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Bible Dictionaries

Smith's Bible Dictionary


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Medicine. Egypt was the earliest home of medical and other skilld 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, Exodus 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. Sirach 38:1; Sirach 38:3; Sirach 38:12.

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, Genesis 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. 2 Kings 6:18.

The "burning boil," Leviticus 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 Leviticus 21:20; Leviticus 22:22; Deuteronomy 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," Deuteronomy 28:27, is so vague a term as to yield a most uncertain sense. In Deuteronomy 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, for example, of the huts near the Zion gate of modern Jerusalem are elephantissiacs. See Leprosy.

The disease of King Antiochus, 2 Maccabees 9:5-10, etc., was that of a boil breeding worms. The case of the widow's son restored by Elisha, 2 Kings 4:19, was probably one of sunstroke. The palsy meets us in the New Testament only, and in features, is 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. Numbers 21:6.

Among surgical instruments or pieces of apparatus, the following only are alluded to in Scripture: A cutting instrument, supposed a "sharp stone," Exodus 4:25, the "knife" of Joshua 5:2, The "awl" of Exodus 21:6 was probably a surgical instrument. The "roller to bind" of Ezekiel 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; Exodus 30:23-25 is a prescription in form. An occasional trace occurs of some chemical knowledge, for example, The calcination of the gold by Moses, Exodus 32:20, the effect of "vinegar upon natron," Proverbs 25:20; compare Jeremiah 2:22. The mention of "the apothecary," Exodus 30:35; Ecclesiastes 10:1, and of the merchant in "powders," Song of Solomon 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. Matthew 15:2; Mark 7:5; Luke 11:38. River-bathing was common, but houses soon began to include a bathroom. Leviticus 15:13; 2 Samuel 11:2; 2 Kings 5:10.

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Bibliography Information
Smith, William, Dr. Entry for 'Medicine'. Smith's Bible Dictionary. 1901.

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