Q: #556. In (1 Sam 5:6,9,12), it says that God "smote" the Philistines with "emerods." What were "emerods?"
A: The word “emerods” is used 8 times in the Bible, and all but one of these uses are found in 1st Samuel chapters 5 & 6. The Greek word “ophel” is used in (Deut 28:27)(1 Sam 5:6,9,12)(1 Sam 6:4,5), and the Greek word “tchor” is used in (1 Sam 6:11,17). Nearly all versions of the Bible translate both of these Greek words as “tumors” rather than “emerods.” Strong’s does this as well.
In (1 Sam Ch. 5 & 6), we see that the Philistines had captured the Ark of the Covenant in a battle with the Israelites, and placed it in their pagan temple. This resulted in God striking them (“smoting them”) with “tumors.” So, what were these “tumors?” Nearly all scholars believe that these “tumors” were one of two things: “hemorrhoids” or “bubonic plague.”
A majority of scholars believe that these “tumors” were “hemorrhoids,” and the word “emerods” is sometimes used synonymously for hemorrhoids. The primary verse used to support that emerods were hemorrhoids is found in (1 Sam 5:9) of the KJV version of the Bible, which says, “and he (God) smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts.” Since “secret parts” (the groin and anus areas) is where “hemorrhoids” occur, it is deduced that this is how God “smote” the Philistines.
However, it should be noted that, from what I can find, the words “secret parts” are not found in the original Greek. Virtually no modern versions use these words, stopping with (paraphrasing) “and God smote the men of the city with tumors.”
So, if we go with God “smiting” the Philistines with “tumors,” and these were not necessarily in the “secret parts,” then we move to our other possibility, and that is that God struck them with the “bubonic plague.” And, I believe this is the better explanation. Why do I come to this conclusion? Let’s look!
First, we need to look at (1 Sam 5:10)(NASB), which says “So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. And as the ark of God came to Ekron the Ekronites cried out, saying, “They have brought the ark of the God of Israel around to us, to KILL US and our people.” (1 Sam 5:11) continues, “Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go back to its own place, so that it does not KILL US and our people.” For there was a DEADLY DESTRUCTION throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there” (caps emphasis mine). In other words, the plague that God sent was apparently “killing” people (smote – Gr. “nakah,” can also mean “to kill”). Now, hemorrhoids hurt (sometimes a LOT), but they don’t kill people.
Secondly, in (1 Sam 6:4-5), we learn that in conjunction with the plague that “rats ravaged the land.” This is KEY! Rats have been linked to several huge outbreaks of the “bubonic plague.” Perhaps the greatest one, in the 14th century, was called the “Black Death,” and it resulted in the death of about 50 million people! (Wikipedia says it killed up to 60% of the European population!)
One of the primary symptoms of bubonic plague is that “tumors” appear on the skin. While it is mostly treatable now, if left untreated, anywhere from 30 – 60% of the people who contract it end up dying.
So, why did the KJV translators point towards “hemorrhoids” as the “plague” that God sent upon the Philistines, rather than “bubonic plague?” As I studied this, I found something VERY interesting! It wasn’t until 1894 that the bacteria that causes bubonic plague was discovered (credited to a man named Alexandre Yersin), and two years after this, that it was discovered (by Jean-Paul Simond) that this bacteria is spread by the bite of a “rat-flea” (Xenopsylla cheopis), which is a parasite of rodents, primarily rats. (The bacteria that causes bubonic plague is passed by rat-fleas first feeding on the blood of rats, and then biting humans afterwards.)
In other words, when the KJV was published in 1611, they didn’t know that the “bubonic plague,” which causes tumors and kills people, is spread from “flea-infested” rats! Therefore, the KJV translators did not make the connection between the “tumors” and “rats,” which is found in 1st Samuel. Instead, they went with something that they “knew” caused “tumors,” and that was “hemorrhoids” (likely adding “secret parts” to reinforce this belief).
***Note: Again, while I love the KJV Bible, this is another reason why we should not consider the KJV an “infallible, God-inspired” version of the Bible. It contains translation errors, just like any other “version” of the Bible. (See: Q: #1.)
Therefore, I believe that “bubonic plague” was the cause of the “tumors” that resulted from God’s punishment on the Philistines.