A couple of commentaries mention that scholars dispute that Elijah was fed by ravens and instead think the word in 1 Kings 17:4-6 ought to be translated black arabs or perhaps "Orbites, i.e., inhabitants of Orbo." I'm also told though:

In support of the received rendering is the very powerful consideration, that it is the interpretation of all the versions (except the Arabic) and of Josephus, who, beyond all question, represented the belief current in his own time (Ant. viii. 13. 2).

1 Kings. 1909 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.). The Pulpit Commentary (382). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

Is there any merit to translating this as something other than ravens? Or is it simply an attempt to accommodate the story to something consider more historically plausible (i.e. non-miraculous)? Or perhaps an incredulity that someone so zealous as Elijah would eat what unclean birds brought him?

  • 1
    Crows are extraordinarily intelligent and have been known to bring gifts to humans: youtube.com/watch?v=BBQf15c23-g youtube.com/watch?v=Y04ATmo-KFg
    – Ruminator
    Mar 24, 2018 at 19:29
  • 1
    I suppose Noah also sent an Arab out of the window of the ark? Jun 7, 2018 at 18:35
  • 1
    @Luke Sawczak if we leave context aside, in Genesis it written הערב. If it was something like הערבי it was worth comment... So no. It can't be something else in this story.
    – A. Meshu
    Jun 9, 2018 at 10:42
  • @A.Meshu Indeed - I'm just teasing, more regarding the role of animals than the Hebrew itself :) Jun 9, 2018 at 13:17
  • The uncleanness of the ravens is linked to eating them or to touch their dead body. Nothing in the Mosaic Law links the carrying of objects by ravens to uncleanness. Dec 19, 2022 at 7:58

9 Answers 9


This is an ancient question... The rabbis of the Talmud [BT Hullin 5a] discuss both opinions:

What is meant by ‘the ravens’ ['orevim]? Ravina said: It means actual ravens. R. Ada ben Manyomi said to him: "Could it not mean two men whose names were Orev?" He replied, "How could it have happened that both were named Orev?" "But perhaps they were so named after the town in which they lived?"... "If so, the verse should read Orebites ['orevi'im]."

A similar back-and-forth is found in Genesis Rabba 33:5 [a compilation of rabbinic commentary, probably 5th-6th century CE].

There is no philological basis for translating it as anything but "ravens". The hesitation is, as you noted, that ravens are unclean scavengers and thus perhaps unfit (not, in my opinion, a particularly strong argument), and also that having humans feed Elijah here makes a nice parallel to the widow of Sarephath who feeds him a few verses later. But in my opinion it's a stretch.


It is not uncommon for God to use animals to perform tasks in the Tanakh/Old Testament, so this would not be an anomaly. At the same time, ancient Near East (ANE) hospitality makes 'Arabs' a possibility (it is plausible).

Concerning the issue of ritual impurity, Elijah was out in the wilderness, nowhere near the temple nor other Jews. Who cares if he became ritually impure? Other prophets cooked food on dung (Ezekiel) and married hookers (Hosea). This is still a weak argument.

But modern scholars generally agree with 'ravens' as the best translation. "It is now generally admitted that הָעֹרְבִים does not mean either Arabs or Orebites (the inhabitants of an imaginary city named Oreb), but ravens."1 "The word orev likely refers to the short-tailed black species corvus rhipidurus that nests around the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley."2 Not to mention, the LXX also translates this as 'ravens.'

So while it's possible that it was Arabs who fed Elijah, it is unlikely.


1 Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 1 Ki 17:2–9.

2 John D. Barry, Michael R. Grigoni, Michael S. Heiser et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012), 1 Ki 17:4.

  • Dan I think you may be referring to 'Ezekiel' cooking on dung (Ezekiel 4), not Isaiah, see my edit.
    – bach
    Jun 7, 2018 at 13:35

According to Strongs 06158 on the eight other occasions this word is used it definitely has a connection to bird life. cf Gen 8:7; Lev 11:15; Deut 14:14; Job 38:14; Ps 147:9; Pro 30:17; So 5:11; Is 34:11. That makes me believe it was ravens.

  • 2
    The problem is that the consonantal text allows for the reading of Strong's 6163 "Arab" instead of raven
    – b a
    Mar 24, 2018 at 21:10

Rabbi Joseph Kara makes a novel suggestion in his commentary to 1 Kings 17:4 (available at this link in Hebrew), that these were people from the nearby town of Oreb (he understands that it is situated near the Jordan river, based on Judges 7:25, see additional commentaries there for their takes on the location of the "Rock of Oreb"). Therefore, there would be merit to such a translation being that the city of Oreb was geographically close.

  • My emphasis is specifically that he proves that this town was close, not just a theoretical position that it could be that it was simply named after their town.
    – user22655
    Mar 25, 2018 at 17:54

Just some food for thought. I am convinced that it was people that brought Elijah food, but I will not rule out that if God so ordered birds to bring Elijah food, it was so. I want to add my observations that lead me to believe what I do. First, We are all aware of the fact that there is strong proability that things were added, changed or removed by those who either copied or translated original texts. We also know that there were ancient Hebrew words were that were so similar in spelling to others and that often, just the slightest error in copying could easily result in the wrong word being spelled. Since all humans are flawed and do make mistakes, this has to be considered. There are a number of factors that could cause a copyist to make a mistake, headache, physically ill, lighting, distraction, stress, interruptions, eyesight, personal interpretation etc. The problem is if one scribe were to get a word wrong, and if not caught, his work, with an incorrect word in place, would later be copied by others. I am not aware of one manuscript, seperated by dozens or hundreds of years, being an exact duplicate of earlier manuscripts. Second, there are other disputed words that have been debated over for hundreds of years with no agreement between scholars and linguistics. For Example, was Isaiah writting about a virgin or young girl in Isa 7:14? Was Rahab a prostitute or an inn keeper?

Third, Scripture reads that the ravens brought bread and meat in the morning and in the evening. It is possible that the ravens could have hunted small animals to bring Elijah meat, but where would they obtain bread? Ravens would not have been able to make bread, which means that they would have had to swoop down on people and snatch bread. If the ravens located in that geographical area were in the habit of stealing food from people, that those people would have protected their food from being snatched by ravens. While ravens do hunt, they also eat carrion. Fourth, by the phrasing of the words and real life, it is clear to see that the food brought was prepared food, ready to eat. There is no mention of Elijah preparing the meat brought to him, or of him preparing and baking bread. In the morning and evening sounds a lot like a somewhat scheduled time, based on the practice of mankind throughout history of normally preparing food at the same times every day.

Fourth, God said He commanded the ravens to feed Elijah. There are no other verses in the Old Testament about God "commanding" animals. Every time God "comnandes" it is always to people. When it came to nature, it is always that God either caused an event to happen or He sent it.

Fifth, IKings 17:8-9, God commanded a widow to feed Elijah. Again, Elijah does not have to prepare his food. In 1Kings 19:5-6, we see an angel prepares a cake for Elijah to eat and provides water for Elijah to eat. As I previously stated, I am not going to rule out that God used the birds known as ravens to feed Elijah, but to me, this wouldn't make sense. When one studied Scripture, one has to compare Scripture with Scripture and one has to try and figure out how any event in Scripture ties in with the whole of Scripture.

  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Mar 21, 2022 at 16:00
  • See Ravens Stealing from Costco Customers in Alaska where ravens take a filet mignon and some short ribs. Mar 21, 2022 at 16:21

Although i upvoted the accepted answer i must say that without diacritial marks ( Nikud ) והערבים as "...and the Arabs..." can be proper read.

Even if few in the past mention this possibility - this kind of theological thinking welcomes peace and love and not hate to the other.


In the Strong's Concordance under the Hebrew meanings there is an example that a meaning for raven's could be Midianites, which makes a whole lot more sense than the birds flying to him every day with something. This also is an example of how GOD takes care of HIS children's needs. GOD Bless All.


The Arabs fed Elijah; "without diacritical marks והערבים "...and the Arabs..." can be properly read." "The consonantal text allows for the reading of Strong's 6163 "Arab" instead of raven", indeed the Hebrew alphabet has no vowel letters. We can find Arabs (in plural) 5 times in the Old Testament and it's written with the same letters (consonants) as ravens. II Chronicles 17:11, II Chronicles 21:16, II Chron. 22:1, II Chron. 26:7 and Nehemiah 4:7. II Chro. 21:16: ויער יהוה על־יהורם את רוח הפלשׁתים .והערבים אשׁר על־יד כושׁים׃

  • Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Dec 19, 2022 at 3:49

Another possible and logical kind of messenger that G-D might have sent to aid Elijah could have been nomads. The phonetics and spelling are similar.

  • 1
    Thanks for your post and welcome to the forum, Yoseph. Answers need to be supported by evidence. In this case, you would need to give examples where nomads were clearly meant in the text or even in historical writings outside the Bible. However, your post would be gratefully accepted in the Comment area. Perhaps someone might be able to find the evidence needed to make the connection to the word, nomads. I also edited your thought to make your meaning clearer in English. Best wishes,
    – Dieter
    Jun 9, 2018 at 0:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.