I am reading in the book of Isaiah at chapter 13 verse 21 in the King James Bible , and I notice in this bible, and in other English bible translations, that owls and jackals are commonly mentioned.

But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there;
    and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures;
and owls shall dwell there,
     and satyrs [NKJV: wild goats] shall dance there.

The translation in the Greek Septuagint uses a word meaning “sirens" who were mythological creatures instead of owls/jackals. See page 30 here.

But wild animals will rest there,
     and the houses will be filled with noise;
there sirens will rest,
     and there demons will dance. (NETS)

I am not a Greek or Hebrew scholar, so I am finding it difficult to follow what is written about the "sirens", but it does intrigue me that they are mentioned in the Septuagint in six verses, including three times in Isaiah (13:21, 34:13, 43:20), yet English translations of the Hebrew use "jackals" or "wild goats".

Interestingly, I have found in various internet searches that the sirens became synonymous with mermaids down through the ages, and that some churches in the UK as well as castles have carvings of the sirens (which are mermaids) in various places such as the church roof and pews.

How did the notion of mythological/supernatural creatures enter the text of Isaiah 13?

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    they are mentioned in the Septuagint in six verses, and they are not mentioned in the English translations. - ? - NETS (“sirens”), Brenton (“monsters”). Looks like there’s some interesting stuff to ponder about how the LXX translator(s) got there, though...is that the question?
    – Susan
    Aug 25, 2015 at 15:30
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    Sorry, just in case this isn’t clear: the English translations you refer to are (mostly) from the Hebrew Masoretic text. The LXX is different in many places, for many different reasons, all of which are interesting. But if you want English that corresponds to the LXX, go for one of the above.
    – Susan
    Aug 25, 2015 at 15:34
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    I attempted; feel free to re-revise if it's not as you intended. (Verse 22 [NETS: donkey-centaurs vs KJV: hyenas] is seemingly in kind and possibly relevant, but it seemed like too much text for one question.)
    – Susan
    Aug 25, 2015 at 16:14
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    The septuagint includes a lot of Greek/Persian mythological concepts not found in the original Hebrew. The septuagint was written as an intro to Judaism for Helenistic Jews who were familiar with Greek/Persian mythology, but who did not read Hebrew. After all, it was commissioned by the helenistic king of Egypt, to add another book to his famed alexandria library.
    – Cynthia
    Aug 26, 2015 at 10:28
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    This is not an answer but there is a mistake in the question. The Hebrew is not being translated as "jackals" or "wild goats," it is being translated as "ostriches" or "owls." בְנ֣וֹת יַֽעֲנָ֑ה, the term used in the verses in Isaiah above, is the plural of בַּ֣ת יַּעֲנָ֔ה, one of the non-kosher birds listed in Leviticus 11:16. The word being translated as wild goats is שְׂעִירִ֖ים (which just means "goats" the wild part comes from the context). The word being translated as jackals is תַּנִּ֖ים. Dec 23, 2015 at 14:19

9 Answers 9


Subsequent to the publication of Greek Myths and Christian Mystery, referenced by another answer, Manolis Papoutsakis made an ingenious hypothesis that may finally solve the mystery as to how the odd translation arose.

In his paper, "Ostriches into Sirens: Towards an Understanding of a Septuagint Crux" (Journal of Jewish Studies, Vol. LV, No. 1, Spring 2004), he proposes that the usage of derives from paronomasia - intentional word play whereby the Aramaic word for Ostrich is associated with Naamah from Genesis 4. Below is a summary of his argument.


The mystery of how the Greek Σειρνε ("Sirens") entered into the Septuagint begins in an unlikely place - Genesis 4:19-22 (ESV):

And Lamech took two wives. The name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah also bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.

This passage outlines some of the decedents of Cain. At first glance, it does not seem to offer even the slightest clue as the where the Sirens came from. However, in the Targums (authorized Aramaic paraphrases of the Torah read in synagogues) something very interesting happens: three of the four extant Targums expand the account, associating Naamah with singing.

  • Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: (all translations throughout are by Papoutsakis)

And the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah; she was the mistress of qinin and songs.

  • Fragment Targum:

And the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah; she was the creator of qinin and songs

  • Targum Neofiti:

And the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah, the inventor of qinin and songs

The precise meaning of qinin is unclear, but is some sort of music. Based on the Peshitta (which has the same expansion of the verse) use of ܩܝܬܪܐ, Papoutsakis concludes the word has a neutral or positive connotation. Interestingly, in the Syriac version of Physiologus ܩܝܬܪܐ is used to describe the song of the Sirens.

Based on the Targum evidence, it is thus likely that there was a long-standing tradition that associated Naamah with musical skill and singing. This conclusion is also supported by Bereshit Rabbah 23:22:

And the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah. R. Abba b. Kahana said: Naamah was Noah’s wife; and why was she called Naamah? Because her deeds were pleasing. The Rabbis said: Naamah was a woman of a different stamp, for the name denotes that she sang to the timbrel in honour of idolatry

Furthermore, previous research (B. A. Pearson, "The Figure of Norea in Gnostic Literature" and other articles) was able to equate Naamah with Norea, a figure of great beauty found in various apocryphal writings.

As such it is not hard to see how Naamah, a figure of great beauty and musical talent who descended from the evil Cain, could become associated with the Greek idea of a Siren, an evil figure of great beauty and musical prowess.


But how does this get us any closer to understanding the use of Σειρνε in the Septuagint? The word does not substitute for Naamah in the Septuagint, after all. The key lies in realizing that the Aramaic words for ostrich and Naamah are homophones (נעמא).

To show the relevance of this observation, Papoutsakis demonstrates that the Septuagint translators where very familiar with Aramaic. For example, he cites Aramaicisms found is the translation of Isaiah. Thus, the translators read Isaiah 13:21 as an instance of paronomasia. Since they couldn't convey the dual meaning of ostrich/alluring musician present in the contemporary (Aramaic) understanding of the word, they chose to go with the alluring aspect, translating it as Sirens. (The Greek translation of Isaiah is pretty "loose" in general, preferring to convey ideas instead of precise wording.)

This hypothesis directly addresses three of the six cases of Σειρνε - Isaiah 13:21, Jeremiah 27:39, and Micah 1:8 - where it corresponds with the בנות יענה of the unpointed Masoretic text (the "owls" of the OP, but English translations vary; "ostriches" in this answer, following Papoutsakis).

Textual corruption

In the remaining three cases (Isaiah 34:13 and 43:20, and Job 30:29), Σειρνε corresponds instead to תנים (the "jackals" of the OP, but again translation vary). Thus, Papoutsakis must offer an explanation for the discrepancy.

In the case of the two remaining Isaiah passages, the answer is straightforward. According to previous textual analysis, the Greek Isaiah appears to have been developed in (at least) two stages - an initial translation by one person and then a subsequent revision by one or more other translators. Papoutsakis proposes then that the original translator translated all three instances of בנות יענה as Σειρνε. The subsequent reviser, not understanding the association derived from Aramaic, thought the original translator had mistranslated בנות יענה as (whatever Greek originally appeared for תנים) and "fixed" the mistake.

The Job passage follows the same pattern (i.e. both בנות יענה and תנים appear in close association in the passage). Papoutsakis does not explicitly state how this passage came to be, instead simply saying it "agrees with the revised Isaiah passages." I suppose there are two options - 1) it followed the same translator, reviser pattern, or 2) the translator of Job used the revised Isaiah as a guide since he wasn't quite sure what the original Hebrew meant. (Animal names are notoriously difficult to translate accurately.)

Further evidence

To support his hypothesis, Papoutsakis notes that the context of Isaiah 34:13–14 provides evidence that the בנות יענה -> Σειρνε is the original reading in the Greek Isaiah. Specifically, this passage also contains the hapax legomenon לילית. This word appears to be some sort of nocturnal animal, but the Septuagint translates it as ονοκενταυροι, another mythical creature. Transliterated, the Hebrew word is "Lilith".

The Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (II Baruch) provides strong evidence for Papoutsakis' reconstruction:

I will summon the Sirens from the sea; And you, Liliths, come from the desert, And (you), demons and jackals, from the forests:

The language here closely mirrors Isaiah 34:13-14, suggesting a literary dependence (or inspiration), but note that Sirens is standing in for ostriches, not jackals. Apparently, the author of Apocalypse of Baruch knew Isaiah 34 with Sirens and jackals, not ostriches and jackals. (Note: Papoutsakis says literary dependence on the Septuagint is not necessary for his point - this could derive from the Hebrew/Aramaic directly under the same understanding of ostrich=Naamah=Siren word play, thus providing independent evidence of the tradition. Either way, II Baruch provides strong evidence for his reconstruction of Isaiah 34:13-14.)

Furthermore, something very interesting happens in later writing: Naamah becomes associated with a new figure named Lilith. For example, in the Zohar:

There was a certain male who came into the world from the spirit of the side of Cain, and they called him Tubal-cain. And a certain female emerged with him, and human beings go astray after her, and she was called Naamah... And Naamah makes a roaring noise and cleaves to her side, and she still survives. And her dwelling is among the breakers of the great sea, and she goes out and makes sport with men, warming herself on them in dreams with human desire, and cleaving to them... The sons that she bears from mortal men present themselves to the females among mankind and they become pregnant by them and bear spirits. And they all go to ancient Lilith and she rears them.

In addition to the association between Lilith and Naamah, note that the description of Naamah sounds a lot like a Siren.


Prior to the translation of the Septuagint, a tradition had developed that associated Naamah with roughly the same attributes ascribed to Sirens - a sinister nature, musical/singing skill, and physical beauty. Contemporary with the translation, there was an Aramaic association with ostriches and Naamah based on paronomasia. The original Septuagint translators read the passages about ostriches as having this same double meaning - both the physical bird and the attributes of Naamah. They made a choice to capture the alluring musician meaning in their translation rather than the animal meaning, causing Siren to enter the text. The exceptions to this hypothesis (i.e. translations of "jackal") are explained by a reviser not understanding the word play and "fixing" the apparent error.


This is a fantastic question, but one that appears to have no clear answer at this time. I've done some digging around and though I could not find an exact answer, I found some illuminating information that may help your or others in your research.

Greek Myths and Christian Mystery by Hugo Rahner provides some significant insight. Beginning on page 357, he writes:

Now when we examine the way in which Christian interpretation of the Siren symbolism developed, we find a process at work which we had already noted in the cases of the mandrake and the willow. The reason why the symbolism developed around these figures for so long a period of time to be a living influence was that, when reading the Scriptures in his own tongue, the Greek Christian could find certain words there which acted as entry ports through which the imagery of profane mythology merged with the Christian interpretation of the Bible.

The Alexandrine translators who produced the Septuagint found six places in the ancient Hebrew books where there was mention of mysterious beasts referred to as tannîm and benôt ya’anâh, terms which mean literally “jackals” or “hen ostriches”. They render these words by the Greek Σειρῆνες (Sirens). What inspired this gross but most interesting mistranslation in the minds of these Hellenistic translators is a mystery which as hitherto remained unsolved. The result, however, is plain enough: for over a thousand years Greek Christians read the words “Sirens” in the passages concerned, and the association of ideas connected with the mythical beings, so universally familiar in the folk-lore of antiquity, was sufficiently strong to arouse in the Christian Greek much the same horror that these deadly creatures had inspired in pagan forerunners and contemporaries.

I propose to examine certain passages of Scripture, and in doing so to use a translation that follows the Greek wording which here differs sharply from the Latin one of Jerome; for with one exception all these passages in Jerome avoid the Greek mistranslation, so that the Bible scarcely brought the Roman Christian into direct contact with the Siren myth at all.

In the Book of Job, the central character, utterly forsaken by God, utters his heart-breaking lament over his own spiritual loneliness:

I am a brother to sirens and a companion of ostriches. My skin is black and falleth from me and my bones are burned with heat. Job, 30. 29-30: αδελφος γέγονα σειρηνων.

Obviously sirens are here mysterious creatures of the desert, into which the man who had been forsaken by God feels himself to have been thrust. This is even clearer in the wonderful verses of Isaiah in which the eerie loneliness of Babylon is depicted after its conquest by the Medes:

Now beasts make their homes there and an empty echo is heard in the houses. Sirens have their habitation there and demons dance. Ass-centaurs dwell there and hedgehogs breed in the halls. Isaiah 13. 21, 22: χαί αναπαύονται έχει σειρήνες.

The last verse is retranslated by Jerome: “And howls answer each other through the halls and sirens dwell in the temple of pleasure- Et sirenes in delubris voluptatis”. This is the only passage in which the Latin Christian heard of Sirens in his Bible, and Jerome promptly proceeds to give his own commentary on the passage in which he describes the demonic character of these beings, doing so wholly in the spirit of classical mythology: “By sweet and yet death-bringing song (dulci et mortifero carmine) they snatch the souls into the abyss so that with the raging of the shipwreck they may be devoured by dogs and wolves.”

Rahner's book is definitely worth checking out. As of right now (Dec 2015) most of the relevant pages can be viewed for free on Google Books.

There is one other interesting passage that is of particular interest here. Beginning on page 359, he says:

Such were the siren symbols with which the Greek Christian could re-acquaint himself from his Bible, and there was little left here of the Sirens of Homer. The sirens of Holy Scripture are nocturnal, demonic bird figures that live in the desert, and it is interesting to note how such a writer as Cyril of Alexandria conceives the sirens to be a kind of night-owl, while the exegetes who follow him identify them with the king fisher, halcyon, or again with owls, and this because of the latter’s melancholy song.

Yet there is still one connecting link with Homer: for the Biblical sirens are nocturnal and demonic beings, and it was held, wholly the spirit of the original myth— that the purpose of Scripture was in this case to express the fact that these God-forsaken places had been delivered over to the power of the demons. “It is certain demons, loathsome and savage spirits” that live there, says Eusebius, and immediately he remembers the Greek myth: “For the Greeks say that the Sirens are sweet-singing but deceptive creatures.” Even Cyril, who, as we saw, tends to prefer an objective interpretation as of a nocturnal animal, is too much of a Greek to wholly escape the memory of his poets. In his commentary on Micah he writes: "The Greeks and those who follow them give the name 'Siren' to spirits who are able to sing most sweetly and so, as by magic, get those who hear them into their power." And he interprets the whole passage of Satan and his demon hosts.

The blog Archive Exile Voices also explores the place of Sirens in the Bible. It draws heavily from Rahner's book, while working closely with primary sources including the Bible and the Odyssey. It also includes numerous links to posts on the Perseus Project for Latin and Greek morphology in order to further explore the translation. I recommend filtering the posts on this blog by the mythology tag to find the most relevant ones. Other useful tags include "Sirens," "Bible," and "(Mis)translation."

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Now if you put Isaiah 13:21,34:13,43:20 together with with Job 30:29, Micah 1:8, Jeremiah 50;39 you discover that there are different types of demons. The Satyr's ( hairy demons goats? ), Liliths, and daughters of the Sirens ( translated owls or ostriges). All of these demons are different types. Just a Enoch 19 tells us. That they would have different kinds of forms. That is why the Locusts in Revelation are so terrifying. Anyways after studying Jeremiah and Isaiah closely youll notice that when God smites the angels ( Satan's rebellion ) during the Tribulation period that heaven is rolled up as a scroll. This is clearly seen in Revelation and Isaiah. Soon after the Sirens, Satyr's,Lilith, and the demonss are cast into Babylon which in Revelation when it is burnt it continues to burn forever.


If you read the 1st Book of Enoch it says that God said He was making the women that had sex with the angels and bore their hybrid children sirens. That's where that term first occurs.

1 Enoch 29:2 (sacred-texts.com)

And the women also of the angels who went astray shall become sirens.

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  • We can't say for sure that it indeed originated there, but we can say that it appeared their much earlier or even "first" in what Jewish literature we have access to today.
    – Jesse
    Dec 8, 2022 at 23:42

I don't know how long ago this was written and I'veve not read through everyone's replies but i would like to add read the Book of Enoch, that is 1 Enoch.

He explains in there who the sirens are. They are the women who went astray with the angels and produced Giants as their offspring who are known as unclean spirits who are not to receive judgement until the final day, the day of judgement. They wonder the earth, possessing,oppressing,destroying, attacking man.

1 Enoch 29:2 (sacred-texts.com)

And the women also of the angels who went astray shall become sirens.

These are the spirits the Lord Jesus and his disciples cast out. Matthew 8:29 What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” Hope this helps. The book of Enoch that is 1 Enoch was found in the Qumran caves with other old testament scriptures.


Very interesting, as this is what I have been trying to find an answer for?: How did the human women who had been the wives of the Fallen angels in Pre-Flood times become Sirens? Sirens were said to be the mothers of the mermaids. I don't know, but I was thinking that the Fallen Angels they themselves could escape at the time of the Great Flood, as they are eternal beings and dimensional shape-shifters. What about their human wives or their descendant daughters close to the Great Flood. If the Fallen angels were as smart as I think they were in changing the DNA of creatures and able to make hybrid creatures like Chimeras, is it just possible that they altered their wives ,who ended up being the Sirens, who some claim were bird-like chimeras and yet others say they were the mothers of the mermaids. What if the Fallen Angels knew that the Great Flood was coming. The Flood only affected the creatures on the land, and in the air - however the sea creatures did not die at the time of the Great Flood. That does finally happen at the Wrath of God according to Revelation 16 'All creatures that were in the sea and had life died'. This could explain why so many mermaids have been spotted in the seas and that they are very dangerous, and beguiling to man. Perhaps ancient mythological so-called fables had some truth to them after all?

  • This is a very interesting topic indeed, and hopefully we can find some answers to the enigma of the SIRENS. The fact that they are mentioned in the Bible many times and in the Book of Enoch and other books shows that there is validity to this topic. Feb 5 at 16:52
  • These are interesting but highly speculative ideas. I believe that most of these have far more mundane sources such as in the answer by ThaddeusB above. Another example would be to the nine instances of unicorns in the Bible. These were tracked down to the LXX translators inability to identify the animal named re'em in Hebrew, choosing instead to identify re'em with sensational descriptions of Rhinoceros unicornis, which is the Indian rhino. There is now good scholarship indicating that the "unicorn" references in the Bible are actually to the now-extinct aurochs (Bos primigenius).
    – Dieter
    Feb 5 at 18:32
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    @ Stephen N Strutt - The discourse on this question contains way too much speculation and misinformation to be able to answer in a meaningful way. It contains much mythology that goes beyond Biblical Hermeneutics exegesis. Stick to notable biblical commentaries, and reasonable interpretations will follow. Keep studying the Bible; it's great for the soul!
    – ray grant
    Feb 5 at 20:59

Chronological Context The time when the Septuagint (LXX) and the Apocrapha books and Pseudepigrapha and rabbinical Targums were written was during the vast influence of the Greek civilization (with a smathering of Persian cultic literature). No doubt the folk lore and the mythology of the Greeks played a part in their translations, and definition of words in particular.

It is reasonable to conclude that the original intent of the Ancient Hebrew writers of the Law, Prophets, and Writings was different or at least is obscure to the modern scholars. The ancient Hebrew words often do not have an exact (or remote) equivalence in other languages, especially if those languages are thousands of year later in history. So caution must be a constant companion in assigning meanings to words translated later, such as "sirens, centaurs, monsters, or satyrs, et al."

ThaddeuB and serogers02 have adequately shown how trans-cultural translations could easily result in the use of words that may or may not reflect the original manuscripts of the Hebrews. (The use of homophones and paronomsasia explained well.) They did indeed answer the posted question of "how"!

Their etymology is interesting...but still, those trans-cultural books of old may have distracted readers from the inspired message of God and His prophets. The central message of God and His Christ far exceed our curiosity about mythological creatures!

[Note: In this discussion, do recall that Jesus taught that angels do not marry (copulate?). (Mark 12:25, Luke 20:34-36) That co-habitation resulting in monstrosities is highly unlikely...regardless of Targums and Apocrapha scenarios and traditions.]


First, I am a Bible believing christian. I also use and believe the Book of Enoch to be scripture as asserted to in Matthew 22:29-30, Jude 1:14-16 and countless other verses. With that said. Namaah seems to of seduced the Watchers of Enoch 6 / Genesis 6. We are told of what became of the male giants opn death. Enoch 15 Enoch tells Azazel the fallen Watcher ( Leviticus 16 ) that the sons of the giants would become demons after death.but what of the women who for had intercourse with the angels? Enoch 19:2 says they became Sirens. When Jesus comes back and judges the earth the Sirens weep as seen Enoch 96:2.


I read somewhere that in order for these women to cope with bearing the offspring of the fallen angels they themselves were subjected to transformation which will explain their hybrid look, half bird half human, there are just too many depictions of the similar looking siren in antiquity with most famous of all the Sumerian goddess Inana

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