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A pestilence is any virulent and highly infectious disease that can cause an epidemic or even a pandemic. The word can also be used about parasites causing large scale sickness and death, such as Guinea worm.

Originally the word referred to the bubonic plague, which is called pestis in Latin.

It can also refer to:

In religion

  • Pestilence, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in some interpretations of the book of Revelation.

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Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki


The dreaded infectious disease frequent in ancient Israel and proving fatal in the majority of cases was probably the bubonic plague, which in antiquity was especially prevalent in Egypt, and also occurred in other countries of the East (Pliny, "Historia Naturalis," iii. 4). Moses threatened the people with this pestilence (Lev 26:25; Deut 28:21), while Yhwh warned the spies that it would be the punishment for the evil report which they had brought of the Holy Land (Num 14:12). The Psalmist besought protection from the plague (Ps 913, 6), and Solomon prayed for deliverance from it when Israel should come to the Temple (1 Kg 8:37); but Jeremiah (xiv. 12, xxi. 6, xxiv. 10) and Ezekiel (v. 12, vii. 15) threatened the people with this disease if they continued to despise the word of God. Pestilence was also one of the four judgments which God inflicted upon Jerusalem in order to turn it into wilderness (Ezek 14:21). In 2 Sam 24:13-15 and 1Chr 21:11-14 there is an account of a plague which caused a mortality of 70,000 in Israel within three days (years ?). Amos (iv. 10) says that the plague in the wilderness was not effective in reforming the people, the allusion probably being to one of the two "maggefot" which killed many persons within a short time, according to Num 17:9 and xxv. 8. This pestilence is different from that whichattacks animals and from which the cattle of the Egyptians died (Ex 9:6-8).

According to Ta'an. iii. 1, a city ravaged by the pestilence must institute fast-days and prayers. In answer to the question when may an infectious disease be called a pestilence, the Mishnah declares that if three persons die during three consecutive days in any city of 500 inhabitants, the pestilence is raging there. Further details are given in the baraita Ta'an. 21a, which decides that if nine persons die within three consecutive days in a city of 1,500 inhabitants, the pestilence is present; but that if nine persons die in one day and none in the following days, or if only nine persons die within four consecutive days, there is no pestilence. Ta'an. 21b states that in the first half of the third century C.E. the pestilence ravaged Syria, but did not come near the habitation of Abba Arika.

Bibliography: Riehm, Handw├Ârterb. s.v.; Herzog-Hauck, Real-Encyc. xi. 72-74.

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.

Simple English

Pestilence is a word that is used for any highly infectious disease that can cause an epidemic or even a pandemic. It is commonly used for parasites too, but only when they cause large scale sickness or death, such as the Guinea worm.

The word meant the disease plague, which is called pestis in Latin. It was used for the Black Death as well, an epidemic of the 14th century that killed Millions of people in Europe.

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