"He was indeed the son of a bird": Post-biblical Jewish tradition on using ornithomancy in the Midianite war against the Israelites (Num. 25:17-18)
Keywords:Ornithomancy, Sifre, Sefer ha-Zohar, Midianites, Midrash, divination
AbstractMessages and signs received from animals were used to predict the future since ancient times. The ancestors believed that animal behavior, especially the voices or flight of fowls, indicates what is going to occur, whether success or failure. The current study deals with two post-biblical interpretations of the utilization of birds for divination (ornithomancy) in the biblical story of the Midianite war against the Israelites (Num. 25:17-18). The Sifre claims that the Midianites used birds in their war against Israel. The Sifre perceives ornithomancy to be an artful and devious method of combat, whose use had implications for the harsh fate that befell the Israelites. According to Sefer ha-Zohar, Balak was a magician who used bird techniques in order to be aware of his situation during the war. When his own bird communicated to him that he could not face the people of Israel he looked to Balaam for help.
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