Lice

LICE (כִּנִּ֖ם, כֵּן, LICE KJV, ASV; GNATS RSV).

This Heb. word is used only in connection with the third plague (Exod 8:16ff.; Ps 105:31). It clearly refers to parasites able to multiply rapidly and attack both man and livestock. Three possibilities have been suggested: (1) Lice, KJV, ASV. (2) Gnats, or mosquitoes, RSV (Hort, ZAW LXIX pp. 84-103). (3) Ticks (Sir Samuel Baker quoted in Bible Animals, J. G. Wood 1869). Hebrew scholars differ in translating this word and these three alternatives may be discussed from the biological aspect.

(1) Lice are wingless insects that live exclusively by sucking blood; they are still abundant in parts of the Middle E and flourish in dirt and over-crowded conditions. Lice have been closely associated with man since antiquity and their preserved bodies have been found in Egyp. mummies. They are vectors of serious diseases, including typhus fever, and have been responsible for many deaths as well as general ill health and discomfort. Each species of louse lives on a different host, sometimes on just one part of a host; few groups of animals are preyed upon, but these include cattle.

On the other hand, lice breed only on the host and would not spread in the pattern given in the narrative. Also, the priests had worked out a system of personal hygiene—including shaving hairy parts of the body and frequent washing of clothes—that prob. made them immune to attack.

(2) Ticks are not insects, but are more closely related to spiders, having four pairs of legs and no wings. They also feed wholly on blood, and having fastened to a host they become so engorged that the head and legs almost disappear. They then drop off and burrow into the surface of the ground to lay numerous eggs. These minute ticks can survive in the sand and soil for perhaps a year, waiting for a host. In some dry lands they seem very plentiful and they can attack various animals. Like lice, they transmit serious diseases to men and stock, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Texas cattle fever. The breeding pattern and the habit of seeking hosts makes the tr. “tick” more credible than “lice.”

(3) Gnats, or Mosquitoes. Lands such as Egypt, with flooding rivers, provide unlimited breeding places for insects like gnats and mosquitoes. The word “gnat” is a rather general one and is applied to a range of tiny twowinged flies, usually smaller than true mosquitoes. In popular usage the words are more or less interchangeable. Eggs are laid in water, occasionally in damp places, and at certain seasons, when suitable water suddenly becomes available and temperatures are high, breeding is almost explosive. As the adults emerge from the water they go in search of blood and many kinds are indiscriminate in their hosts. Mosquitoes transmit some of the world’s most widespread diseases, including malaria and filariasis. The details of the narrative (v. 17) “all the dust of the earth became gnats throughout all the land of Egypt” are clearly fig. to some degree and need not preclude the tr. gnat.

G. Hort sees the first nine plagues as a logical and connected sequence in which natural phenomena are used by God to fulfill His purpose, the miracle being in the timing, extent, intensity, etc. and above all in their control. The tr. gnat would perhaps fit this sequence best.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


See also

  • Animals