4 occurrences in 4 dictionaries

Reference: Medicine


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" (2Ch 16:12). Luke "the beloved physician" practiced at Antioch, the center between the schools of Cilicia (Tarsus) and Alexandria. Ecclesiastes (Ec 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 Jas 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 (De 23:12-14), and the comprehension of all varieties of healthful climate in Palestine, 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. Jer 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.)

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Palestine was probably a comparatively healthy country in Bible times, as it is now. Its natural features in most localities would protect it from the usual endemic diseases of Oriental lands, and its want of harbours would to a great extent prevent the importation of epidemics (contrast the reputation of Egypt, as attested by De 7:15; 28:50; Am 4:10); moreover, the legislation of the Priestly Code, if it was ever observed, would have operated to prevent the spread of disease, and the existence of far-reaching destitution. These provisions, and the common occurrence of external and internal warfare, must also have tended to eliminate overcrowding as a cause of disease; but the ratio of population to area in ancient times is very difficult to estimate; the figures in 1Ch 21:5 and 2Sa 4:9 are clearly untrustworthy.

1. Jews believed in a definite connexion between health and virtue (cf. Isa 58:8; Jer 8:15,22). Disease was popularly regarded as penal (Joh 9:2), and as sent by God either directly (Ex 4:11; De 32:39) or permissively by means of others (Job 2:7; Mr 9:17,25). It might also be caused by human envy (Job 5:2), or by bodily excess (Sir 37:30-31), but even so its vera causa was God's direct authorization.

Under these circumstances healing was treated as a token of Divine forgiveness (Ex 15:26). And the connexion of priest with physician was correspondingly close. On the whole, the medical knowledge of the Bible peoples was very defective; nor are there any traces of medical education in Palestine. Jacob was embalmed by Egyptian physicians (Ge 50:2), but there must probably have been some Jewish practitioners at the time when Ex 21:19 was compiled. The word in Jer 8:22 means a 'bandager.' The writer of 2Ch 16:12 seems to take the extreme view that it was a sin to consult physicians, but saner ideas are represented in Sir 38:2. Still, it may be doubted whether medical duties were not usually performed by priests (as in early Egypt), at any rate in the earlier OT times; certainly the priests had the supervision in the case of certain diseases, e.g. leprosy; and prophets also were applied to for medical advice (cf. 1Ki 14:2; 17:18; 2Ki 4:22; 20:7). And even in Sir 38:14 the physician is regarded as having certain priestly duties, and the connexion between religion and medicine is seen in the counsel, given in that same chapter, that repentance and an offering shall precede the visit of the physician. In the NT we have St. Luke described as a physician (Col 4:14), and a somewhat depreciatory remark on physicians in Mt 5:26, which, however, is much toned down in Lu 8:43.

It is therefore probable that up till late times medicine was in the charge of the priests, whose knowledge must have been largely traditional and empirical. The sacrificial ritual would give them some knowledge of animal morphology, but human anatomy can scarcely have existed as a science at all, since up to about a.d. 100 the ceremonial objections to touching or dissecting the dead prevailed. Thus Bible references to facts of anatomy and physiology are very few in number. Blood was tabooed as food (Ge 9:4; Le 17:11)

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On the banks of the future river that will flow from the sanctuary, trees will grow, of which it is said, "The fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine." Eze 47:12. This agrees with Re 22:2. The prophet Jeremiah twice observes that when God brings His judgements upon a people, no medicine will cure them. Jer 30:13; 46:11. Pr 17:22 says, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine," or 'promoteth healing.'

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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,

See Leper, Leprosy

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,"

Song 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

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