[Heb., yoh·nahʹ; Gr., pe·ri·ste·raʹ].
The dove is one of the first two birds specifically named in the Bible, Noah having sent out a dove three times after the Flood to determine the drainage of the waters. (Gen. 8:8-12) The Hebrew name yoh·nahʹ is thought to derive from the word ʼa·nahʹ, meaning “to mourn,” and evidently is in imitation of the mournful cooing sound made by the dove. (Isa. 38:14; 59:11, 12; Ezek. 7:16; Nah. 2:7) While “dove” and “pigeon” are often used interchangeably in English, both birds being classed as of the family Columbidae, the term “dove” is usually restricted to the smaller varieties generally living wild and regularly migrating. Since the distinction in English between dove and pigeon is quite indefinite, translators usually render yoh·nahʹ as “dove” except when it occurs in association with “turtledove” (as in all cases relating to sacrifices), in which texts it is generally translated “pigeon.”—See PIGEON; TURTLEDOVE.
VARIETIES AND DESCRIPTION
The most common varieties of doves found in Palestine are the rock dove (or rock pigeon), the ring dove (also called the wood pigeon) and the stock dove. Large flocks of ring doves migrate through Palestine, northward in the spring, and southward in the fall, and they are found particularly in the forests of Gilead and Carmel. The stock dove settles chiefly around Jericho and on the eastern side of the Jordan, while the rock dove breeds on the coastlands, along the gorges of the Jordan valley and the highlands to the W. Doves characteristically have a plump, full-breasted body, graceful neck, a small rounded head with rather slender bill, and short legs. The feathers are very compact, giving the bird a rather sleek look. Though sometimes all white, the doves are frequently of a blue-gray color, while some have an iridescent sheen on parts of the plumage, causing it to take on a metallic appearance in the golden sunlight. This may be indicated at Psalm 68:13, although the reference there to “the wings of a dove covered with silver and its pinions with yellowish-green gold” is thought by some to refer to some richly wrought art piece taken as spoil.
The dove has a soft, gentle appearance and disposition, earning for it the name of ‘the sheep of the bird world.’ Thus the name Jonah (Yoh·nahʹ) was and is a popular name for Jewish boys (Jonah 1:1), while the name of Job’s daughter Jemimah evidently corresponds to the Arabic yamamatu, also meaning “dove.” (Job 42:14) The birds are notable for their devotion to their mates and their affection, and in courtship they bring their heads together and each bird takes the other’s beak in its own much like a lover’s kiss. “My dove” was thus an apt term of endearment used by the Shulammite maiden’s shepherd lover. (Song of Sol. 5:2; 6:9) The maiden’s eyes were likened to the soft gentle eyes of a dove (1:15; 4:1), while she likened the shepherd’s eyes to bluegray doves bathing in pools of milk, by this lovely simile evidently representing the darker iris surrounded by the gleaming white of the eye. (5:12) Doves are fond of bathing, preferring to nest near a source of water.
A timid bird, trembling when frightened (Hos. 11:11), the dove in its wild state often nests in valleys (Ezek. 7:16), while the rock dove makes its nest on ledges and in holes of cliffs and rocky gorges. (Song of Sol. 2:14; Jer. 48:28) When domesticated, they fly back to the dovecotes prepared for them, the white undersides of the wings of a large flock of doves giving the appearance of a moving cloud. (Isa. 60:8) Dovecotes, some of considerable size, have been excavated in Palestine.
The dove has strong wings, is able to fly long distances in search of food, and is swift enough to elude most of its enemies. (Ps. 55:6-8) Yet doves are quite trusting of humans and rather easily entrapped or snared with a net. Thus, apostate Ephraim, foolishly placing its confidence first in Egypt and then in Assyria, was likened to a “simple-minded dove,” due to be caught in a net. (Hos. 7:11, 12) Jesus, in warning his disciples against wolflike opposers, counseled them to be, not only “innocent as doves,” but also “cautious as serpents.”—Matt. 10:16.
At the time of Jesus’ baptism and subsequent anointing by God’s holy spirit, that holy spirit was caused to appear “in bodily shape like a dove,” its visible descent upon Jesus perhaps being similar to the fluttering descent of the dove as it approaches its perch. (Luke 3:22; Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; John 1:32-34) It was an apt symbol, in view of its use by Noah and also its characteristic ‘innocence.’ Doves were used for sacrificial purposes, as indicated by their being sold by those pursuing commercial activities at the temple in Jerusalem, although the term “doves [Gr., pe·ri·ste·rasʹ]” may here indicate the “turtledoves” or “male pigeons” mentioned in the Mosaic law.—Mark 11:15; John 2:14-16.
The religion of ancient Babylon manifests a corrupted utilization of many details relating to the Noachian flood, and so it is not surprising that the dove figured prominently in Babylonian worship. Concerning Semiramis, The Encyclopædia Britannica (1946, Vol. 20, p. 314) states: “Semiramis appears as a goddess, the daughter of the fish-goddess Atargatis, and herself connected with the doves of Ishtar or Astarte [the fertility goddess of the Canaanites].” The dove was anciently worshiped at the city of Ashkelon, a city of the Philistines, who also worshiped Dagon, thought by some to be a fish god. At another onetime Philistine city, Beth-shan, a cult-stand discovered, and considered as of the thirteenth century B.C.E., represents doves as flying out of the windows of a shrine of the Canaanite Ashtoreth (Astarte). The dove also became a symbol associated with the erotic love goddess Venus and by her Greek counterpart, Aphrodite. Such corrupted idolatrous use of the figure of the dove stands in sharp contrast to the Biblical presentation of this gentle, innocent bird as considered above.—See DOVE’S DUNG.