Sunday, 1 February 2009

Medicine Amongst the Hebrews in Old Testament Times

Unlike the many magical and folk medical treatments being used by the rest of the world in around 1000BC, the Hebrews were using innovative health techniques given to them by God based on science.
In Old Testament times the priests acted as doctors and much of the scriptural legislation dealt with maintaining good health. Of the 613 commandments in the Pentateuch, 213 were of a medical nature, which in the main stressed the importance of social hygiene and preventative medicine.
In the Book of Numbers we see that amongst the instructions given by God to Moses and the Hebrews was that if a woman was suspected of being unfaithful, she was to be taken to a priest and made to drink some impure water. If she was guilty, she was taken ill, if innocent she would have no harmful effects. The emotion of guilt would produce the illness.
God also gave Moses and the Hebrews basic sanitary instructions, which prevented cholera and many epidemics. In the Book of Deuteronomy we see they were told to designate a place outside the camp, where they could relieve themselves. They were told to have as part of their equipment, something to dig with, and when they had finished they should dig a hole and cover up their excrement.
An innovative divine sanitary instruction included in the Book of Numbers ordained that if somebody was to touch a corpse he was considered unclean for seven days and would have to wash with water on the third and seventh days. The washing procedure thereby cleared the unclean person of germs and protected others from exposure to harmful bacteria.
In the Book of Leviticus we see a person with an infectious disease was instructed to wear torn clothes, let their hair go unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out “unclean, unclean.” They had to live alone away from anyone else, the first ever example of quarantine. The unusual rituals were to prevent others coming near and catching any contagious diseases for fear of starting an epidemic.
Even the Seventh Commandment “you shall not commit adultery” was God’s way of preventing epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases. People with a series of sexual partners ran a high risk of catching such diseases, which they were likely to pass on to later sexual partners, including their spouses.
Later in the Old Testament there is an example of cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, now widely taught as an emergency treatment for heart stoppage. This occurred when the Old Testament prophet Elijah gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to the son of a widow.
These are just a few of the numerous instances where the Bible contains medical information, which predates by centuries man's actual discoveries of related principles in the field of medicine.

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