International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
em'-er-odz `ophalim, techorim:
These words are used in the account of the plague which broke out among the Philistines while the captive Ark of the Covenant was in their land. `Ophalim literally means rounded eminences or swellings, and in the Revised Version (British and American) is translated "tumors" (1 Samuel 5:6-12). In the Hebrew text of this passage the Qere substitutes for it the word techorim, a term which occurs in the next chapter in the description of the golden models of these swellings that were made as votive offerings (1 Samuel 6:11-17). The swellings were symptoms of a plague, and the history is precisely that of the outbreak of an epidemic of bubonic plague. The older writers supposed by comparison of the account in 1 Samuel with Psalm 78:66 that they were hemorrhoids (or piles), and the older English term in the King James Version is a 16th-century form of that Greek word, which occurs in several medical treatises of the 16th and 17th centuries. There is, however, no evidence that this identification is correct. In the light of the modern research which has proved that the rat-flea (Pulex cheopis) is the most active agent in conveying the virus of plague to the human subject, it is worthy of note that the plague of tumors was accompanied by an invasion of mice (`akhbor) or rats. The rat is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, although it was as common in Canaan and Israelite times as it is today, a fact demonstrated by the frequency with which their bones occur in all strata of the old Palestinian cities, so it is probable that the term used was a generic one for both rodents.
The coincidence of destructive epidemics and invasions of mice is also recorded by Herodotus (ii.141), who preserves a legend that the army of Sennacherib which entered Egypt was destroyed by the agency of mice. He states that a statue of Ptah, commemorating the event, was extant in his day. The god held a mouse in his hand, and bore the inscription: "Whosoever sees me, let him reverence the gods." This may have been a reminiscence of the story in Isaiah 37:36.
For other references see PLAGUE.