Within.....circles it is taught that all birds with webbed
feet are prohibited. However a search of our scriptures soon
reveals that there is no such general rule of prohibition with
regard to birds. Indeed, birds are the ONLY group that are NOT
covered by an all embracing rule, in the way that VEGETATION
MATTER, ANIMALS, FISH and INCESTS are (i.e. 'every herb bearing
seed, and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree yielding
seed' Gen.1:29: 'Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is
cloven-footed, and cheweth the cud' Lev.11:3: 'Whatsoever hath
fins and scales' Lev.11:9: 'All fowls that creep, going upon all
four, shall be an abomination unto you. Yet, these may you eat of
every flying creeping thing that goes upon all four, which have
legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth' Lev.11:20
Nowhere in scripture can one find any reference to the term
'webbed feet.' Indeed scripture suggests that all birds are fit
for food except those specifically forbidden.
This leads to the second reason that is often given for our
NOT eating DUCK and GOOSE; namely that there is a prohibition
against the SWAN after its kind. This argument relies in the
first place upon the fact that ducks and geese belong to the same
family as swans. Scientists long ago devised a system of
classifying the animal kingdom into various groups. These groups
are hierarchial, so that all animals included in one group
are automatically included in the group above. The main groups in
descending order are: Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and
Swans, ducks and geese all belong to the family ANATIDE, of
which there are 150 species worldwide. The Anatidae family is
divided into three sub-families, namely ANSERINAE, which includes
swans, geese and whistling ducks; ANATINAE, which include all
other ducks, and ANSERANATINAE, the magpie goose. Science then
agrees that ducks, geese and swans are of one family. Therefore a
prohibition of the swan after her kind would SEEM to include duck
Before we rely to heavily upon the above reasoning to
convince our Jewish, or other friends, that their menus should
NOT include such delicacies as Canard Montmorency, let us look
closely at the scriptures, beginning with the Authorized Version.
In neither Lev.11:18, nor Deut. 14:16 do we find the phrase
'the swan after her kind.' The word swan appears on its own.
Are we therefore entitled to include 'after her kind'? When
we read Lev. 11:13-19
in CONTEXT, the answer to this question would appear to be NO.
Let us look at other translations and see if they give us a
clearer guide to the inclusion of duck and goose in the list of
Lev. 'And the ostrich, and the night hawk, and the sea hawk,
and birds of that sort.'
Deut. 'The little owl, and the great owl and the water hen.'
Lev. 'The water hen, the pelican, the carrion-vulture.'
Deut. 'The barn owl and the eagle-owl, the water hen.'
Lev. 'You must not eat any of the following birds, Eagles,
owls, hawks, falcons, buzzards, vultures, crows, ostriches,
seagulls, storks, herons, pelicans, cormorants,
hoopoes or bats' (13-19).
Deut. As above (12-18).
Lev. 'And the sawn and the hoopoe after their kind.'
Deut. 'The stork, the hoopoe after its kind.'
Lev. 'The white owl, the desert owl, the osprey.'
Deut. 'The little owl, the great owl, the white owl.'
Lev. 'The swan, the pelican, the vulture.'
Deut. 'The little owl, the great owl, the horned owl.'
Lev. 'The water hen, the pelican, the carrion vulture.'
Deut. 'The little owl, and the great owl, the water hen.'
Lev. 'The ibis, the marsh hen, the pelican.'
Deut. 'The screech owl, the great owl, the horned owl and
Lev. '....and the crested owl and the turkey buzzard.'
Deut. '....and the seagull and the cormorant, with their
species, with the pelican.'
From this random selection of translations we now see that
it is by no means CERTAIN that the SWAN is indicated. When we
consider the Hebrew, the meaning becomes even LESS clear. The
Hebrew word translated 'swan' in the Authorized Version
is TINSHEMETH. This word appears three times, twice it is
translated 'swan' and in Lev. 11:30 it is translated 'mole.' If
the translation 'swan' is doubtful, how accurate is the
translation 'mole'? Again, let us look at other translations to
see if they agree with the Authorized Version.
'And the ferret and the land crocodile and the lizard and
the sand lizard and the chameleon.'
'....the gecko, the land crocodile, the beetle, the snail
and the chameleon.'
'Moles, rats, and lizards must be considered unclean.'
'And the ferret, and the mole, the yellow lizard, the skink
and the chameleon.'
'The gecko, the monitor, the wall lizard, the skink and the
'The gecko, the land crocodile, the lizard, the sand lizard,
'The gecko, the land crocodile, the lizard, the sand lizard,
and the chameleon.'
'The mole, the rat, the great lizard, the gecko, the mouse,
the lizard, the snail, the chameleon.'
'And the ponter, and the shew, and the ignanodou, and the
Once more we see that the meaning of TINSHEMETH is
UNCERTAIN, so let us consider what commentaries have to say on
James strong, S.T.D., L.L.D., in his Dictionary of Hebrew
and Greek Words, suggests that Tanshemeth is derived from Nasham,
to blow away, i.e. destroy. He states that the meaning of
Tanshemeth is probably 'a hard breath' i.e. the name of two
uncertain creatures, a lizard and a bird (both perhaps from
changing colour through their irascibility), probably the
tree-toad and the water-hen.
The notes on Lev.11:18 and 30 contained in The Student's
Commentary on the Holy Bible published 1879, state the following:
Verse 18. 'The swan, more probably the ibis, the sacred bird
of the Egyptians....'
Verses 29,30. 'The identification of 'the creeping things'
here named is not always certain. They are most likely those
which were occasionally eaten.....by the word rendered snail is
probably meant another kind of lizard, and by the mole, the
Henry Chichester Hart, in By Paths on Bible Knowledge X1,
Scripture Natural History, 11 Animals of the Bible, Religious
Tract Society 1888, has this to say:
The Hebrew word 'tinshemeth' is found amongst the list of
unclean birds in Lev. 11:18 and Deut. 14:16. It is there
translated 'swan,' but this must be erroneous for the double
reason that swans are, and in all probability always were, very
rare in Palestine, and that were the common or known at all to
the Israelites is not likely that they would have been regarded
as unclean. They are vegetable feeders, and cygnets have been
generally regarded as good to eat. In the Jewish Bible, this word
is untranslated. The Septuagint and Vulgate render it either
'porphyrio' or 'ibis.' Either of these is likely enough
to be the bird meant, and the original seems to point to an
aquatic bird. The meaning of the Hebrew word is, however, highly
ambiguous. In verse 30 it is translated 'mole' and, as has been
shown already, is most likely there intended to represent the
'chameleon.' Of the two water fowl suggested, the ibis is the
most acceptable interpretation at first sight. It was sacred
amongst the Egyptians, and connected with their idolatrous
worship, and it was also a bird of very unclean feeding. No doubt
the Israelites were very familiar with the sacred ibis (ibis
religiosa) in Egypt. But the bird is not found in Palestine, and
has become extinct on the lower Nile. Nevertheless from its
abundant representation on their monuments, and also in the
mummified state amongst their tombs, it must formerly have
been common in Lower Egypt. The other species, the porphyrio or
violent gallinule (Porphyrio hyacinthinus), is a large handsome
purple waterhen as big as a duck. It is, however, by no means
abundant in Lower Egypt except on the Fayoom, according to
Capt. Shelly and as Tristram tells, it is very rare in Palestine.
A much more likely bird is our common waterhen or gallinule
(Porphyrio chloropus), which is everywhere abundant in Palestine
and Egypt; and with it might have been included the coot
(Fuligula atra) its constant associate, and an equally abundant
Marray's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, published 1908, has
the following entries:
Swan (Heb. tinshemeth). This translation, which occurs....in
the list of unclean birds, is almost certainly wrong: while the
emendations 'pelican' and 'owl' are equally unsatisfactory. The
LXX renderings 'porphyrio' and 'ibis' are much more probable,
neither of these birds occurring elsewhere in the catalogue,
while both would be familiar residents in Egypt, and the original
seems to point to some waterfowl.....The purple waterhen
(Porphyrio Caerulus), a brilliant coloured and large relation to
our own moorhen, is abundant in the marshes and reed brakes of
the Mediterranean countries, and is most probably the species
mentioned. Mole. Two words are thus translated. 1. 'Tinshemeth,'
which occurs in the list of unclean birds in Lev. 11:18, Deut.
14:16 (Authorized Version 'swan') and in Lev. 11:30 (Authorized
Version 'mole'). There seems considerable probability that
'tinshemeth' refers to the chameleon. 1. 'Hephor peroth' rendered
'moles' by the Authorized Version in Isaiah 2:20....Apparently
true moles (Talpa) are absent from Syria-Palestine.....
The Dictionary of the Bible edited by Sir. W. Smith and
published in 1893:
Swan (tinshemeth). Thus rendered by A.V. where it occurs in
the list of unclean birds....Bochart explains it noctua (owl),
and derives the name from (Hebrew) to astonish, because other
birds are startled at the apparitions of the owl. Gesenius
suggests the pelican, from (Hebrew) 'to breathe, to puff,' with
reference to the inflation of its pouch. Whatever may have been
the bird intended by Moses, these conjectures cannot be
admitted as satisfactory, the owl and the pelican both being
distinctly expressed elsewhere in the catalogue. Nor is the A.V.
translation likely to be correct. It is not probable that the
swan was known to Moses or the Israelites, or at least that it
was sufficiently familiar to have obtained a place in the list.
Hasselquist indeed mentions his having seen a swan on the coast
of Damietta; but though a regular winter visitor to Greece, only
accidental stragglers wander so far south as the Nile, and it has
not been observed by recent naturalists either in Palestine or
Egypt. Nor, if it has been known to the Israelites, is it easy to
understand why the swan should have been placed among the
unclean birds. The rendering of the LXX; 'porphyrio' and 'ibis'
are either of them more probable. Neither of these birds appear
elsewhere in the catalogue, both would be familiar to residents
in Egypt, and the original seems to point to some water fowl. The
Samaritan version also agrees with the LXX, Porphyrio antiquorum
Bp, the purple waterhen, is mentioned by Aristotle, Aristophanes,
Pliny, and more fully described by Athenaeus. It is allied to our
cornrake and waterhen, and it is the largest and most beautiful
of the family Rallidae, being larger than the domestic fowl, with
a rich dark blue plumage, and brilliant red beak and legs. From
extra-ordinary length of its toes, it is enabled, lightly
treading on the flat leaves of water plants, to support itself
without immersion, and apparently to run on the surface of the
water. It frequents marshes and sedge by the banks of the rivers
in all the countries bordering on the Mediterranean, and it is
abundant in lower Egypt. Athanaeus has correctly noted its
singular habit of grasping its food with its very long toes, and
thus conveying it to its mouth. It is distinguished from all
other species of Rallidae by its short powerful mandibles, with
which it crushes its prey, consisting often of reptiles and young
birds. It will frequently seize a young duck with its long feet,
and at once crush the head of its victim with its beak. It is an
omnivorous feeder, and from the miscellaneous character of its
food, mighty reasonably find a place in the catalogue of unclean
birds. Its flesh is rank, coarse and very dark coloured.
Lastly, The Jewish Encyclopedia states:
Swan: The rendering of the A.V. for tinshemeth.....The
Revised Version, more correctly, gives 'horned owl'.....Tow
species of swan have been found in Palestine, the whooper, or
wild swan (Cygnus musicus or ferus) and the Cygnus olor, or
mansuetus; they are, however, comparatively rare. Some take the
'barhurim abusim' of the Talmud (B.M. 86b) to mean 'swans' though
the usual rendering is 'fattened hens.'
From the above it can be seen that the true identity of the
creatures (tinshemeth) is UNCLEAR. In order to clear up this and
other ambiguities, I made enquiry of the Board of deputes of
British Jews. I am most grateful of their prompt and full reply.
With regard to the word 'tinshemeth' they agree that the creature
is NOT certainly identified. They add that as a general rule, ALL
domestic fowl are allowed, while wild fowl (which would
include swans) are not. However, this rule does NOT HELP us, as
it would exclude fowls such as partridge, pheasants, quail, etc.
We know that Israelites were able to eat quail from Exodus 16: 13
and Numbers 11:31,32.
So far then, we have examined the TWO MAIN objections
AGAINST eating duck and geese, namely that they are prohibited by
falling into the category of 'web' footed birds' and alternately,
they are banned because they come within the classification of
'the swan after her kind.'
The THIRD objection often put forward is that duck and geese
are SCAVENGERS, and are therefore prohibited. Again, to turn to
the scripture we find no mention of the word 'scavenger.' Nowhere
in the food laws are the forbidden creatures so described.
However, a careful examination of those prohibited SUGGEST that
the common denominator of the prohibited birds is that they are
eiter birds of prey, or scavengers and therefore the Creator in
His divine wisdom has denied them from us as food.
The Universal English Dictionary defines a scavenger as an
animal which feeds on and clears away carrion, garbage, or any
decaying organic matter, e.g. vultures, certain beetles and other
insects, shrimp, crabs etc. We realize the function of these
scavengers, and the fact that they are provided to clear away the
poisonous debris which, if left, could cause the spread of
diseases, our reaction should be to leave well alone. So, if
ducks and goose are scavengers, then they should be considered
unfit for our table.
What are the feeding habits of ducks and goose? If we study
the family ANATIDAE in any good book on birds, we find that the
diet of its various members consist of vegetable matter, insects,
and their larvae, worms, molluses, crustaceans and fish. For
example, the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) feeds on various seeds,
plant shoots, and grass, although ducklings eat mainly insects,
plus molluses, crustaceans and green plants. The Pintail (Anas
acuta) feeds on various seeds, shoots and green plant parts,
plus insects, worms, molluses and as an occasional delicacy,
small frogs. The Eider (Somateria mollissima) feeds mainly on
molluses, but will eat crustaceans, worms, starfish and fish. The
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) eats mostly vegetables, but will also eat
insects, small fish, tadpoles and crustaceans. The same applies
to Bewick's Swan (Cygnus cygnus), which is almost completely
Strangely enough when we look at the diet of various geese
we find that they too are largely vegetarian, e.g. Greylag goose
(Anser anser) feed on green plants and seeds. The white fronted
goose (Anser albiforns) eats grass, shoots, various berries and
seeds. Brent geese (Branta bernicla) feed on marine plants during
winter and during the summer, grass, lichens, moss, plus
molluses, crustaceans and insects.
A study of their diet suggests that the family Anatidae are
neither scavengers nor birds of prey. Before we leave the diet of
birds, let us, out of interest, look at the feeding habits of
some of the PERMITTED birds. Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) eats
a variety of seeds, berries, green plant shoots, insects, worms
and molluses. Quail (Coturnix coturnix) feeds on insects and
larvae, green leaves and seeds. The Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)
in the wild state feeds on fruit, berries, seeds, and
occasionally will capture and eat small rodents. Domestic
chickens, when allowed the freedom to range the farmyard, can be
seen feeding on worms, insects and kitchen scraps.
It would seem therefore, that there is LITTLE DIFFERENCE
between the diet of the duck and goose and those birds we can
(I will here say again, that which I have said before in the
series of these studies, that it is a WRONG foundation to try and
say clean animals and unclean animals are clean or unclean
because of what they eat. All things are made of atoms and
molecules. It is HOW they are put together within the very
creational structure that is the key to clean and unclean. The
horse eats mainly grass and hay, and then oats, barley, flax and
such. They love a well cooked meal of the last three grains, I
know for I worked with horses on Stud Farms as a young man, and
had to feed them a few times a week such a cooked mash, with some
molasses added. The horse is a totally vegetarian and grain
eater, BUT horse meat is unclean as a food according to God's
food laws. It is not what they eat that makes them unclean, it is
the way their flesh is atom/cell and molecule created and put
together. Their very creation of flesh is not compatible with our
created flesh. You could feed a pent up pig the greatest mixture
of grains etc. and it would not change its atom/cell and molecule
structure. The same goes for the bear. You could keep it caged
up, feed it only honey, berries, and salmon, all its life, and it
would still be unclean meat, for its atom/cell and molecule
structure would be as God created it....unclean for human
This truth was brought out in the famous book by Rachel
Carson called "Silent Spring" (1962). The book is still available
from Amazon.com on the Internet. She showed how some were, in
their labs, able to change the atom/molecule pattern, put it
together in a different pattern, still call it "organic" for it
still was, did not have any human chemicals etc. in it, but she
claimed, it would now be slow poison for us.
This is the basic bottom line as to how God created things
and what He knew would be compatible in atom/cell/molecule
structure for food for us to eat and rebuild our cells in a good
healthy manner. How God created the working chemical/atom
digestion in all created creatures to use whatever they digested,
is another matter. The horse is the classic example, the good
vegetation/grain foods it eats works in no way to change the
atom/cell/molecule of its flesh, to make it good healthy flesh
food for us humans to eat. And the reverse is true of animals
and birds etc, that are clean food for us to eat, but they
may eat certain things that are of themselves unclean for us to
It really is the atom/cell - the very inner being of things
that makes the difference. Rachel Carson was able to show that
man was messing with the very foundation and so with his
chemicals like DDT, effecting the atoms and cells in a way that
normally would not be effected when left as God created each, and
so was harming our atoms and cells. Such of course is the same
bottom line concern today with the debate and battle over
genetically altered foods. It would seem most western countries
will enact a law that food labels will declare if the product has
been genetically manipulated in any way - Keith Hunt).
The THIRD objection to duck and geese, i.e. that they are
scavengers, does NOT appear to stand up to close examination.
Indeed, NONE of the three objections, when considered in detail,
appear to be valid......
We have seen that orthodox Jews regard these fowls as
Kosher. But what about the Muslims? It appears that their dietary
laws are based on the general principle, 'Oh people, eat of the
lawful and good (wholesome) things of what is in the earth.'
Qur'an chapter 2 verse 168.
The following are specifically forbidden by the Qur'an:
1. The flesh of swine. Qur'an ch. 5:4.
2. Blood. Qur'an ch. 6:146.
3. Alcohol. Qur'an ch. 5:90.
4. That which dies of itself, including animals killed by a
blow, strangulation, a fall or by other animals. Qur'an
5. That which has been offered as a sacrifice to idols.
Qur'an ch. 5:3.
6. That which has not been slaughtered in accordance with
Muslim Law. Qur'an ch. 6:122.
Other creatures are deemed unclean according to the sayings
or practices of 'the prophet.' These are derived from the second
part of the general principle, i.e. good (or wholesome). The
creatures thus forbidden are beats of prey, birds of prey, the
tame ass (not wild ass), mule, hyenas, fox, elephant, weasel,
pelican, kites, cormorant, crows, ravens, crocodile, otters,
wasps, all insects. The lizard and the hare are not specifically
prohibited, but the prophet did not eat them.
Although in practice Muslims do not appear to eat wild fowl,
there appears to be no restriction against them doing so within
their dietary laws.
What conclusion then can be drawn from this section of our
study? I believe that we can see that it is dangerous to say that
scripture forbids the eating of webbed footed birds, or that
scripture excludes 'the swan after her kind.'
It is also dangerous to teach that duck and goose are
FORBIDDEN, as they are scavengers. However, before we all rush
out to sample goose pie or duck en casserole, let us prayerfully
seek the Lord's guidance as to the truth of His word. In the
meantime let us honestly admit to our enquirers that this does
present an area of doubt.
Entered on Keith Hunt's Website June 2003