Epistles: Biblical Bestiary: Dove
Across history and cultures, the dove is a universal symbol of peace and tranquility. Its several species belong to the bird family columbidae, which also includes pigeons. In biblical tradition, the dove first appears in the story of the flood (Genesis 8). When the dove (Hebrew: yonah) released from Noah’s ark returns with an olive leaf, the patriarch knows that dry land has appeared, marking a new beginning for humanity. Considered ritually clean and one of only four birds acceptable for sacrifice (Leviticus 1:14), the dove also appears as an emblem of purity (Psalm 68:13) and innocence (Song of Songs 2:14). In the Talmudic tradition, the spirit of God hovering over the waters in Genesis 1:2 is likened to a dove (Chagigah 15a:3).
In the ancient Near East, doves were birds sacred to a wide range of mother goddesses. As symbols of feminine fertility and procreation, they are associated, in both texts and art, with the Mesopotamian goddesses Semiramis and Inanna-Ishtar, the Canaanite Asherah and Astarte, or the Phoenician Tanet. Miniature house shrines from the Levant occasionally feature doves. In the Greco-Roman world, the dove is sacred to Aphrodite, Fortuna, and Venus.
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