WORM. Five Heb. and one Gr. words are tr. worm in KJV and most other Eng. VSS, and this treatment is generally regarded as correct. An attempt will be made to identify the words in some contexts, but this is not easy, for the word in most languages is a vague one, applied, even in a semi-technical sense, to a wide range of animals. In Eng., for instance, it is given to members of four whole phyla (including flatworms, round worms, etc.) as well as to beetle grubs, caterpillars, and even to a species of lizard—the blind worm. In addition, the word has a completely non-specific, fig. use as when a person is called a worm. This usage is found in several passages, e.g. Isaiah 41:14, “Fear not, you worm Jacob.”

1. זֹחֲלֵ֣י אֶ֔רֶץ (Mic 7:17, worm KJV; crawling things ASV, RSV; also tr. serpent [q.v.] KJV, Deut 32:24). The KJV “move out of their holes like worms of the earth” suggests to some commentators the earthworm’s habit of lying on the ground at night, when dew falls; this is unlikely in the light of the RSV tr. which attaches “crawling things” to the preceding clause and begins a new sentence, “They shall come trembling out of their strongholds.” It is better to regard זֹחֲלֵ֣י אֶ֔רֶץ as similar to the Eng. “creepy crawly,” i.e. nonspecific.

2. סָס, H6182, (worm, all Eng. VSS. Isaiah 51:8). “For the moth will eat them up like a garment and the worm will eat them like wool.” The context at first might suggest that this is the grub of the clothes moth, and many commentators accept this. Against that, it is usual in OT and NT and in current Eng. to speak of the moth as the actual destroyer, while this is in fact the larva. Further, the latter lives in a small felted case, with only the head exposed, and it is not at all worm-like. It is therefore possible that סָס, H6182, can be identified with the cockroach or some other insect that destroys fibres. (See Moth.)

3. תּוֹלָע, H9355, (worm, all Eng. VSS. also [once] crimson, Isa 1:18, all Eng. VSS, and [once] scarlet KJV, purple RSV Lam 4:5). This is found only in Exodus 16:20, referring to the manna kept over to the next day in disobedience to God’s commands “it bred worms and became foul.” But cf. v. 24, referring to manna collected for the Sabbath and “there were no worms (רִמָּה, H8231) in it.” A possible explanation is that the former describes a specific infestation, perhaps by one of the blow flies whose maggots would quickly turn it into a seething mass in the high temperatures of the desert; while the latter is a more general term, including both the former and also other potential invaders.

4. רִמָּה, H8231, (worm, all Eng. VSS, except maggot, Job 25:6 and Isa 14:11 RSV). The only literal use of this word is discussed above. It is also used six times in fig. contexts so varied that this must be considered a term as general as the Eng. word worm.

6. σκώληξ, G5038, (worm, all Eng. VSS; Mark 9:48; Acts 12:23). (Scolex [Eng.] is the term used for the embryonic tapeworm.) The former passage is purely fig., but there is no need to regard the latter as anything but literal (see A. Rendle Short, The Bible and Modern Medicine [1953], 66ff.) A parallel account of this incident is given by Josephus: “...and (Herod) was eaten of worms and died.” There are several ways in which intestinal worms could cause fairly sudden death even today, and a further suggestion is that he had a hydatid cyst; this is the alternate host stage of the dog tapeworm.

Note. A well-known passage, sung in Handel’s Messiah, is not a correct tr. In KJV the word worm is in Italics and Job 19:26 should read, “after my skin has been destroyed.”


EBr, Vol. 13 (1951), 351, 352.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

wurm, skar’-let-wurm:

(2) rimmah, from ramam, "to putrefy" (Ex 16:20); compare Arab ramm, "to become carious" (of bone).

(3) cac (only in Isa 51:8); compare Arabic sus, "worm"; ses, "moth" (Mt 6:19).

(4) zochalim (Mic 7:17, the King James Version "worms," the Revised Version (British and American) "crawling things"), from zachal, "to crawl."

(5) skolex (Mr 9:48), skolekobrotos, "eaten of worms" (Ac 12:23).

Tola`ath shani, "scarlet," is the scarlet-worm, Cermes vermilio, a scale-insect which feeds upon the oak, and which is used for producing a red dye. It is called by the Arabs dudeh, "a worm," a word also used for various insect larvae. It is also called qirmiz, whence" crimson" and the generic name Cermes. This scarlet-worm or scale-insect is one of the family Coccidae of the order Rhynchota or Hemiptera. The female is wingless and adheres to its favorite plant by its long, sucking beak, by which it extracts the sap on which it lives. After once attaching itself it remains motionless, and when dead its body shelters the eggs which have been deposited beneath it. The males, which are smaller than the females, pass through a complete metamorphosis and develop wings. The dye is made from the dried bodies of the females. Other species yielding red dyes are Porphyrophora polonica and Coccus cacti. The last named is the Mexican cochineal insect which feeds on the cactus and which largely supplanted the others after the discovery of America. Aniline dyes have in turn to a great extent superseded these natural organic colors, which, however, continue to be unsurpassed for some purposes.

See Colors.

See also

  • Animals