The Black Death (bubonic plague) is not simply a fearful fact in history but is still with us today. The CDC reported that in recent decades there are about seven cases annually in the western U.S. Colorado reported 22 cases of the bubonic plague between 2005 to 2020, and the Daily Mail reported a ten-year-old girl died in early July 2021of the plague. In 2015, four people died of the plague nationwide.
Bubonic plague is called Black Death because body parts such as fingers and toes turn black with gangrene. Death occurs within 2 to 7 days, often sooner. Its deadlier form, known as pneumonic plague, can prove deadly within 24 hours of onset and can be transmitted through the air.
CCN reported on July 6, 2020, “The infamous Bubonic Plague, also known as the ‘Black Death,’ has claimed two lives in Western Mongolia and infected a few in the Chinese region of inner Mongolia….China has become a Petri dish of deadly diseases lately….Judging by the craziness 2020 has brought us so far, one might think nothing could surprise us anymore. Well, think again. Bubonic plague, the one that killed half of Europe back in the 13th century, has just made a comeback in China and Mongolia.” One hundred and forty-six people were put in quarantine.
On February 20, 2021, The Independent reported bubonic plague killed at least 31 people and sickened over 500 in the Biringi area of Ituri Province in the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo between November 15 and December 13 of 2020. The health minister said, ‘We have more than 520 cases … of which more than 31 have been fatal.'”
New evidence supports the contention that bubonic plague started much earlier in China than thought. According to dental samples, the October 22, 2015, issue of Cell published a study revealing that Black Death was present in China almost 3,300 years ago. “They found the DNA of Yersinia pestis bacteria in seven individuals, the oldest of which walked the earth around 2794 B.C.”
What was thought to be the first recorded case of the bubonic plague was in China in 224 B.C., and it struck again in the first worldwide bubonic plague in A.D. 540 at Pelusium, Egypt. This was during the reign of Emperor Justinian, known as “the emperor that never sleeps.” The plague spread to all parts of the known world in sixty years. The dead lay unburied in the streets, and “at length, ten thousand persons died each day at Constantinople.” The people of Constantinople became desperate with all the bodies, so they placed them anywhere they could. It got worse as the black horse of famine galloped through the city streets because mills, where corn was ground, stopped operating.
Historian William Rosen wrote in his book Justinian’s Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe, the plague “would mark the end of one world and the beginning of another. Along the way, it would consume at least 25 million human lives.” Some say half of Europe’s people (100 million) were killed before the plague left in the 700s.
The contemporary historian John of Ephesus described the scene of destruction at Constantinople in the following words — “noble and chaste women, dignified with honour, who sat in bed chambers, now with their mouths swollen, wide open and gaping, who were piled up in horrible heaps, all ages lying prostrate, all staturers bowed down and overthrown, all ranks pressed on upon another, in a single wine-press of God’s wrath, like beasts, not like human beings.”
Bubonic plague even attacked Emperor Justinian, but he survived; however, his Empire did not. The invisible bug brought an end to the Byzantine Empire and began the Middle Ages. The question is: how will bubonic plague and other deadly pestilences impact America?
The plague returned in 1339 and became known as the Black Death, Great Mortality, and Great Pestilence, killing millions. Others died during a seven-year famine called “the famine before the plague.” In August of 1347, the plague haughtily marched into England, killing millions more. One Italian wrote, “Its victims ate lunch with their friends and [ate] dinner with their ancestors in paradise.” This epidemic claimed an astonishing 20 million lives in just four years.
The bubonic plague cut its way through the Far East to Italy and then to Europe. It is thought that Genoa merchants transported plague in their cargoes of spices, nutmeg, jewels, and silks. In Siena, Italy, 75% of the people were cut down like grain before the scythe. As described in the Cronica Senese by Agnolo di Tura in 1348, “The victims died almost immediately. They would swell beneath the armpits and in the groin and fall over while talking. Father abandoned child, wife husband, one brother another; for this illness seemed to strike through breath and sight. And so they died. None could be found to bury the dead for money or friendship.”
Pestilences have a horrific record in mankind’s history and have produced massive problems of civil disorder, disruption of labor, economic disaster, rebellion, and the demise of whole populations. Government officials, bishops, and the Roman Emperor accused Jews, lepers, beggars, and gypsies of spreading the plague by poisoning water wells resulting in the massacre of entire communities of men, women, and children for those alleged crimes.
In Germany, France, Switzerland, and Austria, Jews were massacred as the cause of the plague since rumors were rife that they had poisoned city water systems. In Strasbourg, 2,000 Jews were burned alive, and 3,000 Jews were slaughtered in Mainz. Rulers in Poland and Lithuania offered a haven to Jews starting a mass Jewish migration to those nations.
The King of Sweden believed fasting on a Friday and not wearing shoes on Sunday would appease God and stop the plague. However, lice on rats were the cause, not God, and the plague continued killing two of the king’s brothers and moved capriciously to Russia and Greenland.
The deadly plague lashed the face of Russia in 1351, and in 1353. It retreated but never disappeared, coming back sporadically but not killing millions again until another outbreak in the 1600s that also greatly reduced the population of Europe.
The face of London was smashed by the plague in 1348 and about every ten years thereafter until the plague of 1665. In 300 years, the city experienced 40 epidemics. During those times, about 20 percent of the living in London died of plague.
The Great Plague of 1665 was one of the worst of the numerous outbreaks, killing 100,000 Londoners in just seven months.
The most significant change that came with the pandemic was the end of serfdom in Western Europe as the lord of the manor no longer had a stranglehold on his serfs. The serfs were in great demand, so they could not be forced to stay with their lifetime lord. Homes were empty, businesses closed, and the land lay idle.
A laborer became worth far more since workers were few. The survivors had better opportunities for work and increased wages.
The fifteenth century brought prosperity since numerous houses were empty after infected people fled their farms and businesses for hopeless healing and protection elsewhere. Moreover, the plague broke down the common divisions between the upper and lower classes, which led to the rise of a new middle class.
The Black Death outbreaks in the sixth, fourteenth, and seventeenth centuries claimed the lives of up to 200 million people, about 30 to 60 percent of Europe’s population! And all eruptions started in China!
Bubonic Plague lashed the face of Europe in the Middle Ages, killing half the population in some cities, more in others. The presence of plague, unknown to most people, is still with us today, even in America.
Now the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that bubonic plague is spreading in parts of Madagascar (island nation just east of southern Africa), and a “weak health care system means it may spread farther.” The WHO reported that as of August 1, 2017, Madagascar was experiencing “a large outbreak of plague.” These cases were “unusually severe.” After November 2017, a total of 2119 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of plague, including 187 deaths, were reported by the Ministry of Health of Madagascar to WHO.
Today, most plague deaths are in Africa, particularly the Congo. Other areas with regular outbreaks are Tanzania, Madagascar, Vietnam, Peru, China, Mongolia, and, occasionally, the U.S.
What does that portend for America?
It seems many people think (and knowledgeable Christians know) that earthquakes, famines, wars, and rumors of wars are an indication of the end of the world as we know it. No, I’m not a pessimist; that teaching comes from the Bible—and an old Time magazine cover screamed, “The End of the World.” Yes, we have seen disasters before but not with such frequency and intensity. Nations could be destroyed as they have in the past.
Muslim religious scholars taught that the plague was a “martyrdom and mercy” from God, assuring the believer’s place in paradise. For non-believers, it was a punishment from Allah. Some Muslim doctors cautioned against preventing or curing a disease sent by Allah.
Pope Francis even promised forgiveness of sins to all Chinese coronavirus victims and their caregivers. Francis is a usurper of authority spewing false hope to superstitious, susceptible, and suffering people.
Historically, the Black Death visited many major cities, but necessary border controls at some city gates, harbors, and mountain passes kept the disease at bay and some cities did not have many deaths. However, when the plague arrived in an area, it often killed 70% of the population!
National Geographic revealed the bacterium has even been researched as a biological weapon by some countries! Known nations experimenting with biological weapons are Iraq, Iran, Libya, China, Russia, and North Korea.
It is not demagoguery to suggest that the world could become a massive graveyard since the Black Death is still very much with us, as is the Chinese coronavirus.
I will sleep well tonight because I trust the sovereign God who is in control; however, while mankind cannot thwart the future, he can make preparation for the knowns and try to mitigate the unknowns.
I hope you also sleep well tonight, pilgrim.
Picture credit: ITV News
Dr. Don Boys
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