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Dove (Pigeon)

DOVE (PIGEON) (יוֹנָה, H3433, dove, young pigeon; גּוֹזָל, H1578, a young pigeon; περιστερά, G4361, dove, [young] pigeon.)

In the OT all Eng. VSS tr. “dove” approximately twenty times and “young pigeon” ten times indicating that the two names are largely interchangeable. In the OT pigeon is restricted solely to birds used for sacrifice and it is always prefaced by “young.” In the NT, KJV is less consistent and when referring to sacrifices uses both pigeon and dove (once only). RSV trs. all “pigeon,” but omits “young” in all cases but one. Luke 2:24 “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons”—brought by Mary and Joseph to obey the law concerning the birth of a first-born male.

In Eng. one refers to the pigeon family, but the wood pigeon is also called the ring dove, while the rock dove is the wild species from which domestic pigeons are descended. Palestine today has at least six members of this family; rock, ring, and stock doves of the genus Columba; turtle, collared and palm doves of the genus Streptopelia. The last of these has become common and widespread in Israel since the 1950s with the extension of farming. It seems likely that yonah applies in particular to the rock dove and generally to all three Columba species. These are generally blue-gray and distinctly larger than the other three, which are mostly rufous and vinaceous. They have their own names. (See Turtledove.) These birds are wholly vegetarian, taking seeds, fruits and green stuff.

The rock dove is the sole ancestor of all domestic pigeons and has a wide range in Europe, Asia, and N Africa. It nests on cliff faces and when town pigeons use ledges of high city buildings they revert to wild habits. It is likely that it was domesticated independently in several different areas. It is featured on monuments in the earliest dynasty of ancient Egypt and the first record of the pigeon being used as a table bird is in the fourth dynasty c. 2,500 b.c. It has been universally regarded as good for food and was prob. first domesticated for that purpose, later becoming important for sacrifices. It is recorded that four pigeons were dispatched in different directions to announce the coronation of Rameses III (1204 b.c.), but it is unlikely that they were taking messages. Although it is implied that pigeons were trapped (Hos 7:11, 12) it is likely that the “young pigeons” offered by the poor were domestic stock; most breeding colonies were inaccessible.

“Dove” occurs largely in fig. contexts, but some merit comment for their natural history allusions. Jeremiah 48:28: “dove that nests in the sides of the mouth of a gorge.” This describes precisely their habitat in the Negev today, from where they must fly large distances to find food and water. Isaiah 38:14: “I moan like a dove.” Many doves have a plaintive note and the Heb. yonah comes from a root with this meaning. Their courtship displays make doves an obvious symbol of love (Song of Solomon, etc.). Another word for dove, from Heb. יְמִימָ֔ה Arab. Yamamatu gives the personal name Jemimah (Job 42:14).


Peterson et al., Field Guide to Birds of Britain and Europe (1954); G. R. Driver, “Birds in the OT: II, Birds in Life,” PEQ (1955), 129, 130; P. Arnold, Birds of Israel (1962).