Of Rats and Men: Poussin's Plague at Ashdod.
This biblical text has been linked to bubonic plague by some, but not all, authors because black rats from the Far East did not reach the Near East until the 1st century BCE. However, fossilized remains of Xenopsylla cheopis fleas and the Rattus black rats have been found in the Egyptian Nile Valley, dating their arrival in the Middle East to 1350 BCE. The Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus (37-100 ACE) attributed the epidemic to bacillary dysenter, which can lead to hemorrhoids, his translation of the Hebrew word "opalim." However, Josephus' translation of the Hebrew word has been questioned. The original Hebrew text of the Book of Samuel uses two words to describe the plague's pathology, namely techorim (tumor) and ophel (boil), both appropriate for bubonic plague.
The King James version of the Bible translates both words as "emerods" (hemorrhoids), and the New International version of the Bible translates both as "tumors." The Septuagint, a Hebrew-to-Greek translation of the Torah made in the 3rd century in Egypt by 72 Hebrew scholars, and Saint Jerome's translation of this Greek text into Latin, both expand on the original Hebrew by stating that the tumors were in the groin (bubo is derived from the Greek word for groin). The Septuagint translation by Hebrew scholars seems more reliable than the translation to Latin by Josephus.
It is startling that in 1630 Poussin implicated rats in the pathogenesis of the bubonic plague, a fact disregarded until the end of the 19th century. Poussin lived through the Thirty Years' War in France and Italy and might have seen cases of plague.
It was not until 1894 that Alexandre Yersin and Kitasato Shibasaburo, independently in Hong Kong isolated the bacterium responsible for the Third Bubonic Plague Pandemic. Yersin named it Pasteurella pestis after the Pasteur Institute, but in 1967 it was moved to a new genus and renamed Yersinia pestis in honor of Yersin. Yersin also noted that rats were affected by plague during human epidemics. Plague was regarded in Asia as a disease of rats. Thus, when large numbers of rats were found dead, plague outbreaks soon followed.
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Address for correspondence: Victor Asensi, Infectious Diseases Unit, Hospital Universitario Central de Asturias, Oviedo University School of Medicine, Avda Roma s/n, Oviedo, Asturia 33011, Spain; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Victor Asensi and Joshua Fierer
Author affiliations: Oviedo University School of Medicine, Oviedo, Spain (V. Asensi); VA San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, California, USA (J. Fierer); University of California San Diego School of Medicine, San Diego (J. Fierer)
Caption: Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665). The Plague at Ashdod, 1630. Oil on canvas. 58.3 in x 78 in/148 cm x 198 cm. Louvre Museum, Paris, France.
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|Title Annotation:||ABOUT THE COVER|
|Author:||Asensi, Victor; Fierer, Joshua|
|Publication:||Emerging Infectious Diseases|
|Article Type:||Cover story|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2018|
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