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Leviticus 11:17 Commentary - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (Old and New Testaments)

(17) And the little owl.—With the exception of the parallel passage, Deu. 14:16, this bird only occurs once more, in Psa. 102:6, where it is properly rendered in the Authorised Version by “owl,” omitting the word “little,” and is described as inhabiting deserted ruins. It not only feeds upon insects and molluscs, hares, rabbits, ducks, geese, and birds of prey, but devours mice and rats, which are especially detested by the Jews. Its flesh is, however, regarded by some tribes as very savoury. The name kos which is translated “owl” in the three above-named passages, is the common Hebrew word for “cup,” and it is supposed that it has been given to this bird because the sitting owl especially widens towards the upper part, thus imparting to it a cup-like appearance.

And the cormorant.—Of all the web-footed birds which prey on fish, cormorants are the most voracious. They usually assemble in flocks on the rocks which overhang the sea, whence they drop down from the greatest height upon their victim, dive after it with the rapidity of a dart, and invariably gulp their prey head foremost. The cormorant is to be found in every climate, and is the destruction of all the finny tribe in any fresh-water river which he happens to occupy for a time. Hence he is called the feathered terror of the finny tribe. From the skill which he displays in casting himself down from a great height, and in plunging dart-like after his victim, he derives his Hebrew name, which denotes “darter.” The flesh of the cormorant, though rank, is eaten in some regions; whilst the skin, which is tough, is made into garments. The Hebrew name only occurs again in the duplicate catalogue of unclean animals in Deu. 14:17. By comp. Lev. 11:17-18 of the list before us with the parallel list in Deu. 14:16-17, it will be seen that though the two catalogues respectively enumerate in these two verses the same six birds, yet the order is different. The cormorant, which is here second in Lev. 11:17, is in Deuteronomy 14 sixth in Lev. 11:17. There can, therefore, hardly be any doubt that the verse before us has been disturbed, and that by placing the cormorant here sixth, as it is in Deuteronomy, we obtain the two species of owls naturally following each other, as is the case in the parallel catalogue.

And the great owl.—Rather, the night owl, as the name in the original (yanshûph) denotes “night-bird.” Besides the parallel passage in Deu. 14:16, this bird of prey only occurs again once more in Isa. 34:11, where the Authorised Version translates simply “owl,” omitting the word “great,” and where it is associated with the raven and other dismal birds as fit occupants of deserted ruins. According to the description of it which prevailed in the time of Christ, its eyes are directed forward, it utters frightful shrieks in the night, and has a face like a cat, and cheeks like a human being. In consequence of its repulsive visage and human appearance it was considered a bad omen if one saw an owl in a dream. That the two kinds of owls are here mentioned is probably owing to their disgusting habit of ejecting pellets, each one of which contains sometimes from four to seven skeletons of mice. Hence, instead of saying “after his kind,” to include the other varieties, the lawgiver enumerates them separately.

Consult other comments:

Leviticus 11:17 - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Leviticus 11:17 - Adam Clarke's Commentary and Critical Notes on the Bible

Leviticus 11:17 - Commentary on the Holy Bible by Thomas Coke

Leviticus 11:17 - Companion Bible Notes, Appendices and Graphics

Leviticus 11:17 - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (Old and New Testaments)

Leviticus 11:17 - John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Leviticus 11:17 - Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Leviticus 11:17 - John Trapp's Complete Commentary (Old and New Testaments)

Leviticus 11:17 - Whedon's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (Old and New Testaments)