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The Eagles Rights Amendment

Birds are among God's most beautiful creatures and bird watching in the world around us is a pure delight.  People of the Middle Ages were also fascinated by birds and filled the borders of their manuscripts with obsessively accurate drawings of birds.  Birds were regarded as cheerful, hopeful, impudent and above all free.  They enrich our lives and some of them enrich our tables.


However, according to the Bible certain birds are abominations (Leviticus 11:13-19).  These include the eagle, the ossifrage, the osprey, the kite, the falcon, the raven, the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk, the owl, the cormorant, the ibis, the water hen, the pelican, the vulture, the stork, the heron, the hoopoe and the bat.  I hope this list does not upset anyone’s plans for dinner.


By some strange oversight the duck is not mentioned.  I am aware that some epicures think of the duck as a rare delicacy.  As far as I am concerned the duck is an abomination.  Early in our marriage I got up in the middle of the night and joined other tough, unshaven men hiding on a platform in a tree.  At daylight the ducks came in to feed and the preacher was given the first shot.  With the honor of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church at stake, I took careful aim with my dad’s beloved 12-gauge shotgun and blazed away.  To my utter astonishment two ducks stayed on the water.


When the mighty hunter got back to the cave (a.k.a. the manse) I handed the dead ducks to the little woman with modest, but manly, pride.  Remember we were newly married and still sorting out our roles.  Today, Margaret would look me in the eye and say, “You want ’em?  You shot ’em.  You cook ’em!”  But in those days neither of us knew that I could cook and besides, I had already risked a great deal to procure the wild game for her table.  Hunting ducks is an extremely virile and dangerous activity.  After all, I might have fallen out of the tree.  In addition, purchasing a hunting license, proper clothes, gloves, shells and a new recoil pad meant that the duck was costing us about $100 an ounce.


The recipe called for three minutes in boiling water and onto the plate.  Obviously, some cookbook author has a savage sense of humor.  I later found out that ducks are properly cooked over slow heat in a large pot with a red brick.  After eight hours you take the duck out and eat the brick.


The birds of the Bible are interesting because, like the Equal Rights Amendment, there are two sides to the issue.  Some birds are beneficial such as the quail (Exodus 16:13), the raven (1 Kings 17:4), and the dove (Genesis 8:11).  Others are abominations.  Of the latter the most intriguing reference is in Isaiah (34:14) describing a Day of Vengeance in which the owl will gather her young in her shadow.  In that desolation the night hag (RSV) will alight and find a resting place.  Most scholars think the night hag is really a kind of owl (KJV screech owl), but the Hebrew word “Lilith” used here occurs nowhere else in the Bible.  Lilith, according to one Hebrew legend, was the first wife of Adam who, refusing to be subordinate to the man, ran away and became the Assyrian goddess of the night.  She is now the hero (heroine?) of Jewish feminists.


Somehow the Hebrew Lilith transmogrified into the Greek and Roman Lamia who was in reality a serpent but could be in appearance a woman.  According to John Keats, whatever the mad poets may say about goddesses, a “real woman” is a real marvel (Lamia I, 328-332).  For that reason Lamia “threw the goddess off” and, working a hermeneutic on Hermes, received “Once more/ A woman’s shape, and charming as before” (I., 117-118).  Obviously appearances can be deceiving and, sad to say, before her wedding Lamia turned back into a snake.


The distinction between appearance and reality is often difficult to make.  Especially when the distinction is between human sinfulness and divine holiness.  For Christians our primary concern is neither the bird in the hand, nor the snake in the grass, but the Lord in the heaven.  The birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20).  This means that by faith Christians must go out looking forward to the holy city whose foundation, builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10).


Charles Partee
Presbyterian Outlook
February 2001