The Deaths Of Antiochus IV., Herod The Great, And Herod Agrippa I -- By: Edward M. Merrins

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 061:243 (Jul 1904)
Article: The Deaths Of Antiochus IV., Herod The Great, And Herod Agrippa I
Author: Edward M. Merrins


The Deaths Of Antiochus IV., Herod The Great, And Herod Agrippa I

Edward M. Merrins

Both in sacred and profane literature it is recorded that, during the last illness of various eminent persons, the fatal issue was accelerated, and the circumstances of death made extremely repulsive, by parasites infesting the body to such an extent as to give the impression to the beholders, that the unfortunate patient was being literally devoured up with worms. A familiar instance is the death of Herod Agrippa as narrated in the Acts of the Apostles,1 and the; closing scenes in the lives of Antiochus Epiphanes 2 and Herod the Great 3 were even more distressing from the same cause. As all three kings were guilty of blasphemous impiety, it has been assumed by some commentators, that “he was eaten of worms” is simply a picturesque phrase, without any foundation of actual fact beneath it, which has been added to the narrative to intensify the description of the horror and pain of the death, considered to have fallen upon the offenders as the just punishment for their particular sin. There is nothing intrinsically improbable, however, in a single detail of these narratives; on the contrary, the clinical observations, as far as they go, are so accurate as to enable us practically to identify the

particular disease and its complications, from which each of these royal patients suffered, and it is quite certain that parasites of various kinds, either directly or indirectly, have been the cause of many deaths. The only doubt and difficulty lie in determining precisely the creature that is meant by “worm,” a term which is as indefinite in Hebrew and Greek as it is in English. Three words are translated “worm “in the Old Testament: —

1. Hebr., Sâs; Gk., σής.

This denotes the larvae of moths, found in clothes, tapestries, and carpets: “For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool” (Isa. 2:8 see, also, Job 4:19; 27:18; Isa. 1:9).

2. Hebr., Rimmah; Gk., σαπρία, σῆψις.

3. Hebr., Tôlêah; Gk., σκώληξ.

These two words appear to be synonymous, and denote: —

(1) A species of caterpillar probably, as in Jonah 4:7: “God prepared a worm when the morning rose next day, and it smote the gourd.”

(2) The larvae of moths and weevils which ...

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