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J R Soc Med. 2005 December; 98(12): 533.
PMCID: PMC1299335

Plague, rats and the Bible again

When discussing the ‘plague’ of the Philistines, I postulated that the black rat only reached Egypt, and hence Palestine, from southern India after the Greeks discovered the monsoon in the second or first century BC.1-3 The new finds described by Freemon prove that the black rat and its fleas arrived in Egypt over a millennium earlier.4 Either they came the long coastal way round, or someone knew about the monsoon long before the Greeks. But, whether the epidemic was bubonic plague4 or bacillary dysentery,5 I must still insist that the rodents mentioned were not vectors but crop pests, being ‘mice that mar the land’ (1 Samuel, 6:5). The Philistines hoped that the God of Israel would lighten his hand from off them and from off their land.


1. Russell WMS, Russell C. Evolutionary and social aspects of disease. Ecol Dis 1983;2: 95-106 [PubMed]
2. Russell WMS. Plague, rats and the Bible. J R Soc Med 1987;80: 598-9 [PMC free article] [PubMed]
3. Russell WMS. Plague, rats and the Bible. J R Soc Med 2000;93: 553 [PMC free article] [PubMed]
4. Freemon FR. Bubonic plague in the Book of Samuel. J R Soc Med 2005:98: 436. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
5. Shrewsbury JFD. The Plague of the Philistines. London: Victor Gollancz, 1964

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