Pigeon is the rendering — but only in connection with the epithet "young" — of two very different Heb. and one Gr. word: יוֹנָה, yonah, περιστερά, a general name for any member of the dove family ("dove" everywhere, except in the Mosaic enactment, Le 1:14; Le 5:7,11; Le 12:6,8; Le 14:22,30; Le 15:14,29; Nu 6:10; Lu 2:24); but in Ge 15:9, גּוֹזָל, gozal, the young of any bird, perhaps there correctly of the dove, although in Deuteronomy 32 the "young" of the eagle is meant. The Biblical passages in which the pieon is mentioned may be classified as follows:
1. Pigeons or doves were the only birds used for sacrifices (comp. already Ge 15:9), in particular young pigeons (בּנֵי הִיּוֹנָה, pulli columbini) and turtle-doves, which were sacrificed, sometimes with other offerings (Le 12:6, in purifying women after childbed), sometimes alone as free-will offerings made by fire (Le 1:14); or were prescribed in the purifications from leprosy (Le 14:22), from personal uncleanness (Le 15:14); that of Nazarites (Nu 6:10), and of women after menstruation (Le 15:29). But in two cases, where poverty interfered with more costly sacrifices, these were substituted (Le 5:7 sq.; 12:8. Comp. Lu 2:24). Such offerings of birds were also made by the poor in Egypt. (See Pausan. 10:32, 9. Comp. Engel, Cyprus, 2:184 sq.) For the purpose of providing these sacrifices, dealers in pigeons used to sit in the neighborhood of the Temple (Mt 21:12; Mr 11:15; Joh 2:14,16); and the raising of doves was from an early day a pursuit peculiar to the Jews (Isa 60:8. Comp. Rosenmuller, Morgenl. 6:283), although there were also many wild pigeons in Palestine (Eze 7:16. Comp. Schubert, 3:250), which built their nests in clefts of the rocks (Jer 48:28; Song 2:14; Robinson, 2:433), or at least sought a refuge there when chased (Ps 11:1. Comp. Iliad, 21:493 sq.; Quint. Smyrn. 12:12 sq.). See Schwebel, De columbarum cultu (Onold. 1767); Wernsdorf, De columb. sacra Syrorum (Helmst. 1761).
2. The flight of the pigeon was employed by the poet as a figure for swiftness (Ps 55:7; Ho 11:11. Comp. Soph. (Ed. Col. 1081; Eurip. Bacch. 1090; Robinson, 2:484), and is so understood by many interpreters in several passages of the New Testament (Mt 3:16; Mr 1:10; Joh 1:32) in which the Holy Spirit's descent is spoken of, but this may be doubted. The figure is carried out still further by Isaiah (Isa 60:8), and it is true that the pigeon surpasses in swiftness and directness of flight many birds of its size, without, however, being remarkable in this respect (Virg. in. 5:213 sq.; Plin. 10:52). The cause of this may be found in its long wings (Rechstein, Naturgesch. 4:2), by means of which it often escapes the birds which would prey upon it (Plin. 10:52; Phedr. 1:323; AElian, Animeal. 3:45). In songs of love, the eyes of the beloved, as expressive of attachment and of innocence, are compared with those of the dove, or, as some say, with little doves (Song 1:15; Song 4:1). And in Song 5:12 it is said, "His eyes are like doves over brooks of water, bathed in milk, resting infulness;" a very beautiful description of the swimming apple of the eye. (The explanation of these words by Umbreit and Dipke is in better taste than that of Rosenmuller.) The voice of the dove is represented by the poets as a sigh, an expression of sorrow (הגת, Isa 28:14; Isa 59:11; Na 2:8. Comp. Eze 7:16; Theocr. 7:141; Virg. Eclog. 1:59; Martial, 3:59, 19; and quotations from the Oriental poets in Jones, Poes Asiat. page 346 sq.; Gesen. Comment. on Isaiah 1:992). To the white and glimmering plumage reference is made in Ps 68:14; on which we remark that, according to Hasselquist (Travels, page 553), the pigeons of Palestine have usually whitish-gray feathers on the neck, head, breast, and shoulders. In the comparison used by Jesus (Mt 10:16), the dove is the image of innocence. (Comp. Schottgen and Wetstein, ad loc.)
3. Ps 55:7 was understood by the Hebrew interpreters as affording a trace of the use of carrier-pigeons among the ancient Jews; their use being common now in the East. (See Arvieux, Nachr. 5:422; Troilo, Trav. page 610 sq.; Russell, N.H. of Aleppo, 2:90; and especially Bochart, Hieroz. 2:542; J. De Sacy, La Colombe messagere, from the Arabic of Michael Sabbagh [Par. 1805]; and on the use of them in ancient times, especially in sieges, see AElian, V.H. 9:2; Plino 10:53; Front. Strateg. 3:13, 8.) But the words of this passage contain no such reference. Some would also refer to the same birds the words in Ps 56:1 (Lengerke, Ken. page 166), but without reason. (See Gesen. Thes. 1:104.) SEE DOVE; SEE TURTLE- DOVE.