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Discovery Magazine 1/1/2000

Why Are Owls Wise?

by  Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.

Why do we think of owls as being wise? Is it because owls have more wisdom than any other animal? No, not really. God gave every creature the instincts and tools it would need to survive in the world he created. Solomon talked about ants that wisely set aside food for the winter (Proverbs 6:6-8). When Jesus sent His disciples out to preach, He told them to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

Owls and wisdom came together because of Athena, the ancient pagan goddess of wisdom. In ancient Greece, it was common for cities to pay special attention to one god or goddess in particular. For instance, the city of Ephesus worshiped Artemis, the goddess of hunting, the moon, and motherhood (Acts 19:35). Naturally the people of Athens chose Athena.

Worshipping one of these gods was like paying tribute to a powerful king. You see, if you were a pagan living in those days you’d believe that the gods were unpredictable. They could get angry and turn on you at any time, so you’d have to set at least one of them on your side.

In ancient myths, Athena had given the people of Athens an olive tree, and so this became one of her symbols. The owl was added later on. No one knows exactly how or why this happened. Perhaps it had something to do with the little owls that lived in the rocky cliffs where the temples were built. In any case, owls became a symbol of wisdom. Later on, the rich, powerful city of Athens minted its own silver money. On the back was a picture of an owl, so the coins were nicknamed “Owls.”

When Paul visited Athens, he taught that God does not dwell in temples made with human hands (Acts 17:24). Today, the goddess of Athena is gone, but everyone knows that the owl is a symbol of wisdom. All we have to do now is remember that God of heaven is the source of wisdom that we need (James 3:17)

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