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VULTURE. The treatment of this word is too varied to justify listing comparisons between VSS. Three words are so tr. in the KJV, one prob. being a Heb. textual error. In the RSV four Heb. words are so tr.; in both VSS the contexts are either food lists or purely fig., giving no help in identification. See Eagle, Osprey, Ossifrage and Birds of Prey for Heb. words. Palestine has at least three resident species—black, bearded, and griffon—while the conspicuous black-and-white Egyp. vulture is a summer breeder. All are scavengers that find life more difficult in countries where civilization has brought sanitary methods of refuse disposal. The larger wild animals have become scarce and almost the only carcasses likely to become available to vultures in Pal. are those of sheep, goats, and camels which have died of disease and are not acceptable as food.

The bearded and black vultures are birds of the desert edge, where they nest on cliffs and escarpments. The griffon has a wider distribution and one long-used nesting place is in the crags above the Valley of the Doves, W of Lake of Galilee. The griffon is huge, though not the biggest of all vultures, with a length of between three and four ft. and a wing spread of roughly eight ft. It is dirty brown, with a pale, down-covered head, but color is not distinguishable as it soars on motionless wings several thousands of ft. above the ground. The Egyp. vulture is smaller, only twenty-four inches long, and easily identified, for both sexes are black and white, with bare yellow face.

It is generally agreed that Heb. נֶ֫שֶׁר, H5979, and Gr. αετός include both eagles and vultures, and that in some passages it would be better to tr. vulture; e.g. (Matthew 24:28: “there will the eagles (vultures mg.) be gathered together.” Eagles are usually solitary birds, but vultures come together in great numbers to feed. The vulture was one of the symbols of Egyp. power, which gave special point to Jehovah’s message to Israel (Exod 19:4), “I bore you on eagles’ (vultures’) wings and brought you to myself.” It was ironical that many cents. later the Jews again were taken into captivity, by the Assyrians whose god Nisroch (of the same root as Nesher) was a vulture-headed deity.


See under Eagle.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Any member of a family of large birds that subsist wholly or in part on carrion. The largest vulture of Palestine was the Lammer-geier. This bird waited until smaller vultures, eagles and hawks stripped a carcass to the bone, then carried the skeleton aloft and dashed it on the rocks until the marrow could be secured. This was a favorite delicacy. This bird was fond of tortoise also, and is said to have dropped the one that struck the bald head of Aeschylus, which the bird mistook for a stone, so causing the death of the poet. Several smaller species, including "Pharaoh’s chickens," flocked all over Palestine. These were protected by a death penalty for their value as scavengers in cities. They fed on carcasses of animals that killed each other, ate putrid fish under the nests of pelican and cormorant, followed caravans across the desert, and were ready for offal thrown from animals dressed for feasting. They flocked over the altars for the entrails from sacrifice, and devoured scraps cast aside by tent-dwellers and residents of cities. They paired with affectionate courting and nested in crevices, in walls, hollow trees and on cliffs. They raised only one pair of young to the season, as the nestlings were over two months old before they took wing. The young were white at first, then black feathers enveloped them. On account of their steady diet of carrion, no one ever has been able to use their flesh for food, although some daring ornithologists have tried. For this reason the vulture was placed among the abominations and should by right have headed the lists (Le 11:18; De 14:13). The other references that used to be translated "vulture" in the King James Version, the Septuagint elaphos, Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) correctly milous) are changed to "falcon" and "kite." Isa 34:15 changes "vulture" to "kite." Job 28:7 changes "vulture" to "falcon."

Gene Stratton-Porter

See also

  • Birds