blind'-ness (`awar, and variants; tuphlos):

The word blind is used as a verb, as John 12:40, usually in the sense of obscuring spiritual perception. In reference to physical blindness it is used as a noun frequently or else as an adjective with the noun man. There are 54 references to this condition, and there is no reason to believe, as has been surmised, that blindness was any less rife in ancient times than it is now, when defective eyes and bleared, inflamed lids are among the commonest and most disgusting sights in a Palestine crowd. In the Papyrus Ebers (1500 BC) there are enumerated a number of diseases of the eye and a hundred prescriptions are given for their treatment. That the disease occurred in children and caused destruction and atrophy of the eyeball is testified to by the occurrence of a considerable number of mummy heads, in which there is marked diminution in size of one orbit. The commonest disease is a purulent ophthalmia, a highly infectious condition propagated largely by the flies which can be seen infesting the crusts of dried secretion undisturbed even on the eyes of infants. (In Egypt there is a superstition that it is unlucky to disturb them.) This almost always leaves the eyes damaged with bleared lids, opacities of the cornea, and sometimes extensive internal injury as well. Like other plagues, this disease was thought to be a Divine infliction (Exodus 4:11). Minor forms of the disease destroy the eyelashes and produce the unsightly tender-eyes (in Genesis 29:17 the word rakh may mean simply "weak").

Blindness from birth is the result of a form of this disease known as ophthalmia neonatorum which sets in a few days after birth. I have seen cases of this disease in Palestine. Sometimes ophthalmia accompanies malarial fever (Leviticus 26:16). All these diseases are aggravated by sand, and the sun glare, to which the unprotected inflamed eyes are exposed. Most of the extreme cases which one sees are beyond remedy--and hence, the giving of sight to the blind is generally put in the front of the mighty works of healing by our Lord. The methods used by Him in these miracles varied probably according to the degree of faith in the blind man; all were merely tokens, not intended as remedies. The case of the man in Mark 8:22 whose healing seemed gradual is an instance of the phenomenon met with in cases where, by operation, sight has been given to one congenitally blind, where it takes some time before he can interpret his new sensations.

The blindness of old age, probably from senile cataract, is described in the cases of Eli at 98 years of age (1 Samuel 3:2; 4:15), Ahijah (1 Kings 14:4), and Isaac (Genesis 27:1). The smiting of Elymas (Acts 13:11) and the Syrian soldiers (2 Kings 6:18) was either a miraculous intervention or more probably a temporary hypnotism; that of Paul (Acts 9:8) was doubtless a temporary paralysis of the retinal cells from the bright light. The "scales" mentioned were not material but in the restoration of his sight it seemed as if scales had fallen from his eyes. It probably left behind a weakness of the eyes (see THORN IN THE FLESH). That blindness of Tobit (Tobit 2:10), from the irritation of sparrows' dung, may have been some form of conjunctivitis, and the cure by the gall of the fish is paralleled by the account given in Pliny (xxxii.24) where the gall of the fish Callionymus Lyra is recommended as an application in some cases of blindness. The hypothesis that the gall was used as a pigment to obscure the whiteness of an opaque cornea (for which Indian ink tattooing has been recommended, not as a cure but to remove the unsightliness of a white spot) has nothing in its favor for thereby the sight would not be restored. The only other reference to medicaments is the figurative mention of eyesalve in Revelation 3:18.

Blindness unfitted a man for the priesthood (Leviticus 21:18); but care of the blind was specially enjoined in the Law (Leviticus 19:14), and offenses against them are regarded as breaches of Law (Deuteronomy 27:18).

Figuratively, blindness is used to represent want of mental perception, want of prevision, recklessness, and incapacity to perceive moral distinctions (Isaiah 42:16,18,19; Matthew 23:16; John 9:39).

Alex. Macalister

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