The Partridge in the Bible

The word Kore and its signification

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There is a bird mentioned in the Old Testament, which, although its name is only given twice, is a very interesting bird to all students of the Scriptures, both passages giving an insight into the manners and customs of the scarcely changing East. This is the bird called in the Hebrew Kore, a word which has been generally accepted as signifying some kind of Partridge  There is no doubt that, like most other Hebrew names of animated beings, the word is a collective one, signifying a considerable number of species.

The Partridge upon the mountains

The first passage occurs in 1 Samuel 26:20. When David was being pursued by Saul, and had been forced to escape from the city and hide himself in the rocky valleys, he compared himself to the Partridge, which frequented exactly the same places: 'The king of Israel is come out to seek a flea, as when one doth hunt a partridge upon the mountains.'

The Desert Partridge and its Habits

The appositeness of this simile is perfect. The bird to which David alluded was in all probability the Desert Partridge, a species which especially haunts rocky and desert places, and even at the present day is exceedingly plentiful around the area of the Cave of Adullam.

The way in which the males often call or challenge each other is a peculiarity that has earned for the bird the Hebrew name of Kore, or ' the caller'. Its habit of running at great speed toward rocky openings which can serve as a hideaway when chased demonstrates how close the parallel was between this bird and David, who was forced, like the Partridge, to seek for refuge in the rocky caves.

Hunting the Partridge with sticks

But the parallel becomes even closer when we come to examine the full meaning of the passage. The Partridge is at the present day hunted in some mountainous regions of the world exactly as was the case in the time of David. The hunters are often boys, who provide themselves with a supply of stout sticks-about eighteen inches in length, and, armed with these, they chase the birds, hurling the sticks one after the other along the ground, so as to strike the Partridge as it runs. Generally, several hunters chase the same bird, some of them throwing the sticks along the ground, while others hurl them just above the bird, so that if it should take to flight, it may be struck as it rises into the air. By pertinaciously chasing an individual bird, the hunters tire it, and contrive to come so close that they are certain to strike it.

Basic as this mode of bird-hunting may seem, it is effective even against birds far more active on the wing than the Partridge. It has been used to kill Snip in the New Forest in England. Squirrels have been chased and killed in a similar manner, except that the 'bolts,' or the sticks for squirrel-hunting, were weighted with lead at one end.

It can therefore be seen how perfect is the Image.  Driven from the city, David was forced to wander, together with the Desert Partridge, upon the hill-sides, and, like that bird, his final refuge is the rock. Then came the hunters and pursued him, driving him from place to place, as the boys hunt the Partridge, until he was weary of his life, and exclaimed in his despair, 'I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul.'

Eggs of the Partridge

The second passage in which the word kore is found occurs in Jer. xvii. 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.'  The marginal reading of this passage gives the sense in a slightly different form, and commences the verse as follows: 'As the partridge gathereth (young) which she hath not brought forth, so he...' etc.  The Jewish Bible gives the whole passage rather differently from both these readings: 'A partridge hatching what it hath not laid (or borne), is he that getteth (or maketh) riches, and not by right (or judgment): he shall leave them in the midst (or half) of his days, and at his end shall be base.'

Taking all these readings, and comparing them with the original, with each other, and with the context, we can have but little doubt that reference is made by the prophet to the number of unborn, i.e. unhatched, eggs on which the Partridge sits, but which are so often taken from her before they can be hatched. Just as hunting the Partridge is an acknowledged sport among the inhabitants of the uncultivated parts of the Holy Lands, so is searching for the eggs of the bird a regular business at the proper time of year.

The Partridges of the Holy Lands are, like those of our the UK, exceedingly prolific birds, laying a wonderful number of eggs, more than twenty being sometimes found in a single nest. These eggs are used for food, and the consumption of them is very great, so that many a Partridge has been deprived of her expected family: she has sat upon eggs, and hatched them not.

Of these birds several species inhabit The Holy Land. There is, for example, the Desert Partridge, which has already been mentioned. It is beautifully, though not brilliantly, coloured, and may be known by the white spot behind the eye, the purple and chestnut streaks on the sides, and the orange bill and legs. These, however, soon lose their colour after death.

The 19th Century biblical scholar, HB Tristram suggested, with much probability, that the Francolin, or Black Partridge of India, and the Sand-Grouse, may be included among the number of the birds which are included under the common name of Kore. The latter bird is extremely common in The Holy Land, and, in all probability, was classed by the Jewish writers of old who may not have been too observant, with the true Partridge.

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