The other day at Lander College for Women, a bird flew into the building. We were advised to close the door of the library to prevent the bird from flying in during the window of time it took to catch and release the bird into freedom. We did not want our visitor, the bird dubbed Larry, to build a nest in our books! The excitement of the “bird alert” reminded me of the important metaphor that birds serve in various texts.
For a reference question at LCW, we once investigated bird imagery in the Bible. Birds are referenced at least 55 times in the Bible. Thankfully, we did not have to find and count each reference by hand! This number can be found from in reference book known as a concordance. Concordances are an alphabetical list all permutations of various words and phrases in any particular work. Concordances are most popular with biblical scholars, but they also exist for the works of Shakespeare and many other frequently-studied historical and literary works. A subject search for concordances in the Touro library catalog reveals 65 titles, from the works of Aristophanes to Wordsworth.
At LCW we have at least 5 concordances, including John Bartlett’s 1894 Concordance to the works of Shakesspeare [sic] plus several Hebrew-language biblical concordances. Concordances work like indexes but are much more exhaustive. They reference common and/or important words and show their permutations in a work. A favorite reference index of mine is the Asplekaria,and online resource that references in alphabetical order Rabbinic Ideas, Concepts, and legal categories.
Our LCW patron researching birds in the Bible was delighted to find such references as that from the book of Job: “Ask, please, . . . the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of God has done this?”—Job 12:7, 9. The dove is a sign of peace in the Noah flood account, and in Song of Songs the voice of the turtledove is heard, while the eagle represents might, majesty, and strength as when G-d promises in Exodus, “on eagles wings I will carry you to the Land of Israel,” and on Solomon’s throne were a lion, ox, and eagle! In Kings, Elijah is sustained (ridlingly) in the wilderness by ravens [1 Kings 17:4], while in the desert, the children of Israel are fed miraculously by quail that are so tired from flying that the Israelites could just pick them up where they landed.
Concordances allow scholars or interested readers to make connections and explore themes that might exist in a work. They are just one kind of specialized reference work that can make research much more efficient.
Thus perhaps we can learn from our library visitor, the small bird that flew into the LCW, both about this useful tool and from the allusions, symbolism, and indeed lessons in the artistic representations of birds in the bible and a variety of other texts.
Contributed by: David Levy, Librarian, Lander College for Women