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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Bee

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(דְּבוֹרָה, deborah', Gr. μέλισσα ), a gregarious insect, of the family Apidae, order Hymenoplera, species Apis mellifica, commonly called the honey-bee, one of the most generally-diffused creatures on the globe. Its instincts, its industry, and the valuable product of its labors, have attained for it universal attention from the remotest times. A prodigious number of books have been written, periodical publications have appeared, and even learned societies have been founded, with a view to promote the knowledge of the bee, and increase its usefulness to man. Poets and moralists of every age have derived from it some of their most beautiful and striking illustrations.

The following is a mere outline of the facts ascertained by Swammerdam, Maraldi, Reaumur, Schirach, Bonnet, and Huber: Its anatomy and physiology, comprehending the antennae, or tactors, by which it exercises at least all the human senses; the eye, full of lenses, and studded with hairs to ward off the pollen or dust of flowers, and the three additional eyes on the top of the head, giving a defensive vision upward from the cups of flowers; the double stomach, the upper performing the office of the crop in birds, and regurgitating the honey, and the lower secreting the wax into various sacklets; the baskets on the thighs for carrying the pollen; the hooked feet; the union of chemical and mechanical perfection in the sting; its organs of progressive motion; its immense muscular strength: the different sorts of bees inhabiting a hive, and composing the most perfect form of insect society, from the stately venerated queen-regnant, the mother of the whole population and their leader in migrations, down to the drone, each distinguished by its peculiar form and occupations: the rapidity of their multiplication; the various transitions from the egg to the perfect insect; the amazing deviations from the usual laws of the animal economy; the means by which the loss of a queen is repaired, amounting to the literal creation of another; their architecture (taught by the great Geometrician, who "made all things by number, weight, and measure"), upon the principles of the most refined geometrical problem; their streets, magazines, royal apartments, houses for the citizens; their care of the young, consultations. and precautions in sending forth a new colony; their military prowess, fortifications, and discipline; their attachment to the hive and the common interest, yet patience under private wrongs; the subdivision of labor, by which thousands of individuals co-operate without confusion in the construction of magnificent public works; the uses they serve, as the promoting of the fructification of flowers; the amazing number and precision of their instincts, and the capability of modifying these by circumstances, so far as to raise a doubt whether they be not endowed with a portion, at least, of intelligence resembling that of man.

The bee is first mentioned in Deuteronomy 1:44, where Moses alludes to the irresistible vengeance with which bees pursue their enemies. A similar reference to their fury in swarms is contained in Psalms 118:12. The powerlessness of man under the united attacks of these insects is well attested. Pliny relates that bees were so troublesome in some parts of Crete that the inhabitants were compelled to forsake their homes, and AElian records that some places in Scythia were formerly inaccessible on account of the swarms of bees with which they were infested. Mr. Park (Travels, 2, 37) relates that at Doofroo, some of the people, being in search of honey, unfortunately disturbed a swarm of bees, which came out in great numbers, attacked both men and beasts, obliged them to fly in all directions, so that he feared an end had been put to his journey, and that one ass died the same night, and another the next morning. Even in England the stings of two exasperated hives have been known to kill a horse in a few minutes.

In Judges 14:5-8, it is related that Samson, aided by supernatural strength, rent a young lion that warred against him as he would have rent a kid, and that "after a time," as he returned to take his wife, he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, "and, behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcass of the lion." It has been hastily concluded that this narrative favors the mistaken notion of the ancients, possibly derived from misunderstanding this very account, that bees might be engendered in the dead bodies of animals (Virgil, Georg. 4), and ancient authors are quoted to testify to the aversion of bees to flesh, unpleasant smells, and filthy places. But it may readily be perceived that it is not said that the bees were bred in the body of the lion. Again, the frequently recurring phrase "after a time," literally "after days," introduced into the text, proves that at least sufficient time had elapsed for all the flesh of the animal to have been removed by birds and beasts of prey, ants, etc. The Syriac version translates "the bony carcass." Bochart remarks that the Hebrew phrase sometimes signifies a whole year, and in this passage it would seem likely to have this meaning, because such was the length of time which usually elapsed between espousal and marriage (see Judges 14:7). He refers to Genesis 4:3; Genesis 24:55; Leviticus 25:29-30; Judges 11:4; comp. with Judges 11:40; 1 Samuel 1:3; comp. with 1 Samuel 1:7; 1 Samuel 1:20; and 1 Samuel 2:19; and 1 Samuel 27:7. The circumstance that "honey" was found in the carcass as well as bees shows that sufficient time had elapsed since their possession of it for all the flesh to be removed. Nor is such an abode for bees, probably in the skull or thorax, more unsuitable than a hollow in a rock, or in a tree, or in the ground, in which we know they often reside, or those clay nests which they build for themselves in Brazil. Nor is the fact without parallel. Herodotus (5, 14) relates that a swarm of bees took up their abode in the skull of one Silius, an ancient invader of Cyprus, which they filled with honey-combs, after the inhabitants had suspended it over the gate of their city. A similar story is told by Aldrovandus (De Insectis, 1, 110) of some bees that inhabited and built their combs in a human skeleton in a tomb in a church at Verona. In Sirach 11:3, the production of honey by bees, and its use as food, are also mentioned. Bees must have been very common in Palestine to justify the title given to it of a land flowing with milk and honey. They are still abundant there (Shaw, Trav. p. 292 sq.; Oedmann, Samml. 6, 136), and mentioned in the Talmud (Chelim, 16, 7; Sabb. 24, 3). See Philo, Opp. 2, 633 Bochart, 3, 352. (See HONEY).

The reference to the bee in Isaiah 7:18, has been misunderstood: "The Lord shall hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost parts of the river of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria." Here the fly and the bee are no doubt personifications of those inveterate enemies of Israel, the Egyptians and Assyrians, whom the Lord threatened to excite against his disobedient people. But the hissing for them has been interpreted, even by modern writers of eminence, as involving "an allusion to the practice of calling out the bees from their hives, by a hissing or whistling sound, to their labor in the fields, and summoning them to return when the heavens begin to lower, or the shadows of evening to full" (Dr. Harris's Natural History of the Bible, London, 1825). No one has offered any proof of the existence of such a custom, and the idea will itself seem sufficiently strange to all who are acquainted with the habits of bees. The true allusion is, no doubt, to the custom of the people of the East, and even of many parts of Europe, of calling the attention of any one in the street, etc., by a significant hiss, or rather hist, as Lowth translates the word both here and in Isaiah 5:26, but which is generally done in this country by a short significant hem! or other exclamation. Hissing, or rather histing, is in use among us for setting a dog on any object. Hence the sense of the threatening is, I will direct the hostile attention of the Egyptians and Assyrians against you.

In the Septuagint version there is an allusion to the bee, immediately after that of the ant (Proverbs 6:8), which may be thus rendered "Or go to the bee, and learn how industrious she is, and what a magnificent work she produces; whose labors kings and common people use for their health. And she is desired and praised by all. And though weak in strength, yet prizing wisdom, she prevails." This passage is not now found in any Hebrew copy, and Jerome informs us that it was wanting in his time. Neither is it contained in any other version except the Arabic. It is nevertheless quoted by many ancient writers, as Clem. Alex. Strom. lib. 1; Origen, in Num. Hom. 27, and in Isai. Hom. 2; Basil, Hexameron, Hom. 8; Ambrose, 5, 21; Jerome, in Ezekiel 3; Theodoret, De Providentia, Orat. 5; Antiochus, Abbas Sabbae, Hom. 36; and John Damascenus, 2:89. It would seem that it was in the Hebrews copy used by the Greek translators. The ant and the bee are mentioned together by many writers, because of their similar habits of industry and economy. For the natural history and habits of the bee, see the Penny Cyclopaedia, s.v. (See SWARM).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Bee'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/b/bee.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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