On which day did God create turkeys?

This evening’s pre-Christmas Carol Service at Meadgate Church, Great Baddow featured brilliant imaginative re-tellings of Bible stories, starting with Genesis 1 and continuing through the traditional Christmas passages to the end of Revelation.

A male wild turkeyOne small feature of the first reading caught my attention. The fifth day of creation was illustrated by a vivid description of the sounds made by birds created then. But “gobbling”, presumably intended to be the sound of newly created turkeys, was among the sounds heard on the sixth day.

So on which day of creation did God create turkeys, and other flightless birds? Was it on the fifth day, along with “every winged bird” (Genesis 1:21), or on the sixth day, along with “the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals” (1:24, NIV)?

Well, turkeys have wings, so it sounds as if they should be included in day 5. But God’s purpose on that day was to “let birds fly above the earth” (1:20), which turkeys don’t do, and on day 6 it was to fill the earth with land creatures (1:24), which include turkeys.

No doubt evolutionary biologists will say that flightless turkeys are descended from birds which could fly, and so should be classified among the day 5 creations – although of course those biologists could accept the six days of creation only as symbolic. But the ancient Hebrews who wrote Genesis did not use modern biological classifications.

The issue becomes even more complicated with geese. Our modern western domesticated geese cannot fly, but they have been bred by humans, over perhaps the past 4000 years, from wild greylag geese which can fly. So I suppose they were created on the fifth day.

Perhaps the real point here is that the we should not press the distinctions which the biblical authors made, or to take them as literal chronology. The authors probably weren’t interested so much in telling exactly where turkeys fitted into their time line as in telling a beautiful poetic story. This evening’s imaginative re-telling may have come close to that original purpose – and by questioning its details, as I am in this post, I am, I suppose, guilty of ruining poetry.

But for turkeys, and geese, perhaps the more pressing issue just at the moment is not the day of their beginning but whether their end will come on the fifth or sixth day of this coming week.

9 thoughts on “On which day did God create turkeys?

  1. I realise that in North America the most dangerous season for turkeys has come and gone – we enjoyed partaking of their meat last month. So my last sentence of this post is more relevant to here in the UK, where the traditional “turkey day” is next Sunday, Christmas Day.

  2. I have been told, off-line and confirmed by Wikipedia, that in fact North American wild turkeys can fly, not long distances like wild geese but enough to qualify as day 5 winged birds. It is here in Europe, where we have only have domesticated turkeys, that we assume no turkeys can fly. So it seems turkeys and geese are in the same boat, or cooking pot, here.

    They are also in the same boat as Kierkegaard’s domesticated ducks.

  3. In a response to my tweet about this post, someone mentioned penguins and emus. That made me realise that the author of Genesis wouldn’t have known about North American penguins, any more than he would have known about Southern Ocean penguins or Australian emus. So a good argument can be made that he didn’t intend to include these birds in any of the days he described. But he would have known about flightless ostriches, which are mentioned explicitly in the Old Testament. So, on which day would he have considered them to have been created?

    Also, of course, anyone who understands the six days of creation as more than merely symbolic or narrative devices, but as successive periods of historical time even if longer than 24 hours, would still want to ask in which of these periods flightless birds were actually created.

  4. I guess a Short Earth creationist would argue something like this. They do seem to accept evolution within kinds, hence lions tigers etc within a broad cat kind. Though it all happened very quiickly – from memory after the flood (c 2500BC?) rather than also before the flood. So our current turekeys assumed their current form after the point of creation and either never flew or became flightless. I leave all readers to form their own opinion of that interpretation.

    I too had turkey on thanksgiving day. The wife of the warden at Lee Abbey is American and the final dinner after coming out of silence coincided nicely.

    And for other flightless birds don’t forget the kiwi of New Zealand. They were on both islands and these are said to have been separated before the kiwi appeared on the evolutionary timetable. So how did they “migrate”?I can’t remmeber what our Maori guide told us was the favoured solution when we were there last February.

  5. The same arises with hens, which I think are descended from a wild bird somewhere in South East Asia that flies. But northern Europe had an indigenous Great Auk that became extinct during the C19 that was flightless but closely related to other flying species that are around today. However, I don’t think there were any in the Eastern Mediterranean.

    But what about bats, which are winged, but animals not birds, yet do not move along the ground?

    This doesn’t worry me, but if one is worried about these things, what explanation does one pronounce?

  6. The most common geese I see here in Alberta are Canada Geese, and they most certainly can fly – in fact, their arrival at the end of their spring migration is a welcome sign of the coming of warmer weather. Then there are the snow geese, which also fly.

    Turkey is the traditional Christmas dish here in Canada too, although ham is also acceptable.

    Glad you had a good time in the US, Peter.

  7. Dru, bats are an interesting case, but I think Leviticus 11:19 in context makes it clear that the ancient Hebrews classified them as birds.

    Tim, we see quite a lot of Canada geese here in England too. It seems they have no more trouble flying the Atlantic than you or I do! In fact this year we are having beef for Christmas, following my wife’s Italian tradition and as we had enough turkey at Thanksgiving.

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