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Mad; Madness

MAD; MADNESS

halal, shagha`; mania):

1. In the Old Testament:

These words, and derivatives from the same roots are used to express various conditions of mental derangement. Though usually translated "mad," or "madness" they are often used for temporary conditions to which one would scarcely apply them today except as common colloquial inaccuracies. The madness coupled with folly in Ecclesiastes is rather the excessive frivolity and dissipation on the part of the idle rich (so in 1:17; 2:2-12; 7:25; 9:3; 10:13). The insensate fury of the wicked against the good is called by this name in Psalms 102:8. In Deuteronomy 28:28-34 it is used to characterize the state of panic produced by the oppression of tyrannical conquerors, or (as in Zechariah 12:4) by the judgment of God on sinners. This condition of mind is metaphorically called a drunkenness with the wine of God's wrath (Jeremiah 25:16; 51:7). The same mental condition due to terror-striking idols is called "madness" in Jeremiah 50:38. The madman of Proverbs 26:18 is a malicious person who carries his frivolous jest to an unreasonable length, for he is responsible for the mischief he causes. The ecstatic condition of one under the inspiration of the Divine or of evil spirits, such as that described by Balaam (Numbers 24:3), or that which Saul experienced (1 Samuel 10:10), is compared to madness; and conversely in the Near East at the present day the insane are supposed to be Divinely inspired and to be peculiarly under the Divine protection. This was the motive which led David, when at the court of Achish, to feign madness (1 Samuel 21:13-15). It is only within the last few years that any provision has been made in Palestine for the restraint even of dangerous lunatics, and there are many insane persons wandering at large there.

This association of madness with inspiration is expressed in the name "this mad fellow" given to the prophet who came to anoint Jehu, which did not necessarily convey a disrespectful meaning (2 Kings 9:11). The true prophetic spirit was, however, differentiated from the ravings of the false prophets by Isaiah (44:25), these latter being called mad by Jeremiah (29:26) and Hosea (9:7).

The most interesting case of real insanity recorded in the Old Testament is that of Saul, who, from being a shy, self-conscious young man, became, on his exaltation to the kingship, puffed up with a megalomania, alternating with fits of black depression with homicidal impulses, finally dying by suicide. The cause of his madness is said to have been an evil spirit from God (1 Samuel 18:10), and when, under the influence of the ecstatic mood which alternated with his depression, he conducted himself like a lunatic (1 Samuel 19:23), his mutterings are called "prophesyings." The use of music in his case as a remedy (1 Samuel 16:16) may be compared with Elisha's use of the same means to produce the prophetic ecstasy (2 Kings 3:15).

The story of Nebuchadnezzar is another history of a sudden accession of insanity in one puffed up by self-conceit and excessive prosperity. His delusion that he had become as an ox is of the same nature as that of the daughters of Procyus recorded in the So of Silenus by Virgil (Ecl. vi.48).

2. In the New Testament:

In the New Testament the word "lunatic" (seleniazomenoi) (the King James Version Matthew 4:24; 17:15) is correctly rendered in the Revised Version (British and American) "epileptic." Undoubtedly many of the demoniacs were persons suffering from insanity. The words "mad" or "madness" occur 8 times, but usually in the sense of paroxysms of passion, excitement, and foolishness. Thus in Acts 26:11 Paul says that before his conversion he was "exceedingly mad" (emmainomenos) against the Christians. In 1 Corinthians 14:23, those who "speak with tongues" in Christian assemblies are said to appear "mad" to the outsider. Rhoda was called "mad" when she announced that Peter was at the door (Acts 12:15). The madness with which the Jews were filled when our Lord healed the man with the withered hand is called anoia, which is literally senselessness (Luke 6:11), and the madness of Balaam is called paraphronia, "being beside himself" (2 Peter 2:16). Paul is accused by Festus of having become deranged by overstudy (Acts 26:24). It is still the belief among the fellahin that lunatics are people inspired by spirits, good or evil, and it is probable that all persons showing mental derangement would naturally be described as "possessed," so that, without entering into the vexed question of demoniacal possession, any cases of insanity cured by our Lord or the apostles would naturally be classed in the same category.

See also LUNATIC.

Alexander Macalister


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'MAD; MADNESS'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.