Truth, Understanding, Insight

The much maligned Vulture

14th January 2011, hej


The saga of a lone Griffon Vulture has made the news. “It's a bird, it's a shark, it's a Mossad Spy”. Such an incident is not unimportant. The incident shows more than mere ignorance, a struggle Israel battles globally. How you react to the mention of a vulture, might speak deep volumes about what you think of Israel and your attitude to war.

The Vulture Accused

Recently, according to news reports, the Saudi's captured a vulture bearing a ring that read in English 'Tel Aviv University'. They reportedly held it as a spy.

Saudi media reported on Tuesday that a vulture tagged with the words, “Tel Aviv University,” had been detained for being a Mossad spy. ...
The paper said the flight appeared to be “a Zionist plot.”
The report triggered a plethora of posts on Arabic websites, claiming that “Zionists” had trained birds for espionage. JPost

Another report goes into some detail

Saudi Arabian security forces have captured a vulture that was carrying a global positioning satellite (GPS) transmitter and a ring etched with the words "Tel Aviv University." They suspect the bird of spying for Israel, Maariv-NRG reported Tuesday.
The arrest of the vulture - whose identification code is R65 - comes several weeks after an Egyptian official voiced the suspicion that a shark that attacked tourists off the Sinai shore was also acting on behalf of Mossad.
Maariv said that the R65 was caught near the home of a sheikh in the community of Hayel in Saudi Arabia. The words "Tel Aviv University" etched in English on a ring clasped to its leg, and especially the transmitter, caused the finders to suspect espionage and alert the security forces. israelnationalnews

The same article defended the bird against the accusations, and explained Jewish intent

Ohad Hatzofe, bird ecologist for the Nature and Parks Authority... [said] "The subject [Vulture] is receiving great publicity and it is important that Saudi authorities understand that it is not true. There is also an international treaty of nature protection professionals, that forbids doing things like this," he added.
The researchers said that seven vultures that were marked in Israel in the last few years reached Saudi Arabia. Transmissions from four of them have ceased and they are presumed dead. One vulture - beside R65 - is still alive and flying around Saudi Arabia, after spending the winter in Sudan. israelnationalnews

This vulture was clearly a very maligned bird. This is no stool pigeon, but a bird with a life of purpose with data being gathered for international research (see Vulture Saudi' nabbed third Israeli bird held since 1975

Such was, perhaps, finally understood, though again in circumstances that show high levels of ignorance,

The Saudi government has freed a bird it first declared was a vulture and a spy for Israel's international Mossad intelligence agency. Now it claims it's an eagle and free to go.

Reportedly, of all things – the bird was identified as a Bald Eagle (found only in the North Americas)!

Mistakenly honoured Eagle

This incident raises a deeper one as the vulture, in general, is a very maligned bird. It is so maligned that translators of the Bible into English shied away from naming it.

Many people feel uncomfortable with identifying the nesher as the vulture rather than the eagle. The reason for this is that the nesher is described in noble terms by scripture, and regarded as the king of birds in Jewish thought. Whereas people today perceive the eagle in this light, the vulture is commonly regarded as a loathsome creature.

The nesher translated 'eagle' is a special bird,

Contemporary scholars in the field of Biblical zoology have likewise concluded that the griffon vulture is the nesher. For more

Whereas much of the world would not care for the fate of a vulture, and clearly the Arabs involved did not, the news revealed that many Jews love the Griffin Vulture and see its habits as worthwhile studying,

"As a nesher stirs up its nest, flutters over its young, spreads out its wings, takes them, bears them on its pinions; So did God guide them, and there was no strange god with them." (Deuteronomy 32:11-12)

If referring to a griffon vulture, these verses show that the vulture is regarded by the Torah very differently from the way that it is perceived in contemporary culture. While people today view the vulture in a negative light, the Torah presents it as an example of a loving and caring parent. This also relates to the vulture's entire parenting process. Female griffon vultures usually lay one egg, which both parents incubate for an unusually long period of around seven weeks until it hatches. The young are slow to develop and do not leave the nest until three or four months of age. The long devotion of the vulture to its young symbolizes God's deep dedication to the Jewish People.

The difference between Eagles and Vultures

There is one great difference between an eagle and a vulture, which places the vulture in a special position. The vulture feeds on carrion, the eagle will, by preference, take live young.

this bird [the vulture] feeds on carrion, and thus performs a useful part in the economy of nature. Occasionally it will attack weak or sickly animals but this is only as a 'dernier resort' and when it cannot supply its appetite by the resources which are more natural to it. Thus, Vice versa' the Eagle, whose congenial prey is the living animal, will, when forced by the extremity of hunger, put up with that food which under other circumstances it rejects..

If we ponder this we note another thing, a vulture was not needed at all in creation. After all, dead animals will decompose to dust. But let us ponder how God views dead and decomposing things laying about over his landscape.

Thou shall have a place also without the camp, whither thou shalt go forth abroad: And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shall turn back and cover that which cometh from thee: For the LORD thy God walks in the midst of thy camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee; therefore shall thy camp be holy: that he see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee. (Deuteronomy 23:12-14)

Human bodies are to be buried to keep the land clean,

Seven months shall the house of Israel be burying of them, that they may cleanse the land. (Ezekiel 39:12)
His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 21:23)

The parts of animals not used in the sacrifice were to be burnt without the camp. (Leviticus 9:11). Israel were to view the carcase of unclean animals as defiling

their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you. (Lev 11:8)

Therefore it seems likely that the vulture was a special creation to keep the land clean before God who likes it clean. The vultures are designed to keep the land clean, raise their young carefully and gather in large social groups. They are also known to fly the highest of any creature.

The highest altitude recorded for any bird was on November 29, 1973, when a Ruppell’s griffon vulture collided with a commercial airline over western Africa at an astonishing height of 37,000 feet.

The vultures are truly a noble creation, which we ought to honour. They have a job close to God's heart and fly the highest into his realm as “the heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD'S: but the earth has he given to the children of men.” (Psalm 115:16)

Why is the social vulture despised by our culture? Why is the independent eagle honoured? The Aquila Eagle was the standard of the Roman Legions when they were pagan. The eagle symbolised good eyesight, needed for spotting the enemy, swift flight, as required in attack, and fearless viciousness in attacking the prey.

The Bible gives no honour in killing, or for being a warrior. Firstly, blood is required of the person who sheds blood. And secondly, even if God commanded the battle, those who kill are considered unclean,

And do ye abide without the camp seven days: whosoever has killed any person, and whosoever has touched any slain, purify both yourselves and your captives on the third day, and on the seventh day. (Numbers 31:19)

King David was not able to build the temple, having been a man of war.

It appears the Saudi's involved could not identify the vulture, but they would have been able to identify a Falcon. Falcon's are used for hunting, and are held in high honour. When trained their

“ringing dive” is a sign of courage and strength to the Arab people.

Humans unaffected by the deep knowledge of how God views life and blood shedding, honour those in the image of Cain. They also honour animals and birds that exhibit the warrior characteristics they admire.

Photo by: Luc Viatour

Nesher in the Bible

But the image of the eagle, despite its known habits, is still untarnished. Those who ponder the Bible and realise it is a Jewish book, may search for Jewish opinion, and there find that the vulture is a valuable bird.

Both the eagle and the vulture are unclean, amongst a long list

And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle (nesher), and the ossifrage, and the ospray, And the vulture (daah), and the kite after his kind; Every raven after his kind; And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind, And the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl, And the swan, and the pelican, and the gier eagle, And the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat. All fowls that creep, going upon all four, shall be an abomination unto you.(Leviticus 11:13-20)

As Eagles are classed with Vultures as 'raptors' it is possible that the term Nesher may refer to 'eagle', depending on context. When the rule of the Latin speaking, eagle bearing, Romans ruled Judea, it fulfilled the following,

The LORD shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies; a nation whose tongue thou shall not understand; (Deuteronomy 28:49)

There is a peculiar expression of being born on eagles wings,

Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on Nesher's wings, and brought you unto myself. (Exodus 19:4)
As a Nesher stirs up her nest, flutters over her young, spreads abroad her wings, takes them, bears them on her wings: So the LORD alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.(Deuteronomy 32:11-12)

Whereas vultures have not been witnessed catching their young, eagles have (see here

But the nesher of Job is the vulture,

Doth the Nesher mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high? She dwells and abides on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place. From thence she seeks the prey, and her eyes behold afar off. Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she. (Job 39:27-30)

And so too is the reference of renewal, as Vultures are associated with destruction,

Who redeems thy life from destruction; who crowns thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; Who satisfies thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the Nesher's. (Psalm 103:4-5)

As the Vulture flies far higher than the eagle, riches have been given vultures wings,

Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven. (Proverbs 23:5)

Vultures are always first to find carrion as it is their only source of food, so the writer of the Proverbs most likely had a vulture in mind when it was written,

The eye that mocks at his father, and despises to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young nesher shall eat it. (Proverbs 30:17)

The nesher gather together and the chicks have a long relationship with their parent, longer than an eagle's with its parents.

The reason for the news story was that Israel is tracking the vulture, because even now much is unknown regarding this bird, including how it may fly so high, much higher than any eagle!

There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: The way of an nesher in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid. (Proverbs 30:18-19)

The vulture has a peculiar flight. It,

possesses great powers of flight, though it is not rapid on the wing, and often soars upwards, almost always spirally, until it has become invisible to the human eye; it descends in the same manner in circles.

The vulture is also very long lived for a bird, with it being known to have lived up to 118 years. So it is most likely the vulture referred to in one of people's favoured verses,

Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as Nesher; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isaiah 40:30-31)

Not much is known of the Vulture as they nest so high. It is said of Bozrah and Edom whose capital was high in rocks.

Thy terribleness has deceived thee, and the pride of thine heart, O thou that dwells in the clefts of the rock, that holdest the height of the hill: though thou should make thy nest as high as the Nesher, I will bring thee down from thence, saith the LORD. (Jeremiah 49:16 see also Obadiah 1:4)

The most certain reference is to the fact that Vultures, designed eat carrion, have no feathers on their heads.

Make thee bald, and poll thee for thy delicate children; enlarge thy baldness as the eagle; for they are gone into captivity from thee. (Micah 1:16)

It is agreed that Vulture best fits most of the references to nesher (see also

So when we come to the vision Ezekiel has of manifestation of the power of God, he is shown four faces man, lion, ox and the face of a nesher. We must be prepared to see a vulture. This vision is again shown in the four Living Ones of the vision of Revelation Chapter four. The word in Greek when referring to the star constellation of that name may also be translated into Latin as 'Vultur'.

Where we place Our Values

The Nesher is a special bird. We have two types of birds. Both are unclean.

Which one we hold in esteem has to do with our value system. Israel values the vulture, which is a bird which loves unity and is designed to remove death and cleanse the land. Many Arab nations value the eagle and falcon.

Those who value the vulture, would be reluctant to fight or kill anything living, preferring to clean up the world of corruption. Those who love the eagle best, knowing its habits, might value the warlike and the gains of war, such as empire. The Western world inherited as much culture from ancient Rome and Greece as it did form the Bible.

There is a comment that might apply to the despised vulture,

He is despised and rejected of men;.. he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)
that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:15)
God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, has God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. (1Corinthians 1:27-29)

The despised people are to be exalted, and what is highly esteemed among men is regarded by God very differently.

In the temple of Ezekiel's prophecy the Four Living Ones of the Cherubim are represented by only two; the man and the lion. The lion then will eat straw like the ox. The labour of the ox will no longer be a feature of life. And there will be no need for the vulture as the Holy Land will finally be cleansed.

For more Flight in the Bible

Note: photos from Wikipedia
Topics: nesher, vulture, eagle