The Partridge in the Bible

Our text is Jeremiah 17:11 --

As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool.

Critics say that partridges do not sit on eggs that they did not lay, so is God giving legitimacy to an ancient old wives' tale?

The answer is no, of course -- but what an exemplary spectrum of method this question brings up. They key issue is whether we are right in saying that the bird referenced here, a qore', is actually a partridge. The word derives from another Hebrew word that means a "caller." But lots of birds are, practically speaking, "callers," and the word appears in only one other place, 1 Sam. 26:20, where we learn that the qore' is a bird hunted in the mountains or hills.

Ask a liberal commentator, and they will say: There's no doubt about it, Jeremiah is offering up an old wives' tale. There's no doubt that a qore' is a partridge. But their only proof is that the LXX and the Latin Vulgate translate this word as "partridge." Since the LXX and the Vulgate have been wrong on things like this before, appealing to them is no argument.

Ask a moderate commentator, and they'll note the implications of the "partridge" translation, but will say that the exact identification of the bird is uncertain.

Ask a conservative commentator, and they'll agree with the moderate, and add that the qore' referenced here is more likely a sand grouse...a bird which does indeed sit on eggs it didn't lay.

I think a lesson to be learned here is that we cannot anachronize modern meaning onto ancient words. We really have no clue what a qore' was, in that it was a descriptive, not a scientific word.

It's as if we referred to birds in classes by their color. A "yellowbird" could be a canary, or it could be Big Bird. The qore' could be the partridge...but it could also refer to the sand grouse, the bobwhite, or any other bird that calls.

To determine the meaning in context, we need to consider the facts, and all we have here is that this bird sits on the eggs of others, and calls. That fits a sand grouse...and unless there is some proof that the Hebrews called the sand grouse something else, it's a thesis that remains standing.

-JPH