What is really the Eagle of the Bible?

The word “Eagle” “Nesher” in Hebrew, appears 28 times in the Bible.

Eagle is the name of a spices of bird that appears more than any other bird name in the Bible. Sometimes the scriptures refer to the bird itself, and sometimes they refer to it symbolically.

But what is the exact bird spices that the writers of the Bible referred to when talking about the Eagle?

Depending of your country of residence, you may think of the Eagle as what you call Eagle in your home. In North America – The American Bald Eagle. In Europe and the the British Islands – The Golden Eagle. Can any of those be the Eagle in the Bible?

Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Problem of identifying the species in the Bible

Whether you read the Bible in Hebrew, or in any of its many translations, we have a big issue with identifying what is the animal, the bird or the flower that the Bible call by name.

There are three reasons to this problem.

First, in ancient times, the science of systematics and taxonomy did not exist. People called an animal or a bird by different names in different places. Moreover, they sometimes called different species with the same general name. So a name of animal in the Bible does not necessarily be an exact name of one specific animal or bird.

Second, after the Jews were sent to exile, they did not know all the natural animals of Israel anymore, and knew better the animals in their new countries. So even if they continued to read the Bible in Hebrew, they lost the relation to the original animal that their forefathers knew very well.

Third, when the Bible was translated to many languages, first Aramaic and Greek, then Latin, and from the 16th century to all other European languages, the translators translated the names of animals and birds to species that they knew in their own homelands. They didn’t always know the original animal.

What do we know about the Eagle in the Bible?

So we are in some kind of problem here, but as the Eagle is so important in the Bible, we want to find what it is, so we can see the exact bird when we visit Israel!

Let’s open our Bible and see what evidences can we find:

The Eagle is unclean animal and must not be eaten:

In Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, the eagle appears in the list among other birds that are not allowed to be eaten by the people of Israel

The Eagle has very large wings:

“But there was another great eagle with large wings and many feathers” (Ezekiel 17, 7)

The Eagle can fly long distances and up to very high places:

  • “The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies” (Deuteronomy 28, 49)
  • “But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eaglesThey shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40, 31)
  • Though you ascend as high as the eagleAnd though you set your nest among the stars, From there I will bring you down (Obadiah 1, 4)

The Eagle nests in cliffs on high mountains:

  • Your fierceness has deceived you, The pride of your heart, O you who dwell in the clefts of the rock, Who hold the height of the hill!
    Though you make your nest as high as the eagleI will bring you down from there (Jeremiah 49, 16)
  • Does the eagle mount up at your command, And make its nest on high? (Job 39, 27)

Can we tell by now which bird is the Eagle?

According to everything we read so far, the Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), which is also a relative of the American Bald eagle is a good fit: It is large, fly high, can pass long distances and nest in high cliffs.

The Golden eagle is common in Europe and England. It also exists in Israel today, although it is quite rare.

Golden eagle (aquila chrysaetos)

But what about those verses…

  • The eye that mocks his father, And scorns obedience to his mother, The ravens of the valley will pick it out, And the young eagles will eat it. (Proverbs 30, 17)
  • Make yourself bald and cut off your hair, Because of your precious children;
    Enlarge your baldness like an eagleFor they shall go from you into captivity (Micah 1, 16)

From the first verse in Proverbs 30, we learn that the eagle, just like the raven may eat eyes of animals. Maybe dead animals. This is not typical to the Golden eagle that catch its prey and eats the whole of it.

But from the second verse in Micah, we learn that the eagle is bald. This is certainly not the Golden eagle!

The meaning of the word Nesher (Eagle in Hebrew)

The word Nesher comes of the Hebrew root N.Sh.R

This root is used to describe something that falls out. For example, leaves or fruits that fall out from a tree, or hair that falls out of the head.

Is there another bird that exists in Israel and fit all verses in the Bible regarding the Eagle?

Yes! there is. The name of this bird in English is “vulture”.

It is a large bird of prey that lives and nests in cliffs. It eats only dead animals and its head is bald.

In modern Israel, the vulture is the bird that we call Nesher.

Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus)

It is most probable, and agreed among most scholars today, that the vulture is the eagle from the Bible.

Where can we see the Biblical Eagles (Vultures) in Israel?

The griffon vulture is an endangered bird.

There are two main places where you can see vultures in their native environment.

  • Gamla in the Golan Heights.
  • Valley of Zin near Ben-Gurion tomb in the Negev.

In “Hai-Bar Carmel natural reserve”, Near Haifa, bred vultures were introduced back to nature. The vultures can be seen there in cages. This is a special Israeli project that aims to help increasing the vultures population in nature.

Author: Ran Silberman

I am a tour guide in Israel with a passion for the Bible. For many years I work in the software industry as a software consultant. I blog in http://ransilberman.blog

6 thoughts on “What is really the Eagle of the Bible?”

  1. I have a few things to elaborate on this… 😉
    Golden eagle is indeed present in Israel. But it only comes for wintering. Unlike Griffon vulture that is present for the whole year.
    After fires at Carmel (in 2009 if I remember correctly), Griffons started nesting there. Therefore, there not only captive population in ‘Hai Bar Carmel’ cages, but also a wild ones. The reason for that is that with dense forest vultures cannot see carrion on the ground; as soon as there are no trees at least at some parts of Carmel mountain, vultures gather.
    By the way, griffon vultures are indeed capable of travelling from Carmel to Gamla and back in one day (yep, they travel long distances)

    1. Thank you Artemy!
      The birds we see today do not necessarily indicate what was in ancient times.
      It might be that Golden Eagle was common in Israel in Biblical times (in fact, there are Golden eagles nesting in Israel these days, but very rarely)
      So, if we want to examine what animals and birds our fathers referred to, we cannot only trust on what is common today.
      For example, lions and bears were common in Israel in Biblical times, but not anymore…

  2. Thanks for the information. I’m yet to learn more about this great bird. I teach young people on vision, character and self-worth in reference to the eagle.

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