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Murrain /ˈmɜːrɪn/ is an antiquated term for various infectious diseases affecting cattle and sheep.[1] It literally means "death" and was used in medieval times to represent just that.[2] Murrain did not refer to a specific disease, but was an umbrella term for what are now recognized as a number of different diseases, including rinderpest, erysipelas, foot-and-mouth disease, anthrax, and streptococcus infections. Some of these could also affect humans. The term murrain also referred to an epidemic of such a disease. There were major sheep and cattle murrains in Europe during the 14th century, which, combined with the Little Ice Age, resulted in the Great Famine of 1315-1317, weakening the population of Europe before the onset of the Black Death in 1348.[3]

The term murrain is also used in some Bible translations relating to the fifth plague brought upon Egypt. [4]

Exodus 9:3: "Behold, the hand of the LORD is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain."

"Pestilence", which is mentioned 47 times in 46 verses of the Bible, can be translated "murrain" by Christian apologists. [Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon]. see Psalms 91:3 KJV

The word in Hebrew is דֶּבֶר "dever" (Strong's # 01698), derived from the primitive root "dabar" in the sense of "to destroy."

In some parts of Scotland, force-fire was believed to cure it and in some remote regions of Cumbria, England, murrain is still used as a term for a curse, specifically a curse placed upon land or livestock. It is believed that the medieval term has, by a process of syncreticism become synonymous with witchcraft.[5] This usage inspired the ATV television play, Murrain, written by Nigel Kneale, which was broadcast on 27 July 1975 as part of the channel's Against the Crowd drama strand.


  1. ^ Scott, Gordon. "The Murrain Now Known As Rinderpest". Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  2. ^ "murrain -". Retrieved 2008-10-15. 
  3. ^ Jordan, William C (1996). The Great Famine: Northern Europe in the Early Fourteenth Century. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-05891-1. 
  4. ^ "Murrain (WebBible Encyclopedia) - ChristianAnswers.Net". Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  5. ^ Billingsley, John. "Northern Earth - Medical Care, Magical Cure". Retrieved 2008-07-28.