"I shall multiply my days as the hol, the phoenix" (Job 29:18)
The school of R. Yannai maintained: The hol lives a thousand years, at the end of which a fire issues from its nest and burns it up, leaving only as much as any egg's mulk, and from that it grows new limbs and lives again. R. Yudan bar R. Simeon said: [It lives a thousand years] at the end of which its body is consumed and its wings drop off, yet, from the egg-sized bulk left, it grows new limbs and lives again.[*]


Leviathan, ziz, and behemot are not the only monsters; there are many others, and marvelous ones.

Among the birds the phoenix is the most wonderful. When Eve gave all the animals some of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, the phoenix was the only bird that refused to eat thereof, and he was rewarded with eternal life. When he has lived a thousand years, his body shrinks, and the feathers drop from it, until he is as small as an egg. This is the nucleus of the new bird.

The phoenix is also called "the guardian of the terrestrial sphere." He runs with the sun on his circuit, and he spreads out his wings and catches up the fiery rays of the sun. If he were nor there to intercept them, neither man nor any other animate being would keep alive. On his right wing the following words are inscribed in huge letters, about four thousand stadia high; "Neither the earth produces me, nor the heavens, but only the wings of fire." His food consists of the manna of heaven and the dew of the earth. His excrement is a worm, whose excrement in turn is the cinnamon used by kings and princes.

Enoch, who saw the phoenix birds when he was translated, describes them as flying creatures, wonderful and strange in appearance, with the feet and tails of lions, and the heads of crocodiles; their appearance is of a purple color like the rainbow; their size nine hundred measures. Their wings are like those of angels, each having twelve, and they attend the chariot of the sun and go with him, bringing heat and dew as they are ordered by God. In the morning when the sun starts on his daily course, the phoenixes and the chalkidri sing, and every bird flags its wings, rejoicing the Giver of light, and they sing a song at the command of the Lord.

See also:
Fantastic creatures in ancient biblical legend, introduction by Shalom Spiegel
Leviathan, king of the fishes
Behemot, king of the mammals
Ziz, king of the birds
The salamander and the shamir, most marvelous of reptiles

[*] Gen. R. 19:5; Midrash Sam. 12 [back]



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