What does a turtle symbolize in the bible?
The turtle has always had a place of esteem in culture and spirituality since the early days of civilization. People in ancient times noticed the methodical walk of the reptile, its propensity for long life (turtles can live for centuries), and their habit of carrying their house on their backs. From China to Mesopotamia and the Americas, the turtle has been considered a magical and sacred animal.
The turtle and longevity
Specific turtles can reach a fantastic life expectancy, with specimens of up to two or three centuries. This, coupled with the fact that the turtles molt (and therefore “renew”), guaranteed a place as a symbol of immortality.
Since many cultures were fascinated with the concept of defying death (Gilgamesh in Mesopotamia, Shi Huangdi in China), the turtle came to symbolize that such things were possible. They were a living avatar of immortality.
Turtles and life after death
The turtle’s shell is more than a protective barrier; intricate patterns were not overlooked in ancient societies. In Polynesia, island cultures considered shell patterns as a code that indicated the path that the spirits should travel after death. In Chinese divination, turtle shells were frequently used, and mystics tried to make connections between the shell pattern and constellations. The Chinese also noted that the shape of the turtle had a special meaning: its shell arches like the sky, while its body is flat like the earth. This suggested that the creature was a resident of both the heavens and the earth.
Turtles and fertility
Female turtles produce a large number of eggs. This had a predictable influence on human thinking about turtles as a universal symbol of fertility. Additionally, although turtles are reptiles and therefore breathe air, they spend a great deal of time in the water. Water is one of the oldest fertility symbols since water gives life to the earth and nourishes all living things. The shelled reptile that emerges from the ocean to spawn in the sand is a motif that is repeated in various cultures around the world.
Wisdom and patience
By virtue of their slow movements, turtles have been considered as patient creatures. This concept is celebrated in the popular imagination by the ancient Aesop fable of the hare and the turtle. The turtle is the hero of the story, whose determination contrasts with the unstable, hurried, and frivolous attitude of the hare. Therefore the turtle was anthropomorphically regarded as a wise older man, the opposite of youth madness and impatience.
Turtles like the world
In a great variety of societies, the turtle was presented as the world itself, or the structure that supports it.
In India, this idea of longevity was taken to cosmic levels: religious images show the world being supported by four elephants, who also stand on the shell of a huge turtle. This parallels a Chinese story about creation, in which the turtle is shown as the Atlas-like creature that helps the creative god Pangu sustain the world. Native American stories also tell that the United States was formed from the mud in the shell of a giant sea turtle.
Turtle in the bible (King James Version)
Genesis 15:9 (Read all of Genesis 15)
And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.
Leviticus 1:14 (Read all of Leviticus 1)
And if the burnt sacrifice for his offering to the Lord be of fowls, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves, or of young pigeons.
Leviticus 5:7 (Read all of Leviticus 5)
And if he be not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring for his trespass, which he hath committed, two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, unto the Lord; one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering.
Leviticus 5:11 (Read all of Leviticus 5)
But if he be not able to bring two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, then he that sinned shall bring for his offering the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering; he shall put no oil upon it, neither shall he put any frankincense thereon: for it is a sin offering.
Leviticus 12:6 (Read all of Leviticus 12)
And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest:
Leviticus 12:8 (Read all of Leviticus 12)
And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean.
Leviticus 14:22 (Read all of Leviticus 14)
And two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, such as he is able to get; and the one shall be a sin offering, and the other a burnt offering.
Leviticus 14:30 (Read all of Leviticus 14)
And he shall offer the one of the turtledoves, or of the young pigeons, such as he can get;
Leviticus 15:14 (Read all of Leviticus 15)
And on the eighth day he shall take to him two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, and come before the Lord unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and give them unto the priest:
Leviticus 15:29 (Read all of Leviticus 15)
And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
Numbers 6:10 (Read all of Numbers 6)
And on the eighth day he shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons, to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation:
Psalm 74:19 (Read all of Psalm 74)
O deliver not the soul of thy turtledove unto the multitude of the wicked: forget not the congregation of thy poor for ever.
Song of Solomon 2:12 (Read all of Song of Solomon 2)
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
Jeremiah 8:7 (Read all of Jeremiah 8)
Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the Lord.
Luke 2:24 (Read all of Luke 2)
And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.