OSTRICHES and the BIBLE
(Investigator 147, 2012
wings flap wildly,
Pinney (1964) —
writer, photographer and naturalist — wrote: "This description is
its pinions lack
leaves its eggs
to the earth,
lets them be warmed
on the ground,
that a foot
may crush them,
that a wild animal
may trample them.
deals cruelly with
they were not its
should be in vain, yet it has no fear;
God has made it
given it no share
it spreads its
laughs at the horse
and its rider.
and biology texts we learn the following:
ostrich is the
largest living bird, a flightless species in Africa, living in open,
unforested areas. In Bible times ostriches existed from Syria to Arabia
but these became extinct in 1941. Adult males may grow 2.5 metres tall,
weigh 150 kilos, and have the biggest eyeballs of any bird — 5cm
across. The legs are powerful, with two toes that make formidable
weapons, and adapted for fast running.
males fight for
a harem of three to five hens. A hollow is scraped in the ground and
forms a communal nest where up to 50 eggs are incubated. The eggs are
the world's largest, averaging 1.4 kilos, equivalent to 25 chicken
eggs. The male incubates the eggs at night; the females take turns by
day. Chicks hatch after 40 days and can keep up with running adults
after six weeks. In the wet season herds split into family groups.
the dry season
ostriches, led by a cock or hen, live in flocks of 5 to 50 often among
antelopes and zebras. The tall ostrich can see distant predators and
give warning while the grazing animals stir up insects, small reptiles
and rodents which form part of the ostrich's diet. Ostriches also eat
leaves, flowers, seeds, and (when available) locusts, and swallow sand
to aid digestion. In deserts succulent plants provide much of their
may cover some
eggs with sand but leave most exposed — "forgetting that a foot may
crush them". Critics have charged that ostrich eggs have thick shells
hard to break.
lions have been
filmed attacking ostriches and in the process breaking the eggs. Other
large animals can also break ostrich eggs including horses, cattle,
camels, hippos, zebras, donkeys, and humans.
the Bible's claim of cruelty: "It deals cruelly with its young, as if
they were not its own."
incubate their eggs and just leave them exposed on the ground;
- When chicks
it is the male who looks after them;
jackals can catch the chicks while the adults easily escape;
- "If the
familiar territory or comes to a water hole where no animals are
drinking, the dominant ostriches push the immature birds forward to
spring any ambushes." (Burton & Burton 1969)
ostriches' lack of
"wisdom" and "understanding" may refer back to its lack of concern for
the chicks. Alternatively, depending on translation and placement of
full stops, it refers to its running.
can't fly but
their wings assist running and make them speedier than horses — "It
laughs at the horse…" Fleeing adults cover 4 metres per stride and go
60km per hour.
however, often runs in large circles rather than a straight line,
allowing a slower pursuer to anticipate its course and confront it.
consider an error
the Bible avoided. The Roman writer Pliny (23-79) wrote in his Natural
History: "But their Stupidity is not less remarkable; for, high as
the rest of their Body is, if they hide their Head and Neck in a Bush,
they think themselves altogether concealed."
centuries we've had the myth that ostriches stick their head in the
sand. People unwilling to face facts were often labelled "ostrich head"
or told, "Don't stick your head in the sand like an ostrich."
do what they're accused of. An ostrich on its nest may lower its head
when it senses a disturbance — but other animals (and humans) may do
that too if they sense danger.
science-practice was rare, few people were literate, and myth ruled. Chambers
Biographical Dictionary says of Pliny: "His observations, made at
second-hand, show no discrimination between the true and the false."
The Bible writers therefore had opportunity to include thousands of
common errors in the Bible, but somehow avoided doing so.
Bible is not just
correct about ostriches but in numerous other topics (as regularly
shown in Investigator
That is why many consider it "The word
Burton, M. & Burton,
R. (General editors) 1969 Purnell's Encyclopedia of animal life,
Volume 4, No. 11, Ostrich, PBC Publishing, pp 1639-1643
Pinney, R. 1964 The
Animals in the Bible Lands, Chilton, pp136-138
The New Encyclopaedia
Britannica, 1986, Volume 8, Micropaedia, Ostrich.
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