The word Tachmas, is rendered in the Authorized
Version of the Bible as NIGHT-HAWK. This word only occurs among the
list of prohibited birds (see Lev. xi. 16, and Deut. xiv. 15), and has
caused great controversies among commentators. Some scholars of the Hebrew
language have thought that the male ostrich was signified by tachmas,
word bath-haya'anah being supposed by them to signify the female
ostrich. It is hardly probable, however, that the sacred writer should
have mentioned separately the sexes of the same species, and we must therefore
look for some other interpretation.
Going to the opposite extreme of size,
some scholars have translated
as Swallow. This again is
not a very probable rendering, as the swallow would be too small a bird
to be specially named in the prohibitory list. 'I'he balance of probability
seems, to lie between two interpretations - namely, that which considers
the word tachmas to signify the Night-hawk, and that which translates
it as Owl. For both of these interpretations much is to be said, and it
cannot be denied that of the two the latter is perhaps preferable. If so,
the White or Barn Owl
is probably the particular species to which reference is made.
However, many commentators think that the
Night-hawk or Nightjar is the bird which is signified by the word tachmas,
and as owls seem
to have been signified by alternative words, the rendering of the Authorized
Version seems an acceptable translation. Moreover, the Jewish Bible follows
the same translation, and renders tachmas
as Night-hawk, but affixes
the mark of doubt.
Considering the fact that even in recent
times the nightjar is sometimes referred to as Jar Owl, Churn Owl or Fern
Owl, it is not unlikely that the ancient Jews may have considered this
bird to be among the owls.
It is probable that, in the days when Moses
wrote the Law, the astounding cry of the nightjar was well known to the
Jews, and we may therefore conjecture that it was one of those birds which
he would specially mention by name.