Turtle, or Turtle Dove

Turtle, or Turtle Dove

(תּוֹר, tor, so called, no doubt, in imitation of its cooing note; τρυγών), occurs first in Scripture in Ge 15:9, where Abram is commanded to offer it along with other sacrifices, and with a young pigeon (גּוֹזָל, gozal). In the Levitical law a pair of turtle-doves or of young pigeons are constantly prescribed as a substitute for those who were too poor to provide a lamb or a kid, and these birds were admissible either as trespass, sin, or burnt offering. In one instance, the case of a Nazarite having been accidentally defiled by a dead body, a pair of turtle-doves or young pigeons were specially enjoined (Nu 6:10). It was in accordance with the provision in Le 12:6 that the mother of our Lord made the offering for her purification (Lu 2:24). During the early period of Jewish history there is no evidence of any other bird except the pigeon having been domesticated; and up to the time of Solomon, who may, with the peacock, have introduced other gallinaceous birds from India, it was probably the only poultry known to the Israelites. To this day enormous quantities of pigeons are kept in dove-cots in all the towns and villages of Palestine, and several, of the fancy races so familiar in this country have been traced to be of Syrian origin. The offering of two young pigeons must have been one easily within the reach of the poorest, and the offerer was accepted according to what he had, and not according to what he had not. The admission of a pair of turtle-doves was, perhaps, a yet further concession to extreme poverty; for, unlike the pigeon, the turtle, from its migratory nature and timid disposition, has never yet been kept in a state of free domestication; but, being extremely numerous, and resorting especially to gardens for nidification, its young might easily be found and captured by. those who did not even possess pigeons.

It is not improbable that the palm-dove (Turtur Egyptiacus, Temm.) may, in some measure, have supplied the sacrifices in the wilderness, for it is found in amazing numbers wherever the palm-tree occurs, whether wild or cultivated. In most of the oases of North Africa and Arabia every tree is the home of two or three pairs of these tame and elegant birds. In the crown of many of the date-trees five or six nests are placed together; and sportsmen have frequently, in a palm-grove, brought down ten brace or more without moving from their post. In such camps as Elim a considerable supply of these doves may have been obtained.

From its habit of pairing for life and its fidelity for its mate, the dove was a symbol of purity and an appropriate offering (comp. Pliny, Hist. Nat. 10:52). The regular migration of the turtle-dove and its return in spring are alluded to in Jer 8:7, "The turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming;" and Song 2:11-12, "The winter is past… and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land." So Pliny, "Hyeme mutis, a vere vocalibus;" and Aristotle, Hist. An. 9:8, "Turtle- doves spend the summer in cold countries, the winter in warm ones," although elsewhere (8, 5) he makes it hibernate (φωλεῖ). There is, indeed, no more grateful proof of the return of spring in Mediterranean countries than the voice of the turtle. One of the first birds to migrate northwards, the turtle, while other songsters are heard chiefly in the morning or only at intervals, immediately on its arrival pours forth from every garden, grove, and wooded hill its melancholy yet soothing ditty unceasingly from early dawn till sunset. It is from its plaintive note, doubtless, that David, in Ps 74:19, pouring forth his lament to God, compares himself to a turtle-dove.

From the abundance of the dove tribe and their importance as an article of food, the ancients discriminated the species of Columbidae more accurately than of many others. Aristotle enumerates five species, which are not all easy of identification, as but four species are now known commonly to inhabit Greece. In Palestine the number of species is probably greater. Besides the rock-dove (Columba livia, L.), very common on all the rocky parts of the coast and in the inland ravines, where it remains throughout the year, and from which all the varieties of the domestic pigeon are derived, the ring-dove (Columba palumbus, L.) frequents all the wooded districts of the country. The stock-dove (Columba cenas, L.) is as generally, but more sparingly, distributed. Another species, allied either to this or to Columba livia, has been observed in the valley of the Jordan, perhaps Colleuconota, Vig. (see Ibis, 1, 35). The turtle-dove (Turtur au'ritus, L.) is, as has been stated, most abundant, and in the valley of the Jordan an allied species, the palm dove, or Egyptian turtle (Turtur AEgyptiacus, Temm.), is by no means uncommon. This bird, most abundant among the palm-trees in Egypt and North Africa, is distinguished from the common turtle-dove by its ruddy chestnut color, its long tail, smaller size, and the absence of the collar on the neck. It does not migrate, but, from the similarity of its note and habits, it is not probable that it was distinguished by the ancients. The large Indian turtle (Turtur gelastes, Temm.) has also been stated, though without authority, to occur in Palestine. Other species, as the well-known collared dove (Turtur risoria, L.), have been incorrectly included as natives of Syria.

The birds of this subgenus are invariably smaller than pigeons properly so called; they are mostly marked with a patch of peculiarly colored scutellated feathers on the neck, or with a collar of black, and have often other markings on the smaller wing-covers. The species Columba Turtur, with several varieties merely of color, extends from the west of Europe through the north of Africa to the islands south of China. The turtle-dove of Palestine is specially the same; but there is also a second, we believe local both migrate farther south in winter, but return very early, when their cooing voice in the woods announces the spring. — Kitto. See Schlichter, De Turture (Hal. 1738); Tristram, Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 217 sq.; Wood, Bible Animals, p. 419 sq. SEE DOVE.

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