Folk medicine was available (Jer. 8:22) but knowledge of physiology was rudimentary—the heart was thought to be the seat of moral judgement [[➝ Judgement]] (Job 27:6; Deut. 2:30). Diagnosis was haphazard. Disease was regarded as connected with sin, and good health with good behaviour (Isa. 58:8). Medicines were simple in character, and the one recommended for the faithful was prayer (Ps. 38). Recourse to a shrine was common (1 Sam. 1) and bronze serpents were part of the therapeutic apparatus (Num. 21:9; 2 Kgs. 18:4). Observation had led to some sound precautions, such as avoiding a second person living in a house with another person with certain kinds of ailment (Lev. 13:46). Diets were important; balm of Gilead was applied to soothe pain (Gen. 37:25). Regulations governing clean and unclean foods probably had their origin in popular observations about personal hygiene and cases of food-poisoning.
By the 2nd cent. BCE Hellenistic theories were displacing ancient Hebrew beliefs about disease and medicine. Instead of a diseased skin being seen as penalty for sin (Num. 12:10–11), for which the prescribed remedy was penitence, Greek scientific knowledge led to appreciation of the skills of the physician. Whereas Asa was rebuked for resorting to a physician to treat gangrene in his foot (2 Chron. 16:12) Ben Sirach urges that ‘the Lord has created medicines’ and doctors, and it is sensible to use their services (Ecclus.=Sir. 38:1–15). Physicians were available in NT times but were not always very successful (Mark 5:26). Jesus went out of his way to meet sufferers who were not able to visit the Temple (Mark 14:3). The NT, however, does not share a former hostility to ordinary medicine (as in 2 Chron. 16:12); and Luke was appreciated as a physician by Paul (Col. 4:14).

Dictionary of the Bible.


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