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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Ostrich

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יענח ; in Arabic neamah; in Greek στρουθοκαμηλος , the camel bird; and still in the east, says Niebuhr, it is called thar edsjammel, "the camel bird," Leviticus 11:16 ; Deuteronomy 14:15 ; Job 30:29 ; Isaiah 13:21 ; Isaiah 34:13 ; Isaiah 43:20 ; Jeremiah 50:39 ; Lamentations 4:3 ; Micah 1:8 ; רננים , Job 39:13 . The first name in the places above quoted is, by our own translators, generally rendered "owls." "Now it should be recollected," says the author of "Scripture Illustrated," "that the owl is not a desert bird, but rather resides in places not far from habitations, and that it is not the companion of serpents; whereas, in several of these passages, the joneh is associated with deserts, dry, extensive, thirsty deserts, and with serpents, which are their natural inhabitants. Our ignorance of the natural history of the countries which the ostrich inhabits has undoubtedly perverted the import of the above passages; but let any one peruse them afresh, and exchange the owl for the ostrich, and he will immediately discover a vigour of description, and an imagery much beyond what he had formerly perceived." The Hebrew phrase בת היענה , means "the daughter of vociferation," and is understood to be the female ostrich, probably so called from the noise which this bird makes. It is affirmed by travellers of good credit, that ostriches make a fearful, screeching, lamentable noise.

Ostriches are inhabitants of the deserts of Arabia, where they live chiefly upon vegetables; lead a social and inoffensive life, the male assorting with the female with connubial fidelity. Their eggs are very large, some of them measuring above five inches in diameter, and weighing twelve or fifteen pounds. These birds are very prolific, laying forty or fifty eggs at a clutch. They will devour leather, grass, hair, stones, metals, or any thing that is given to them; but those substances which the coats of the stomach cannot act upon pass whole. It is so unclean an animal as to eat its own ordure as soon as it voids it. This is a sufficient reason, were others wanting, why such a fowl should be reputed unclean, and its use as an article of diet prohibited. "The ostrich," says M. Buffon, "was known in the remotest ages, and mentioned in the most ancient books. How indeed could an animal so remarkably large, and so wonderfully prolific, and peculiarly suited to the climate as is the ostrich, remain unknown in Africa, and part of Asia, countries peopled from the earliest ages, full of deserts indeed, but where there is not a spot which has not been traversed by the foot of man? The family of the ostrich, therefore, is of great antiquity. Nor in the course of ages has it varied or degenerated from its native purity. It has always remained on its paternal estate; and its lustre has been transmitted unsullied by foreign intercourse. In short, it is among the birds what the elephant is among the quadrupeds, a distinct race, widely separated from all the others by characters as striking as they are invariable." "On the least noise," says Dr. Shaw, "or trivial occasion, she forsakes her eggs, or her young ones; to which perhaps she never returns; or if she does, it may be too late either to restore life to the one or to preserve the lives of the others. Agreeably to this account the Arabs meet sometimes with whole nests of these eggs undisturbed: some of them are sweet and good, others are addle and corrupted; others again have their young ones of different growth, according to the time, it may be presumed, they have been forsaken of the dam. The Arabs often meet with a few of the little ones no bigger than well grown pullets, half starved, straggling and moaning about like so many distressed orphans for their mother. In this manner the ostrich may be said to be hardened against her young ones as though they were not hers; her labour, in hatching and attending them so far, being vain, without fear, or the least concern of what becomes of them afterward. This want of affection is also recorded, Lamentations 4:3 , ‘the daughter of my people is become cruel, like ostriches in the wilderness;' that is, by apparently deserting their own, and receiving others in return." Natural affection and sagacious instinct are the grand instruments by which providence continues the race of other animals: but no limits can be set to the wisdom and power of God. He preserveth the breed of the ostrich without those means, and even in a penury of all the necessaries of life. Notwithstanding the stupidity of this animal, its Creator hath amply provided for its safety, by endowing it with extraordinary swiftness, and a surprising apparatus for escaping from its enemy. They, when they raise themselves up for flight, "laugh at the horse and his rider." They afford him an opportunity only of admiring at a distance the extraordinary agility and the stateliness likewise of their motions, the richness of their plumage, and the great propriety there was in ascribing to them an expanded quivering wing. Nothing certainly can be more entertaining than such a sight, the wings, by their rapid but unwearied vibrations, equally serving them for sails and oars; while their feet, no less assisting in conveying them out of sight, seem to be insensible of fatigue.


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Ostrich'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/o/ostrich.html. 1831-2.

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