Oystercatchers Must be Gentiles


Dr. James J. S. Johnson


American Oystercatcher (Conserve Wildlife Foundation photo)

These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.  And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you; they shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcasses in abomination.  Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.    (Leviticus 11:9-12)

[At some point, please review Acts chapters 10 & 15, and 1st Timothy 4:1-5 (quoted below), to see how it was decided that New Testament Gentile Christians were not to be burdened with keeping the Mosaic dietary restrictions — which would include the ban on shellfish reported in Leviticus 11:9-12.]

Oystercatchers are amazing birds.  As their name indicates, they are famous for eating raw shellfish, especially oysters — and their strong and sharp bills are providentially designed and shaped to accomplish forced entry into shellfish shells, to facilitate getting at the mollusk-meat inside those bivalve shells.

Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils: speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.  For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.   (1st Timothy 4:1-5)


American Oystercatcher (Chesapeake Bay Program photo)

“American Oystercatchers are large, stocky shorebirds with long, orange razor-sharp bills.  Found exclusively in marine habitats [such as tidal beaches], they eat mostly shellfish, including oysters, clams and mussels, which are hammered open or quickly stabbed through an opening in the shell and cut open [for “fast-food” consumption].  When the opportunity arises, they will gladly eat a host of other intertidal invertebrates, including limpets, crabs, marine worms, sea urchins, chitons and even jellyfish.”   [Quoting Wayne R. Petersen & Roger Burrows, BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND (Lone Pine Publishing, 2004), page 129.]


American Oystercatcher on tidal beach (Chesapeake Bay Program photo)

This skill for accessing he raw mollusk meat inside a bivalve is also described by ornithologist Fred J. Alsop III:

“Like all oystercatchers, this bird [i.e., the American Oystercatcher] uses its three-to-four-inch, laterally compressed, sharp chisel-tipped bill to pry open shells for food, but it sometimes hammers and chips them open as well.”  [Quoting Frederick J. Alsop III, BIRDS OF TEXAS (Smithsonian Handbooks, 20020, page 174.]

Obviously, with a mollusk-rich diet (as (described above), the American Oystercatcher declines to keep the Mosaic (i.e., Jewish) dietary code restrictions, especially as provided in Leviticus 11:9-12.   Rather, its shellfish-dominated diet better resembles the New Testament Gentile diet, as recommended in Acts chapter 15, which was later confirmed by the apostle Paul in 1st Timothy 4:1-5 (quoted above).

The first time that I viewed American Oystercatchers was at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, (on the Gulf of Mexico’s northwestern coastline, touching southern Texas), on March 11th AD1995, during an avian ecology research trip, taken as part of a doctoral program.  What a conspicuous shorebird this busy wader is!

And now for my limerick, to highlight the oystercatcher’s dietary habit, as a warning to all tidewater beach-dwelling bivalves.

Oystercatchers Must be Gentiles

Beware! oyster, clam, and mussel,

Don’t with Oystercatchers tussle;

That sharp, orange bill

Is keen for the kill

So, from it, you’d better hustle!


American Oystercatchers (American Bird Conservancy photo)

A Diet of Jackdaws and Ravens

Western Jackdaw (Coloeus monedula) ©WikiC

Western Jackdaw (Coloeus monedula) ©WikiC

A Diet of Jackdaws and Ravens

by James J. S. Johnson

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. … The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.  (Psalm 46:1 & 46:11)

Looking at ravens, recently, I was reminded of the 46th Psalm and a hymn that majestically paraphrases its doxological theology.  Also I was reminded of the Jackdaw (Corvus monedula), which is cousin to the Raven (Corvus corax), both of which corvids range in Germany.

Northern Raven (Corvus corax) by Ray

Northern Raven (Corvus corax) by Ray

But how are these – Psalm 46, a hymn, ravens, and jackdaws — connected?

Let’s begin with a famous hymn that paraphrases, in lyrical dignity, from the content of the 46th Psalm. Surely you recognize these lyrics:

Luther's Ein Feste Burg

Luther’s Ein Feste Burg

Of course, the lyrics are penned by a Saxon theologian of the AD1500s, in German, so maybe an English translation (of that hymn’s lyrics) would be more helpful.  This German hymn (“Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott”) was translated into English, as early as AD1539, by Bible translator Miles Coverdale, with the title “Oure God is a defence and towre” [notice obsolete spellings of “our”, “defense”, and “tower”].  The hymn’s composition (AD1529), as well as its original melody and meter, comes to us thanks to Dr. Martin Luther, the great Reformer.

But the most familiar English translation of this heroic hymn, by Frederick Hedge (AD1853), is “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing”, which begins:

  1. A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
    our helper he amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.
    For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
    his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate,
    on earth is not his equal.
  2. Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,
    were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing.
    Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he;
    Lord Sabaoth, his name, from age to age the same,
    and he must win the battle.
  3. And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
    we will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.
    The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
    his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure;
    one little word shall fell him.
  4. That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
    the Spirit and the gifts are ours, thru him who with us sideth.
    Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
    the body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still;
    his kingdom is forever.

Of course, Lutheran choirs and organists know this hymn well!

Yet how does this hymn, and its music-loving author (Dr. Martin Luther), relate to a “diet of jackdaws and ravens”?

In the year AD1530 an ecclesiastical confrontation was scheduled to occur at Augsburg (a city in Bavaria, Germany), but Dr. Luther was persuaded to stay behind – mostly for his personal safety’s sake – in Coburg (a town of Bavaria, near Augsburg) because Luther was declared an “outlaw” at the Diet of Worms, so he was an unprotected target).  So Luther staid there, writing to his friend Philip Melanchthon (and others), as Luther waited for the next important event to occur in Germany’s (and Europe’s) Reformation.  But Luther was not one who would contently wait while others battled – and the controversy would have reminded Luther of prior confrontations that he had personally experienced, in defense and promotion of Luther’s Bible-based faith.

Martin Luther by Cranach restoration ©WikiC

Martin Luther by Cranach restoration ©WikiC

While in Coburg, therefore, Luther’s imagination could picture the clutter and cawing of agenda-driven clergymen (and bustling government officials) who were gathering, in Augsburg, to cluck about theological controversies, at what would be a hotly contested “diet” (conference of representative delegates).  Luther could easily imagine the conspiring conversations of the corrupt clergymen who would soon be attending and arguing at the Augsburg “diet”, seeking to ensnare Melanchthon and Luther’s other Protestant allies.

In Barnas Seares’ biography of Dr. Luther, titled THE LIFE OF LUTHER, WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO ITS EARLIER PERIODS AND THE OPENING SCENES OF THE REFORMATION (American Sunday-School Press, 1850; 2010 reprint by Attic Books), he describes how Luther’s birdwatching provoked memories of prior confrontational conferences:

A mind like Luther’s could not remain inactive, and, for want of other employment, he suffered his fancy to picture to itself a diet of birds, as he saw them congregate before his window, much as he saw persecuting bishops in the huntsmen and hounds while engaged in the chase at Wartburg [where Luther was sequestered, hidden from his persecutors, during the time Luther translated the Bible in German].  The reader will easily recognize the satire.  The sportive letter [written by Luther] was addressed to his table companions at Wittenberg, and reads thus:

Common Ravens Feeding ©WikiC

Common Ravens Feeding ©WikiC

‘Grace and peace in Christ, dear friends.  … [Luther then explains that he and two other men] do not go to the Augsburg diet, though we are attending another one in this place.  There is, directly before my window, a grove where the jackdaws and ravens have appointed a diet; and there is such a coming and going, and such a hubbub, day and night, that you would think them all tipsy.  Old and young keep up such a cackling, that I wonder how their breath holds out so long.  I should like to know if there are any of these nobles and knights with you, for it seemeth to me that all in the world are gathered together here.  I have not yet seen their emperor, but the nobles and great ones are all the time moving and frisking before us; not gayly attired, but of one uniform colour, all black and all gray-eyed.  They all sing the same song, though with the pleasing diversity of young and old, great and small.  They pay no regard to the great palace and hall, for their hall hath the high blue heavens for its ceiling, the ground for its floor, the beautiful green branches for its paneling, and the ends of the world for its walls.  They don’t trouble themselves about horses and wagons, for they have winged wheels wherewith to escape from fire-arms.  They are great and mighty lords; but what decisions they come [to] I know not.  But, so far as I can learn through an interpreter, they meditate a mighty crusade against wheat, barley, oats, malt, and all kinds of corn and grain, and there is here many a hero, who will perform great deeds. … I consider all these nothing but the sophists and papists, with their preachers and secretaries, and must have them all before me thus at once, that I may hear their lovely voices and their preaching, and see how useful a class they are, to devour all that the earth bringeth forth, and cackle for it a while.’” [Quoting Luther, as quoted within Sears, at pages 449-451, with emphasis added.]

Jackdaws at Herstmonceux Castle

Jackdaws at Herstmonceux Castle

Somehow the busy yacking and cawing of the jackdaws and ravens, in Coburg, reminded Dr. Luther of the conspiring ecclesiastical kleptocrats whom he observed (and contended with), those crooked racketeers famous for grabbing (but not for giving) —  just as jackdaws and ravens are famous for shamelessly raiding the crop-fields that others work long and hard to produce food from.  (See 1st Peter 5:2-3; some things don’t change much!)

Quite a “diet”, pardon the pun.


James J. S. Johnson’s Articles


Jackdaw and Raven Corvidae Family