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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Bee (occurs in Deuteronomy 1:44; Judges 14:8; Psalms 118:12; Isaiah 7:18). This insect belongs to the family apidæ, order hymenoptera, species apis mellifica, commonly called the honey-bee, because this species has often yielded honey to man.

In proceeding to notice the principal passages of Scripture in which the bee is mentioned, we first pause at Deuteronomy 1:44, where Moses alludes to the irresistible vengeance with which bees pursue their enemies: 'The Amorites came out against you and chased you as bees do, and destroyed you in Seir unto Hormah.' 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 Ælian records that some places in Scythia were formerly inaccessible on account of the swarms of bees with which they were infested. Park 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 this country the stings of two exasperated hives have been known to kill a horse in a few minutes.

The reference to the bee contained in Judges 14:8, has attracted the notice of most readers. It is related in Judges 14:5-6 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; 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, the ants, etc. The Syriac version translates 'the bony carcass.' The learned 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). 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 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 honeycombs, after the inhabitants had suspended it over the gate of their city. A similar story is told by Aldrovandus of some bees that inhabited and built their combs in a human skeleton in a tomb in a church at Verona.

The phrase in Psalms 118:12, 'They compassed me about like bees,' is easily understood by all who know the manner in which bees attack the object of their fury.

The only remaining passage has been strangely misunderstood (Isaiah 7:18): '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 fall.' 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 reference is, no doubt, to the custom of the people of the East, and even of many parts of Europe, of calling the attention of anyone in the street, etc. by a significant hiss or rather hist, as Bishop Lowth translates the word both here and in Isaiah 5:26. 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.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Bee'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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