And onto clean and unclean birds

To: Robin Hide <>
Subject: And onto clean and unclean birds
From: Martin Butterfield <>
Date: Thu, 9 Feb 2017 01:23:36 +0000
I think the confusions between the various lists is astonishing.  My favourite is a bird which might be an Ostrich or an Eagle Owl.  I think I have eaten (farmed) ostrich, but can't really imagine anyone chewing on an Eagle Owl (but imagine a hungry Eagle Owl chewing on a person).

On 9 February 2017 at 06:05, Robin Hide <> wrote:

For those interested in this esoteric topic, may I recommend the following paper (which includes a list of identifiable birds in Leviticus – copy of Table 1 attached*)  by the late Ralph Bulmer, anthropologist and a major figure in the field of New Guinea ethno-biology (especially ornithology - and co-author with Saem Majnep of the classic book Birds of My Kalam Country 1977 Auckland Univer. Press):


Bulmer, Ralph. (1989). “The Uncleanness of the Birds of Leviticus and Deuteronomy.” Man 24(2): 304-321


Abstract: This article attempts to clarify the semantics of uncleanness by reference to a long-standing minor problem of Old Testament scholarship. Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 specify

twenty kinds of 'birds' as unclean to the ancient Hebrews but provide neither taxonomic rules for distinguishing these from clean birds nor explanations for their uncleanness. The

prevailing scholarly view is that the listed birds were 'ritually unclean' on account, in all but two cases, of a diet of flesh or carrion. It is here argued that: (i) there was for the

Hebrews no sharp line between ritual and everyday uncleanness; (ii) though carrion and the unbled flesh of creatures also consumed by humans were indeed a source of uncleanness,

so was a diet that conspicuously included small creatures that were themselves regarded as highly polluting; (iii) an unclean diet was in any case only one of the possible reasons for

a bird's uncleanness, some birds with relatively clean diets being prohibited if they deviated in other ways from the avian norm. Thus Mary Douglas's original argument in Purity and

danger (1966) may be nearer the mark than her later acceptance of the conventional view of O.T. scholars.



*The full paper is too big (2 Mb) to send as an attachment to this list- if you’ld like a copy, please email )


Robin H

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