Fair Fowl, Foul Fowl
Some of These Laws Are For The Birds!
I love drawing birds, so illustrating this passage from Deuteronomy was a natural. I could have chosen the passage from Leviticus 11:13-19. They are identical. The same birds, in the same order with the same sentence structure. What are the odds? This got me scratching my head in quizzical puzzlement. (Wow, four z’s in two words! What are the odds?) Well, it turns out these two books were written by Moses. I didn’t know that then, but I do now! I knew that Moses spent forty days on Mt. Sinai talking to God. What I didn’t know was that, when he climbed down off that obscure, smoking, lightning-illuminated mountain; besides bringing us the Ten Commandments, he also brought the Oral Torah and six hundred thirteen specific and detailed laws meant for the people of Israel. I want to delve briefly into these laws and to look at kosher laws, what they mean and how they apply to this illustration.
Known as the Mitzvot , these laws address all aspects of human life. There are three hundred sixty five negative and two hundred forty eight positive commandments. The negative ones are the ‘thou shalt nots…” and the positive ones are the ‘thou shalts…’
They are meant to preserve the sanctity of Jewish observance and the holiness of religious practices. They are also meant to encourage a serious perspective and importance to the business of living a meaningful and humble life. A life that honors God and, as much as an individual is capable of adhering to the Mitzvot, keeps His commandments. This is the subjective part of the intent of Mitzvot . A couple of these laws are, for example, ‘ Know that God’ exists and ‘Do not put the word of God to the test’.
The objective intent of Mitzvot is based on the preservation, purification and health of the Jewish race. The commandments concerning dietary laws are a form of ancient health regulations! For example, the slaughtering of permitted animals is to be done rapidly, by cutting the throat of the animal with an extremely sharp knife with no serrations in the blade. This is considered the most humane way of dispatch. The goal of this type of slaughter is to get rid of as much blood as possible. Ingesting blood is forbidden. The animal is then hung to permit the evacuation of blood. It is then washed, salted with kosher salt and cooked well. The USDA has determined that this ritual method of slaughter is so sanitary that kosher slaughterhouses are exempt from USDA regulations.
The Mizvot is divided into many categories i.e., Business practices, Clothing, Marriage, Divorce and Family, Treatment of Gentiles, Court and Judicial etc. There are many more but you get the idea.
Most of these worthy commandments have stood the test of time. Consider the following ones, ‘Not to sell a Hebrew servant as a slave., ‘Not to pass a child through the fire to Molech’., (referring to child sacrifice), ‘Not to wear garments made of wool and linen mixed together’., ‘To make a parapet for your roof’.?? And my favorite, ‘Not to put olive oil in the meal offering of a woman suspected of adultery’.!!! I presume it’s perfectly acceptable to drizzle olive oil on her matzos if you know she is an adulteress!?
Back to the birds. The forbidden birds in Deuteronomy 14:11-20 are either birds of prey or scavengers. As such, they are indiscriminate in their diet, hunt carrion and cannibalize. They have sharp talons with strong feet for transporting their prey. Their beaks are sharp and hooked for tearing flesh. God describes, to Ezekiel, a scene of Gog’s slain army. Hordes of soldiers are scattered about on the mountains of Israel being devoured by (Ezekiel 39:4) “…the ravenous birds of every sort.” Quite a graphic scene made more dramatic by the presence of birds of prey.
In Isaiah 46:11 God curiously refers to Cyrus the Great as a bird of prey “…a ravenous bird from the east”. It seems an incongruous reference to a man who is revered for his benevolence and justice. Cyrus tolerated and respected the culture and religion of the lands he conquered. Ah, you say! ‘Conquered’ implies blood and cruelty. Well, not in his case as when, in October of 539 BC, he annexed Babylonia without spilling a drop of blood. He then freed the Jews of whom 40,000 returned to their homeland. He then financed the rebuilding of the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem. He doesn’t seem to exhibit the tendencies of birds of prey. Was God implying that Cyrus had the tenacity and single minded intent of a predatory raptor?
Ostriches are in for some harsh treatment in Job 39:13-18. In a chapter that praises the freedom of the wild ass, the strength of the bull, the fearlessness and strength of the war-horse, the eyesight and flight of the eagle, we see the ostrich laying her eggs out in the open soil. She is unconcerned that passing beasts will trod on them. She hopes the sun is warm enough to sustain and nurture them. “She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers: her labour is in vain without fear; because God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath He imparted to her understanding.” The best that can be said about the ostrich in this passage is that they have wings and feathers to which I ask, “Why?” They can’t fly! Lamentations 4:3 equates the ostrich to a breast feeding sea monster! How weird is that? So- we have a strange looking, eight foot tall, three hundred pound bird who can’t fly but who can outrun a horse and kick a pursuer to death. It’s eye is bigger that it’s brain, it makes great feather dusters and lives in a commune and hates its kids. God is humorous.
Doves are special in the Bible. They are used metaphorically to describe everything from the Spirit of God descending upon Jesus at His baptism (Mark 1:10), “And straightaway coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him”, to the sorrowful murmurings of Queen Huzzab’s handmaidens. (Nahum 2:7), “And Huzzab shall be led away captive, she shall be brought up, and her maids shall lead her as with the voice of doves, tabering upon their breasts.” This magnificent run-on sentence uses a word that poignantly transforms this scene. Used but a single time in the entire Bible, the word tabering, (to beat on a small drum, tabour), infuses the scene with the pathos of the handmaidens who beat their breasts and mourn the captivity of their beloved queen. Doves, who mate for life, are used here to underscore the loyalty shown by the hand maidens. Notice also, that the phrase “the voice of doves” effectively adds another dimension to this passage. Imagine the queen following the handmaidens as naturally as one’s head turns upon hearing the nearby cooing of a pair of doves.
Francois is the author of It’s In The Bible! which was illustrations only. He is currently working of Volume Two. When asked to tell me more about himself so I could introduce him, here are parts of that information:
The article above is “one of 15 or so chapters. They are short-two to four pages- of commentary about a particular Bible passage passage. I illustrate it then analyze the theological message. My first book was It’s In The Bible!! and it was illustrations only. Volume two will have the same name since I own it. I also have ItsInTheBible.org and a Facebook page which is being developed to advertise my book. There will be some church related cartoons and some general commentaries on theological subjects along with study questions. Humor is included.”
“I am a committed Christian, on the vestry and many committees of St. John’s Episcopal in Chula Vista, CA.(Sad Diego area). I run a Bible study group there….I write and draw full time.”
“The article I sent you is not “typical” since it is “theme oriented” rather than Bible passage “in depth” study of what is going on in a particular scene. I am very curious and love to do research.”
“I am not an ornithologist however, so themes explored would be more “general” in nature. As you know there is a lot of bird influence throughout the Bible and a lot of material to be explored.”
I am looking forward to reading more articles from him and I trust you will also. Welcome, Francois.