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The partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay

The atmospheric conditions characteristic of the Old Testament period were conducive to the existence of enormous flocks of partridges on the mountains of Judea, on the banks of the Dead Sea and in the Negev desert.

ZOE AUTOR 102/Antonio_Cruz TRADUCTOR Roger Marshall 11 DE JULIO DE 2021 11:00 h
Photo: Antonio Cruz.

Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay



    are those who gain riches by unjust means.



When their lives are half gone, their riches will desert them,



    and in the end they will prove to be fools. (Jer. 17:11) 



The Hebrew word goré, which literally means “the one who calls” refers to partridges, a phrase which alludes to the song made up of varying screeches which become increasingly high-pitched. This term, which occurs only twice in the Bible (1 Samuel 26:20 and Jeremiah 17:11), was translated into Septuagint Greek as nyktokórax, νυκτοκόραξ and pérdix, πέρδιξ and, subsequently to the Vulgate Latin as perdix.



The first of these two verses refers to the habit of these galliform fowl of escaping by running along the ground, evading and swerving past rocks and obstacles to get away from their pursuers. Hence, David compares himself with a partridge fleeing across the desert, and saying to Saul, the Lord’s anointed: Now do not let my blood fall to the ground far from the presence of the Lord. The king of Israel has come out to look for a flea—as one hunts a partridge in the mountains. (1 Samuel 26:20).



And the same idea can be found in the book of Lamentations: Those who were my enemies without cause hunted me like a bird (Lam. 3:52). This reflects the fact that the partridge, along with other birds that here hunted down by the ancient Israelites.



The second verse from Jeremiah which is quoted at the top of this article has been debated by scholars, as, when a man who accumulates riches is unfairly compared with the partridge that “covers the eggs it did not lay”, or hatches stolen eggs, the suggestion is that this is habitual behaviour among these birds, which does not appear to be the case according to certain ornithologists. However, the atmospheric conditions characteristic of the Old Testament period were conducive to the existence of enormous flocks of partridges on the mountains of Judea, on the banks of the Dead Sea and in the Negev desert.



These birds nested, as continues to be the case, on the ground and, whenever the populations were made up of many individuals, the nests could be very close to each other, as also occurs with seagulls. As each female partridge lays 7 to 20 eggs, they often ended up getting mixed up, which led to quarrels between progenitors.



In fact, in the “partridge” entry in the Encyclopaedia judaica we read: “Sometimes two females lay their eggs in the same nest, in which case one of them becomes dominant and chases the other away; however, its small body is incapable of keeping so many eggs warm enough, with the result that eventually the embryos die. This was what the proverb was referring to when it spoke of someone stealing another person’s possessions but not obtaining any long-term benefit from the theft”. [1] With the passing of time, the partridge populations in Israel, and throughout the world, shrank dramatically, as did the distance between their nests, so that such behaviour seemed strange and unrecognisable for modern ornithologists.



More than 90% of the food of most species of partridge is made up of tender shoots, leaves, seeds, roots, etc, while the rest of it consists of small insects such as ants, flees, mosquitos, etc. This accounts for David’s answer that he feels like a flee being pursued by Saul, just as tiny insects are also hunted by the partridges of the desert (1 Samuel 26:20).



In Israel there are two subspecies: the chukar partridge (Alectoris chukar) and the desert partridge (Ammoperdix heyi). The latter is the type that David and Saul could see in the En-Gedi oasis near the Dead Sea. They can still be glimpsed on the dusty, rocky terrain that surrounds this region of Israel. They can reach a length of 25 cm, and their plumage mainly consists of pale brown patches, with the result that it is difficult to distinguish it from the surrounding desert rocks. It is a sedentary animal which inhabits rugged and arid terrains, and feeds mainly on seeds and insects. It is lazy when it comes to flying, as when it is annoyed or pursued it prefers to run rather than take flight. If it has no choice, it can fly short distances before descending when the danger has passed, or it has managed to get far enough away.



By contrast, the chukar partridge is large, with clearly marked stripes on its sides and a strong black line next at the level of its eyes. It lives in the Middle East, although some 14 subspecies inhabit a range of different regions between Turkey and Eastern Asia. The Bible regards these two main species as clean, kosher birds and they have therefore been hunted since ancient times for their delicious meat.



Charles Spurgeon, reflecting on David’s faith as it is expressed in Psalm 13, penned the following words:



“Faith is now in exercise, and consequently is readily discovered; there is never a doubt in our heart about the existence of faith while it is in action: when the hare or partridge is quiet we see it not, but let the same be in motion and we soon perceive it. All the powers of his enemies had not driven the psalmist from his stronghold. As the shipwrecked mariner clings to the mast, so did David cling to his faith; he neither could nor would give up his confidence in the Lord his God. O that we may profit by his example and hold by our faith as by our very life!” [2].



 



Notes







[1] Feliks, J., 2007, Encyclopaedia judaica, Second Edition, Volume 15, Keter Publishing House Ltd., p. 673.



[2] Spurgeon, The Treasury of David


 

 


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