Sunday, January 15, 2017

Of Rabbits and Rocks in Psalm 104

Although I haven't brought this up for quite a while, I'm always intrigued  by all things "Nature" in the Psalms. If you click on the "Nature Notes from the Psalms" label you will see what I mean.  From eagles to ravens, from oxen to deer, from snowflakes to hoarfrost to seas and stars, I  pounce on every little bit reference to flora, fauna, weather, geography and astronomny with delight.

This morning as I did the Office of Readings, for the upmteenth time, verse 18 of Psalm 104 got stuck in my craw. Goats in the lofty mountains? Fine. But rabbits finding refuge in the rocks?

Not any rabbits I know. Here in the USA, rabbits hide in tall grass, low shrubbery, and windfalls in fields and on the edges of forests. I'm sure that occasionally a rock with a jutting ledge or depression beneath it comes in handy, but certainly rocks are not the habitual, er, habitat of rabbits here. British and Eurpoean rabbits are the ones that dig holes in the ground, creating colonies known as warrens. So I don't think rocks play a big part for them, either.

Other bible translations have used the word "conies" in this verse, a multi-purpose English word that can mean rabbit but also other large rodents such as marmots and pikas. (Pikas are the cutest little things. Look them up sometime.) But it seems that the rock-loving creature in this psalm is probably the Syrian Yellow-spotted Rock Hyrax. The Hebrew word in the psalm transliterates as Shaphan. Here's a picture of some young ones in their rocky habitat:
source: wikimedia commons
Hyraxes measure between 12 and 28 inches long, and weigh anywhere from 5 to 11 pounds. Although they look like rodents, scientists who classify animals believe they have more in common with elephants and manatees.

I'm afraid there's not much in this post to help people grow in holiness or in their understanding of the Liturgy of the Hours. But if, like me, you delight in the beauty and diversity of God's creation, then maybe I've made your day. And maybe the sight of these little creatures, obviously secure under that sheltering rock, will help us reflect on the Lord as our rock, refuge, fortress, and hiding place in times of distress. 

5 comments:

  1. Lots of conies and badgers but only the Grail and the Revised Grail have rabbits. Douay-Rheims has irchins! [irchin n. hedgehog (an animal)]

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  2. The "Psalter According to the Seventy," translated from the Septuagint Greek by Holy Transfiguration Monastery (Orthodox), which happens to be my personal favorite translation of the psalms, says, "The high mountains are a refuge for the harts, and so is the rock for the hares."

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  3. Yes, coneys. I was pleased when Samwise Gamgee referred to conies in the Lord of the Rings. http://www.tk421.net/lotr/film/ttt/16.html

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  4. Yes, I think of Samwise when I hear conies used. Knox Bible also goes with "conies" for this Psalm.

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    1. I agree it has a better ring to it than Syrian yellow-spotted rock hyraxes.

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