Ark of the Covenant - Bible History Online
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medicine Summary and Overview

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medicine in Smith's Bible Dictionary

Egypt was the earliest home of medical and other skill for the region of the Mediterranean basin, and every Egyptian mummy of the more expensive and elaborate sort involved a process of anatomy. Still we have no trace of any philosophical or rational system of Egyptian origin; still medicine in Egypt was a mere art or profession. Compared with the wild countries around them, however, the Egyptians must have seemed incalculably advanced. Representations of early Egyptian surgery apparently occur on some of the monuments of Beni-Hassan. Those who have assisted at the opening of a mummy have noticed that the teeth exhibited a dentistry not inferior in execution to the work of the best modern experts. This confirms the statement of Herodotus that every part of the body was studied by a distinct practitioner. The reputation of Egypt's practitioners in historical times was such that both Cyrus and Darius sent to that country for physicians or surgeons. Of midwifery we have a distinct notice, #Ex 1:1| and of women as its Practitioners, which fact may also be verified from the scriptures. The scrupulous attention paid to the dead was favorable to the health of the living. The practice of physic was not among the Jews a privilege of the priesthood. Any one might practice it, and this publicity must have kept it pure. Rank and honor are said to be the portion of the physician, and his office to be from the Lord. Ecclus. 38:1,3,12. To bring down the subject to the period of the New Testament, St. Luke, "the beloved physician," who practiced at Antioch whilst the body was his care, could hardly have failed to be convenient with all the leading opinions current down to his own time. Among special diseases named in the Old Testament is ophthalmia, #Ge 29:17| which is perhaps more common in Syria and Egypt than anywhere else in the world; especially in the fig season, the juice of the newly-ripe fruit having the power of giving it. It may occasion partial or total blindness. #2Ki 6:18| The "burning boil," #Le 13:23| is merely marked by the notion of an effect resembling that of fire, like our "carbuncle." The diseases rendered "scab" and "scurvy" in #Le 21:20; 22:22; De 28:27| may be almost any skin disease. Some of these may be said to approach the type of leprosy. The "botch (shechin) of Egypt," #De 28:27| is so vague a term as to yield a most uncertain sense. In #De 28:35| is mentioned a disease attacking the "knees and legs," consisting in a "sore botch which cannot be healed," but extended, in the sequel of the verse, from the "sole of the foot to the top of the head." The Elephantiasis gracorum is what now passes under the name of "leprosy;" the lepers, e.g., of the: huts near the Zion gate of modern Jerusalem are elephantissiacs. [LEPROSY] The disease of King Antiochus, 2 Macc. 9:5-10, etc., was that of a boil breeding worms. The case of the widow's son restored by Elisha, #2Ki 4:19| was probably one of sunstroke. The palsy meets us in the New Testament only, and in features too familiar to need special remark. palsy, gangrene and cancer were common in all the countries familiar to the scriptural writers, and neither differs from the modern disease of the same name. Mention is also made of the bites and stings of poisonous reptiles. #Nu 21:6| Among surgical instruments or pieces of apparatus the following only are alluded to in Scripture: A cutting instrument, supposed a "sharp stone," #Ex 4:25| the "knife" of #Jos 5:2| The "awl" of #Ex 21:6| was probably a surgical instrument. The "roller to bind" of #Eze 30:21| was for a broken limb, and is still used. A scraper, for which the "potsherd" of Job was a substitute. #Job 2:8; Ex 30:23-25| is a prescription in form. An occasional trace occurs of some chemical knowledge, e.g. the calcination of the gold by Moses, #Ex 32:20| the effect of "vinegar upon natron," #Pr 25:20|; comp. Jere 2:22 The mention of "the apothecary," #Ex 30:35; Ec 10:1| and of the merchant in "powders," #So 3:6| shows that a distinct and important branch of trade was set up in these wares, in which, as at a modern druggist's, articles of luxury, etc., are combined with the remedies of sickness. Among the most favorite of external remedies has always been the bath. There were special occasions on which the bath was ceremonially enjoined. The Pharisees and Essenes aimed at scrupulous strictness in all such rules. #Mt 15:2; Mr 7:5; Lu 11:38| River-bathing was common but houses soon began to include a bathroom. #Le 15:13; 2Sa 11:2; 2Ki 5:10|

medicine in Schaff's Bible Dictionary

MED'ICINE . The scrupulous attention paid in Egypt to the dead was favorable to the development of the science of medicine; thus the more elaborate methods of embalming involved processes of anatomy and led to the study of this branch of medical science. Herodotus says that in Egypt every part of the human body was studied by distinct practitioners, and the teeth of the mummies often exhibit a dentistry which is not inferior in execution to the best workmanship of our days; also, the reputation of Egyptian physicians and surgeons was so great that members of their profession were invited to Persia by both Cyrus and Darius. That Moses, who was initiated in all the wisdom of Egypt, was possessed also of its medical knowledge may be inferred from the direct bearing which the Mosaic legislation has on sanitary relations. Its numerous hygienic and dietetic prescriptions had not only a ceremonial purpose, but were no doubt intended for the preservation and development of the race. They stood in the most perfect harmony with the climate and soil which the Hebrews inhabited, and it is a remarkable fact that during the whole course of their history the Hebrews were singularly exempted from those plagues and epidemics which devastated their neighbors. On the other side, however, this same law, which proved so beneficial in preventing diseases, did not encourage or favor the study of medicine. The science of medicine depends to a great extent on anatomy, but the great horror of uncleanliness, more especially uncleanliness from contact with a corpse, prevented the Hebrews from making a thorough study of anatomy and embarrassed the development of medical science among them. Solomon enjoyed a great fame as a physician. His works show that he was possessed of considerable knowledge of remedial treatment, Prov 3:8; Prov 6:15; Prov 12:18; Prov 17:22; Prov 20:30; Gen 29:1; Eccl 3:3;, and the Talmudists ascribe to him a "volume of cures." But Josephus speaks of his repute in magic and of the spells which he used, and Jewish tradition ascribes similar proceedings to various of the prophets. In the times of the N.T. the whole view taken of diseases and their cure was Greek, almost without a trace of any specifically Hebrew element, and the language of St. Luke, the "beloved physician," who practised in Antioch before he was called to labor in the Church, shows that he was a pupil of Hippocrates. Among the diseases mentioned in the O.T. are ophthalmia, Gen 29:17, which seems to be more common in Syria and Egypt than anywhere else in the world, and which sometimes resulted in partial, or even total, blindness, 2 Kgs 6:18; barrenness of women, which the mandrake was believed to cure, Gen 20:18; burning boils. Lev 13:23, whose effect resembled that of fire, identical with our carbuncle; scab and scurvy. Lev 21:20; Lev 22:22; Deut 28:27-- a skin-disease not necessarily incurable, and therefore not considered a curse, but only a blemish; a disease attacking the knees and legs and consisting in a "sore blotch that cannot be healed," Deut 28:35; the disease of King Antiochus, consisting in boils breeding worms; the disease of Herod the Great, consisting in ulcers breeding lice, etc. Other diseases, such as fever, leprosy, epilepsy, palsy, etc., are spoken of in separate articles. Medicaments were given in the form of liniments, plasters, decoctions, syrups, etc.. and, besides water, wine, vinegar, honey, milk, and oil, also mustard, pepper, salt, wax, gall of fish, poppy, laurel, saliva, and other stuffs were used. But one of the most common remedies was the bath. In many cases it was ceremonially enjoined, but its great value, both as a luxury and as a cure, was fully appreciated. It was enjoyed both in running water and in closed bath-rooms. Lev 15:13; 2 Kgs 5:10; 2 Sam 11:2. Public baths, however, as well as vapor-baths, were not introduced until after the Jews' contact with the Greeks and Romans. See Bath.

medicine in Fausset's Bible Dictionary

The physicians in Genesis 1 were Egyptian embalmers. Physic was often associated with superstition; this was Asa's fault, "he sought not unto Jehovah but to the physicians" (2 Chronicles 16:12). Luke "the beloved physician" practiced at Antioch, the center between the schools of Cilicia (Tarsus) and Alexandria. Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 12:6) uses language which under the Spirit (whatever Solomon knew or did not know) expresses scientific truth: "the silver cord" is the spinal marrow, white and precious as silver, attached to the brain which is "the golden bowl." The "fountain" may mean the right ventricle of the heart, the "cistern" the left, the "pitcher" the veins, the "wheel" the aorta or great artery. The "wheel"' however may mean life in its rapid motion, as James 3:6, "the wheel of nature." The circulation of the blood is apparently expressed. The washing's, the restriction in diet to clean animals and the prohibition of pork, the separation of lepers, the laws of marriage and married intercourse (Leviticus 15), the cleanliness of the camp (Deuteronomy 23:12-14), and the comprehension of all varieties of healthful climate in Israel, account for Israel's general exemption from epidemics and remarkable healthiness. The healing art in the Old Testament seems mainly to consist in external applications for wounds, etc. balm abounded in Gilead, and therefore many physicians settled there. Jeremiah 8:22, "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is not the health (lengthening out) of the daughter of my people gone up (Hebrew)?" i.e., why is not the long bandage applied? or why is not the health come up again, as skin coming up over a wound in healing? (See BALM.)