TEXT: Isaiah 60:8  "Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows."

In ancient times, Doves were a highly-prized commodity. 

The Bible often speaks of these birds interchangeably with the better known and easily tamed pigeon, but doves were in fact their own wild species known for their gentle, sweet-tempered, nature.

According to Jewish law, Doves could be eaten and were one of the acceptable sacrificial offerings for sin and purification. They were actively traded in the market place, kept in cages as adored pets, a delight with their soft cooing, given great latitude when roaming free, and most importantly, guarded and treasured for the important byproduct they naturally produced--dove dung. In Bible times,  dove excrement was considered so valuable that ancient folks went to great lengths to attract migrating birds into domesticating, reproducing and delivering their product (poop).

Most doves came in shades of blue, gray and brown, and  as noted in Psalms 68:13, a rare silver dove with yellow-gold tipped wings could be found in Damascus. However, 
it was the white dove that was most admired.

From Thomas Harmer:  "But though pigeons or doves are in common blue in the East, yet there were some, even anciently, that were more' beautiful --witness those lines of Tibullus: 

     "Quid referam, ut volitet crebras intacta per urbes, Alba I'alsestino       sancta columba Syro ?" 
       (Translation:  "Why should I say, How thro' the crowded towns the milk white                    dove, in Syria sacred, may with safety rove?*  -- From Book VII, "Messalla’s                           Triumph". [A poem questionably attributed to Tibullus the Latin Poet, 55 BC–19 BC].)

Here we see some of the doves of Palestine were white, their wings covered as with silver; they were treated with great respect like the blue pigeons of Mecca." {Observations on Various Passages of Scripture", (with additions by Adam Clarke) p.229. Published 1815, London.] 

From the accounts of eighteenth and nineteenth century travelers, the Holy Land was filled with doves. They inhabited a wide area that included Turkey, Syria, Persia, Saudi Arabia, Palestine and Egypt. Many geographical locations were named in their honor. And interestingly, one such place was the high rocky terrain where Noah's ark came to rest after the flood.  

From Agustin Calmut:   "The coast of Canaan was denominated the Coast of the Dove.  ("Scripture Illustrated by Means of Natural Science", p. 124. Published 1850, Charlestown.)

From Joseph WIlson: "The mountains of Coh-Suleiman (Ararat) are sometimes called by the natives the Mountains of the Dove: the whole range as far as Gazni is called by Ptolemy the Paruetoi Mountains, probably form the Parvata or Paravat, which signifies a dove."  ("A History of Mountains: Geographical and Mineralogical"; Vol 3, p. 611. Published 1810, London.)

In the wild, Doves preferred to nest in trees or in nooks among the rocks.  However, due to the earnest endeavors of the people to domesticate them, many of these birds adapted to both city and farm dwelling.

From W.M. Thompson: "I found the air cool in June and all agree that the city (Gaza) is healthy. The houses are full of sparrows and the gardens alive with doves and other birds, which keep up a constant roar of music, aided by rook in abundance, from the tops of the feathery palms." ("The Land and the Book"; Vol. 2, p. 337. Published 1860, New York.)

When it was discovered that migrating flocks defecating on seeded fields caused the plants to grow more rapidly and produce a finer quality of vegetables and fruits, farmers quickly began to build colorful and ornate birdhouses hoping to catch the birds attention and entice them to settle and nest.

From Henry Maundrell: "Kefteen (Syria) itself is a large plentiful Village on the West side of the Plain. And the adjacent fields, abounding with Corn, give the Inhabitants great advantage for breeding pigeons (doves): insomuch that you find here more Dove-Cots than other Houses.  ["A Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem at Easter (in 1697)", p.3. Published 1703, Oxford Theatre, London.]

Woodcut of Pigeon Towers in Persia
From James Morier: " The dung of pigeons is the dearest manure that the Persians use; and as they apply it almost entirely for the rearing of melons, it is probable on that account that the melons of Ispahan (16th Century Capital of Persia) are so much finer than those of other cities. The revenue of a pigeon-house is about 100 tomauns per annum; and the great value of this dung, which rears a fruit that is indispensable to the existence of the natives during the great heats of Summer, will probably throw some light upon that passage in Scripture, when in the famine of Samaria, the fourth part of a cab of doves' dung was sold for five pieces of silver. 2 Kings, vi. 25." 

And…"In the environs of the city to the westward, near the Zainderood (Persia),are many pigeon-houses, erected at a distance from habitations, for the sole purpose of collecting pigeons' dung for manure. They are large round towers, rather broader at the bottom than the top, and crowned by conical spiracles through which the pigeons descend. Their interior resembles a honeycomb, pierced with a thousand holes, each of which forms a snug retreat for a nest. More care appears to have been bestowed upon their outside, than upon that of the generality of the dwelling houses, for they are painted and ornamented. The extraordinary flights of pigeons which I have seen alight upon one of these buildings afford a good illustration for the passage in Isaiah, "Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?" (ls. Lx. 8.) Their great numbers and the compactness of their mass, literally look like a cloud at a distance, and obscure the sun in their passage." ("A Second Journey Through Persia, Armenia and Asia Minor", p.140-141. Published 1818, London.)

 There are two distinct interpretations of Isaiah 60:8, both of which are expressed in the following Targum. 

From the Chaldee Paraphrase - Isaiah 60:8-9:  "Who are these that are coming openly like swift clouds, and tarry not? the captives of Israel, who are gathered together, come to their land, lo, as doves which return to their dove-houses.  Surely, the isles shall wait for my Word."

The first interpretation is that this verse is describing the culmination of the prophecy concerning the Children of Israel's release from Babylonian captivity. Isaiah, in his vision, beholds the now liberated throng of Israelites returning to their homeland in such great haste that they remind him of a large mass of doves rapidly flying in their migration.

The second interpretation is that this passage is describing events found in the New Testament, namely that of the rapid success of the Apostles in spreading Christianity throughout the Gentile world. From that success, Gentile converts came to Christ in such great numbers that they were metaphorically said to be flocking in cloud-like mass to the redemptive doors of the church.

No matter how this verse is interpreted, one cannot fail to appreciate the striking animation and beauty of  language used to create such  impressive visual imagery.

Copyright by Ancient Bible History - Eden Games Inc.


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