Worm is the rendering, in the A.V., of several Hebrew and one Greek word.
1. Sas (סָס, from its leaping; Sept. σής; Vulg. tinea) occurs only in Isa 51:8, "For the ash (עָשׁ, 'moth') shall eat them up like a garment, and the sas shall eat them like wool." The word probably denotes some particular species of moth, whose larva is injurious to wool, while perhaps the former name is the more general one for any of the destructive tineas, or "clothesmoths." SEE MOTH.
2. Rimmduh (רַמָּה, of uncertain etymology; Sept. σκώληξ, σῆψις, σαπρία; Vulg. vermis, putredo, tineas) occurs Ex 16:24; Job 6:5; Job 17:14; Job 21:26; Job 24:20; Job 25:6; Isa 14:11, and seems to denote worms in putrid substances, or putridity itself. The Hebrew word points evidently to various kinds of maggots, and the larvae of insects which feed on putrefying animal matter, rather than to earth-worms. Job, under his heavy affliction, exclaims, "My flesh is clothed with rinmah" (Job 7:5; see also 17:14). There is no reason to doubt that the expression is to be understood literally; a person in Job's condition would very probably suffer from entozoa of some kind. In Job 21:26; Job 24:20, there is an allusion to worms (insect larvae) feeding on the dead bodies of the buried (comp. Ecclus. 10:11; 19:3; 1 Macc. 2:62). Our translators, in the well-known passage (Job 19:26) — "And though after my skin worms destroy this body" have over-interpreted the words of the original, "My skin shall have been consumed," for there is no mention of worms whatever in the original. These passages, and especially the last, have contributed to the popular impression that the human body, when buried in the grave, is consumed by worms. The Oriental method of burial in wrappers, and of depositing the corpse in caves, etc., would no doubt often afford the spectacle of the human body devoured by the larvae of different insects; but the allusions in Scripture to such sights do not apply to burial elsewhere, except where the body is buried in a wooden coffin only, in vaults which have communications with the external air, when swarms of a species of fly, of a cimex aspect, insinuate themselves between the lid and lower part of the coffin, and their larvae batten in the corpse within, while the adult insect sports in the lurid atmosphere of the vault.
3. The distinctive term is told (תּוֹלָע, Ex 16:20; Isa 1:18; La 4:5), or (fem.) toledh, or toldath (תּוֹלֵלָה, or תּוֹלִעִת, De 28:39; Job 25:6; Ps 22:6; Isa 14:11; Isa 41:14; Isa 66:24; Jon 4:7; besides the use of the latter in connection with שָׁנַי, together rendered "scarlet" [q.v.]), yet it often stands in parallelism with the preceding term. The manna that the disobedient Israelites kept till the morning of a week-day "bred worms" (תּוֹלָעַים), and stank (Ex 16:20); while of that kept over the Sabbath and gathered the night before, it is said that "it did not stink, neither was there any worm (רַמָּה) therein." The patriarch uses both terms in Job 25:6, where he compares the estate of man to a rimmah, and the son of man to a toleah. Homer also compares a man of inferior consequence to a worm, éστε σκώληξ ἐπὶ γαίη κεῖτο ταθεϊvς (Iliad, 13:654). תולע is applied to that which preys on human flesh (Job 14:11; 66:24); on vegetables, as on the gourd of Jonah (Jon 4:7), and on vines (De 28:39). The ancient Hebrews applied such words as indeterminately as the common people now do the words "worm," "fly," etc. Similar indeterminateness attends the Sept. and Vulg. renderings. Aristotle also applies the word σκώληξ to the larva of any insect — τίκτει δὲ πάντα σκωληκα, "all insects produce a worm" (Hist. Anim. 5:19).
The insect which the manna is said to have "bred, when kept till the morning" (Ex 16:20,24), whatever it was, must be considered as miraculously produced as a punishment for disobedience, since the substance now understood to be the same keeps good for weeks and months, nor did the specimen laid up in the ark breed worms. SEE MANNA.
An insect is alluded to as injuring vines and grapes (De 28:39; תולע , σκώληξ, vermis). The Greeks had a distinct name for this insect. and probably as early as the Sept. translation of Exodus was made, ἴψ and ιξ (Theophrastus, De Causis, 3:27). It was called by the Latins involvolus, convolvulus, and volvox (Plautus, Cistell: act 4. sc. 2; Pliny, Hist. Nat. 17:28). Rosenmuller thinks it was the Scarubaeus hirtellus, or the Scarabcaus muticus hirtus testaceo-nigricans of Linnaeus (Syst. Nat. I, 4:1577) Forskal calls it the Pyralis vitanal, or Pyralis fasciana. Various kinds of insects attack the vine, among which one of the most destructive is the Tortrix vitisana, the little caterpillar of which eats off the inner parts of the blossoms, the clusters of which it binds together by spinning a web around them. A species of beetle, Lethrus cephalotes, is injurious to the vines of Hungary; other species of beetles do similar mischief (rynchites, bacchus, eumolpus). Vine-leaves in France are frequently destroyed by the larva of a moth, Tortrix vitana. In Germany another species does great injury to the young branches, preventing their expansion by the webs in which it involves them; and a third species, Totrix-fasciana, makes the grapes themselves its food (Kirby and Spence, Introd. to Entomology [Lond. 1828], 1:205). It may serve as an illustration of the looseness of popular diction. respecting insects to remark that what the farmers call "the fly" in the turnip is in reality a small species of jumping beetle, for which turnip-flea would be a more appropriate name.
The "gourd" of Jonah is said to have been destroyed by "a worm" (Jon 4:7; תולעת, σκώληξ veranis). The identity of the gourd with the Ricinus communis has been thought to be well established, SEE GOURD, and Rumphius (Herbar. Amboinens. 4:95) testifies to the ravages of a species of black caterpillar upon it. These are produced, he says, in great quantities in the summer-time, during a gentle rain, and eat up the leaves of the Palma Christi, and gnaw its branches to the pith in a single night (Michaelis, Suppl. ad Lex. Hebraic. page 2187). Allusions to the worm in wood occur in the Sept. of Pr 12:4; Pr 25:20: ἐν ξύψῳ σκώληξ ; Vulg. vermis ligno, which words have nothing corresponding to them in the present Hebrew text (see Vulg. of 2Ki 23:8).
It is possible that the word תולע was also given as a proper name; thus "Tola " occurs among the descendants of Issachar (Ge 46:13), and was also the name of a person of the same tribe (Jg 10:1). Bochart conjectures that the name was given to these children by their parents because the tribe of Issachar was one of the meanest, and they were themselves in needy circumstances, or that these were very sickly children when born. He remarks, however, that the first Tola became a great man, the head of the Tolaites (Nu 26:23), who, in the days of David, amounted to 22,600 (1Ch 7:2), and that the latter judged Israel twenty years (Jg 10:1-2).
4. In Mich 7:17 the words "like worms of the earth" represent the Heb. בַּזחֲלֵי אֵרֶוֹ, lit. "creepers in the dust," "serpents;" Vulg. Reptila terrae (comp. De 32:24).
5. The usual Greek word for worm is σκώληξ. In 1 Macc. 2:62, "Fear not the words of a sinful man, for his glory shall be dung and worms," instead of κοπρία, "dung," should be read σαπρία, "rottenness," as in the Sept. of Job 7:5; Job 25:6. So also in Ecclus. 19:3, "Moths and worms shall have him that cleaveth to harlots," instead of σῆτες, moths," read σήπη, " rottenness." "Worm" occurs in the New. Test. in a figurative sense only ( Mr 9:44,46,48), "Their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched;" words borrowed from Isa 66:24, Which originally relate to a temporal state of things, but which had also become, in our Lord's time, the popular representation of future punishment (Jg 16:17; Ecclus. 7:17). SEE TOPHET. Origen here understands "worm" in a metaphorical sense, as denoting the accusation of conscience; but Austin, Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Theophylact, etc., contend that the word should be understood literally.
The death of Herod Agrippa I was caused by worms (σκωληκόβρωτος, Ac 12:23); according to Josephus (Ant. 19:8, 2), his death took place five days after his departure from the theatre. It is curious that the Jewish historian makes no mention of worms in the case of Agrippa, though he expressly notes it in that of Herod the Great (Ant. 17:6, 5; War, 1:33, 5). A similar death was that of Antiochus Epiphanes (2 Macc. 9:9; see also Euseusebius, Eccles. Hist. 8:16; Lucian, Pseudomant, 1:904; comp. Wetstein on Ac 12:23). Whether the worms were the cause or the result of the disease is an immaterial question. The "angel of the Lord struck Herod" with some disease, the issue of which was fatal, and the loathsome spectacle of which could not fail to have had a marked humiliating effect on his proud heart. It has been attempted to explain all these instances as cases of phthiriasis, or the lousy disease, but the conjecture is inconsistent with the words employed in the several narratives; and since they are instances of persons being devoured by worms while alive, contrary to the order of nature, we are compelled to ascribe the phenomenon to divine agency. At all events, the larvae in Herod's case were internal. On the other hand, the cruel Pheretima, the wife of Battus, whose horrible vengeance is detailed by Herodotus (Hist. 4:202-204), is described by him as dying under a disease which, from the terms he uses, must have been peculiarly terrible. "She died miserably; for even while alive she swarmed with maggots. So odious to the gods are the excesses of human vengeance." The word εὐλαί, which the father of history employs in this passage, is generally considered as synonymous with σκώληξ, inasmuch as it signifies the maggots or larvae produced by the carrion-eating flies; but the two terms are not equivalent, since the Greek σκώληξ has a wider meaning, including all insect larvae without an exception (Arist. Hist. Anim. 2:1). For the account of insects infesting the human frame, from disease, see Kirby and Spence, Introd. to Entomology, 1:84; Bartholin, Morb. Bibl. c. 23; Mead, Bibl. Diseases, c. 15.
There are several species of earth-worms (lambricus) in Palestine similar to our own, but by far the most abundant of the so-called worms there are the myriapoda, or mellipedes, especially the scolopendra, which appear to perform the functions of the earth-worm in nature, though belonging to a very different order of animal life, and which supply food to many of the birds of the country (Tristram, Nat. Hist. of the Bible, page 301). On the general subject, see Bochart, Hieroz. (ed. Rosenmuller, Leipsic, 1793-96), 3:519 sq.