Bugs of the Bible, Vol. 7, No. 31
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May 6, 2004
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The Bible is the all-time best-selling book in the world. It did not attain this popularity because of its entomological content, but the Bible does mention a few insects and other arthropods. How many can you name without reading further?
Locusts are the first insects most folks think of. There are more than 30 references to locusts. John the Baptist ate them, along with honey, and locusts are the only kosher insect. There is even a company in modern day Israel, Hargol FoodTech, that raises and sells grasshoppers for food, producing around 40 million insects per year. Hargol, by the way, is the Hebrew word for grasshopper.
Usually when locusts are mentioned, it is in reference to plagues. A quote from the Book of Joel summarizes the aftermath of a locust plague: “What the gnawing locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten; and what the swarming locust has left, the creeping locust has eaten; and what the creeping locust has left the stripping locusts has eaten.” Good thing they are kosher. The locusts are all that’s left to eat!
Flies and maggots are the second most mentioned insects. Plagues of adult flies descended on Egypt in the Book of Exodus. In Ecclesiastes 10 Solomon mentions the problem perfumers had with flies contaminating their product. In the passage in Matthew about straining out gnats but swallowing a camel, these gnats were most likely fruit flies, Drosophila spp. Fruit flies are strongly attracted to wine, and often had to be strained out of wine, both then and now.
Caterpillars are more often referred to as “worms” or “grubs”, but entomologists can sometimes infer that it is really a caterpillar. In the Book of Jonah, the line: “But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered” sure sounds like some species of Sessidae—same family as squash vine borer.
Moths are mentioned a few times as well. A verse in Matthew advises readers to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys.” Much of the clothing of the day was made of wool or silk, and clothes moths were a constant threat.
Scorpions are not insects, but these arthropods are mentioned a few times. In the Book of Luke, Jesus rhetorically asks if a man would give his son a scorpion when he asked for an egg.
Bees are mentioned several times, often in reference to a swarming army, but not always. Samson made a riddle about a swarm of bees that built their comb in a dried lion carcass. Honey is mentioned a lot, even more than locusts, usually as a metaphor for something good or “sweeter than honey.” But in the Book of Proverbs, Solomon cautions against eating too much honey.
Ants are mentioned in a couple of proverbs, as a model of good work ethics and foreplaning. “Go to the ant you sluggard, watch her ways and get wisdom.”
What’s the most noteworthy group of insects not mentioned in the Bible? Beetles. This is the largest order of insects, and there are more species of beetles in the world than all vertebrate animals combined, yet beetles are not mentioned even once. Other arthropods that are mentioned include: spiders, fleas, lice, and mole crickets.
For a complete list of the 98 verses mentioning insects or other arthropods (excluding references to honey or other products made by insects) see “The Insects and Other Arthropods of the Bible,” by Gene Kritsky, 1997, in American Entomologist, Volume 43, Issue 3, Pages 183-188.
Blake Layton, Extension Entomology Specialist, Mississippi State University Extension Service.
The information given here is for educational purposes only. Always read and follow current label directions. Specific commercial products are mentioned as examples only and reference to specific products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended to other products that may also be suitable and appropriately labeled.
Mississippi State University is an equal opportunity institution.
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