The Greek word strou·thiʹon is a diminutive form meaning any small bird, but was used especially as applying to sparrows. A variety of common house sparrow (Passer domesticus biblicus) is abundant in Israel. Small brown and gray birds, the sparrows are noisy and gregarious, chirping and twittering, fluttering from their perch on a housetop, tree, or bush to the ground and back again. Their diet consists chiefly of seeds, insects, and worms. The Spanish sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis) is also common, especially in the northern and central areas of Israel.
The only direct references to sparrows in the Bible are found in a statement that Jesus made during his third Galilean tour and evidently restated about a year thereafter in his later Judean ministry. Pointing out that “two sparrows sell for a coin of small value [literally, an assarion, worth less than five cents]” or, if bought in quantities of five, “for two coins of small value,” Jesus stated that, though these small birds were counted as of such little worth, “yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s knowledge,” “Not one of them goes forgotten before God.” He then encouraged his disciples to be free from fear, assuring them, “You are worth more than many sparrows.”
Both anciently and modernly, sparrows have been sold in the markets of the Middle East. As an item of food, they were plucked and spitted on wooden skewers and roasted (like shish kebabs). An ancient inscription of Emperor Diocletian’s tariff law (301 C.E.) shows that of all the birds used for food, sparrows were the cheapest.
Although the sparrow appears in the Hebrew Scriptures in the King James Version (Ps 84:3; 102:7) and in other translations, the Hebrew term so rendered (tsip·pohrʹ) is evidently a generic term referring to small birds in general and not specifically identifying the sparrow.