There is no doubt that a considerable number
of species in the Bible are grouped together under the single title Netz,
or Hawk, a word which is rightly enough translated. That a great number
of birds should have been thus confounded together is not surprising, seeing
that even in English language, the single word Hawk may signify any one
of at least twelve different species. The various falcons, the harriers,
the kestrel, the sparrow hawk,
and the hobbies, are one and all called popularly by the name of Hawk,
and it is therefore likely that the Hebrew word Netz would signify as many
species as the English word Hawk
The word Netz is actually of very rare
occurrence in the Bible. We only find it three times. It first occurs in
Lev. xi. 16, in which it is named, together with the eagle,
and many other birds, as among the unclean creatures, to eat which was
an abomination. It is next found in the parallel passage in Deut. xiv.
That the word netz was used in its
collective sense is very evident from the addition which is made to it
in both cases. The Hawk, 'after its kind,' is, forbidden, showing therefore
that several kinds or species of Hawk were meant. Indeed, any specific
detail would, be quite unneccessary, as the collective term was quite a
sufficient indication, and, having named the vultures, eagles, and larger birds of prey, the simple word netz was considered by the sacred writer as expressing the rest of the birds of prey.
We find the word once more in that part
of the Bible to which we usually look for any reference to natural history.
In Job 'xxxix. 26, we have the words, 'Doth
the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and turn [or stretch]
her wings towards the south?' The
precise signification of this passage is rather doubtful, but it is generally
considered to refer to the. migration of several of the Hawk tribe. That
the bird in question was distinguished for its power of flight is evident
from the fact that the sacred poet has selected that one attribute as the
most characteristic of the Netz.
Selecting one or two of the principal species
of hawk,.we find that the the most plentiful of the smaller Hawks of Palestine
is the Common Kestrel.
Indeed, several species of Kestrel are known, and of them at least two
inhabit the Holy Land, these being the Common Kestrel and the Lesser
Kestrel. In consequence of the great abundance of the Kestrel
in Palestine, and the peculiarly conspicuous mode of balancing itself in
the air while in search of prey, we may feel sure that the sacred writers
had it specially in their minds when they used the collective term Netz.
Another hawk to which the word Netz could
apply is the Harrier Hawk.
This possibility exists due to the fact that several species of harrier
are to be found in Palestine, where they take, among the plains and lowlands,
the place which is occupied by the other hawks and falcons among the rocks.
Before taking leave of the Hawks, it is
as well to notice the entire absence in the Scriptures of any reference
to falconry. Now, seeing that the art of catching birds and animals by
means of Hawks is a favourite amusement among the peoples of the Far East,
we cannot but think it remarkable that no reference should be made to this
sport in the Scriptures.
It is true that in Palestine itself there
would be but little scope for falconry, the rough hilly ground and abundance
of cultivated soil rendering such an amusement almost impossible. Besides,
the use of the falcon implies that of the horse, and the horse was scarcely
over used except for military purposes.
Had, therefore, the experience of the Israelites
been confined to Palestine, there would have been good reason for the silence
of the sacred writers on this subject. But when we remember that the surrounding
country is well adapted for falconry, that the amusement is practised in
the Middle East at the present day, and that the Israelites passed so many
years as captives in other countries, we can but wonder that the Hawks
should never be mentioned as aids to bird-catching. We find that other
methods of bird-catching are freely mentioned. and employed as familiar
symbols, such as the gin, the net, the snare, the trap, and so forth; but
that there is not a single passage in which the Hawks are mentioned as
employed in falconry.