What is Medicine?
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.