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Notes on Genesis (xxx) Noah and the raven

‘Then he sent out a raven, which kept going to and fro until the waters dried up from the earth.’ (Gen 8:7)

Disagreeable because of its appearance, its call and its eating habits, the raven (crow) is a hard bird to like. The Law of the Old Testament reckons it among those birds that are an abomination, whose flesh is not to be eaten (Lev 11:13-15, cf Deut 14:12-14). The version of Noah’s dispatching the raven in the Septuagint is a little different to that of the standard Hebrew text, for it specifies that the raven did not come back to the ark. John Chrysostom, who may have been following a Jewish tradition that extrapolated from the Septuagint, speculates: ‘Perhaps, with the waters subsiding, the bird, being unclean, happened upon corpses of men and beasts and, finding nourishment to its liking, stayed there.’ Hesychius sees the failure of the raven to return to the ark an indication of the bird’s lack of affection. While ravens fed Elijah when he was sheltering by a brook (3 Kgdoms 17:4-6), their overall image is extremely negative. On would expect such a bird to play a different role in the narrative to the dove that immediately follows, and indeed it does.

2 Responses to Notes on Genesis (xxx) Noah and the raven

  • John, I know they are big and black, but I think you give ravens / crows / Corvids a bad name unnecessarily! They are very intelligent birds – Australian crows can flip over cane toads to eat them without getting poisoned, and New Caledonian ones make tools. I think it’s probably pretty intelligent to get a reputation for being inedible, too!

  • John says:

    All true, Marion. But when I see a cockatoo, a bird of similar size the screech of which is no more pleasing than the call of the crow, my heart warms in a way no Corvid has ever caused it to.