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Lice

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(כֵּן, ken, perh. from כָּנִן, to nip; only once in the sing. used collectively, Isaiah 2:6, and there doubtful, where the Sept., Vulg., and Engl. Vers. confound with כֵּן, so, and render ταῦτα , haec, "in like manner;" elsewhere plural, כַּנַּים, Exodus 8:16-18; Psalms 105:31 : Sept. σκνῖφες, Psalms 105:17 σκνίψ , v.r. σκνῖπες; Vulg. sciniphes, in Psalm cinifes; also the cognate sing. collective כַּנָּם, cinnam, Exodus 8:17-18, Sept. and Vulg. σκνῖφες, sciniphes), the name of the creature employed in the third plague upon Egypt, miraculously produced from the dust of the land. Its exact nature has been much disputed. Dr. A. Clarke has inferred, from the words "in man and in beast," that it was the acarus sanguisuqus, or "tick" (Comment. on Exodus 8:16). Michaelis remarks (Suppl. ad Lex. 1174) that if it be a Hebrew word for lice it is strange that it should have disappeared from the cognate tongues, the Aramaic, Samaritan, and Ethiopic. The rendering of the Sept. seems highly valuable when it is considered that it was given by learned Jews resident in Egypt, that it occurs in the most ancient and best executed portion of that version, and that it can be elucidated by the writings of ancient Greek naturalists, etc. Thus Aristotle, who was nearly contemporary with the Sept. translators of Exodus, mentions the κνῖπες (the σκνῖφες of the Sept.) among insects able to distinguish the smell of honey (Hist. Animnal. 4:8) and refers to species of birds which he calls σκνιποφάγα, that live by hunting σκνῖπες (8:6). His pupil Theophrastus says, "The κνῖπες are born in certain trees, as the oak, the fig-tree, and they seem to subsist upon the sweet moisture which is collected under the bark. They are also produced on some vegetables" (Hist. Plant. 4:17, and 2, ult.). This description applies to aphides, or rather to the various species of "gall-flies" (Cynips, Linn.). Hesychius, in the beginning of the third century, explains σκνίψ as "a green four-wcinged creature," and quotes Phrynichus as applying the name to a sordid wretch, and adds, "From the little creature among trees, which speedily devours them." Philo (A.D. 40) and Origen, in the second century, who both lived in Egypt, describe it in terms suitable to the gnat or mosquito (Philo, Vita Mosis, 1:97, 2, ed. Mangey; Origen, Homilia tertia introd.), as does also Augustine in the third or fourth century (De Convenientia, etc.).

But Theodoret, in the same age, distinguishes between σκνῖπες and κώνωπες (Vitac Jacobi). Suidas (A.D. 1100) says σκνίψ, "resembling gnats," and adds, "a little creature that cats wood." These Christian fathers, however, give no authority for their explanations, and Bochart remarks that they seem to be speaking of gnats under the name σκνῖπες , which word, he conjectures, biased them from its resemblance to the Hebrew. Schleusner adds (Glossema in Octateuch) σκνῖφες, "less than gnats," and (Lex. Cyrilli, MS. Brem.), "very small creatures like gnats." From this concurrence of testimony it would appear that not lice, but some species of gnats, is the proper rendering, though the ancients, no doubt, included other species of insects under the name. Mr. Bryant, however, gives a curious turn to the evidence derived from ancient naturalists. He quotes 'Theophrastus, and admits that a Greek must be the best judge of the meaning of the Greek word, but urges that the Sept. translators concealed the meaning of the Hebrew word, which he labors to prove is lice, for fear of offending the Ptolemies, under whose inspection they translated, and the Egyptians in general, whose detestation of lice was as ancient as the time of Herodotus (2:37) (but who includes "any other foul creature"), and whose disgust, he thinks, would have been too much excited by reading that their nation once swarmed with those creatures through the instrumentality of the servants of the God of the Jews (Plagues of Egypt, Lond. 1794, page 56, etc.).

This suspicion, if admitted, upsets all the previous reasoning. But a plague of lice, upon Bryant's own principles, could not have been more offensive to the Egyptians than the plague on the River Nile, the frogs, etc., which the Sept. translators have not mitigated. Might it not be suggested with equal probability that the Jews in later ages had been led to interpret the word lice as being peculiarly humiliating to the Egyptians (see Josephus, 2:14, 3, who, however, makes the Egyptians to be afflicted with phthiriasis). The rendering of the Vulg. affords us no assistance, being evidently formed from that of the Sept., and not being illustrated by any Roman naturalist, but found only in Christian Latin writers (see Facciolati, s.v.). The other ancient versions, etc., are of no value in this inquiry. They adopt the popular notion of the times, and Bochart's reasonings upon them involve, as Rosenmü ller (apud Bochart) justly complains, many unsafe permutations of letters. If, then, the Sept. be discarded, we are deprived of the highest source of information. Bochart's reasoning upon the form of the word (Hieroz. 3:518) is unsound, as, indeed, that of all others who have relied upon etymology to furnish a clew to the insect intended. It is strange that it did not occur to Bochart that if the plague had been lice it would have been easily imitated by the magicians, which was attempted by them, but in vain (Exodus 8:18). Nor is the objection valid that if this plague were gnats, etc., the plague of flies would be anticipated, since the latter most likely consisted of one particular species having a different destination, (See FLY), whereas this may have consisted not only of mosquitoes or gnats, but of some other species which also attack domestic cattle, as the oest rus, or tabanus, or zimb (Bruce, Travels, 2:315, 8vo), on which supposition these two plagues would be sufficiently distinct. (See PLAGUES OF EGYPT).

But, since mosquitoes, gnats, etc., have ever been one of the evils of Egypt, there must have been some peculiarity attending them on this occasion which proved the plague to be "the finger of God." From the next chapter, Exodus 8:31, it appears that the flax and the barley were smitten by the hail; that the former was beginning to grow, and that the latter was in the ear, which, according to Shaw, takes place in Egypt in March. Hence the kinnim would be sent about February, i.e., before the increase of the Nile, which takes place at the end of May or beginning of June. Since, then, the innumerable swarms of mosquitoes, gnats, etc., which every year affect the Egyptians, come, according to Hasselquist, at the increase of the Nile, the appearance of them in February would be as much a variation of the course of nature as the appearance of the oestruts in January would be in England. They were also probably numerous and fierce beyond example on this occasion, and, as the Egyptians would be utterly unprepared for them (for it seems that this plague was not announced), the effects would be signally distressing. Bochart adduces instances in which both mankind and cattle, and even wild beasts, have been driven by gnats from their localities. It may be added that the proper Greek name for the gnat is ἐμπίς , and that probably the word κώνωψ, which much resembles κνίψ, is appropriate to the mosquito. Hardouin observes that the κνῖπες of Aristotle are not the ἐμπίδες, which latter is by Pliny always rendered culices, a word which he employs with great latitude. (See GNAT).

For a description of the evils inflicted by these insects upon man, see Kirby and Spence, Introduction to Entymology, Lond. 1828, 1:115, etc.; and for the annoyance they cause in Egyp


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Lice'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/l/lice.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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