, on physiological grounds, been everywhere rejected by the general sense or experience of mankind; while others may have been declared unclean from their unwholesomeness in warm countries of from some reasons, which are now imperfectly known, connected with contemporary idolatry.