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RAVEN (עֹרֵב, H6854; κόραξ, G3165. All Eng. VSS). This tr. is not in doubt and it is amply confirmed by several contexts; e.g. the color: Song of Solomon, “black as a raven”; a typical habit; Proverbs 30:17, “The eye...will be picked out by the ravens.” Palestine has six members of the crow family—raven, fantailed raven, hooded crow, and jay, which are all resident; and rook and jackdaw, which are winter visitors, though a colony of the latter stays to nest in a partly man-made cave in the S Judean hills. The Eng. practice is to use crow as a general word for the family, but in particular for the (carrion) crow. This principle seems to apply also to these Heb. and Gr. words, though the brightly colored jay is so different that this is prob. excepted. The true raven is found in suitable places over the northern half of the northern hemisphere. It is a heavy, powerful bird about twenty-five inches long with a massive three-inch beak that could easily knock an eye out. The large, untidy nest is usually placed on a rock ledge but sometimes in a tree. The fan-tailed raven, of the rocky gorges, has a shorter tail and is about eighteen inches long, i.e., about the same as the hooded crow. Almost any animal food, dead, dying or weak, is acceptable, which explains why the raven that Noah released had no need to return to the ark (Gen 8:7). The raven family is logically included in the lists of unclean food (G. R. Driver, PEQ [1955] pp. 5-20). Yet God used some of them, perhaps hooded crows which are fond of storing food, to bring supplies to Elijah (1 Kings 17).

The raven is often seen and its deep “pruk pruk” heard, but the commonest of the crows today is the hooded, which haunts roadsides, waiting to pick any small animals knocked down or run over by cars. The only variation between the VSS is in Zephaniah 2:14, where RSV reads Heb. עֹרֵב, H6854, raven, while KJV has חֹ֣רֶב, desolation.


Peterson, Mountford and Hollom, Field Guide to Birds of Britain and Europe (1954); A. Parmelee, All the Birds of the Bible (1959); J. G. Williams, Field Guide to Birds of East and Central Africa (1963).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

A large family of the smaller birds of prey belonging to the genus Corvus corax. A bird of such universal distribution that it is known from Iceland to Japan, all over Asia, Europe and Africa, but almost extinct and not of general distribution in our own country. In no land is it more numerous than in Palestine In general appearance it resembles the crow, but is much larger, being almost two feet long, of a glossy black, with whiskers around the beak, and rather stiff-pointed neck feathers. A bird exhibiting as much intelligence as any, and of a saucy, impudent disposition, it has been an object of interest from the beginning. It has been able to speak sentences of a few words when carefully taught, and by its uncanny acts has made itself a bird surrounded by superstition, myth, fable, and is connected with the religious rites of many nations. It is partially a carrion feeder, if offal or bodies are fresh; it also eats the young of other birds and very small animals and seeds, berries and fruit, having as varied a diet as any bird. It is noisy, with a loud, rough, emphatic cry, and its young are clamorous feeding time.

Aristotle wrote that ravens drove their young from their location and forced them to care for themselves from the time they left the nest. This is doubtful. Bird habits and characteristics change only with slow ages of evolution. Our ravens of today are, to all intents, the same birds as those of Palestine in the time of Moses, and ours follow the young afield for several days and feed them until the cawing, flapping youngsters appear larger than the parents. In Pliny’s day, ravens had been taught to speak, and as an instance of their cunning he records that in time of drought a raven found a bucket containing a little water beside a grave and raised it to drinking level by dropping in stones.

Palestine has at least 8 different species of ravens. This bird was the first sent out by Noah in an effort to discover if the flood were abating (Ge 8:6-8). Because it partially fed on carrion it was included among the abominations (see Le 11:15; De 14:14). On 1Ki 17:4-6, see Elijah and the present writer’s Birds of the Bible, 401-3. Among the marvels of creation and providence in Job 38:41, we have this mention of the raven,

"Who provideth for the raven his prey,

When his young ones cry unto God,

And wander for lack of food?"

The answer to this question is in Ps 147:9:

"He giveth to the beast his food,

And to the young ravens which cry."

Both these quotations point out the fact that the young are peculiarly noisy. In Pr 30:17 it is indicated that the ravens, as well as eagles, vultures and hawks, found the eye of prey the vulnerable point, and so attacked it first. The Hebrew `orebh means "black," and for this reason was applied to the raven, so the reference to the locks of the bridegroom in the So of Solomon becomes clear (So 5:11). The raven is one of the birds indicated to prey upon the ruins of Edom (Isa 34:11). The last reference is found in Lu 12:24: "Consider the ravens, that they sow not, neither reap; which have no store-chamber nor barn; and God feedeth them." This could have been said of any wild bird with equal truth.

Gene Stratton-Porter

See also

  • Birds