[b-hebrew] 1 Sam 5:6 ; Mice & Rats & Plague

David Kimbrough (CLWA) dkimbrough at clwa.org
Mon Apr 26 16:52:27 EDT 2004


This line of inquiry has three components, linguistic, historical, and

1) Does Hebrew or Greek (Koine) distinguish rats from mice or do they use
the same word for both animals.  For example, many languages do not
distinguish rabbits from hares and it is doubtful that even many native
English speakers know that there is a difference (there is).  Similarly,
other languages do not make clear distinctions between rats and mice.  The
writer and readers of 1 Sam 5:6 may have known from the context whether
"akbar" or "mus" mean the little mouse or large rat or they may not have had
any interest in the subject.

2) The plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis which can infect a
wide variety of mammals, most famously the black rat.  However it is
primarily transmitted from animal to human through the bite of the rat flea,
Xenopsylla cheopis. However it can be spread by coughing (called pneumonic
plague) or rat bites (murine plague).  Most mammals that carry the plague
bacterium do not live close proximity to humans or do not harbor the rat
flea so they are not as much as a threat.  The black rat however does both.

3) The discovery of the complex relationship between bacterium, rat, flea,
and human was only recently discovered.  The ancients would not have
associated the three, in no small part because plagues are rare but rats and
fleas are ubiquitous.  It is quite possible for humans to live in close
proximity to both without getting the plague.  The ancients would more
likely have thought that the plague was divine punishment, demonic activity,
miasmas, witchcraft, or "bad air" (e.g. malaria = "Bad Air").  

David Eugene Kimbrough
-----Original Message-----
From: CS Bartholomew [mailto:jacksonpollock at earthlink.net]
Sent: Monday, April 26, 2004 1:10 PM
To: hebrew
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] 1 Sam 5:6 ; devastation 

On 4/26/04 9:04 AM, "David Kimbrough (CLWA)" <dkimbrough at clwa.org> wrote:

> While bubonic plague is carried
> by the fleas and rats, it is not transmitted by mice (assuming the writer
> making an effort to distinguish mouse from rat).  I do not believe that
> word "rat" occurs anywhere in the OT while mouse or mice (akbar) occurs
> times.


The LXX 1Sam. 5:6 is quite different from the MT.

1Sam. 5:6 LXX:  kai ebarunthe cheir kuriou epi Azoton kai epegagen autois
kai exezesen autois eis tas naus kai meson tes choras autes anephuesan mues
kai egeneto sugchusis thanatou megale en te polei

Spent this morning looking for rats in the LXX and then in Greek lit. The
LXX term used in 1Sam. 5:6 is mus. An LSJ search for "rat" produced no hits
but a manual search of the entry for mus does show one instance where rat is
an alternative possibility along with mouse. Woodhouse (Attic Vocab) has no
entry for rat. The immediate context of 1Sam. 5:6 LXX seems to imply this is
a field mouse "kai meson tes choras autes anephuesan mues" but this is not

So this is both a text critical and a lexical semantic problem.  Where did
the additional text in the LXX come from, what sort of animal are we dealing
with and what do the mice/rats have to do with the human affliction?

Intriguing problem.

Clay Bartholomew 

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