Eagle occurs in Scripture as the translation of the Hebrews נֶשֶׁר (ne'sher, so called from tearing its prey with its beak; occurs Ex 19:4; Le 11:13; De 14:12; De 28:49; De 32:11; 2Sa 1:23; Job 9:26; Job 39:27; Ps 103:5; Pr 23:5; Pr 30:17,19; Isa 40:31; Jer 4:13; Jer 48:40; Jer 49:16,22; La 4:19; Eze 1:10; Eze 10:14; Eze 17:3,7; Ho 8:1; Ob 1:4; Mic 1:16; Hab 1:8), with which all the designations of the kindred dialects agree, Chald. נשִׁר (neshar', Da 4:33; Da 7:4), Sept. and N.T. ἀετός (Mt 24:28; Lu 17:37; Re 4:7; Re 12:14). As there are many species of eagles, the nesher, when distinguished from others, seems to have denoted the chief species, the golden eagle, χρυσαίετος, as in Le 11:13; De 14:12. The word, however, seems to have had a broader acceptation, and, like the Greek ἀετός and Arabic nesr (see Bochart, Hieroz. 2:312 sq.), sometimes comprehends also a species of vulture, especially in those passages where the nesher is said to be bald (Mic 1:16), and to feed on carcasses (Job 29:25; Pr 30:17; Mt 24:28), which, however the true eagle will occasionally do. SEE GIER-EAGLE; SEE HAWK; SEE OSPREY; SEE OSSIFRAGE; SEE VULTURE.
1. The characteristics of the eagle referred to in the Scriptures are its swiftness of flight (De 28:49; 2Sa 1:23; Jer 4:13; Jer 49:22; La 4:19, etc.); its mounting high into the air (Job 39:27; Pr 23:5; Pr 30:19; Isa 40:31; Jer 49:16); its strength and vigor (in Ps 103:5); its predaceous habits (Job 9:26; Pr 30:17; compare AElian, Anim. 10:14); its setting its nest in high places (in Jer 49:16; comp. Aristotle, Anim. 9:22; Pliny, 10:4); the care in training its young to fly (in Ex 19:4; De 32:11); its powers of vision (in Job 39:29; comp. Homer, Il. 17:674; AElian, Anim. 1:42; Isidore, Origg. 12:1; Pliny, 12:88); and its molting (Ps 103:5). As king of birds, the eagle naturally became an emblem of powerful empires (Eze 17:3,7), especially in the symbolical figures of Babylon (Da 7:4), and the cherubim (Eze 1:10; Eze 10:14; Re 4:7), like the griffin of classical antiquity. SEE CREATURE, LIVING. Eaglets are referred to in Pr 30:17 as first picking out the eyes of their prey.
The following is a close translation of a graphic description of raptorial birds of this class which occurs in the book of Job (39:26-30):
By thy understanding will [the] hawk tower, Spread his wings southward? Perchance on thy bidding [the] eagle will soar, Or [it is then] that he will make lofty his nest?
A rock will he inhabit, and [there] roost, Upon the peak of a rock, even [the] citadel: Thence he has spied food, From afar his eyes will look: Then his brood will sip blood; Ay, wherever [are the] slain, there [is] he!
To the last line in this quotation our Savior seems to allude in Mt 24:28. " Wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together;" that is, wherever the Jewish people, who were morally and judicially dead, might be, there would the Roman armies, whose standard was an eagle, and whose strength and fierceness resembled that of the king of birds, in comparison with his fellows, pursue and devour them. The ἀετοί of Mt 24:28; Lu 17:37, may include the fultur Jalvus and Neophraon percnopterus; though, as some eagles prey upon dead bodies, there is no necessity to restrict the Greek word to the Vulturide (see Lucian, Navig. p. 1; comp. Seneca, Ep. 95; Martial, 6:62). The figure of an eagle is now, and has long been, a favorite military ensign. The Persians so employed it, which fact illustrates the passage in Isa 46:11, where Cyrus is alluded to under the symbol of an " eagle" (עיַט) or "ravenous bird" (compare Xenoph. Cyrop. 7:4). The same bird was similarly employed by the Assyrians and the Romans. Eagles are frequently represented in Assyrian sculptures attending the soldiers in their battles, and some have hence supposed that they were trained birds. Considering, however, the wild and intractable nature of eagles, it is very improbable that this was the case. The representation of these birds was doubtless intended to portray the common feature in Eastern battlefield scenery, of birds of prey awaiting to satisfy their hunger on the bodies of the slain. These passages have been by some commentators referred to the vulture, on the assumed ground that the eagle never feeds on carrion, but confines itself to that prey which it has killed by its own prowess. This, however, is a mistake (see Forakal, Descript. Anim. page 12; compare Michaelis, Orient. Bibl. 9:37 sq., and new Orient. Bibl. 9:43 sq.); no such chivalrous feeling exists in either eagle or lion; both will feed ignominiously on a body found dead. Any visitor of the British zoological gardens may see that the habit imputed is at least not invariable. (See also Thomson, Land and Book, 1:491.) Aquila bisfasciata, of India, was shot by Colossians Sykes at the carcass of a tiger; and Arapax, of South Africa is "frequently one of the first birds that approaches a dead animal." Of all known birds, the eagle flies not only the highest, but also with the greatest rapidity (comp. Homer, Il. 22:308). To this circumstance there are several striking allusions in the sacred volume. Among the evils threatened to the Israelites in case of their disobedience, the prophet names one, in the following terms: "The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth" (De 28:49). The march of Nebuchadnezzar against Jerusalem is predicted in the same terms: "Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots as a whirlwind: his horses are swifter than eagles" (Jer 4:13); as is his invasion of Moab also: "For thus saith the Lord, Behold he shall fly as an eagle, and shall spread his wings over Moab" (Jer 48:40); i.e., he shall settle down on the devoted country as an eagle over its prey. (See also La 4:19; Ho 8:2; Hab 1:8.)
The eagle, it is said, lives to a great age, and, like other birds of prey, sheds his feathers in the beginning of spring. After this season he appears with fresh strength and vigor, and his old age assumes the appearance of youth.
To this David alludes when gratefully reviewing the mercies of Jehovah, "Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things, so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's" (Ps 103:5); as does the prophet, also, when describing the renovating and quickening influences of the Spirit of God: "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint" (Isa 40:31). Some Jewish interpreters have illustrated the former passage by a reference to the old fables about the eagle being able to renew his strength when very old (SEE BOCHART, HIEROZ. 2:747). But modern commentators for the most part are inclined to think that these words refer to the eagle after the molting season, when the bird is more full of activity than before. Others prefer Hengstenberg's explanation on Ps 103:5," Thy youth is renewed, so that in point of strength thou art like the eagle." The passage in Mic 1:16, " Enlarge thy baldness as the eagle," has been understood by Bochart (Hieroz. 2:744) and others to refer to the eagle at the time of its molting in the spring. Oedman ( Vermischte Samml. 1:64) erroneously refers the baldness spoken of by the prophet to point to the Vultur barbatus (Gypaetus), the bearded "vulture or lammergeeyer, which he supposed was bald. It appears to us to be extremely improbable that there is any reference in the passage under consideration to eagles molting. Allusion is here made to the custom of shaving the head as a token of mourning; but there would be little or no appropriateness in the comparison of a shaved head with an eagle at the time of molting. But if the nesser is supposed to denote the griffon vulture (Vultur fulvus), the simile is peculiarly appropriate; it may be remarked that the Hebrew verb karach (קָרִח) signifies "to make bald on the back part of the head;" the notion here conveyed is very applicable to the whole head and neck of this bird, which is destitute of true feathers. The direction of the prophet is to a token of mourning, which was usually assumed by making bald the crown of the head; here, however, it was to be enlarged, extended, as the baldness of the eagle. Exactly answering to this idea is Mr. Bruce's description of the head of the "golden eagle:" the crown of his head was bare; so was the front where the bill and skull joined. The meaning of the prophet, therefore, seems to be that the people were not to content themselves with shaving the crown of the head merely, as on ordinary occasions, but, under this special visitation of retributive justice, were to extend the baldness over the entire head.
With reference to the texts referred to above, which compare the watchful and sustaining care of his people by the Almighty with that exhibited by the eagle in training its younger ones to fly, especially the spirited one in De 32:11-12 —
As an eagle will rouse his nest; Over his fledglings will hover; Will spread his wings, Will take it [i.e. his brood, or each of the young]; Will bear it upon his pinions: [So] Jehovah, he alone would guide him [i.e. Israel]; And there was not with him a strange god" —
We may quote a passage from Sir Humphrey Davy, who says, "I once saw a very interesting sight above one of the crags of Ben Nevis, as I was going in the pursuit of black game. Two parent eagles were teaching their offspring, two young birds, the maneuvers of flight. They began by rising from the top of the mountain, in the eye of the sun. It was about midday, and bright for this climate. They at first made small circles, and the young birds imitated them. They paused on their wings, waiting till they had made their first flight, 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 young ones still and slowly followed, apparently flying better as they mounted; and they continued this sublime exercise, always rising, till they became mere points in the air, and the young ones were lost, and afterwards their parents, to our aching sight." The expression in Exodus and Deut., "beareth them on her wings," has been understood by Rabbinical writers and others to mean that the eagle does actually carry her young ones on her wings and shoulders. This is putting on the words a construction which they by no means are intended to convey; at the same time, it is not improbable that the parent bird assists the first efforts of her young by flying under them, thus sustaining them for a moment, and encouraging them in their early lessons. (Comp. AElian, Anim. 2:40; Oppian, Cyneg. 3:1:15; Jerome in Jesa. 46; Naumaun, Naturgesch. d. Vogel, 1:215; on the contrary, Aristotle, Anim. 9:22.),
Finally, the eagle was an Assyrian emblem, and hence probably the reference in Hab 1:8. The eagle-headed deity of the Assyrian sculptures is that of the god Nisroch (q.v.); and in the representations of battles certain birds of this order are frequently shown accompanying the Assyrian warriors in their attacks, and in one case bearing off the entrails of the slain. From the Assyrians the use of the eagle as a standard (q.v.) descended to the Persians, and from them probably to the Romans. In all ages, and in most countries, as the proverbial "king of birds," it has been the symbol of majesty among the feathered tribes, like the lion among beasts.
2. The eagle, in zoology, forms a family of several genera of birds of prey, mostly distinguished for their size, courage, powers of flight, and arms for attack. The bill is strong, and bent into a plain pointed hook, without the notch in the inner curve which characterizes falcons; the nostrils are covered with a naked cere or skin of a yellow or a blue color; the eyes are lateral, sunken, or placed beneath an overhanging brow; the head and neck covered with abundance of longish, narrow-pointed feathers; the chest broad, and the legs and thighs exceedingly stout and sinewy. Eagles, properly so called, constitute the genus Aquila, and have the tarsi feathered down to the toes; they are clothed in general with brownish and rust- colored feathers, and the tail is black, grey, or deep brown. Sea-eagles (genus Haliaetus) have the tarsi or legs half bare and covered with horny scales; not unusually the head, back, and tail more or less white. The larger species of both measure, from head to tip of tail, 3 feet 6 inches or more, and spread their wings above 7 feet 6 inches; but these are proportionably broad to their length, for it is the third quill feather which is the longest, as if the Creator intended to restrain within bounds their rapidity of flight, while by their breadth the power of continuing on the wing is little or not at all impeded. The claws of the fore and hind toe are particularly strong and sharp; in the sea-eagles they form more than half a circle, and in length measure from 1.5 to 1.75 of an inch. These majestic birds have their abode in Europe, on the shores of the Mediterranean, in Syria and Arabia, wherever there are vast woody mountains and lofty cliffs; they occupy each a single district, always by pairs, excepting on the coasts, where the sea- eagle and the osprey (Pandion halicetus) may be found not remote from the region possessed by the rough-legged eagles — the first because it seeks to subsist on the industry of the second, and does not interfere with the prey of the third. It is in this last genus, most generally represented by the golden eagle (Aquila chryaeta) that the most powerful and largest birds are found. That species in its more juvenile plumage, known as the ring-
tailed eagle, the imperial eagle, or mogilnick (A. heliaca), and the booted eagle (A. pinnata), is found in Syria; and at least one species of the sea- eagles (the Hal. ossifragus, albicilla, or albicaudus) frequents the coasts, and is even of stronger wing than the others. These build usually in the cliffs of Phoenicia, while the others are more commonly domiciliated within the mountains. According to their strength and habits, the former subsist on antelopes, hares, hyrax, bustard, stork, tortoises, and serpents; and the latter usually live on fish; both pursue the catta (pterocles), partridge, and lizard. The osprey alone being migratory, retires to Southern Arabia in winter. None, excepting the last mentioned, are so exclusively averse to carrion as is commonly asserted: from choice or necessity they all, but in particular the sea-eagles, occasionally feed upon carcasses of horses, etc.; and it is well known in the East that they follow armies for that purpose. Hence the allusions in Job and Mt 24:28, though vultures may be included, are perfectly correct. So again are those which refer to the eagle's eyrie, fixed in the most elevated cliffs. The swiftness of this bird, stooping among a flock of wild geese with the rushing sound of a whirlwind, is very remarkable; and all know its towering flight, suspended on its broad wings among the clouds with little motion or effort. Thus the predictions, in which terrible nations coming from afar are assimilated to eagles, have a poetical and absolute truth, since there are species, like the golden, which really inhabit the whole circumference of the earth, and the nations alluded to bore eagles' wings for standards, and for ornaments on their shields, helmets, and shoulders. In the northern half of Asia, and among all the Turkish races, this practice is not entirely abandoned at this day, and eagle ensigns were constantly the companions of the dragons. China, India, Bactria, Persia, Egypt, the successors of Alexandria, the Etruscans, the Romans, the Celtae, and the Arabs had eagle signa of carved work, of metal, or the skins of birds stuffed, and set up as if they were living. These, named עיַט (ayit, a "ravenous bird," Isa 46:1, whence ἀετός), aquila, eryx, simurg, humma or humaion, karakush (the birds of victory of different nations and periods of antiquity), were always symbolical of rapid, irresistible conquest. A black eagle was the ensign of Kalid, general of Mohammed, at the battle of Aisnadin, and the carved eagle still ,seen on the walls of the citadel of Cairo, set up by Karakufsh, the vizier of Salah- ed-din, to commemorate his own name and administration, indicates a species not here enumerated. At least for distinct kinds of eagles have been observed in Palestine, viz. the golden eagle (Aquila Chrysaitos), the spotted eagle (A. naevia), the common species in the rocky districts (see
Ibis, 1:23), the imperial eagle (Aquila Heliaca), and the very common Circaetos gallicus, which preys on the numerous reptilia of Palestine (see the vernacular Arabic names of different species of Vulturidae and Falconidae in Loche's Catalogue des Oiseaux observ. en Algerie; and in Ibis, volumes 1, 2, Tristram's papers on the ornithology of North Africa). The Hebrews nesher may stand for any of these different species. though perhaps more particular reference to the golden and imperial eagles and the griffon vulture may be intended. The Aq. heliaca, here figured, is the species most common in Syria, and is distinguished from the others by a spot of white feathers on each shoulder. (See the Penny Cyclopcedia, s.v. Falconidae; Hebenstreit, Aquilae naturae S.S. Historia, e historia naturali et e Monumentt. vett. illustrata, Lips. 1747.) SEE BIRD.