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Birds of the Bible – Dove’s Dung (by Lee Dusing)

Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) by Dan
Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) by Dan

Now here is an interesting verse found in 2 Kings 6:25:

And there was a great famine in Samaria, as they besieged it, until a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove’s dung for five shekels of silver. (2Ki 6:25)

First let’s find out what caused this event in the first place. Israel was being besieged and it was causing a very severe famine. Food was extremely scarce and the people were paying exorbitant prices for small amounts of anything edible.

Why were they under siege?

Afterward Ben-hadad king of Syria mustered his entire army and went up and besieged Samaria. (2Ki 6:24)

They were surrounded by the Syrian army and there was very little to eat. They may have been there for sometime or the inhabitants of Samaria were caught by surprise and didn’t have time to lay up supplies. Then again, if you read the verses just prior, 2 Kings 6:8-23, another reason for the lack of food may be given. The Samaritans had fed the Syrian raiders before sending them back home. Most commentators say that there was at least a year between that event and when this one happens.

What ever the cause, the people were so hungry that they were paying 80 shekels of silver for a donkey’s head. Several things about this:

  • Donkeys were very prized animals and well treated.
  • The head has very little meat on it.
  • “The head was the worst part of the animal.” (JFB)
  • They were on the “do not eat” list.
  • “A vast price, especially for that which had on it so little meat, and that unwholesome and unclean.” (Wesley)
Doves in Israel
Doves in Israel ©©

Now for the next food on their menu – “Dove’s dung.” Looking at the different versions of Scripture, here are some of the ways this is translated:

  • small measure of doves’ droppings was five shekels of silver – BBE
  • one-fourth of a kab of dove droppings for five shekels of silver – NKJV
  • fourth part of a (cab or kab) of dove’s dung at five pieces of silver – ASV Brenton ESV JPS KJV LITV NASB RV WEBSTER
  • small bowl of pigeon droppings cost about two ounces of silver – CEV
  • fourth part of a cab of dove’s dung five silver-pieces – Darby
  • fourth part of a cabe of pigeons’ dung, for five pieces of silver – DRB
  • forth of the cab of dovesdung at five silverlings – YLT
  • one pint of dove’s dung sold for five pieces of silver – ERV
  • one quarter of a unit of dove’s dung cost five silver coins – ISV
  • half a pound of dove’s dung cost five pieces of silver – GNB
  • two pounds of silver and a half-pint of dove manure for two ounces of silver – GW

One thing they all agree on is that it was either a Dove or a Pigeon, which are both in the same family and their names are changed back and forth even today. Most agree it was a forth of something. The cab or kab according to the commentaries is described as:

A kab – A measure containing twenty – four eggs. and a kab was the usual measure of all sorts of grains and fruits of that sort. (Wesley)
Cab – This measure is not mentioned elsewhere in Scripture. According to the rabbinical writers it was the smallest of all the dry measures in use among the Jews, being the sixth part of a seah, which was the third part of an ephah. If it was about equal to two of our quarts, the “fourth part of a cab” would be about a pint. (Barnes)

Nicobar Pigeon at Lower Park Zoo by Dan
Nicobar Pigeon at Lowry Park Zoo by Dan

Up to now, we know that it was expensive for a small amount. What keeps the commentators of differing opinions is what the “Dove’s Dung” really was. Many say that it was a pulse or pease made from a pea or bean and that it had the color or texture of a dove’s droppings. Others say it was from the actual droppings and that (this is yuk) they picked through it for edible parts. (For an interesting study, load the e-Sword program – it’s free – and after loading the Bibles, dictionaries and commentaries, do a study of 2 Kings 6:25)

“dove’s dung: This probably denotes, as Bochart, Scheuchzer, and others suppose, a kind of pulse, or vetches, which the Arabs still call pigeon’s dung. “They never,” says Dr. Shaw (Travels, p. 140), “constitute a dish by themselves, but are strewed singly as a garnish over cuscasowe, pillowe, and other dishes. They are besides in the greatest repute after they are parched in pans and ovens; then assuming the name leblebby;” and he thinks they were so called from being pointed at one end, and acquiring an ash colour in parching.

Dove’s dung – Most commentators understand by this expression a sort of pulse which is called “dove’s dung,” or “sparrow’s dung” in Arabic. But it is possible that the actual excrement of pigeons is meant. The records of sieges show that both animal and human excrement have been used as food – under circumstances of extreme necessity.” (Barnes)

I am inclined to think that it could have actually been the real droppings. The reason for that is what is mentioned after verse 25. Two ladies had agreed to eat their sons. See 2 Kings 6:26-29.

Now as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying,

“Help, my lord, O king!” And he said, “If the LORD will not help you, how shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the winepress?” And the king asked her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ So we boiled my son and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.” (2Ki 6:26-29)

Oriental Turtle Dove (Streptopelia orientalis) by Nikhil Devasar
Oriental Turtle Dove (Streptopelia orientalis) by Nikhil Devasar

Another thought, were there any doves left that hadn’t been eaten?

I’ll end with a quote from the Wesley commentary. “Learn to value plenty, and to be thankful for it; see how contemptible money is, when, in time of famine, it is so freely parted with for anything that is eatable.”

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