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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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1. Zoological description.—Locusts belong to the natural order Orthoptera. The members of this order are insects which undergo only a partial metamorphosis; the larva is scarcely distinguishable from the adult, unless by its smaller form and by the atrophy of its wings, which develop only gradually in proportion to its growth. Excepting this difference, it has the same form and the same habits as the adult. In its perfect state, the first pair of wings, though remaining supple, have a certain consistency. They cover the hind wings, which are membranous and transparent, and folded under the upper wings in the form of a fan. The month is of shape suitable for mastication, and the jaws act like a pair of scissors. Formerly the Orthoptera were divided into runners and leapers, but this division has been abandoned. Locusts were classed among the leapers. According to the present nomenclature, we must class them among the Orthoptera genuina. Among these appear among others (a) the family of Locustodeœ, to which the European grasshoppers (the subfamily of the Locustidœ) belong; and also (b) the family of Acridiodeœ, which includes in its various sub-families the principal locusts of Palestine. It is of the highest importance to avoid the confusion which may arise from this misleading terminology, according to which the ‘locusts’ of the Bible do not belong to the scientific family Locustodeœ.

We are, then, to treat of the family Aeridiodeœ. Their antennae are relatively short, scarcely exceeding the length of the head, whereas the antennae of the Locustodeœ are very long, as long as their bodies. Their hind legs, adapted for leaping, have very strong thighs furnished with indentations, which are easily seen if slightly magnified. The head is vertical. The first pair of wings are more leathery than the second, but both present the same reticulated appearance. The rapid brushing of the thighs of the hind legs, furnished with indentations, against the nervures of the front wings produces, when the insect is at rest, a stridulation, the tone and height of which vary according to the species. The Acridiodeœ are generally diurnal, and their food is essentially herbaceous. In the females the abdomen ends in a pair of short pincers, whereas in the Locustodeœ this appendage is greatly prolonged like the blade of a sabre. These pincers serve to bury in the earth, one by one, the eggs, which are disposed in cylindrical masses and held together by a frothy secretion.

The insect moults six times, but the principal stages of its development are only two—larva and imago (perfect state). The intermediate state (pupa) which we find in other orders of insects is imperceptible in the Orthoptera. In their state of larvae, locusts, having no wings, or more correctly, merely the rudiments of wings, hop on the ground; even at this stage they are extremely destructive. Later, with the succeeding moultings, the wings develop, but remain enclosed in a membranous case; the insects now advance walking. At last, at their sixth moulting, which takes place from six to seven weeks after their coming out of the egg, locusts attain to their perfect state, and, unfolding their wings, fly through the air, producing what travellers describe as ‘a hissing or a buzzing noise.’

In Palestine as many as forty different species of Acridiodeœ have been noted. The most important of these belong to the sub-families of the Tryxalidœ, the Œdipodidœ, and the Acridiidœ properly so called. The commonest species, those which are rightly associated with the locusts mentioned in the Bible, are the Pachytylus migratorius (formerly called Œdipoda migratoria) and the Sehistocerea peregrina (formerly called Acridium peregrinum). The colour of these insects is generally brown bordering on green, but with a bluish tint round the mouth, and with black spots on the body and green spots on the wings. The males are coloured differently from the females. In regard to their dimensions, locusts are as much as three or even four inches long when they are full grown.

Locusts are migratory insects, as the qualifying words, migratoria, peregrina, applied to them denote. They are produced chiefly in desert regions on the lofty plateaux of the East, and, carried by their wings and driven on by the east wind, they invade western Palestine in compact bodies.

2. Biblical names.—The OT mentions locusts under at least nine different names. These are (1) אַרְבֶּה ’arbch, Exodus 10:4; Exodus 10:12-14; Exodus 10:19, Leviticus 11:22, Deuteronomy 28:38, Judges 6:5; Judges 7:12, 1 Kings 8:37, 2 Chronicles 6:28, Job 39:20, Psalms 78:46; Psalms 105:34; Psalms 109:23, Proverbs 30:27, Jeremiah 46:23, Joel 1:4; Joel 2:25, Nahum 3:15; Nahum 3:17. (2) חָנָב hâgâb, Leviticus 11:22, Numbers 13:33, 2 Chronicles 7:13, Ecclesiastes 12:5, Isaiah 40:22. (3) סָלְעָם sol‘âm, Leviticus 11:22. (4) חַרְנֹּל hargôl, Leviticus 11:22. (5) יָלָק yelek, Psalms 105:34, Jeremiah 51:14; Jeremiah 51:27, Joel 1:4; Joel 2:25, Nahum 3:15 f. (6) חָסִיל hâsîl, 1 Kings 8:37, 2 Chronicles 6:28, Psalms 78:46, Isaiah 33:4, Joel 1:4; Joel 2:25. (7) נָּוָם gûzâm, Joel 1:4; Joel 2:25, Amos 4:9. (8) נֵּב, נּוֹב, נּוֹבַי gçb, gôb, gôbai, Isaiah 33:4, Amos 7:1, Nahum 3:17. (9) צְלָצַל ẓĕlâẓal, Deuteronomy 28:42.

It would naturally be a matter of the greatest interest to know if these various names correspond with as many different species. But before replying to this question, (a) we should have to be certain that the ancients, the Easterns, the Hebrews in particular, were capable of making a distinction similar to that of genus and species used by modern scholars; (b) we should have to be equally certain that Biblical writers employed the terms in their language in a strict and rigorous fashion (a thing which even modern writers do not always do); and (c) we should require sufficient data to enable us to assign such and such a Hebrew name to such and such a particular species. Now these three conditions cannot be fulfilled, and in such a case it may well seem chimerical to demand a systematic classification, in accordance with present zoological principles, of the various locusts mentioned in the Bible. We must remember that Oriental languages, such as Hebrew and Arabic, possess a considerable choice of synonyms to denote one and the same animal. We note that the LXX Septuagint proceeds on no regular system. It translates the Hebrew by using the terms ἀκρίς, βροῦχος, κάμπη, ἀττέλαβος (ἁττέλεβος), ἐρυσίβν (ἐρισύβη), ἀττάκης, ὀφιομάχης, etc., in a purely arbitrary and, it would appear, conjectural manner, without taking the least care always to translate the same Hebrew by the same Greek word. The same is true of the version of Jerome and of translations into modern languages. The Authorized and Revised Versions has had no better success with its varying use of ‘locust,’ ‘grasshopper,’ ‘canker-worm,’ ‘palmer-worm,’ ‘caterpillar,’ and even ‘beetle’ (for hâgâb, manifestly a false translation).

We must also avoid the error of thinking that the various terms employed, for example, by Joel and Nahum refer to locusts at various stages in their development. The fact that the order of the four terms gâzâm, ’arbeh, yelek, hâsîl in Joel 1:4 is followed in Joel 2:25 by the order ’arbch, yelek, hâsîl, gâzâm, in itself disproves this theory. Besides, it would be difficult to perceive in the development of the Orthopterous insect four stages easily distinguishable by every observer, since, as we have seen, the insect changes very little from moulting to moulting.* [Note: Perhaps one might instance, to prove that the Hebrews had noticed the successive stages of development in the locust, the fact that in Jeremiah 51:27 yelek is qualified by סָמָר sâmâr (EV ‘rough’): this might be understood to apply to the state of the insect before it has the use of its wings (?).] We must add to the passages of the canonical OT cited above Judith 2:20, Wisdom of Solomon 16:9, Sirach 43:17. The term used in these three texts is ἀκρίς; the Hebrew Sirach has ’arbch.

The names that the Hebrew language gives to locusts prove that these insects were peculiarly feared (a) on account of their great numbers, and (b) on account of their voracity and their power of destruction. In fact, ’arbch probably goes back to a root meaning to be numerous, to multiply. On the other hand, gâzâm, hâsîl, yelek, and sol‘âm all have the sense of destruction (literally to clip, to cut, to devour, to swallow).† [Note: It is striking to note, in view of these names of serious and even terrible import, that similar insects in Europe (the Locustidœ) are tricked out with such innocent names as ‘grasshopper’ (German, Heuschrecke, from Heu, ‘hay,’ and the old word scricchan, ‘to leap’; in French sauterelle); note also the German Heupferd and the Italian cavaletta, due to the resemblance of the grasshopper’s head to a horse’s.] The sense of gçb (gôb, gôbai) and of hâgâb is a problem. Hargôl appears to signify one who gallops, and ẓĕlâẓal is a more harmless term, referring to the humming of the locust’s wings, or rather to the stridulation it makes when it is at rest (a word akin to this is used to denote cymbals).

3. Locusts in the OT.—In the books of the OT the locust is sometimes used figuratively to denote smallness (Numbers 13:33, Isaiah 40:22), lightness (Ecclesiastes 12:5, but the passage is obscure and in dispute), and great numbers (Judges 6:5; Judges 7:12, Jeremiah 46:23). But, as a rule, when locusts are mentioned, it is usually as an instrument of destruction or as food.

The former of these last two usages is much the more frequent in the OT. Particularly forcible, vivid, and picturesque descriptions of the destructive power of the locust are given in the passages quoted above from Exodus, Joel, Amos, and Nahum. The fear-inspiring character of these insect invaders, as they advance in regular companies (Proverbs 30:27), is in no way exaggerated. Locusts are a veritable plague. We find graphic descriptions in the writings of travellers or residents in the Holy Land, such as Wilson, Tristram, Thomson, Van-Lennep, as well as of other writers in various countries. Their accounts have, among others, been collected by Driver (loc. cit. inf.). Van-Lennep even says of locusts (p. 314) that ‘their voracity is such that in the neighbourhood of Broosa, in the year 1856, an infant having been left asleep in its cradle under some shady trees, was found not long after partly devoured by the locusts.’ See also the singularly graphic passage in which Thomson relates his personal experiences (LB [Note: The Land and the Book.] ii. p. 296 f.). On a sculptured stone found at Babylon is an exact representation (reproduced in Van-Lennep, l.e.) of two locusts devouring a bush. The present writer has seen on both sides of the Dead Sea, and also in the neighbourhood of Jericho and Gadara, locusts at the various stages of development devastating the country and making all verdure disappear in an instant. He has also been a witness of the efforts of the fellahîn, under the direction of the officials of the Turkish Government, to check the advance of the insects by lighting along their track fires fed with petroleum. Another device is to compel the Bedawîn, proportionally to the number of members of each family, to bring in a fixed weight of the eggs or larvae of locusts. The wind, which brings the swarms of locusts, also drives them hither and thither (cf. Psalms 109:23), and sometimes carries them into the sea (Exodus 10:19, Joel 2:20). One who has read, for example, Joel 1-2, or has seen with his own eyes the ravages of the locusts, is not surprised to find in Revelation 9:3-11 this insect playing an apocalyptical part and accomplishing a mission of destruction.

4. Locusts in the Gospels.—But in the Gospels—with which this Dictionary is principally concerned—locusts are never mentioned as devastating insects. In Matthew 3:4 and in the parallel passage Mark 1:6 they appear only as an article of food. It is in this character, then, that we have chiefly to study them here. The word used is ἀκρίς; it is said that John the Baptist fed on ‘locusts and wild honey’ (see art. Honey). An ancient tradition of the Christian Church held that the locusts eaten by the Baptist were not insects, but the pods or husks of a tree, the carob or locust tree (Ceratonia siliqua, Arab. [Note: Arabic.] kharrúb). Curiously enough, this old interpretation has been resuscitated in our own times by Cheyne (Encyc. Bibl. ii. cols. 2136, 2499), who sees in the locusts of John the Baptist ‘carobbeans,’ but for reasons which do not seem to us convincing. In fact, locusts are a well-known food in Eastern countries. Herodotus mentions this (iv. 172); Thomson says (LB [Note: The Land and the Book.] ii. p. 301): ‘Locusts are not eaten in Syria by any but the Bedawîn on the extreme frontier. By the natives, locusts are always spoken of as a very inferior article of food, and regarded by most with disgust—to be eaten only by the very poorest people. John the Baptist, however, was of that class … he also dwelt in “the wilderness” or desert, where such food was and is still used.’ There are, according to travellers, several ways of preparing locusts for food. ‘The Bedouins cat locusts,’ says Burckhardt (p. 239), ‘which are collected in great quantities in the beginning of April. After having been roasted a little upon the iron plate on which bread is baked, they are dried in the sun, and then put into large sacks, with the mixture of a little salt. They are never served up as a dish, but everyone takes a handful of them when hungry. The peasants of Syria do not eat locusts.… There are a few poor fellahs in the Haouran, however, who sometimes, pressed by hunger, make a meal of them; but they break off the head and take out the entrails before they dry them in the sun. The Bedouins swallow them entire.’ ‘The wings and legs are lopped off the body,’ says Wilson (p. 330), ‘and fried with salt and pepper.’ ‘They are roasted and eaten as butter upon loaves of bread,’ says Van-Lennep (p. 319), ‘resembling shrimps in taste, or they are boiled in water with a little salt, dried in the sun, and, being deprived of their wings and legs, are packed in bags for use. They are beaten to a powder, which is mixed with flour and water, made into little cakes, and used as a substitute for bread when flour is scarce. Dried locusts are generally exposed for sale in the markets of Medina, Bagdad, and even Damascus. Palgrave goes so far as to say (p. 346), ‘Locusts are here an article of food, nay, a dainty, and a good swarm of them is begged of Heaven in Arabia no less fervently than it would be deprecated in India or in Syria.… When boiled or fried they are said to be delicious, and boiled and fried accordingly they are to an incredible extent.’ It would appear likewise, to judge from Thomson (l.c.), that occasionally dried, boiled, or fried locusts are eaten with honey. Even horses (Blunt, ii. p. 79) and camels (Daumas, p. 258) are fed on locusts.

The Law of Israel, which strictly forbade the eating of creeping things, insects, etc., made an exception in the case of locusts, which are mentioned under four different names, two of which (sol‘âm and hargôl) are found only in this one passage (Leviticus 11:22). The Law characterizes them in this sentence: ‘Yet these may ye eat of all winged creeping things that go upon all four, which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth.’

Literature.—Bochart, Hierozoicon, i. pp. 34–36, ii. pp. 441–496; Burckhardt, Travels in Syria, 1822, p. 238 f., Notes on the Bedouins, 1830, p. 269; William Rae Wilson, Travels in Egypt and the Holy Land2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , 1824, pp. 329–331; Berggrèn, Guide français-arabe, 1844, p. 702 f.; Général E. Daumas, Le Grand Desert, 1856, pp. 257–265; Robinson, BRP [Note: RP Biblical Researches in Palestine.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , 1867, ii. pp. 205, 340; Wood, Bible Animals, 1869, pp. 596–604; Van-Lennep, Bible Lands, 1875, pp. 313–319; Franz Delitzsch, Hoheslied und Koheleth, 1875, Excursus by Wetzstein, pp. 445–455; Lady Anne Blunt, A Pilgrimage to Nejd2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , 1881, i. p. 94, ii. pp. 57 f., 79; Palgrave, Central and Eastern Arabia, 1883, pp. 345–347; Tristram, Natural History of the Bible, 1885, pp. 306–318; Thomson, The Land and the Book, ii. [1883] pp. 295–302, iii. [1886] p. 130 f.; Morris, Bible Natural History, 1896, pp. 211 f., 269 f.; Driver, Joel and Amos (Cambr. Bible for Schools), 1897, Excursus on Locusts, pp. 82–91; Tümpel, Die Geradflügler Mitteleuropas, 1901; F. H. Fabre, Souvenirs entomologiques, vi. pp. 196–212, 248–297.

Lucien Gautier.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Locust'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​l/locust.html. 1906-1918.
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