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The Fourth Plague

The Fourth Plague

According to medieval Jewish bible commentators, the fourth plague suffered by the Egyptians was an invasion of destructive herds of wild animals. Yet Christian, and indeed many modern Jewish translations , believe the plague was an inundation of flies. The disagreement between the two opinions of the plague’s nature is highlighted in the Midrash.

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Excommunication- the biblical origins of a medieval punishment

Excommunication- the biblical origins of a medieval punishment

In the Middle Ages, excommunication, the cutting off of an offender from the religious community, was a severe and fearsome punishment. In the Catholic church an offender was cast out in a ceremony involving twelve priests and a bishop, each holding a lighted candle. A bell was rung and a decree of anathema pronounced, condemning the reprobate to the devil and eternal fire, at least until he repented. After the curse was pronounced, the candles were extinguished.  

A similar ritual was performed in the synagogue for the most severe cases of excommunication. A Torah scroll was taken, the participants in the ceremony held candles, a shofar was blown, curses pronounced and the candles extinguished. This ceremony was known as placing someone under the ḥerem; it was the ultimate sanction in an increasingly stringent series of bans placed on a recalcitrant who refused to repent his offence against the community.

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