Leviticus 11:18 Commentary - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (Old and New Testaments)

(18) And the swan.—The word here translated “swan,” which, besides the parallel list in Deut., also occurs in Lev. 11:30, among the names of the lizards, denotes, according to tradition, another variety of the owl. Whatever difficulty there may be about the true import of the word, it is certainly not the swan. It has, however, also been translated “ibis,” “bat,” “purple water-hen,” “heron,” “pelican,” and “goose.”

And the pelican.—The pelican is one of the largest and most voracious of the web-footed birds. It fills its capacious pouch with fish almost to suffocation, which it disgorges either for its own future consumption, or for the nourishment of its young, by pressing the under mandible against the neck and breast to assist the vomiting up of the contents. Hence its Hebrew name, which denotes “the vomiter.” During this operation the red nail of the upper mandible comes in contact with the breast, thus imparting to it the appearance of blood, which is most probably the origin of the fable that it feeds its young with its own life-blood. The pelican often builds in deserted places as far as twenty miles from the shore. When it has filled its expansive pouch with prey, it retires to its lonely place of repose, where it remains with its head leaning against its breast almost motionless till impelled by hunger to fly to the water in search for a fresh store of victims. It is to this melancholy attitude of lonely desolation that the Psalmist refers when he says, “I am like a pelican of the wilderness” (Psa. 102:6), and it is to its habit of building in deserted places that the prophets allude when they describe the desolation of Edom and Nineveh by saying that “the pelican shall possess” them (Isa. 34:11; Zep. 2:14). In the last two passages the Authorised Version, which wrongly translates it “cormorant” in the text, has rightly pelican in the margin.

And the gier eagle.—As the name of a bird, this word (racham), which is here in the masculine form, and denotes “the merciful,” only occurs again in the parallel passage, Deu. 14:17, where, however, it is in the feminine (rachamah). The species here intended is most probably the Gyps, called alternately the sacred or Egyptian vulture and Pharaoh’s hen, which is often figured on the ancient Egyptian monuments. It was regarded with religious veneration in Egypt, both because it prevented epidemics by acting as scavenger, and because of its extreme devotion and tenderness to its young, since it was believed to watch over its offspring a hundred and twenty days every year, and to feed them, if necessary, with the blood of its thighs. Hence it was used to denote both “mother” and “merciful” in Egyptian, and hence, too, its name “merciful” in Hebrew. The ancients also believed that there were no male vultures, and that the females conceived through the wind. It was probably to counteract this superstitious belief that the lawgiver uses here the masculine form and the feminine form in the parallel passage in Deu. 14:17. The vulture is most loathsome in its habits, and feeds upon the foulest carrion, for which reason it is put in the list of unclean birds.

Consult other comments:

Leviticus 11:18 - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Leviticus 11:18 - Adam Clarke's Commentary and Critical Notes on the Bible

Leviticus 11:18 - Commentary on the Holy Bible by Thomas Coke

Leviticus 11:18 - Companion Bible Notes, Appendices and Graphics

Leviticus 11:18 - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (Old and New Testaments)

Leviticus 11:18 - John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Leviticus 11:18 - Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Leviticus 11:18 - John Trapp's Complete Commentary (Old and New Testaments)

Leviticus 11:18 - Whedon's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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