[Heb., ʽo·revʹ; Gr., koʹrax].
The first bird specifically named in the Bible. (Ge 8:7) The largest of the crowlike birds, the raven measures about 0.6 m (2 ft) in length and may have a wingspan of more than 1 m (3 ft). Its glossy plumage is notable for its jet-black color (Ca 5:11) with iridescent steel-blue and purple hues, the underparts at times having a touch of green. It has an extremely wide range of diet, eating anything from nuts, berries, and grains to rodents, reptiles, fish, and young birds. Though it will attack the young and weak among small animals, it is primarily a scavenger. When eating carrion it has the habit of eating the eyes and other soft parts of the victim before tearing at the abdomen with its sturdy beak. (Pr 30:17) It is a powerful flier, flapping its wings in strong, steady beats, or soaring effortlessly in wide circles while it scans the area below for food. Its continuous search for food takes it over an unusually large area.
By naturalists, the crafty raven is considered to be one of the most adaptable and resourceful of all birds. In view of this as well as its flying strength and ability to survive on a wide variety of food, including carrion, the raven was an apt candidate for being the first creature to be sent outside the ark by Noah at the time the waters of the Flood had begun to recede. The text indicates that the raven thereafter remained outside the ark, using it only as a resting-place.—Ge 8:5-7.
The raven was declared unclean in the Law covenant (Le 11:13, 15; De 14:12, 14), and the phrase “according to its kind” is understood to embrace the crow and other apparently related crowlike birds such as the rook, the jackdaw, and the chough, all of which are to be found in Palestine.
The raven, unlike the crow, is usually a bird of the wilderness, often inhabiting mountainous regions and even deserts. It was among the creatures envisioned by Isaiah as inhabiting the emptiness and wasteness of ruined Edom. (Isa 34:11) The raven also has the practice of storing surplus food in rock crevices or burying it beneath leaves. These birds were thus an apt selection when God used them miraculously to carry in bread and meat twice daily to Elijah while the prophet was concealed in the torrent valley of Cherith.—1Ki 17:2-6.
Ravens nest on cliffs or rocky headlands, as well as in tall trees; they mate for life and are devoted parents. Jehovah God, the true Provider for all His creatures, directed Job’s attention to Himself by the question: “Who prepares for the raven its food when its own young ones cry to God for help, when they keep wandering about because there is nothing to eat?” (Job 38:41) The psalmist also showed that the food brought by the wide-ranging parent birds to satisfy the raucous cries of their hungry young is due to the Creator’s kindly provisions (Ps 147:7-9), while Jesus referred to the ravens in a similar way to assure his followers that the One caring for such birds of the air would surely provide for the needs of His human servants.—Lu 12:24; compare Ps 104:27, 28; Mt 6:26.
Evidently because of its impressive size, its somber colors, and its mournful croak, pagan peoples anciently viewed the raven as a bird of ill omen and a portent of death. Among the Greeks, the bold, often impudent raven was viewed as a prophetic bird, perhaps because of its reputation for cunning and sagacity. It was held to be sacred to the god Apollo and to an oracular order of priests, some of whom dressed in black.
A prince of Midian in Judge Gideon’s day bore the name Oreb, meaning “Raven.”—Jg 7:25.