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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Hornet or Wasp

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(צַרְעָה, tsirah', Exodus 23:28; Deuteronomy 7:20; Joshua 24:12; Sept. σφηκία, Vulg. crabro). The Heb. term appears to be indicative of stinging; and the ancient versions with the Rabbins favor the interpretation of "hornet" rather than "wasp," as appears from the application of the above Greek and Latin words (comp. Aristotle, Hist. Anim. 5, 19, 617; 9, 65, 66; Pliny, Hist. Nat. 11, 24). The above passages in which the word occurs refer to some means of expulsion of the Canaanites before the Israelites. Not only were bees exceedingly numerous in Palestine, but from the name Zoreah (Joshua 15:33) we may infer that hornets in particular infested some parts of the country: the frequent notices of the animal in the Talmudical writers (Lewysohn, Zool. § 405) lead to the same conclusion. Gesenius, however, maintains that the term is not to be taken in a literal sense, but metaphorically, as the symbol of the panic with which God would inspire the inhabitants, adducing the expressions "terror of God" (Genesis 35:5), "mighty destruction" (Deuteronomy 7:23), and the antithesis of the angel to defend them (Exodus 23:20, etc.), in favor of this interpretation (see Thesaur. Heb. p. 1186). Indeed, the following arguments seem to decide in favor of a metaphorical sense: (1) that the word "hornet" in Exodus 23:28 is parallel to "fear" in Exodus 23:27; (2) that similar expressions are undoubtedly used metaphorically, e.g. "to chase as the bees do" (Deuteronomy 1, 44; Psalms 118:12); (3) that a similar transfer from the literal to the metaphorical sense may be instanced in the classical aestrus, originally a "gad-fly," afterwards terror and madness; and, lastly (4), that no historical notice of such intervention as hornets occurs in the Bible. We may therefore regard it as expressing under a vivid image the consternation with which Jehovah would inspire the enemies of the Israelites, as declared in Deuteronomy 2:25; Joshua 2:11. Among the moderns, Michaelis has defended the figurative sense.

In addition to other reasons for it, he doubts whether the expulsion of the Canaanites could be effected by swarms of σφηκίαι, and proposes to derive the Hebrew from a root signifying "scourges," "plagues," scutica plagae, etc. (Supplem. ad Lexic. Hebr. 6, 2154); but his reasons are ably refuted by Rosenmü ller, apud Bochart (Hieroz. Lips. 1796, 3, ch. 13, p. 402, etc.). In favor of the possibility of such an event, it is observed that AElian relates that the Phaselitae were actually driven from their locality by such means (Φασηλίτας δὲ σφῆκες κ .τ .λ .. Hist. Anim. 9, 28), and Bochart has shown that these Phaselitae were a Phoenician people (ut sup. p. 412). For a parallel case of an army being seriously molested by hornets, see Ammian. Marcell. 24, 8. Even Rosenmü ller himself adopts the figurative sense in his Scholia on Exodus 23:28; but on Joshua 24:12 he retracts that opinion, and amply refutes it. His reasonings and refutations have been adopted by numerous writers (among others, see Paxton's Illustrations of Scripture 1, 303, etc., Edinb. 1819). Michaelis's doubt of the abstract possibility seems very unreasonable when the irresistible power of bees and wasps, etc., attested by numerous modern occurrences, and the thin and partial clothing of the Canaanites, are considered. It is observable that the event is represented by the author of the apocryphal book of Wisdom (12, 8) as a merciful dispensation, by which the Almighty, he says, "spared as men the old inhabitants of his holy land," and "gave them place for repentance." If the hornet, considered as a fly, was in any way connected with their idolatry, the visitation would convey a practical refutation of their error. Ewald (Gesch. d. V. Israel, 3rd ed. Getting. 1864-8, 2:116 sq.) connects the word (reading צָרְעָה i.q. צראעת ) with Manetho's story (Josephus, Apion, 1, 26) of the expulsion of the Israelites from Egypt on account of a disease. See BAALZEBUB.

The hornet (Vespa crabro) is a hymenopterous insect with six legs and four wings. It bears a general resemblance to the common wasp, but is of a darker color, and much larger. It is exceedingly fierce and voracious, especially in hot climates, but even in Western countries its sting is frequently dangerous. Roberts observes on Deuteronomy 7:20, "The sting of the hornet and wasp of the East is much more poisonous than in Europe, and the insect is larger in size. I have heard of several who died from having a single sting; and not many days ago, as a woman was going to a well to draw water,' a hornet stung her in the cheek, and she died the next day. The god Siva is described as having destroyed many giants by hornets." It may be remarked, that the hornet, no less than the whole species of wasps, renders an essential service in checking the multiplication of flies and other insects, which would otherwise become intolerable to man; and that in regard to their architecture, and especially their instincts and habits, they do not yield to their more popular congener, the bee, but even, in several respects, greatly excel it. The hornet, in common with the other social wasps, displays great ingenuity in the manufacture of its nest. It is made of a coarse gray paper, much like the coarsest wrapping paper, but less firm. This is arranged in several globose leaves, one over the other, not unlike the outer leaves of a cabbage, the base of which is attached by a small footstalk to the upper part of the cavity in which it is enclosed. Within this protecting case the combs are built in parallel rows of cells, exactly like those of the bee, but made of paper, and ranged horizontally instead of vertically, and in single series, the entrances always being downwards. Each story is connected with that above it by a number of pillars of the common paper, thick and massive. These cells do not contain honey, but merely the eggs, and in due time, the young, being in fact nursing cradles. The paper with which the hornet builds is formed either from decayed wood or the bark of trees, the fibers of which it abrades by means of its jaws, and kneads into a paste with viscid saliva. When a morsel as large as a pea is prepared, the insect flies to the nest and spreads out the mass in a thin layer at the spot where it is required, molding it into shape with the jaws and feet. It is soon dry, and forms real paper, coarser than that of the common wasp. (Kirby and Spence, Introduct. to Entomology, 8vo, London 1828, 1, 273, 274; Raumur, Histoire des Insectes, vol. 6, Mem. 6, 4to, Par. 1734-42; Wood, Bible Animals, London 1869, p. 614 sq.). (See WASP).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Hornet or Wasp'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/h/hornet-or-wasp.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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