FLY (זְבוּב, H2279, fly all Eng. VSS; עָרֹב, H6856, swarms of flies, Exod 8:21ff. all Eng. VSS; divers sorts of flies, Ps 78:45 and Ps 105:31 KJV; and swarms of flies ASV, RSV).

The latter Heb. word refers to one incident only—the fourth plague. In popular language the word fly is about as widely used as worm. Technically it is applied to members of the order Diptera (two-winged) which are true flies, but it is given to many other insects also—Dragonfly, Firefly, Sawfly, etc. Flies of many kinds abound in Egypt; some of them are biting and blood-sucking, and become a pest because of their numbers. There is nothing in the context to identify the kind, or perhaps kinds, of flies concerned, but the fact that the flies were on the people suggests that they may have been biting flies such as Stochomys calcitrans. Commentators like Hort and K. A. Kitchen (NBD, p. 1002) see a connection between the fourth and sixth plagues, with the fly serving as the vector for a skin disease, perhaps a modified form of the anthrax that struck the cattle in the fifth plague.

Apart from being used in association with Baal (q.v.) Heb. zebub is found only twice. In Ecclesiastes 10:1 the context is proverbial: most ointments were scented with spices and other perfumes, and unless covered they attracted flies, which quickly drowned in the greasy base, causing it to spoil (see Bee).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(Verb; `uph petaomai, or, contracted, ptaomai):

For "fly" the Revised Version (British and American) has "soar" (Job 39:26) "fly down" (Isa 11:14); for "flying" (Isa 31:5) the American Standard Revised Version has "hovering."

The references in Psalms as well as in Exodus are to the plague of flies, and the word `arobh is rendered "swarm of flies" throughout, except in Ps 78:45; 105:31 the King James Version, where we find "divers sorts of flies" (compare Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) omne genus muscarum). In Ex 8:21 we read, "I will send swarms of flies upon thee, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thy houses: and the houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground whereon they are"; in Ex 8:24, .... "the land was corrupted by reason of the swarms of flies"; in Ps 78:45, "He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them." There has been much speculation as to what the insects were, but all the texts cited, including even Ps 78:45, may apply perfectly well to the common house fly (Musca domestica). Some species of blue-bottle fly (Calliphora) might also suit.

The other word, zebhubh, occurs in Ec 10:1, "Dead flies cause the oil of the perfumer to send forth an evil odor; so doth a little folly outweigh wisdom and honor"; and Isa 7:18, "And it shall come to pass in that day, that Yahweh will hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria:" The house fly would fit perfectly the reference in each, but that in Isa would seem to suggest rather one of the horse flies (Tabanidae) or gad flies (Oestridae). Whatever fly may be meant, it is used as a symbol for the military power of Egypt, as the bee for that of Assyria.

Owing to deficiencies in public and private hygiene, and also for other reasons, house flies and others are unusually abundant in Palestine and Egypt and are agents in the transmission of cholera, typhoid fever, ophthalmia and anthrax. Glossina morsitans, the tsetse fly, which is fatal to many domestic animals, and Glossina palpalis which transmits the sleeping sickness, are abundant in tropical Africa, but do not reach Egypt proper.

See Plague.

See also

  • Animals