Birds of the Bible – Review
Birds of the Bible: A guide for bible readers and birdwatchers, by Peter Goodfellow, October 2013. John Beaufoy Publishing, ISBN 978-1-90961-214-3, 160 pages. RRP £12.99 (paperback)
This book is an interesting combination of two passions, the bible and birds. When I saw it I thought this is for me as they are two of my interests also. The scene is set with a description of the location and conditions of the bible lands and goes on to the creation of birds from both fossil remains, Genesis and Psalm 104. Insights into the knowledge of birds and comparisons of the names for birds in different versions of the bible and modern names in both English and Hebrew show the difficulty when trying to identify some of the birds mentioned specifically in the bible, though insights into clean and unclean birds fascinatingly clarify bird families that could be meant. Clean birds could be eaten of course, and there is a chapter that explores this and the methods of snaring birds from various quotes in the bible. I found the speculative nature of some of these early chapters strained my interest, but I re-engaged with Job’s birds and the connections between birds and people of the bible. Of course it was often the generic ‘birds’ along with some specifically named birds, but this section best linked simple bible instruction with the birds mentioned within the text.
The information on migration, from the earliest mention in Job, the belief in the 18th century that birds hid in deep caverns during the winter, to patterns of migration today, along with maps, was fascinating and informative and made me wish that it was safer to visit Israel and Egypt during migration times. The chapter on vultures and eagles, both named biblically, contrasted the different gifts of these birds to humanity, relevant still today. There are apparently many places that wish they had held to the ancient wisdom and had encouraged vultures to remain so that their corpse clearing function would keep places clean. Sacrifice was inevitably mentioned a number of times. Birds were so much a part of the ancient sacrificial rituals that are irrelevant today, so an image that stays with me is of the bird released to fly away at the end of a cleansing ritual.
There are some real gems in this book, along with the reminders of habitat loss. The pictures disappointed me; they are carefully detailed paintings, slightly vivid in colour and with some distortions in the birds I recognised, but beautifully done. It is just so easy to get good quality photos these days and they show the birds in real poses, it is a shame they were not mixed with some of the paintings in my opinion. A good read though if these are your interests too.