The Egyptian Vulture identified as the Racham or Gier-Eagle of the Bible

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In the same list of unclean birds which we have mentioned on our page about the Lammergieier in the Bible,  we find the name of a bird in Deuteronomy xiv 17 which we can identify without much difficulty, although there has been some little controversy about it.  This is the so-called Gier-Eagle, which is named with the cormorant and the pelican as one of the birds which the Jews are forbidden to eat.  The word which is translated as Gier-Eagle is Racham, a name which is almost identical with the Arabic name of the Egyptian Vulture.

Other interpretations have also been given to the word racham.  In the first place the word signifies 'love,' and is used in that sense in many passages of Scripture. According to Buxtorf, the bird in question is the merops or bee-eater, 'a bird so called from the love and pity which is shown to its parents, because it nurtures them when hidden in the most lofty caves.' Some who study the Talmud take it to be the woodpecker.

Another rendering of the word which has received much favour is, that the Racham is the hyacinthine gallinule, or sultana hen. This bird is allied to the rails, and is remarkable for the great length of its toes, by means of which it can walk on floating herbage as it lies on the surface of the water. The colour of the bird is a rich and variable blue, darker on the back and lighter on the throat and breast. It is on account of this purple hue that the bird has received the name of Porphryo, or Purple Bird. It is spread over many parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe.

The reading of racham as porphyria is followed in the Septuagint, this reading having been defended on the ground that the bird must belong to the aquatic group, being placed between the pelican and cormorant. The Jewish Bible follows the Christian version, but affixes the mark of doubt to the word.

Although some of the students of the Talmud render the word as woodpecker, others identify it with the Egyptian Vulture.  In Lewysohn's 'Zoologie des Talmuds' there is a curious speculation on this subject. This bird, according to the authors whom he quotes, is the Schirkrek, and derives its name from its peculiar cry, which begins with a hiss (Schirk) and ends, with a shriek (Rek). The bird utters its cry when the rising of the Nile is expected, and so has earned the name of Racham, or Love, this word being frequently used in the Scriptures as a metaphor for rain, dew, or any water that nourishes plants.

Without adopting the process of reasoning employed in this case, we may safely accept the conclusion, and consider the Racham as identical with the Egyptian Vulture

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