The Mosaic Laws and Their Medical Benefits
In Biblical times sickness and death were interpreted as God’s punishment for disobedience to his will. It is presumed that punishment was in the hand of God, and so was healing. Specific Old Testament laws are efficacious in modern medicine, and Moses left a legacy of unmatched medical advancement. Great Professors and Consultant Physicians like R. Vis William, Edward Neufeld, D. H. Trapnell, and Rendle-Short noted the efficacy of Pentateuch’s laws and their relevance to modern medicine. Dr. William R. Vis (Note 23) pointed out that the great lawgiver, Moses, in treating leprosy and preventing the spread of the disease in ancient times, used techniques unknown to the medical profession until reasonably recently (Note 24).
Moses commanded in biblical times is now known today as quarantine. Dr. Vis confirms Moses’ advanced knowledge in actions taken on the affected people. Moses sterilized the patient’s clothing (Lev. 13:47 ff.), bed, and even the house itself (14:34 ff.) (Note 25). The leper was mandated to put on a mask on his upper lip (13:45). Dr. Edward Neufeld (Note 26) affirmed that some diseases were caused by entry into the body of some infective agents (Note 27). Neufeld noted that Pentateuch’s laws of purification and disease prevention were a reasonably well-developed hygiene system (Note 28).
D. H. Trapnell, M.D., Consultant Radiologist at Westminster Hospital in London, observes the biblical outlook on the sick and health in general, has a bearing on modern medical practice and is perhaps more up to date than is generally realized (Note 29). Late A. Rendle-Short, M.D. (Note 30), commenting on Deuteronomy 14:21, which prohibits eating the meat of an animal which has died of disease, observed, “The Law is more noteworthy because thereby, a significant source of the food supply is cast away as useless.” Whence had the Biblical writer this insight two or three thousand years before his day (Note 31)? In furtherance to the claims of respected medical scholars, this paper will now examine specific passages of the O.T. concerning its efficacy to modern medicine.
Leviticus 13-15 depicts Laws instructing people to wash after touching the dead or sick, the Quarantine (isolate) law of diseased individuals and anything they touch, and competent laws limiting the spread of disease. In Leviticus 13 alone, we can find 46 instances, but none in chapter 14, although it also deals with scale disease (Note 32). Of these 46 instances, 34, about 75%, refer to some human skin disorder (Note 33).
It is also almost two-thirds of the total of 56 explicit references to the human skin in the Old Testament. As Hartley (Note 34) pointed out, the diagnoses in this Leviticus 13 had to be accurate, as the consequences could be so severe. Incidentally, some rabbinic sources claim verse 33 in this chapter to be the exact middle of the Pentateuch (Note 35). There are seven categories of skin appearances in Leviticus 13: a shiny mark, which is probably a scab, white discoloration (not swelling) (Note 36), a boil, a burn from a fire, a scar, a scall, literally a ‘tearing-off,’ a tetter or a variety of leukoderma, vitiligo, which has no flaking, alopecia on his head or crown or from the front part of his forehead and more particularly a white-reddish mark on his bald crown or bald forehead. The five symptoms, some of which are common to several of these seven appearances, are whether the mark is deeper or lower than the skin, in Leviticus 13:3, 4, 25, 30, 31, 32 and Leviticus 13:20, 21, 26 respectively; whether it spreads, in Leviticus 13:7, 8, 22, 27, 35, 36, 51; whether it has turned the hair white, in Leviticus 13:3, 10, 25 or yellow in Leviticus 13:30, whether it fades after the quarantine period in Leviticus 13:6, 21, 26, 28, 56 and whether “raw” flesh appears in the mark in Leviticus 13:10, 14, 15, 16.
These skin appearances are dealt with in Leviticus 13-14 between the associated conditions of the two transitional processes of childbirth in chapter 12 and one who has an issue, i.e., a genital discharge in chapter 15, both to be privately controlled. In contrast, scale diseases were a public and visible matter, dealt with only by professionals, the priests (Note 37) who themselves acted as “skin” by mediating the inside and the outside of the social body: the priest had to leave the camp in Leviticus 14:3 and so opens himself up for “infection” in the presence of the patient. The purification rituals for all three states are also similar though not identical. All three involved the prohibition to touch: those in chapters 12 and 15 to control the sexual drive and that in chapters 13-14 to control the aggressive drive (Note 38). All three were seen as some ‘emission.’ All three threaten the integrity of the body by the breach of the body’s containing walls and thus making it vulnerable and countering the creation of boundaries by God who, when angry, destroys this order and floods the world with emissions (Note 39).