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Hedgehogs in Myth and Legend


The significance of this unusual bas-relief on the walls of the Cathedral at Amiens in North France is most interesting as it is a graphical interpretation of a passage taken from the Bible at Zephaniah 2:14 where the destruction of the great city of Nineveh is prophesized with startling accuracy.

While the King James version renders this verse as:

"And flocks shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations: both the cormorant and the bittern shall lodge in the upper lintels of it; their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be in the thresholds; for he shall uncover the cedar work"

...the Septuagint, Vulgate, New American Standard Bible translations render it as:

Flocks will lie down in her midst, All beasts which range in herds; Both the pelican and the hedgehog Will lodge in the tops of her pillars; Birds will sing in the window, Desolation {will be} on the threshold; For He has laid bare the cedar work.

...and the New World Translations renders it as:

And in the midst of her, droves will certainly lie stretched out, all the wild animals of a nation. Both pelican and porcupine will spend the night right among her pillar capitals. A voice will keep singing in the window. There will be devastation at the threshold; for he will certainly lay bare the very wainscoting.

Bible scholars render the two words, "the cormorant and the bittern " as "the pelican and the porcupine." The [taq], "pelican," comes from [haq], to vomit, because it casts up fish or water from its membranaceous bag; and, "porcupine," is from the verb, which means to cut off as by a bite, or rather, from its Syriac meaning, to dread, for it is a solitary animal.  Some scholars, however, contends that it is the hedgehog, and both the Septuagint and Vulgate render it as such. This is generally accepted in most modern Bible translations and fits given that the original Hebrew word, "qip·podh'" is very similar in etymology to the modern Hebrew word "Kipod" for hedgehog.

In this bas-relief, there is a hedgehog below and a bird above (a pelican, [or, possibly, a cormorant] although poorly rendered as though by someone who has not seen one but is merely interpreting a description given) while in the window there is a singing bird in what appears to be a cage.

Many thanks to Ray Roberts of the UK for providing us with this wonderful photograph.

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