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

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Wed Apr 28 20:07:13 EDT 2004

Now for my 2¢ on this question.

As for the meaning of $MM (שמם) I understand it to mean “desolation” but with a broader meaning than English, referring to both the physical destruction and mental grief.

In reading old accounts concerning bubonic plague, one of the signs mentioned was rats coming out of their holes even in broad daylight and dying in the streets, shortly followed by swelling on people. Apparently some disease kills off rats (not necessarily the plague, which can often be endemic in rats with little effect on them) leaving a bunch of infected and hungry fleas willing to bite even much despized humans (many fleas are quite particular about which animals to bite). Seeing as many languages make no difference between rats and mice, I would not be surprised if the same were true of Biblical Hebrew, making the context of these verses fit the picture of bubonic plague.

The ancients may not have known the connection with rats, bacteria and fleas, but many rats swarming out of their holes and dying in the streets, shortly followed by disease, would be noticeable.

(One area where the plague is endemic is southern California, particularly around Los Angeles. Yet the number of human victims usually is 5 or fewer a year.)

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: "David Kimbrough (CLWA)" <dkimbrough at clwa.org>

> Clay,
> This line of inquiry has three components, linguistic, historical, and
> epidemiological.
> 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

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