Sunday, 23 March 2008

A Gathering of Eagles

It is Easter, and I have been reading Matthew's Gospel.

My eye was particularly drawn to chapter 24, verse 28: "Wherever there is a dead body, the eagles will gather" (Good News Bible, adapted*) or, in the resounding words of the excellent King James "Authorised" version, "Wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together".

* I was forced to adapt the Good News version because, for some unaccountable reason, the translators have chosen to render hoi aetoi as "vultures". But the vulture has its own Greek name: gups. The aetos was most definitely the eagle. Perhaps the Good News folk thought that only vultures would gather, particularly where a carcass was to be found. So are they right? Did the Gospel writer get it wrong?

It might be more interesting to ask: what is this gathering of eagles, and what is the carcass? As a Roman emperor, I immediately thought of imperial legions and their eagles (aquilae). Did Matthew (writing towards the end of the first century AD) think the same? And is the corpse then the destruction which habitually followed them? In short, is Matthew describing the apocalyptic last battle of Rome?

I think that's more likely than a bunch of vultures picking at a carcass.


  1. To quote an enemy of ours "they make a desert and call it peace" my lord. It seems we Romans have always been seen as the doom of many.

  2. Too true, Jeff.
    "If you wish peace, prepare for war!"

  3. That's interesting. The Luther translation has vultures as well (Geier). I'll have to look up the Züricher version in the library - I don't own it because I'm no fan of modern Bible translations.