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 Egypts 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. 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, ( 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 ; 22:22 ; 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," ( 28:27 ) is so vague a term as to yield a most uncertain sense. In ( 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 widows 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 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, e.g. the calcination of the gold by Moses, ( Exodus 32:20 ) the effect of "vinegar upon natron," ( Proverbs 25:20 ); comp. Jere 2:22 The mention of "the apothecary," ( Exodus 30:35 ; Ecclesiastes 10:1 ) and of the merchant in "powders," ( Solomon 3:6 ) shows that a distinct and important branch of trade was set up in these wares, in which, as at a modern druggists, 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 )
med'-i-sin, med'-i-s'-n (gehah, teruphah, rephu'ah):
These words are used in the sense of a remedy or remedies for disease. In Proverbs 17:22 the King James Version, a merry heart is said to do good "like a medicine." There is an alternative reading in the King James Version margin, "to a medicine," the Revised Version (British and American) "is a good medicine"; the Revised Version margin gives another rendering, "causeth good healing," which is the form that occurs in the Septuagint and which was adopted by Kimchi and others. Some of the Targums, substituting a waw for the first h in gehah, read here "doeth good to the body," thus making this clause antithetic to the latter half of the verse. In any case the meaning is that a cheerful disposition is a powerful remedial agent.
In the figurative account of the evil case of Judah and Israel because of their backsliding (Jeremiah 30:13), the prophet says they have had no rephu'ah, or "healing medicines." Later on (Jeremiah 46:11), when pronouncing the futility of the contest of Neco against Nebuchadrezzar, Jeremiah compares Egypt to an incurably sick woman going up to Gilead to take balm as a medicine, without any benefit. In Ezekiel's vision of the trees of life, the leaves are said (the King James Version) to be for medicine, the Revised Version (British and American) reads "healing," thereby assimilating the language to that in Revelation 22:2, "leaves of the tree .... for the healing of the nations" (compare Ezekiel 47:12).
Very few specific remedies are mentioned in the Bible. "Balm of Gilead" is said to be an anodyne (Jeremiah 8:22; compare Jeremiah 51:8). The love-fruits, "mandrakes" (Genesis 30:14) and "caperberry" (Ecclesiastes 12:5 margin), myrrh, anise, rue, cummin, the "oil and wine" of the Good Samaritan, soap and sodic carbonate ("natron," called by mistake "nitre") as cleansers, and Hezekiah's "fig poultice" nearly exhaust the catalogue. In the Apocrypha we have the heart, liver and gall of Tobit's fish (Tobit 6:7). In the Egyptian pharmacopoeia are the names of many plants which cannot be identified, but most of the remedies used by them were dietetic, such as honey, milk, meal, oil, vinegar, wine. The Babylonian medicines, as far as they can be identified, are similar. In the Mishna we have references to wormwood, poppy, hemlock, aconite and other drugs. The apothecary mentioned in the King James Version (Exodus 30:25, etc.) was a maker of perfumes, not of medicines. Among the fellahin many common plants are used as folk-remedies, but they put most confidence in amulets or charms, which are worn by most Palestinian peasants to ward off or to heal diseases.
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