(Investigator 98, 2004 September)


A previous discussion focussed on whether eagles hunt by sight or by smell. (Investigator 34 & 35) In this article we'll consider additional Bible statements about eagles.


The Bible likened God's protective care of Israel to an adult eagle catching its young on its back:

Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the Lord alone did lead them. (Deuteronomy 32:11-12)

I bore you on eagles' wings. (Exodus 19:4)  

Many commentators denied that such behavior in eagles occurs:
It would be no wise difficult for an observer to fancy, in their evolutions, that the old birds actually bore up the younger ones in the air, as well as fluttered over them. (Hastings et al 1898)

…a thing wholly incompatible with flight in any bird. (Orr et al 1930)

…naturalists agree that this is not confirmed by observation. (Cansdale 1970)

Palestine has about ten species of eagles and vultures. The Golden Eagle, Aquila chrysaetos, has been seen to catch and support its young:
…the female of this eagle has been seen, even though only on a few occasions, to catch her falling young and carry it off on her back... (Grant & Rowley 1963)

…the female...has been known to catch her young on her wings as described in Ex 19:4; Dt 32:11-12. (Fauna and Flora of the Bible 1972)

The Grant & Rowley reference says "a few occasions" without specifying any. I've come across the following:

In 1902 S R Driver quoted an earlier source:

W. L. Alexander quotes from Davy, Salmonia, p. 87, the following pertinent illustration: "Two parent eagles on Ben Weevis were teaching their offspring, two young birds, the manoeuvres of flight." Rising from the top of a mountain, they "at first made small circles and the young imitated them; they paused on their wings waiting till they had made their first flight, holding them on their expanded wings when they appeared exhausted, and then took a second and larger gyration, always rising towards the sun, and enlarging their circle of flight, so as to make a gradually ascending spiral."
The Bible dictionary titled Insight on the Scriptures, sold by the Watchtower Society, quotes two references:
…the parent birds, after urging, and sometimes shoving the youngster into the air, will swoop underneath and rest the struggler for a moment on their wings and back. (Thomas, W B 1934 The Yeoman's England, London, p135)

The Mother started from the nest in the crags and, roughly, handling the young, she allowed him to drop, I should say, about ninety feet; then she would swoop down under him, wings spread, and he would alight on her back. She would soar to the top of the range with him and repeat the process.
(Bulletin of the Smithsonian Institution 1937, No. 167, p302)

The Bible therefore appears correct. The problem was that the event is rarely observed.


Some skeptics have wondered about Psalm 103:5

(God) satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. (Compare Isaiah 40:31)
The phrase "youth is renewed" is often interpreted as the molting process whereby the eagle gradually grows new feathers during which time the bird is less active. Afterwards the bird is as active and vigorous as before. The offer of renewed youth "like the eagle's" could also imply that eagles have long life spans compared to other birds. Similarly, humans who live God's way can anticipate longer than average life.

The book Bird Life points out that small birds such as swallows and robins seldom reach an age of ten years. It adds:

…the greatest ages known are found amongst sea birds and large birds of prey which may reach an age of 30 years. (Perrins 1984)
Eagles are "large birds of prey" and a few may have lived to 80 years. (Nicholson nd; Cansdale 1970)

In Psalm 103 the renewed youth of followers of God refers to psychological and physical benefits of knowing God and obeying his commands. A news report in America titled "Studies show that people with faith are healthier" started off:

NEW YORK (AP) –The links between health and faith keep accumulating. Two new studies add to evidence that religious belief and practice somehow contribute to physical vigor.

While past research has found that connection in religious groups with special dietary and anti-smoking rules, it now has turned up in large, mainline denominations without the special disciplines.

Religious commitment itself was found to make the bodily difference…
(The Holland Sentinel, Friday, December 18, 1992; Investigator No. 41, March 1995)


Another debate arose because Jesus stated:

…wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together. (Matthew 24:28)
This statement is metaphorical. The "body" refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the eagles refer to the Roman armies whose symbol was the eagle.

Jesus' analogy has been criticised on grounds that eagles do not gather around carcases but catch prey individually and carry it off. For example:

Incidentally, he does not live off carrion but attacks only living animals. (Zeffer 1866)

One distinction always holds good. Eagles never flock. (Orr 1930)

The ancient world did not always distinguish vultures from eagles. The two kinds of bird look alike but the vulture has smaller, softer feathers on the head and neck, and smaller weaker claws. Eagles usually carry their prey off, whereas vultures eat on the spot and later regurgitate it to their young.

The Hebrew word "nesher", usually translated "eagle" can therefore sometimes refer to vultures. In Micah 1:16, for example, the phrase "bald as an eagle" could be better rendered "bald as a vulture" since the griffon-vulture has a bare neck and head and is, therefore, "bald". Eagles, in contrast, have neck and head covered with feathers.

The Greek "aetos" used in the New Testament may, likewise, apply to both vultures and eagles. Therefore Jesus can be translated as having said, "Wherever the body is, there the vultures will be gathered together."

Modern naturalists of course distinguish vultures from eagles. They see eagles as solitary hunters whereas vultures often scavenge in packs. A second response, therefore, is to assume that Jesus did mean "eagle" by our modern classification and show that eagles sometimes scavenge on carcases.

Referring to eagles, condors, vultures and other birds of prey the book Bird Life says:

Not all these birds kill their prey and most are not above scavenging from carcasses if they get the opportunity. (Perrins, 1984)
Regarding the Imperial Eagle another authority states:
…it often eats carrion. (Felix 1983)
Craighead (1967) found the remains of lambs in nests of golden eagles but suggests, "…these could have been carrion. None of our researchers ever saw eagles attacking sheep."

Sometimes, rarely, eagles prey in flocks. Insight On The Scriptures quotes a 1954 reference:

…a number of them launched a mass attack upon a prong-horned antelope. (Drimmer, F. Editor in chief, 1954 The Animal Kingdom, Volume 2, p965)


Many skeptics call the Bible "pre-scientific" and claim it is full of errors. Further research, however, often proves the Bible accurate and its critics wrong. Subsequent science corrects previous science and proves the Bible true.


Cansdale, G S 1970 Animals of Bible Lands, Paternoster, Britain.
Craighead, J 1967 Sharing the Lives of Wild Golden Eagles, National Geographic, September, p434.
Driver, S R 1902 The International Critical Commentary – A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Deuteronomy, Third Edition, T & C Clark, Edinburgh, p358.
Felix, J 1983 Animals of Asia, Hamlyn, Czechoslavakia, p117.
Flora and Fauna of the Bible 1972 United Bible Societies, USA.
Grant, F C & Rowley, H H 1963 Revised, Dictionary of the Bible, T & J Clark, Edinburgh, p 226.
Hastings, J et al 1898 10th impression, A Dictionary of the Bible, Edinburgh, Volume 1, T & C Clarke.
Insight On The Scriptures 1988 Volume 1 – Eagle, Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, USA, pp662-664.
Nicholson, W nd The Bible Explainer and Concordance, W Nicholson and Sons, Britain.
Orr, J et al 1930 The International Standard Bible Dictionary. Volume 4, Howard Severance, USA.
Perrins, C 1984 Bird Life, Peerage Books, Britain, pp41, 61.
Zeffer, H 1866 Biblisches Worterbuch, Kreuzer, Stuttgard, p34.

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