William Carpenter.

Scripture natural history; containing a descriptive account of the quadrupeds, birds, fishes, insects, reptiles, serpents, plants, trees, minerals, gems, and precious stones, mentioned in the Bible online

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Online LibraryWilliam CarpenterScripture natural history; containing a descriptive account of the quadrupeds, birds, fishes, insects, reptiles, serpents, plants, trees, minerals, gems, and precious stones, mentioned in the Bible → online text (page 15 of 39)
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' When they first take out the young, they practise them to fly ;
and they lead them to the marshes, and to the hedge-sides, point-
ing them out the frogs, and serpents, and lizards, which are their
proper food ; and they will seek out toads, which they never eat,
and take great pains to make the young distinguish them.' At the
time of their return, after having visited some warmer climate
during the winter months, this writer states, that ' it is not un-
common to see several of the old birds, which are tired and feeble
with t-he long flight, supported at times on the back of the young ;
and the peasants speak of it as a certainty, that many of these are
when they return to their home, laid carefully in the old nests, and
fed and cherished by the young ones, which they reared with so
much care during the spring before.'

To the protection which the stork affords her young, there is
evidently an allusion in Job xxxix, 13: 'The wing of the ostrich
is quivering or expanded : [but] is it the wing of the stork and its
plumage?' That is, is it, like that, employed in protecting and
providing for the creature's offspring? No : for ' she (the ostrich)
depositeth her eggs in the earth, and warmeth them on the sand,
and forgetteth that the foot may crush them, and that the wild
beast of the field may break them.' This leads us to notice the as-





sertion of the Psalmist, that 'the fir trees are the house of the stork,'
Ps. civ. 17.

Like the crane, the stork is a bird of passage ; and to its periodi-
cal migration the prophet Jeremiah refers, ch. viii. 7. Shaw fur-
nishes us with a proof of their surprising instinct in preparing for
their journey, which is worthy of notice. * It is observed of the
storks, when they * know their appointed time,' that, for about the
sjface of a fortnight before they pass from one country to another,
they constantly resort together, from all the circumjacent parts, in
a certain plain ; and there, forming themselves once every day into
a douwanne, or council (according to the phrase of these Eastern
nations,) are said to determine the exact time of their departure,
and the place of their future abodes.'


THE Hebrew name of this curious bird is evidently tafcren from
its manner of discharging the contents of its bag or pouch, fo^r the
purpose of satisfying its own hunger, or that of its young.


The Pelican is much larger than the swan, and something re-
sembles it in shape and color. The principal difference, and that
which distinguishes this bird from all others, is its enormous bill
and extraordinary pouch. From the point of the bill to the open-
ing of the mouth, there is a length of fifteen inches; and under
the chap is a bag, reaching the entire length of the bill to the neck,
and capable, it is said, of holding fifteen quarts of water. When
empty, this pouch is not seen ; but when filled, its great bulk and
singular appearance may easily be conceived. The Pelican, says
Labat, has strong wings, furnished with thick plumage of an ash
color, as are the rest of the feathers over the whole body. Its eyes
are very small when compared to the size of its head ; there is a
sadness in its countenance, and its whole air is melancholy ; it is
as dull and reluctant in its motions as the flamingo is sprightly and
active. It is slow of flight; and when it rises to fly, performs it
with difficulty and labor; nothing, as it would seem, but the spur
of necessity, could make these birds change their situation, or in-
duce them to ascend into the air : but they must either starve or
fly. When they have raised themselves about thirty or forty feet
above the surface of the sea, they turn their head with one eye
downwards, and continue to fly in that posture. As soon as they
perceive a fish sufficiently near the surface, they dart down Upon
it with the swiftness of an arrow eize it with, unerring certainty,
and store it up in their pouch. They then rise again, though not
without great labor, and continue hovering and fishing, with their
head on one side as before.

In feeding its young, the pelican squeezes the food deposited in
its bag into their mouths, by strongly compressing it upon its breast
with the bill ; an action, says Shaw, which might well give occa-
sion to the received tradition and report, that the pelican, in feeding
her young, pierced her own breast, and nourished them with her

The writer of the hundred-and-second psalm alludes to the
lonely situation of the pelican in the wildernesss, as illustrative
of the poignancy of his own grief, at witnessing the desolation of
his country, and the prostration of her sacred altars.



THIS bird, which was unclean to the Hebrews (Lev. xi. 17;
Deut. xiv, 17) is about the size of a large Muscovy duck, and may
be distinguished from all other birds of this kind, by its four toes
being united together by membranes, and by the middle toe being
toothed or notched, like a saw, to assist it in holding its fishy prey.
Its head and neck are of a sooty blackness, and the body thick and
heavy, more inclining in figure to that of the goose than the gull.
The bill is straight, till near the end, where the upper chap bends
into a book.

But notwithstanding the seeming heaviness of its make, there are
few birds more powerfully predacious than the cormorant. Form-
ed with the grossest appetites, this unclean bird has the most rank
and disagreeable smell, and is more foetid, even when in its most
healthful state, than carrion. Its form, says an ingenious writer, is
disagreeable ; its voice is hoarse and croaking ; and all its qualities
obscene. No wonder, then, that Milton should make Satan per-
sonate this bird, when he sent him upon the basest purposes, to
survey with pain the beauties of Paradise, and to sit devising death
on the tree of life. It has been remarked, indeed, of our poet, that
the making a water fowl perch on a tree, implied no great ac-
quaintance with the history of nature. But, in vindication of Mil-
ton, it must be observed, that Aristotle expressly says, the cormo-
rant is the only water fowl that sits on trees ; so that our epic bard
seems to have been as deeply versed in natural history as in criti-

The cormorant is trained up in China, and other parts of the
world, for the purpose of taking fish, after which it dives with great
dexterity and perseverance.



WE believe that the bird called in Hebrew shacheph, and in our
version ' cuckoo,' has never yet been properly identified. Bochart,
and the versions generally, decide in favor of the sea-mew ; but this
can hardly be admitted, since the shacheph is placed by the Hebrew
legislator, not among water birds, but among those of the air, and
also among birds of prey, Levit. xi. 16. The latter circumstance
seems also decisive against, the bird which has been made to take
its place in the English Bible. Dr. Shaw thinks that the bird in-
tended is a granivorous and gregarious bird, of which he gives a
particular account, and also an engraving.


A WIDE latitude has been taken in the rendering of the Hebrew
anaph ; some critics interpreting it of the crane, others of the cur-


lew, some of the kite, others of the woodcock, some of the peacock,
some of the parrot, and some of the falcon. But let not the reader
be alarmed at this diversity of rendering, since it is the necessary
consequence of the scantiness of references to the bird in the sacred
text, and the absence of all description of its character and quali-
ties, in those passages in which it is spokei) of. The truth is, that
it is only referred to in the catalogue of birds prohibited by the Mo-
saic code, (Lev. xi. 19 ; Deut. xiv. 18 ;) and it is only from the im-
port of its name, or the known character of the birds with which it
is grouped, that we can form any conjecture of its specific charac-
ter. That the creature intended is some species of water bird, there
can be little doubt, if we give the sacred writer any credit for pro-
priety in his grouping, or system in his arrangement ; but what that
species may be, we are unable to decide. The Hebrew name is
from a root which signifies to breathe short, or snort through the nos-
trils, as in anger ; and as the heron is said to be of a very irritable
disposition, it may, perhaps, be the bird intended.




IT is extremely uncertain what bird is intended by the Hebrew,
in (Lev. xi. 18), rendered by our translators, the swan. The same
word is used in a subsequent verse to denote the mole, according to
our version, but more probably, as Bochart has shown, the chame-
leon. The root from which the word is derived, signifies to breathe,
respire, &c.; and Geddes remarks, that if etymology were to be our
guide, it would seem to point to a well-known quality in the swan,
that of being able to respire a long time, with its bill and neck en-
tirely under water, and even plunged n the mud.



THERE are but few references to the subject of Ichthyology in
the inspired writings. The reasons are obvious : the Jews being an
agricultural people, fish formed no considerable part of their food ;
nor could they furnish any striking objects of comparison or illustra-
tion to the sacred writers, as in the case of quadrupeds and birds.

The well-known biblical appellations are two words expressive
of their amazing fecundity:* and the latter of their rapid motion.
In Gen. i. 21, the word taninin, rendered in our English Bibles,
* great whales,' seems used to describe fish of the largest description,
without being restricted to any particular species.

There seems to be four divisions of the aquatic tribes, strongly
marked in nature, which are usually called the spinous or bony kind ;
the cartilaginous, or those which have gristles instead of bones ;
the cetaceous tribe, or those of the whale kind; and the crustace-
ous, or shell fish.

Fish was the common food of the Egyptians. Hence we may
see how distressing was the infliction which turned the waters of
the river into blood, and occasioned the death of the fish, Exod. vii.
18 21. Their sacred stream became so polluted as to be unfit for
drink, for bathing, and for other uses of water to which they were
superstitiously devoted, (ch. ii. 5 ; vii. 15 ; viii. 20 ;) and themselves
obliged to nauseate what was the usual food of the common peo-
ple, and held sacred by the priests.

From Neh. xiii. 16, we learn, that in the time of Nehemiab, the
Tyrians brought fish in considerable quantities to Jerusalem, for
purchasing which on the Sabbath-day, that zealous patriot reprov-
ed the elders of the Jews. As the people of Tyre were remarka-
ble for their skill in maritime affairs, it is impossible to say how far
their fisheries might extend ; but from Le Bruyn we ascertain, that
fish in large numbers, and of excellent quality, were to be procured
in the neighborhood of their own city. Nor should we omit to no-
tice, in justification of John xxi. 11, that the sea of Tiberias was
well stocked with fish of a very large size.

The narrative of Jonah's extraordinary preservation from death,
when thrown overboard by the terrified mariners, has furnished

* The Abbe Pluche shows, from Leuwenboek, that a single cod, though not of the larg-
est size, contained 9,334,000 eggs ; and observes, that though a common carp is far from
having such a number of eggs, yet the quantity of them' is so amazing, even at the first
fiance, that'jt contributes very much to justify the above calculation. Nature Displayed,
vol. i. p. 230, 231,


ample materials for the cavils of the infidel, and for the specula-
tions of the philosopher and the critic. In the sacred text, the par-
ticular fish which was rendered the preserver of the disobedient
prophet, is not specified ; although the Septuagint translators have
inserted the whale, and the evangelists, in recording our Saviour's
words relative to the event and its typical character, have used the
same word. It by no means follows from this, however, that the
writers of the gospels designed to give their sanction to this inter-
pretation : the LXX being the version in common use among their
countrymen, they quoted it without alteration, where its deviation
from the original involved no serious consequences.

Although the whale is the largest of all known fish, its gullet is
too small to permit the passage of a human body through it, and
therefore we cannot, without the supposition of an additional mira-
cle, admit this to be the fish intended.

Our Lord observes (Luke xi. 30) that ' Jonas was a sign to the
Ninevites ; ' and it is remarkable that the event should have been
so widely spread and attracted so much notice, that among the few
fragments of antiquity remaining to us, this little history should re-
ceive from them larger confirmation than some others, of greater
extent and magnitude. The heathen have preserved the fact, but
applied it to Hercules.



THIS numerous and diversified class of being is distinguished by
two appellations in the sacred writings, (Gen. i. 24, 25 ; vii. 21 ;)
the one being expressive of its motion , that is, crawling ; and the
other of its abundant production or increase. Reptiles of all sorts,
except those furnished with wings, were unclean, Lev, xi. 41. We
shall notice them under three divisions: LIZARDS SERPENTS



DR. SHAW has shown, that the tzab or tjab of Lev. xi. 29, which
we call the tortoise, is a lizard, called in Arabic, with a near ap-
proach to the Hebrew name, dhab or dab, agreeing nearly in shape,
and in the hard pointed annule or scales of the tail, with the candi-
verbera or shake-tail, as it is represented in Gesner, and Johnson.
' The dab, or Saharawan lizard, is about eighteen inches long, and
'three or four inches broad across the back. I i.- not poisonous. It
lays eggs like the tortoise. It is very swift, and, if hunted, will hide
itself in the earth, which it penetrates with its nose, and nothing
will extricate it but digging up the ground.'



DR. GEDDES understands the Hebrew name, rendered ferret in
Lev. xi. 30, to denote the newt, and Dr. James takes it for the/rog- ;
but, as its name seems to be taken from the cry it makes, the prob-
ability is, that the species of lizard called in Egypt, the GecJfco, is
the animal intended. It is thus described by Cepede :

* Of all the oviparous quadrupeds whose history we are publish-
ing, this is the first that contains a deadly poison. This deadly liz-
ard, which deserves all our attention by his dangerous properties,
has some resemblance to the 'chameleon ; his head, almost trian-
gular, is large in comparison to his body ; the eyes are very large ;
the tongue flat, covered with small scales, and the end rounded ;
the teeth are sharp, and so strong that, according to Bontius, they
are able to make impressions on the hardest substances, even on
steel. It is almost entirely covered with little warts, more or less
rising; the under part of the thighs is furnished with a row of tu-
bercles, raised and grooved. The feet are remarkable for oval
scales, more or less hollowed in the middle, as large as the under
surface of the toes themselves, and regularly disposed one over
another, like the slates on a roof. The tail of the gecko, is com-
monly rather longer than the body, though sometimes shorter ; it
is round, thin, and covered with circular rings or bands, formed of
several rows of very small scales. Its color is a clear green, spot-


rotten trees, as well as humid places; it is sometimes met with in
houses, where it occasions great alarm, and where every exertion is
used to destroy it speedily. Bontius states, that its bite is so venom-
ous, that if the part bitten be not cut away or burned, death ensues
in a few hours.'

Mr. Charles Taylor thinks there is an allusion to this reptile in
Deut. xxxii. 33 : 'Their wine is the poison of dragons; and the
cruel venom of asps.' The allusion here is to the venom (Eng.
transl. wine,} of the taninim ; and this venom is associated, by com-
parison, with the cruel venom of asps pdhenim serpents.

The following extract is from Bontius.

* The Javanese use to dip their arrows in the blood of this crea-
ture ; and those who deal in poison among them (an art much es-
teemed in the island of Java, by both sexes) hang it up with a
string tied to the tail on tho ceiling, by which means it being exas-
perated to the highest pitch, sends forth a yellow liquor out of its
mouth, which they gather in small pots underneath, and afterwards
coagulate into a body in the sun. This they continue several
months together, by giving daily food to the creature. It is unques-
tionably the strongest poison in the world.'



IN the English Bible, the CHAMELEON is transformed into the
rnole, (Lev. xi. 30,) an animal that has little pretension to be associ-
ated with reptiles of the lizard species. The Hebrew word, from a
root which signifies to breathe, is peculiarly appropriate to this curi-
ous animal, which, according to vulgar opinion, is the 'creature
nourished by the wind and air.'

The chameleon nearly resembles the crocodile in form, but dif-
fers widely in its size and appetites. Its head is about two inches
long, and from thence to the beginning of the tail four and a half;
the tail is five inches long, and the feet two and a half; the thick-
ness of the body varies at different times, for the animal possesses
the power of blowing itself up and contracting itself, at pleasure.

During his visit to the East, Le Bruyn purchased several chame-
leons, for the purpose of preserving them alive, and making obser-
vations on their nature and manners ; but the most interesting ac-
count of this curious animal is that furnished by the enterprising
and lamented Belzoni, which we transcribe.

'There are three species of chameleons, whose colors are pecu-
liar to themselves ; for instance, the commonest sort are those which
are generally green, that is to say, the body all green, and when
content, beautifully marked on each side regularly on the green
with black and yellow, not in a confused manner, but as if drawn.
This kind is in great plenty, and never have any other color except
a light green when they sleep, and when ill a very pale yellow.
Out of near forty I had the first year when I was in Nubia, I had
but one, and that a very small one, of the second sort, which had
red marks. One chameleon lived with me eight months, and most
of that time I had it fixed to the button of my coat: it used to rest
on my shoulder, or on my head. I have observed, when I have
kept it shut up in a room for some time, that, on bringing it out in
the air, it would begin drawing the air in ; and on putting it on
some marjorum, it has had a wonderful effect on it immediately :
its color became most brilliant. I believe it will puzzle a good many


to say what cause it proceeds from. If they did not change when
shut up in a house, but only on taking them into a garden, it might
be supposed the change of the colors was in consequence of the
smell of the plants; but when in a house, if it is watched, it will
[be seen to] change every ten minutes : some moments a plain
green, at others all its beautiful colors will come out, and when in
a passion it becomes of a deep black, and will swell itself up like a
balloon ; and, from being one of the most beautiful animals, it be-
comes one of the most ugly. It is true they are extremely fond of
the fresh air ; and on taking them to a window where there is noth-
ing to be seen, it is easy to observe the pleasure they certainly take
in it: they begin to gulp down the air, and their color becomes
brighter. I think it proceeds, in a great degree, from the temper
they are in : a little thing will put them in a bad humor. If, in
crossing a takle, for instance, you stop them, and attempt to turn
them another road, they will not stir, and are extremely obstinate :
on opening the mouth at them, it will set them in a passion : they
begin to arm themselves, by swelling and turning black, and will
sometimes hiss a little, but not much. The third 1 brought from
Jerusalem, was the most singular of all the chameleons I ever had :
its temper, if it can be so called, was extremely sagacious and cun-
ning. This one wa.s not of the order of the green kind, but a dis-
agreeable drab, and it never once varied in its color in two months.
On :ny arrival at Cairo, I used to let it crawl about the room, on
the furniture. Sometimes it would get down, if it could, and hide
itself away from me, but in a place where it could see me ; and
sometimes, on my leaving the room arid on entering it, would draw
itself so thin as to make itself nearly on a level with \\hatever it
might be on, so that I might not see it. It had often deceived me
so. One da)', having misst-d it for some time, 1 concluded it was
hid about the room ; after looking for it in vain, I thought it had
got out of the room and made its escape. In the course of the
evening, after the candle was lighted, I went to a basket that had
got a handle across it : I saw rny chameleon, but its color entirely
changed, and different to any I ever had seen before : the whole
body, head and tail, a brown, with black spots, and beautiful deep
orange colored spots round the black. I certainly was much grat-
ified. On being disturbed, its colors vanished, unlike the others; but
after this I used to observe it the first thing in the morning, when
it would have the same colors." Their chief food was flies: the fly
does not die immediately on being swallowed, for, on taking the
chameleon up in my hands, it was easy to feel the fly buzzing,
chiefly on account of the air they draw in their inside : they swell
much, and particularly when they want to fling themselves off a
great height, by filling themselves up like a balloon. On falling,
they get no hurt, except on the mouth, which they bruise a little,
as that comes first to the ground. Sometimes they will not drink
for three or four days, and when they begin, they are about half an
hour drinking. I have held a glass in one hand, while the chame-


Icon rested its two fore paws on the edge of it, the two hind ones
resting on my other hand. It stood upright while drinking, hold-
ing its head up like a fowl. By flinging its tongue out of its mouth,
the length of its body, and instantaneously catching the fly, it would
go back like a spring. They will drink mutton broth.

* When in Italy, a gentleman, a professor of natural history, had
two sent him from the coast of Barbary, but they did not live long.
He dissected them, and his idea on the change of color is, that he
found they had four skins extremely fine, which occasioned the
different colors. It may be so, but of this I am positively certain,
whatever it may proceed from, they have their different colors pe-
culiar, distinct, and independent of each other, and of themselves.'
He adds, in another place, that the chameleons are very inveterate
towards their own kind, biting off each others tails and legs, if shut
up in the same cage.


THE frog is in itself a very harmless animal, but to most people,
who use it not as an article of food, exceedingly loathsome. Its
employment by the Almighty in one of the plagues of Egypt, was
characterized by the most striking wisdom. God, with equal ease,
says Dr. Adam Clarke, could have brought crocodiles, bears, lions,
or tigers, to have punished these people. But, had he used any of
these formidable animals, the effect would have appeared so com-
mensurate to the cause, that the hand of God might have been for-
gotten in the punishment ; and the people would have been exas-
perated, without being humbled. In the present instance, he show-
ed the greatness of his power, by making an animal, devoid of eve-
ry evil quality, the means of a terrible affliction to his enemies.
How easy is it, both to the justice and mercy of God, to destroy or
save by means of the most despicable and insignificant of instru-
ments ! Though he is the Lord of Hosts, he has no need of power-
ful armies, the ministry of angels, or the thunderbolts of justice, to

Online LibraryWilliam CarpenterScripture natural history; containing a descriptive account of the quadrupeds, birds, fishes, insects, reptiles, serpents, plants, trees, minerals, gems, and precious stones, mentioned in the Bible → online text (page 15 of 39)