Badass birds for Christmas … and not for your dinner table.


Piero Francesca’s … the new, improved version…

During my online rummaging before the coffee and the Nexium kick in, I ran across this intriguing article, in time for Christmas: “The Surprisingly Badass Birds of the Bible, written by Debbie Blue, author of Consider the Birds.

picassoRemember that it was a dove that brought back the branch to Noah?  And a dove descended at the baptism?  And Pablo Picasso‘s dove (left), often used for a generic Christmas card image? Cancel all those mental pictures of fluttery white birds, symbols of peace and love and every good thing.  Now Ms. Blue tells us we have it all wrong. The bird referred to is most likely a “rock dove,” commonplace in Palestine and indeed everywhere else – not white, but gray, with an iridescent green and violet neck. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?  And a bit familiar …

I’ve always liked pigeons, with their gentle coo, their tendency to flock together for company.  So in honor of this new revelation, the Book Haven has commissioned our favorite artist … alright, alright, it’s my daughter… to recreate Piero della Francesca‘s famous mid-fifteenth century painting, “The Baptism of Christ.”  Of course, a pigeon hovering over one’s head brings more nervous associations to mind … we can’t help that.  The women at the left of the painting look understandably anxious.

vultureBut what are we to do with T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding”?

“The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.”

A pigeon doesn’t quite evoke the same juxtaposition of mercy and terror, fragility and force.

There are more problems. According to Ms. Blue, the Hebrew word “nesher” is usually translated  as eagle, but most scholars agree that it’s probably a “griffon vulture.”  Wait, wait… don’t jump to conclusions. Blue insists that vultures are “some pretty badass creatures”: “They are remarkable purifying machines. They take care of rotting remains that could otherwise spread diseases. They have uniquely strong digestive juices that kill bacteria and nasty pathogens. The Mayans referred to the vultures as death eaters. This struck them as a good, godlike thing. It makes sense. We need something to eat death (digest it, rid it of its toxicity). Vultures stare death in the face and fear it not at all.”  I’m not so sure they’re all that grand.  According to Wikipedia, “It grunts and hisses at roosts or when feeding on carrion.”

Un grand merci to Zoë Patrick for the adaptation of Piero della Francesca, and try to get your head around this clip from 1981’s Chariots of Fire. “They shall mount up with wings as eagles” … and try not to think of the grunts and hisses as they dismember a deer carcass.

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