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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 28 July 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "murrain -". Retrieved 15 October 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Jordan, William C (1996). The Great Famine: Northern Europe in the Early Fourteenth Century. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-05891-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Murrain (WebBible Encyclopedia) - ChristianAnswers.Net". Retrieved 28 July 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Billingsley, John. "Northern Earth - Medical Care, Magical Cure". Retrieved 28 July 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>