Plague is used in the A. V. as the rendering of five Hebrew words:
1. De'ber, דֶּבֶר, which properly means destruction, death (as Ho 13:14), and is hence applied to pestilence (as Le 26:25; De 28:21; 2Sa 24:13; 1Ki 8:37), and to a murrain among beasts (as Ex 3:9). The Sept. mostly has θάνατος.
2. Maggephah', מִגֵּפָה, from the root נָגִŠ, to smite; hence a plague as actively considered, a pestilence sent from God (Ex 9:14; comp. Nu 14:37; Nu 17:13; Nu 25:18, etc.). It is also used of slaughter in battle (1Sa 4:17; 2Sa 17:9).
3. Makkah', מִכָּה, from the root נָכָה, to smite, properly the act of smiting; hence a blow, a stroke; and so it should be rendered, rather than plague (Le 26:21; Nu 11:33; De 28:59,61; De 29:22; 1Sa 4:8; Jer 19:8; Jer 49:17; Jer 1; Jer 13).
4. Ne'ga, נֶגִע, from נָגִע, to smite; hence the meaning is like that of the foregoing. But it is often used to mean a spot, mark, cut, upon the skin, from the common effects of a blow. This is its meaning throughout the 13th and 14th chapters of Leviticus, where it is rendered plague in the A.V.
5. Ne'geph, נֶגֶפ, from נָגִפ, to strike, as above; hence a plague, as a divine judgment (Ex 12:13, and often). SEE PLAGUES OF EGYPT. To these should be added the following Greek words, which are usually translated "plague" in the A.V.: μάστιξ, properly a scourge or whip (Mr 3:10; Mr 5:29,34; Lu 7:21); and πλήγη, a stroke or wound, whether of natural or artificial infliction (Re 9:20; Re 11:6; Re 15:1,6,8; Re 16:9,21; Re 18:4,8; Re 21:9; Re 22:18). It is evident that not one of these words can be considered as designating by its signification the plague. Whether the disease be mentioned must be judged from the sense of passages, not from the sense of words. The discrimination has already been pretty fully considered under the word PESTILENCE SEE PESTILENCE (q.v.). In the following treatment of the term we use it in its strict medical application.
In noticing the places in the Bible which might be supposed to refer to the plague, we must bear in mind that, unless some of its distinctive characteristics arc mentioned, it is not safe to infer that this disease is intended. In the narrative of the Ten Plagues there is none corresponding to the modern plague. The plague of boils has indeed some resemblance, and it might be urged that as in other cases known scourges were sent, (their miraculous nature being shown by their opportune occurrence and their intense character), so in this case a disease of the country, if indeed the plague anciently prevailed in Egypt, might have been employed. Yet the ordinary plague would rather exceed in severity this infliction than the contrary, which seems fatal to this supposition. Those pestilences which were sent as special judgments, and were either supernaturally rapid in their effects, or in addition directed against particular culprits, are beyond the reach of human inquiry. But we also read of pestilences which, although sent as judgments, have the characteristics of modern epidemics, not being rapid beyond nature, nor directed against individuals. Thus in the remarkable threatenings in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, pestilence is spoken of as one of the enduring judgments that were gradually to destroy the disobedient. This passage in Leviticus evidently refers to pestilence in besieged cities: "And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of [my] covenant: and when ye are gathered together in your cities, I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy" (De 26:19). Famine in a besieged city would occasion pestilence. A special disease may be indicated in the parallel portion of Deuteronomy (De 28:21): "The Lord shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee, until he [or "it"] have consumed thee from off the land whither-thou goest to possess it." The word rendered "pestilence" may, however, have a general signification, and comprise calamities mentioned afterwards, for there follows an enumeration of several other diseases and similar scourges (De 28:21-22). The first disease here mentioned has been supposed to be the plague (Bunsen, Bibelwerk). It is to be remembered that "the botch of Egypt" is afterwards spoken of (ver. 27), by which it is probable that ordinary boils are intended, which are especially severe in Egypt in the present day, and that later still "all the diseases of Egypt" are mentioned (ver. 60). It therefore seems unlikely that so grave a disease as the plague, if then known, should not be spoken of in either of these two passages. In neither place does it seem certain that the plague is specified, though in the one, if it were to be in the land, it would fasten upon the population of besieged cities, and in the other, if then known, it would probably be alluded to as a terrible judgment in an enumeration of diseases. The notices in the prophets present the same difficulty; for they do not seem to afford sufficiently positive evidence that the plague was known in those times. With the prophets, as in the Pentateuch, we must suppose that the diseases threatened or prophesied as judgments must have been known, or at least called by the names used for those that were known. Two passages might seem to be explicit. In Amos we read, "I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up into your nostrils" (Am 4:10). Here the reference is perhaps to the death of the first-born, for the same phrase, "after the manner of Egypt," is used by Isaiah (Isa 10:24,26), with a reference to the Exodus, and perhaps to the oppression preceding it; and an allusion to past history seems probable, as a comparison with the overthrow of the cities of the plain immediately follows (Am 4:11). The prophet Zechariah also speaks of a plague with which the Egyptians, if refusing to serve God, should be smitten (Am 4:13,13); but the name and the description which appears to apply to this scourge seem to show that it cannot be the plague (ver. 12). Hezekiah's disease has been thought to have been the plague, and its fatal nature, as well as the mention of a boil, makes this not improbable. On the other hand, there is no mention of a pestilence among his people at the time, unless we so regard the sudden destruction of Sennacherib's army (2Ki 20:1-11). Severe epidemics are the common accompaniments of dense crowding in cities and of famine; and we accordingly often find them mentioned in connection (Le 26:25; Jer 14:12; Jer 29:18; Mt 24:7; Lu 21:11). But there is no better argument for believing that "pestilence" in these instances means the glandular plague, than the fact of its being at present a prevalent epidemic of the East. It is also remarkable that the Mosaic law, which contains such strict rules for the seclusion of lepers, should have allowed a disease to pass unnoticed, which is above all others the most deadly, and at the same time the most easily checked by sanatory regulations of the same kind. Michaelis endeavors to explain why the Law contained no ordinances about the plague by arguing that, on account of the sudden appearance and brief duration of the disease, no permanent enactments could have been efficient in moderating its ravages, but only such preventive measures as varied according to the ever-varying circumstances of the origin and course of its visitations (Mos. Recht, 4, 290). The destruction of Sennacherib's army (2Ki 19:35) has also been ascribed to the plague. But-not to insist on the circumstance that this awfully sudden annihilation of 185,000 men is not ascribed to any disease, but to the agency of an angel (since such passages as 2Sa 24:15-16, weaken this objection, and even Josephus understood the cause to be a pestilence, Ant. 10, 1, 5)-it is impossible that such a mortality could have been produced, in one night, by a disease which spread itself by contagion, like the Oriental plague; and the same remark applies, though in a less degree, to the three days' pestilence in the reign of David (2Sa 24:13). There does not seem, therefore, to be any distinct notice of the plague in the Bible, and it is most probable that this can be accounted for by supposing either that no pestilence of antiquity in the East was as marked in character as the modern plague, or that the latter disease then frequently broke out there as an epidemic in crowded cities, instead of following a regular course. SEE DISEASE.
The disease now called the plague, which has ravaged Egypt and neighboring countries in modern times, is supposed to have prevailed there in former ages. Manetho, the Egyptian historian, speaks of "a very great plague" in the reign of Semempses, the seventh king of the first dynasty, B.C. cir. 2275. The difficulty of determining the character of the pestilences of ancient and mediaeval times, even when carefully described, warns us not to conclude that every such mention refers to the plague, especially as the cholera has, since its modern appearance, been almost as severe a scourge to Egypt as the more famous disease, which indeed, as an epidemic seems there to have been succeeded by it. Moreover, if we admit, as we must, that there have been anciently pestilences very nearly resembling the modern plague, we must still hesitate to pronounce any recorded pestilence to be of this class unless it be described with some distinguishing particulars. The plague in recent times has not extended far beyond the Turkish Empire and the kingdom of Persia. It has been asserted that Egypt is its cradle, but this does not seem to be corroborated by the later history of the disease. It is there both sporadic and epidemic; in the first form it has appeared almost annually, in the second at rarer intervals. As an epidemic it takes the character of a pestilence, sometimes of the greatest severity. Our subsequent remarks apply to it in this form. It is a much-vexed question whether it is ever endemic: that such is the case is favored by its rareness since sanitary measures have been enforced. Respecting the causes and origin of plague nothing is known. There cannot be the slightest doubt that it is propagated by absolute contact with, or a very near approach to, the bodies or clothes of persons infected; but we are entirely at a loss to know how it is generated afresh. Extremes of temperature have a decided effect in putting a stop to it; but Dr. Russell observed that in the year 1761 the plague at Aleppo was mild in 1762 it was severer, and in 1763 it was very fatal; and yet there was no appreciable difference in the respective seasons of these years. In Egypt, the plague commences in autumn, and is regularly put an end to by the heats of summer; and it is even asserted that contaminated goods are also disinfected at this time (see Russegger, Reisen, 1, 236 sq.; Mariti, Trav. p. 199; Prosp. Alp. Rer. AEg. 1, 19). In Europe the plague disappeared during the winter. This was remarked in all the epidemics except that from 1636 to 1648, called the Great Plague, on account of its long duration; but even in this instance it abated considerably during the winter. It was a common superstition that the plague abated on St. John's day. The plague when most severe usually appears first on the northern coast of Egypt, having previously broken out in Turkey or North Africa west of Egypt. It ascends the river to Cairo, rarely going much farther. Thus Mr. Lane has observed that the great plague of 1835 "was certainly introduced from Turkey" (Modern Egyptians, 5th ed., p. 3, note 1). It was first noticed at Alexandria, ascended to Cairo, and farther to the southern part of Egypt, a few cases having occurred at Thebes; and it "extended throughout the whole of Egypt, though its ravages were not great in the southern parts" (ibid.). The mortality is often enormous, and Mr. Lane remarks of the plague just mentioned: "It destroyed not less than eighty thousand persons in Cairo, that is, one third of the population; and far more, I believe, than two hundred thousand in all Egypt" (ibid.). When this pestilence visited Egypt, in the summer of 1843, the deaths were not numerous, although, owing to the government's posting a sentry at each house in which any one had died of the disease, to enforce quarantine, there was much concealment, and the number was not accurately known (Mrs. Poole, Englishman in Egypt, 2, 32-35). Although since then Egypt has been free from this scourge, Benghazi (Hesperides), in the pashalic of Tripoli, was almost depopulated by it during part of the years 1860 and 1861. The most fatal, and at the same time the most general epidemic, was that which ravaged Asia, Africa, and the .whole of Europe in the 14th century. It was called by the northern European nations "the Black Death," and by the Italians "la Mortilega Grande" — the great mortality. According to Dr. Hecker, not less than twenty-five millions perished by it in the short space of three years, from 1347 to 1350. Since the commencement of this century Europe has been free from the plague, with the exception of two or three instances. It occurred at Noja, in the kingdom of Naples, in 1815 and 1816; at the Lazaretto of Venice in 1818; in Greifenberg, in Silesia, in 1819. It has not been seen in Great Britain since the great epidemic of 1665, which is stated to have carried off eight thousand in one week. Quarantine was first performed in one of the islands near Venice in 1485. Persons who had been cured of plague in the Lazaretto on one of the adjoining islands were sent there, and all those with whom they had had intercourse, where they were detained forty days. This period was probably fixed upon on account of some medical hypothesis. The fortieth day was regarded as the last day of ardent diseases, and that which separated them from chronic. Forty days constituted the philosophical month of alchemists. Theological, and even legal derivations have also been given. The forty days of the flood; Moses's sojourn on Mount Sinai; our Lord's fast; and, lastly, what is called the "Saxon term" (Sachsische Frist), which also lasts forty days. Bills of health were probably first established in 1507, by a council of health established at Venice during a fatal plague that visited Italy for five years; but they were not generally used until 1665. It is to these great measures that Europe is indebted for its present immunity from this terrible scourge; and it cannot be doubted that but for the callous indifference of the Orientals (which proceeds from their fatalism, love of gain, and ignorance), the same measures would be adopted in the East with the same success (Hecker's Hist. of the Epidemics of the Middle Ages; Dr. Brown, art. Plague, in Cyclop. of Pract. Med.). SEE PESTILENCE.
The glandular plague, like the small-pox, is an eruptive fever, and is the most virulent and most contagious disease with which we are acquainted. The eruption consists of buboes, carbuncles, and petechiae. Buboes are inflamed and swollen glands; and the glands so affected are generally those of the groin, axilla, neck, and the parotid glands. More frequently there are two, three, or even four such tumors. They sometimes subside of themselves; or, what is more commonly the case, they suppurate; and as this process seldom commences before the disease has taken a favorable turn, it is regarded as the cause, but more correctly as a sign, of approaching recovery. A carbuncle is an inflammation of the skin, giving rise to a hard tumor, with pustules or vesicles upon it. It resembles a common boil, but differs from it in this important respect. The carbuncle becomes gangrenous throughout its whole ex-tent, so that when the eschar separates a large deep ulcer is left. Under the term petechiae are included evanescent spots and streaks of various hues, from a pale blue to a deep purple, which give a marbled appearance to the skin. When such livid streaks occur in the face, they disfigure the countenance so much that a patient can hardly be recognized by his friends. The disease varies so considerably in its symptoms and course that it is impossible to give one description that will suit even the majority of cases. Sometimes the eruption does not appear at all, and even the general symptoms are not of such violence as to lead an ignorant person to suspect the least danger. The patient is suddenly attacked with a loss of strength, a sense of confusion, weight in the head, oppression at the heart, and extreme dejection of spirits. Such cases sometimes terminate fatally within twenty-four hours, and occasionally on the second or third day. Generally, however, the patient is attacked with shivering or coldness, which is soon followed by fever, giddiness, pain in the head, occasionally also by vomiting. Buboes and carbuncles in most cases make their appearance on the first day; and successive eruptions of them are not unusually observed during the course of the disease. There is a peculiar and characteristic muddiness of the eye, which has been described by Dr. Russell as a muddiness and luster strangely blended together. The fever remits every morning, and increases during the day and night. The vomiting then increases; the tumors become painful; and the patient wanders, and is inclined to stupor. On the morning of the third day, in favorable cases, a sweat breaks out, which produces great relief, and sometimes even proves critical. The exacerbation on the fourth day is more severe than on the preceding ones, and continues intense until it is terminated by the sweat on the morning of the fifth day, which leaves the patient weak, but in every respect relieved. After this the exacerbations become slighter and slighter; and the buboes, advancing favorably to suppuration, little or no fever remains after the beginning of the second week. In other cases, again, the symptoms are -far more urgent. Besides vomiting, giddiness, and headache, there is also diarrhea at the outbreak of the fever. During the night the patient becomes delirious or comatose. The pulse is full and strong; and though the tongue is not dry, the thirst is excessive. The fever abates somewhat on the succeeding morning, but the pulse is frequent, the skin hot and dry, and the patient dejected. As the second day advances, the vomiting and diarrhea become urgent, the eyes are muddy, the expression of countenance confused, the pulse quick, and sometimes low and fluttering, external heat moderately feverish, or occasionally intense in irregular flushings. There is pain at the heart, burning pain at the pit of the stomach, and incessant restlessness. When to these symptoms are joined faltering of the tongue or loss of speech, and the surface of the body becomes cold or covered with clammy sweats, death is inevitable, although it may still be at some distance. When the patient has been much weakened by the vomiting, diarrhea, or hemorrhage, the third day proves fatal; but more commonly the disease is prolonged two or three days longer. In this form of plague buboes appear on the second or third day, and sometimes later; but whether they advance towards suppuration or not, they seem to have no effect in hastening or retarding the termination of the disease. Lastly, in some cases, the eruption of buboes and carbuncles constitute the principal symptoms of the disease; and patients are so little indisposed that they are able to go about the streets, or attend to their usual avocations, if not prevented by the inflammation of inguinal tumors. The disease has never been successfully treated, except in isolated cases, or when the epidemic has seemed to have worn itself out. Depletion and stimulants have been tried, as with cholera, and stimulants with far better results.
See Ludecke, Beschreib. des türk. Reichs, p. 62 sq.; Olivier, Voyage, vol. 1, c. 18; Soninii, Reise nach Griechenland. p. 358 sq.; Descript. de t'Egypte, 13:81 sq.; Bulard de Mern; De la Peste Orient. (Paris, 1839); L'Aubert, De la Peste, ou Typhus (ibid. 1840); Russell, Nat. Hist. of Aleppo; Clot-Bey, De la Peste en Egypte (1840), and Apersu general sur l'Egypte, 2, 348-350. SEE MEDICINE.