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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Cock

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(ἀλέκτωρ, literally wakeful). It is somewhat singular that this bird (and poultry in general) should not be distinctly noticed in the Hebrew Scriptures, especially as rearing gallinaceous fowls was an object of considerable economical importance in Egypt, and their flesh one of the principal resources for the table in every part of Southern and Western Asia. It is true, the date when the practice of obtaining them by artificial heat commenced in Egypt is sufficiently disputable, and birds of the genus Gallus, properly so called, are not indigenous in Western Asia, but belong in their original condition to lower India, Indo-China, and the great islands of Austral-Asia. Several species, apparently distinct, are still found wild in the forests and jungles of India, and two at least, Gallus Sonneratii and G. Stanleyi, are abundant in the woods of the Western Ghauts, to which our familiar fowl bear so close a resemblance that naturalists consider the former to be their original. Domestic poultry have existed in Hindoostan from the remotest antiquity; probably much earlier than the twelfth century B.C.; for in the Institutes of Menu, which Sir William Jones assigns to that age, we read of "the breed of the towncock," and of the practice of cock- fighting (5:12; 9:222).

When the cock found its way to Western Asia and Europe we have no record. Fowl of plumage so gorgeous, of size so noble, of flesh so sapid, of habits so domestic, of increase so prolific, would doubtless early be carried along the various tracks of Oriental commerce. There is no trace of it, so far as we are aware, on the monuments of Pharaonic Egypt, but we find the cock figured in those of Assyria. In a hunting and shooting scene depicted at Khorsabad (Botta, pl. 108-114), the scene is laid in a forest whose characteristics seem to indicate a mountain region, such as Media or Armenia. Much game is represented, including many kinds of birds, one of which seems to be the pheasant. But the most interesting, is a large bird, which appears from its form, gait, and arching tail to be our common cock; it is walking on the ground amidst the trees. So far as this is evidence, it would go to prove that the fowl, in a wild state, existed at that period in Western Asia, though now unknown on this side the Indus. The cock and hen are distinctly represented in the Xanthian sculptures, of an era probably contemporaneous with the Khorsabad palace of Nineveh. They appear also on Etruscan paintings, having probably a much higher antiquity (Mrs. Gray's Etruria, p. 28, 45).

The early Greeks and Romans figure them on their coins and gems, and speak of them as perfectly familiar objects, with no allusion to their introduction. They had even found their way into Britain at some unknown period long anterior to the Roman invasion; for Caesar tells us with surprise that the Britons did not think it right to eat the goose or the hen, though they bred both for the pleasure of keeping them (Bell. Gall. lib. 5). This is a very interesting allusion, since we are compelled to refer their introduction into that island to the agency of the Phoenicians, who traded to Cornwall for tin centuries before Rome was built. Under these circumstances, their absence from Egypt, where in modern times they have been artificially bred to so immense an extent, becomes a remarkable and unaccountable fact. They were, indeed, it may be surmised, unknown in Egypt when the Mosaic law was promulgated, and, though imported soon after, there always remained in an undetermined condition, neither clean nor unclean, but liable to be declared either by decisions swayed by prejudice, or by fanciful analogies; perhaps chiefly the latter; because poultry are devourers of unclean animals, scorpions, scolopendra, small lizards, and young serpents of every kind. But, although the rearing of common fowls was not encouraged by the Hebrew population, it is evidently drawing inferences beyond their proper bounds when it is asserted, (See COCK-CROWING), that they were unknown in Jerusalem, where civil wars and Greek and Roman dominion had greatly affected the national manners. (See FOWL).

In the denials of Peter, described in the four Gospels, where the cock- crowing (see below) is mentioned by our Lord, the words are plain and direct; not, we think, admitting of cavil, or of being taken to signify anything but the real voice of the bird, the ἀλεκτοροφωνία , as it is expressed in Mark 13:35, in its literal acceptation, and not as denoting the sound of a trumpet, so called because it proclaimed a watch in the night; for to what else than a real hen and her brood does our Savior allude in Luke 13:34, where the text is proof that the image of poultry Was familiar to the disciples, and consequently that they were not rare in Judaea? To the present time in the East, and on the Continent of Europe, this bird is still often kept, as amongst the Celtes (Caesar, Bell. Gall. 4, 12), not so much for food as for the purpose of announcing the approach and dawn of day. (See HEN).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Cock'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/c/cock.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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