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Bible Encyclopedias

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Pelican

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pel´i - kan ( קאת , ḳā'ath ; Latin Pelecanus onocrotalus Septuagint reads πελεκάν , pelekán , in Leviticus and Psalms, but has 3 other readings, that are rather confusing, in the other places)): Any bird of the genus Pelecanus . The Hebrew ḳı̄' means "to vomit." The name was applied to the bird because it swallowed large quantities of fish and then disgorged them to its nestlings. In the performance of this act it pressed the large beak, in the white species, tipped with red, against the crop and slightly lifted the wings. In ancient times, people, seeing this, believed that the bird was puncturing its breast and feeding its young with its blood. From this idea arose the custom of using a pelican with lifted wings in heraldry or as a symbol of Christ and of charity. (See Fictitious Creatures in Art , 182-86, London, Chapman and Hall, 1906.) Palestine knew a white and a brownish-gray bird, both close to 6 ft. long and having over a 12 ft. sweep of wing. They lived around the Dead Sea, fished beside the Jordan and abounded in greatest numbers in the wildernesses of the Mediterranean shore. The brown pelicans were larger than the white. Each of them had a long beak, peculiar throat pouch and webbed feet. They built large nests, 5,6 ft. across, from dead twigs of bushes, and laid two or three eggs. The brown birds deposited a creamy-white egg with a rosy flush; the white, a white egg with bluish tints. The young were naked at first, then covered with down, and remained in the nest until full feathered and able to fly. This compelled the parent birds to feed them for a long time, and they carried such quantities of fish to a nest that the young could not consume all of them and many were dropped on the ground. The tropical sun soon made the location unbearable to mortals. Perching pelicans were the ugliest birds imaginable, but when their immense brown or white bodies swept in a 12 ft. spread across the land and over sea, they made an impressive picture. They are included, with good reason, in the list of abominations (see Leviticus 11:18 ; Deuteronomy 14:17 ). They are next mentioned in Psalm 102:6 :

"I am like a pelican of the wilderness;

I am become as an owl of the waste places."

Here David from the depths of affliction likened himself to a pelican as it appears when it perches in the wilderness. See Isaiah 34:11 : "But the pelican and the porcupine shall possess it; and the owl and the raven shall dwell therein: and he will stretch over it the line of confusion, and the plummet of emptiness." Here the bird is used to complete the picture of desolation that was to prevail after the destruction of Edom. The other reference concerns the destruction of Nineveh and is found in Zephaniah 2:14 : "And herds shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations: both the pelican and the porcupine shall lodge in the capitals thereof; their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be in the thresholds: for he hath laid bare the cedar-work."


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Pelican'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/isb/p/pelican.html. 1915.

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