Besides the word deror, which is
acknowledged to signify the Swallow,
in the Christian Bible, there is another word which, by a curious transposition,
has been translated as crane whereas there is little doubt that
it signifies one of the Swallow tribe, and most probably represents the
Swift. The word is sis, and occurs in two passages. The first occurs
in Isaiah. 38: 13 to 14, in the well-known prayer of Hezekiah during his
sickness: 'From day even to night wilt Thou
make an end of me. Like a crane [sis], or a swallow, so did I chatter;
I did mourn as a dove: mine eyes fail with looking upward.'
The Jewish Bible reads the words, 'Like a
chattering swallow,' affixing the
mark of doubt; while the Septuagint translates the word sis
and this is probably the correct rendering of the word.
Accepting this as the true interpretation,
we find that the word sis
is very expressive of the perpetual chattering
of the Swift. There is a wailing, melancholy sound about the
bird's cry which makes Hezekiah's image exceedingly appropriate, and he
could hardly have selected a more forcible metaphor.
The second passage occurs in Jer. viii.
7: 'Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth
her appointed times; and the turtle, and the crane [sis], and the swallow
observe the time of their coming; but My people know not the judgment
of the Lord.' Allusion is
here made to the migratory habits of the Swift. With regard to this
passage, the Jewish Bible renders the word sis as Swallow, though
with the mark of doubt.
Several species of Swift inhabit Palestine.
The common Swift, with which we are so familiar, is very plentiful, and
so is the Alpine Swift. Another species, the Galilean Swift lives
all the year in the Jordan valley. It is possible that this may be
the Sis mentioned by Hezekiah, its soft wailing cry being used as
the metaphor to express his own complaining.
As might be expected, the Talmudical writers
have much to say on this bird. For example, the offering which a
leper made at the cleansing of his infirmity might be the Tzippor-deror,
the rather quaint reason being that it was a bird with sharp scratching
claws, and was therefore very appropriately offered in connection with
a disease of the skin. Here we have rather a complication of terms,
the word tzippor being used, to signify the sparrow
in particular, or any little bird in general. The particular species, therefore,
which is signified by the combination of the two words tzippor-deror
is rather obscure, and Talmudists themselves are rather uncertain
apout it. The interpretation of this compound word seems, however, to have
been a difficulty, and the various renderings which have been suggested
seem at last to have varied between the wild pigeon, or rock-dove, and
the Swallow. An account of the various arguments is given by Lewysohn in'
his' Zoologie des Talmuds,' page 206, and may be briefly summarised, as
follows, in favour of the Swallow,
or, as we shall soon see, the Swift.
In Talmudic history and legend, in the
story of the death of Titus, a gnat made its way through his nostril into
his brain, and there grew and kept him in constant torture until he died,
when, according to some writers, it had reached the size of a Tzippor-deror,
and weighed two selaim. Others enlarged upon this story, and said that
it grew as large as a wild pigeon and weighed two pounds. Now, as twenty-five
selaim are equal to one pound, it follows that the Tzippor-deror must have
been very much less than the wild pigeon, and that therefore the two birds
could not have been identical.
Another reason for believing the Tzippor-deror
to be a much smaller bird than the pigeon is found in a curious rule respecting
the eating of certain meats. The Jews were forbidden to eat date-shells
with the heathen, unless they were cooked in a vessel with an opening so
small that a Tzippor-deror could not have been introduced into the pot.
The reason of this curious proviso was, that if any unclean flesh, such
as that of the swine,or of any animal which had been offered to idols,
had been cooked in that vessel, even the date-shells would become unclean.
But if the mouth of the pot were too small for a Tzippor-deror to be passed
through it, such a vessel could not have been used in cooking meat, and
might therefore be assumed to be clean. Here, then, we have another proof
of the small size of the bird. With regard to this argument, the 'date-shells'
are a little perplexing. Dates have no shells, and need no cooking,
while the stones are too hard and woody to be rendered edible by any amount
of cooking. Still, the word employed by Lewysohn is 'dattelschalen'.
The leper's offering was not laid on the
altar, but was submitted to a peculiar manipulation on the part of the
priest. Among other points of ritual, the blood had to be mixed with
a certain quantity of water, which it barely discoloured, staining it of
a very pale red. As the amount of water was the fourth part of a ' log,'
and is defined to be equal to the contents of six hen's eggs, it was evident
that the bird whose blood would only discolour so small a volume of water
must be a little one.
After giving all these details, Lewysohn
sums up his arguments by saying that he believes the Tzippor-deror to be
the White Swallow, which is small, and has claws so sharp that by means
of them it can cling to the wall. Now this action is one of the characteristics
of the Swifts, who often cling to walls for a time, and then resume their
flight. They do so in preference to sitting on the ground after the fashion
of the Swallow, because the great length of the wings causes the Swift
to have a bit of difficulty in rising from a level surface. After weighing
all the various arguments that have been urged on the subject, we may conclude
that the Tzippor-deror was the White, or Alpine Swift.