2 Kings 6:25
And there was a great famine in Samaria: and, behold, they besieged it, until an ass's head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of dove's dung for five pieces of silver.
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(25) And there was.—There arose. In consequence of the siege.

Besieged.Were besieging.

Fourscore pieces.—Eighty shekels—i.e., about £10. Ass’s flesh would not ordinarily be eaten at all, and the head of any animal would be the cheapest part. Plutarch mentions that during a famine among the Cadusians an ass’s head could hardly be got for sixty drachms (about £2. 10s.), though ordinarily the entire animal could be bought for about half that sum. And Pliny relates that when Hannibal was besieging Casalinum, a mouse was sold for 200 denarii (£6 5s.).

The fourth part of a cab of dove’s dung.—The cab was the smallest Hebrew dry measure. It held, according to the Rabbis, one-sixth of a seah (2Kings 7:1), or a little over a quart (ξέστης.—Josephus, Antt. ix. 4, § 4). The term dove’s dung, in all probability, denotes some kind of common vegetable produce, perhaps a sort of pulse or pease, which was ordinarily very cheap. Such a designation is not unparalleled. The Arabs call the herb kali “sparrow’s dung;” and Assafœtida is in German “devil’s dung.” In some places in England a species of wild hyacinth is called “dead man’s hands,” from the livid markings on the flower. The shape and colour of the species of pulse mentioned in the text may similarly account for its name. It naturally occurs that so long as there were any “doves” left in the city it would not be necessary to eat their dung. When Josephus wrote that dung was eaten in the siege of Jerusalem, he probably had the present passage in his mind.

Five pieces of silver.Five (shekels in) silver; about 12s. 6d.

2 Kings 6:25. There was a great famine in Samaria — Probably the dearth, which had of late been in the land, was the cause of their stores being so empty; or the siege was so sudden, that they had no time to lay in provisions. An ass’s head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver — Supposed to be shekels, and the common shekel being valued at fifteen pence of English money, they amount to five pounds: a vast price, especially for that which had on it so little meat, and was unwholesome, and unclean according to the law, Leviticus 11:26. In times of famine, however, and extreme necessity, the Jews themselves were absolved from observing the law with regard to meats. There are not wanting instances, in history, where other people, upon the same occasion, have been reduced to the like distress, and been glad to purchase an ass’s head at an enormous price. See Plutarch’s Life of Artaxerxes. The fourth part of a cab — A measure which, according to the Jews, contained as much as the shells of twenty-four eggs. Of dove’s dung — Bochart has shown that there is among the Arabians a kind of vetches or pulse called by this name, which is undoubtedly here meant, for we can scarcely suppose that they used the excrements of doves for food. These vetches were a very coarse food, and yet much in use among the poorer Israelites, and therefore fit to be joined here with the ass’s heads: and a cab was the usual measure of all kinds of grain, and fruits of that sort. In confirmation of the above it may be observed, some travellers tell us, that at Grand Cairo and Damascus there are magazines where they constantly fry this kind of grain, which those who go on pilgrimage buy, and take with them, as part of the provision for their journey. The Arabs, it appears, to this day call this kind of pulse or vetches by the name of dove’s dung. — See Bochart Hieroz., p. 2, 50:1, c. 7.

6:24-33 Learn to value plenty, and to be thankful for it; see how contemptible money is, when in time of famine it is so freely parted with for any thing that is eatable! The language of Jehoram to the woman may be the language of despair. See the word of God fulfilled; among the threatenings of God's judgments upon Israel for their sins, this was one, that they should eat the flesh of their own children, De 28:53-57. The truth and the awful justice of God were displayed in this horrible transaction. Alas! what miseries sin has brought upon the world! But the foolishness of man perverts his way, and then his heart frets against the Lord. The king swears the death of Elisha. Wicked men will blame any one as the cause of their troubles, rather than themselves, and will not leave their sins. If rending the clothes, without a broken and contrite heart, would avail, if wearing sackcloth, without being renewed in the spirit of their mind, would serve, they would not stand out against the Lord. May the whole word of God increase in us reverent fear and holy hope, that we may be stedfast and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that our labour is not in vain in the Lord.As the donkey was "unclean," it would not be eaten except in the last resort; and its head would be its worst and cheapest part.

Cab - This measure is not mentioned elsewhere in Scripture. According to the rabbinical writers it was the smallest of all the dry measures in use among the Jews, being the sixth part of a seah, which was the third part of an ephah. If it was about equal to two of our quarts, the "fourth part of a cab" would be about a pint.

Dove's dung - Most commentators understand by this expression a sort of pulse which is called "dove's dung," or "sparrow's dung" in Arabic. But it is possible that the actual excrement of pigeons is meant. The records of sieges show that both animal and human excrement have been used as food - under circumstances of extreme necessity.

25. an ass's head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver—Though the ass was deemed unclean food, necessity might warrant their violation of a positive law when mothers, in their extremity, were found violating the law of nature. The head was the worst part of the animal. Eighty pieces of silver, equal to £5 5s.

the fourth part of a cab—A cab was the smallest dry measure. The proportion here stated was nearly half a pint for 12s. 6d.

dove's dung—is thought by Bochart to be a kind of pulse or pea, common in Judea, and still kept in the storehouses of Cairo and Damascus, and other places, for the use of it by pilgrim-caravans; by Linnæus, and other botanists, it is said to be the root or white bulb of the plant Ornithogalum umbellatum, Star of Beth-lehem. The sacred historian does not say that the articles here named were regularly sold at the rates described, but only that instances were known of such high prices being given.

Pieces of silver, supposed to be shekels; and the common shekel being valued at fifteen pence of English money, this amounts to five pounds; a vast price, especially for that which had on it so little meat, and that unwholesome, and unclean by law, Leviticus 11:3; though necessity might seem to excuse their violation of that law.

A cab; a measure containing twenty-four eggs.

Dove’s dung; which they used not for fire, (for he is speaking here only of the scarcity of food,) but for food; which, if it seem incredible, it must be considered, first, That famine hath constrained people to eat things as improper and unfit for nourishment as this, as dry leather, and man’s dung, as is implied Isaiah 36:12, and affirmed by grave historians. Secondly, That some creatures do usually eat the dung of others. Thirdly, That doves’ dung, though it be hotter than ordinary, might in other respects be fitter for nourishment than other, as being made of the best and purest grains, and having some moisture in it, &c. Fourthly, That this Hebrew word being of an obscure and doubtful signification, and no where else used, may be, and is by learned men, otherwise rendered and understood; either, first, of the corn which is found in the crops of doves; or, secondly, of the guts and other inwards of doves; or rather, thirdly, of a sort of cicer or pease, which in the Arabic language (which is near akin to the Hebrew, and from which many words are explained) is called dove’s dung; for this was a food much in use amongst the poorer Israelites, and was by all esteemed a very coarse food, and therefore fit to be joined with an ass’s head; and a cab was the usual measure of all sorts-of grains and fruits of that sort.

And there was a great famine in Samaria,.... No care, perhaps, having been taken to lay up stores against a siege:

and, behold, they besieged it until an ass's head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver; shekels, as the Targum explains the word in the next clause, which amounted to about nine or ten pounds of our money; a great price for the head of such a creature, by law unclean, its flesh disagreeable, and of that but very little, as is on an head:

and the fourth part of a cab of doves' dung for five pieces of silver; some of the Jewish writers say (h), this was bought for fuel, which was scarce: Josephus says (i), for salt, and so Procopious Gazaeus, and Theodoret; others, for dunging the lands, which is the use of it in Persia (k) for melons; neither of which are probable; most certainly it was for food; but as doves' dung must be not only disagreeable, but scarce affording any nourishment, something else must be meant; some have thought that the grains found in their crops, or in their excrements, undigested, and picked out, are meant; and others, their crops or craws themselves, or entrails; but Bochart (l) is of opinion, that a sort of pulse is meant, as lentiles or vetches, much the same with the kali or parched corn used in Israel, see 1 Samuel 17:17 and a recent traveller (m) observes, that the leblebby of the Arabs is very probably the kali, or parched pulse, of the Scriptures, and has been taken for the pigeons' dung mentioned at the siege of Samaria; and indeed as the "cicer" (a sort of peas or pulse) is pointed at one end, and acquires an ash colour by parching, the first of which circumstances answers to the figure, the other to the usual colour of pigeons' dung, the supposition is by no means to be disregarded: a "cab" was a measure with the Jews, which held the quantity of twenty four egg shells; according to Godwin (n), it answered to our quart, so that a fourth part was half a pint; and half a pint of these lentiles, or vetches, or parched pulse, was sold for eleven or twelve shillings.

(h) R. Jonah in Ben Melech, Kimchi & Abarbinel in loc. (i) Antiqu. l. 9. c. 4. sect. 4. (k) Universal History, vol. 5. p. 90. (l) Hierozoic. par. 2. l. 1. c. 7. Colossians 44, &c. (m) Shaw's Travels, p. 140. (n) Moses & Aaron, B. 6. c. 9.

And there was a great famine in Samaria: and, behold, they besieged it, until an ass's head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of dove's {n} dung for five pieces of silver.

(n) The Hebrews write, that they burned it in the seige for lack of wood.

25. a great famine in Samaria] The walls were protection enough, but the enemy lay outside, and the provisions came to an end.

an ass’s head] This would not, except in dire extremity, be taken for food, but they were in such straits in Samaria that 80 shekels of silver were now given for it.

a kab] So R.V. The measure is not mentioned elsewhere, but is said to have been the sixth part of a seah, which is more frequently spoken of. The kab is put as an equivalent to the Greek χοῖνιξ.

dove’s dung] Supposed by some to be the name of a very worthless kind of pulse, which in ordinary times nobody dreamt of eating, but of which now a small quantity fetched a large price. That excrement has been used for food in times of famine we have examples (Joseph. B. F. v. 2 Kings 13:7), but that dove’s dung should have been specially gathered for this purpose would be very strange. There could be but so small a supply. It appears better therefore to take the words as the name of some vegetable. The Germans call ‘assafœtida’ Teufelsdreck = devil’s dung. Josephus says, without any warrant, that this ‘dove’s dung was bought by the people instead of salt’.

Verse 25. - And there was a great famine in Samaria. It was Benhadad's design to capture the place, not by battering down its walls with military engines, but by blockading it, and cutting off all its supplies, as Josephus tells us (l.s.c.). And, behold, they besieged it, until an ass's head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of dove's dung for five pieces of silver. The ass, being an unclean animal (Leviticus 11:4), would not be eaten at all except in the last extremity, and the head was the worst and so the cheapest part; yet it sold for "eighty pieces" (rather, shekels) of silver, or about £5 of our money; as in the Cadusian famine mentioned by Plutarch ('Wit. Artaxerx.,' § 24), where an ass's head was sold for sixty drachmas (about forty shillings). "Dove's dung" is thought by some to be the name of a plant; but it is better to understand the term literally. Both animal and human excrement have been eaten in sieges (Josephus, ' Bell. Jud.,' 5:13. § 7; Cels., 'Hierobot.,' 2. p. 233), when a city was in the last extremity. 2 Kings 6:25The famine became great - till an ass's head was worth eighty shekels of silver, and a quarter of a cab of dove's dung was worth five shekels. היה בּ, to become for equals to be worth. The ass was an unclean animal, so that it was not lawful to eat its flesh. Moreover the head of an ass is the most inedible part of the animal. Eighty shekels were about seventy thalers (10, 10s. - Tr.), or if the Mosaic bekas were called shekels in ordinary life, thirty-five thalers (5, 5s.; see Bertheau, Zur Gesch. der Isr. p. 49). According to Thenius, a quarter of a cab is a sixth of a small Dresden measure (Msschen), not quite ten Parisian cubic inches. Five shekels: more than four thalers (twelve shillings), or more than two thalers (six shillings). The Chetbib חרייונים is to be read יונים, excrementa columbarum, for which the Keri substitues the euphemistic יונים, fluxus, profluvium columbarum. The expression may be taken literally, since dung has been known to be collected for eating in times of terrible famine (vid., Joseph. Bell. Jud. v. 13, 7); but it may also be figuratively employed to signify a very miserable kind of food, as the Arabs call the herba Alcali Arab. s̆nân, i.e., sparrow's dung, and the Germans call Asa foetida Teufelsdreck. But there is no ground for thinking of wasted chick-pease, as Bochart (Hieroz. ii. p. 582, ed. Ros.) supposes (see, on the other hand, Celsii Hierobot. ii. p. 30ff.).

(Note: Clericus gives as a substantial parallel the following passage from Plutarch (Artax. c. 24): "he only killed the beasts of burden, so that the head of an ass was hardly to be bought for sixty drachmae;" and Grotius quote the statement in Plin. h. n. viii. 57, that when Casalinum was besieged by Hannibal a mouse was sold for 200 denaria.)

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