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Genesis 1:20-23 - DAY 5
Creation of Fish and Birds

Hebrew Text

[pwuy [wuw hyj vpn xrv <ymh wxrvy - Let the water swarm with living creatures, and birds

On day five fish and birds are created. Why this combination of fish and birds? In the ANE fish and birds where associated together because they are seen together. Large flocks of birds are seen near water, or marshes. Van Dijk states, "Everything that lives in water arises form water" (Clifford 1994, 33). Psalm 8:9 also puts fish and birds together. Dillmann states, "Just as the waters and heaven were there before the dry land, so too the living creatures which fill it were created" (Westermann, 136). They may have thought birds were from the heavenly ocean.

The phrase hyj vpn, "living soul" is used to distinguish between plant life and animal life (Wevers, 10). There seems to be two classes of fish, large and small. This is the second time that arb is used. It is used in the creation of the large sea monsters, /ynt. In the ANE they were considered gods, and had to be defeated.

In the OT /ynt can mean "snake" (Exodus 7:9), crocodile (Ezekiel 29:3), or another large animal (Jeremiah 51:34). It is also used in parallel with Leviathan.

The birds are said to fly across the sky under the firmament. The birds do not fly "in" the firmament because the firmament was considered solid. Wenham notes, "This is one of the indications in the narrative that it is written from the perspective of a human observer" (1987, 24).  

Sumerian Texts

In the Sumerian text Bird and Fish from the Ur III period (2064-1955 BC) it tells of creation by the god Enki. It says:

[Father] Enki tied up the marshes, growing there reeds young and old,
[In—] ponds and large lakes he made birds and fishes teem;
When he had fashioned Bird and Fish,
He filled canebrake and marsh with Fish and Bird,
Selected their stations
And made them acquainted with their rules.
Upon that time Fish laid its eggs in the swamp;
Bird built its nest in an opening of the thicket (COS 1997, 581; Clifford 1994, 38-39).

In the Disputation Between Summer and Winter it says, "The birds of heaven build their nests all over. The fish of the swamp lay their eggs in the reed thickets" (COs, 585).  

Akkadian Texts

In the story of Atra-Hasis birds and fish are grouped together. It says, "I will rain down upon you here An abundance of birds, a profusion of fish" (Lambert & Millard 1969, 89; line 34-5). Today we say it is raining cats and dogs. Back then they said it raining birds and fishes. It may be because they were in the heavenly and earthly oceans.  

Ugaritic Texts

The text Dawn and Dusk (KTU 1.87) says, "(One) lip to the earth, (the other) lip to the heavens, Into their mouths enter the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea." (COS, 282). Here Dawn and Dusk are pictured as a mouth at the horizon that opens up to let the fish and birds enter in. Birds and fish are associated together. Birds from the heavenly ocean and fish from the earthly ocean that meet at the horizon.  

Egyptian Literature

From the Book of Nut the first line says, "The uniform darkness, ocean of the gods, the place from which birds come" (COS, 5). Here birds are said to come from the heavenly ocean.

The Hymn to Amon-Re states, "Who made that (on which) the fish in the river may live, And the birds soaring in the sky" (ANET, 366; vi.5; COs, 39).

In the Instructions of Merikare it groups the fish and fowl together. It says, "Fowl and fish to feed them (mankind)" (COs, 65).

In the Hymn to Amon-Re it says, "Who made that on which the fish live [in] the river, And the birds flying through heaven" (COs, 39).

In the Prophecies of Neferti it says, "Strange birds will breed in the marshes of the Delta—Those fish ponds (where there were) those who clean fish, Overflowing with fish and fowl" (COs, 108). The "strange birds" seems to refer to foreign Asiatic tribes that settle in the Delta in the summer.  

LXX Text

The Greek seems to understand verse 20 as a command for the waters to spawn fish and birds which seems to be the correct way to take it in the ANE (Westermann, 136).

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