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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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Swarms of lice was the third plague with which God punished the Egyptians, Exodus 8:16 . The Hebrew word כנום , which the LXX render σκνιφες , some translate "flies," and think them the same as gnats. Origen says that the sciniphe is so small a fly, that it is scarcely perceptible to the eye, but that it occasions a sharp stinging pain. However, the original, according to the Syriac, and several good interpreters, signifies "lice."

But Josephus, the Jewish rabbins, and most of the modern translators render the Hebrew word at large lice; and Bochart and Bryant support this interpretation. The former argues that gnats could not be meant.

1. Because the creatures here mentioned sprang from the dust of the earth, and not from the waters.

2. Because they were both on men and cattle, which cannot be spoken of gnats.

3. Because their name comes from the radix כזן , which signifies to make firm, fix, establish, which can never agree to gnats, flies, &c, which are ever changing their place, and are almost constantly on the wing.

4. Because כנה is the term by which the talmudists express the term louse, &c. To which may be added, that if they were winged and stinging insects, as Jerom, Origen, and others have supposed, the plague of flies is unduly anticipated; and the next miracle will be only a repetition of the former. Mr. Bryant, in illustrating the aptness of this miracle, has the following remarks: "The Egyptians affected great external purity, and were very nice both in their persons and clothing; bathing and making ablutions continually. Uncommon care was taken not to harbour any vermin. They were particularly solicitous on this head; thinking it would be a great profanation of the temple which they entered, if any animalcule of this sort were concealed in their garments. The priests, says Herodotus, are shaved, both as to their heads and bodies, every third day, to prevent any louse, or any other detestable creature, being found upon them when they are performing their duty to the gods. The same is mentioned by another author, who adds, that all woollen was considered as foul, as from a perishable animal; but flax is the product of the immortal earth, affords a delicate and pure covering, and is not liable to harbour lice. We may hence see what an abhorrence the Egyptians showed toward this sort of vermin, and what care was taken by the priests to guard against them. The judgments, therefore, inflicted by the hands of Moses, were adapted to their prejudices. It was, consequently, not only most noisome to the people in general, but was no small odium to the most sacred order in Egypt, that they were overrun with these filthy and detestable vermin.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Lice'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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