Jack of Many Trades

The Phoenix in Biblical Sources

Originally posted: 2012-02-26

First Epistle of Clement

1 Clem. 25:1 Let us consider the marvelous sign which is seen in the regions of the east, that is, in the parts about Arabia.

1 Clem. 25:2 There is a bird, which is named the phoenix. This, being the only one of its kind, liveth for five hundred years; and when it hath now reached the time of its dissolution that it should die, it maketh for itself a coffin of frankincense and myrrh and the other spices, into the which in the fullness of time it entereth, and so it dieth.

1 Clem. 25:3 But, as the flesh rotteth, a certain worm is engendered, which is nurtured from the moisture of the dead creature and putteth forth wings. Then, when it is grown lusty, it taketh up that coffin where are the bones of its parent, and carrying them journeyeth from the country of Arabia even unto Egypt, to the place called the City of the Sun;

1 Clem. 25:4 and in the daytime in the sight of all, flying to the altar of the Sun, it layeth them thereupon; and this done, it setteth forth to return.

1 Clem. 25:5 So the priests examine the registers of the times, and they find that it hath come when the five hundredth year is completed.

1 Clem. 26:1 Do we then think it to be a great and marvelous thing, if the Creator of the universe shall bring about the resurrection of them that have served Him with holiness in the assurance of a good faith, seeing that He showeth to us even by a bird the magnificence of His promise?

from the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians

Job 29:18

[In] the Bible, the Jewish Publication Society’s edition from 1917, we find following wording: “Then I said: 'I shall die with my nest, and I shall multiply my days as the phoenix.'” [...] Rabbi Shelomo Yitzhaki, or Rashi... comments on the word in our verse as follows: “It is a bird whose name is chol, and death has no power on it, because it did not taste the fruit from the tree of knowledge. At the end of thousand years it renews itself, and returns to his youth.” [...] In the Babylonian Talmud, in the tractate Sanhedrin (108b) we hear a phantastic eyewitness account of the days of the Flood, from the mouth of not less an authority then Shem, Noah’s oldest son. Shem relates with great details the matters of feeding the different kind of animals in the ark. At one point he tells about the phoenix: “As for the phoenix, my father discovered it lying in the hold of the ark. "Dost thou require no food?" he asked it. "I saw that thou wast busy," it replied, "so I said to myself, I will give thee no trouble." "May it be (God's) will that thou shouldst not perish," he exclaimed.

from Phoenix on Top of the Palm Tree: multiple interpretations of Job 29:18