In a recent newspaper piece I knocked the dismissal of the Bible based on its age as a logical fallacy dubbed the genetic fallacy.
Now for the education of ignorant critics I hope to point out a few features of the oldest sections of the Bible that are truly remarkable and that for me shows the transhuman nature of the Bible.
Biomedical prescience marks the Bible as unique among holy books.
“By prescience we mean the occurrence, in Scripture, of accurate statements reflecting an in-depth knowledge of scientific concepts far before mankind had laid the technological base for such things to be known.” (William J. Cairney)
OT Health Practices
In the study of microscopic organisms that cause diseases in animals and plants having the right instruments is critical to research and discovery and the basic instrument is the light microscope. This was invented only in the 17th century AD and even though early researchers like Robert Hooke and Anton van Leeuwenhoek saw fungi and bacteria no links were made between these organisms and disease.
Not until the 20th century (after the invention of x-ray technology and the electron microscope) did humankind develop the technological base for understanding the relationship between microscopic organisms and disease, including how and by what means diseases are transmitted.
In light of that historical reality, THERE IS SOMETHING DIVINELY SUGGESTIVE ABOUT CERTAIN COMMANDED HEALTH PRACTICES IN SECTIONS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT, WRITTEN ABOUT 1500 – 1400 BC!!
1.1 Clean & Unclean Animals (Leviticus 11.26-46)
If people did not readily die after eating any animal that they found easily available and edible why the need for a taboo on certain animals? A puzzle unless…
• Swine, available, tasty but forbidden
They harbour several disease-producing microorganisms, like tapeworm cysts, which are easily transmissible to humans, especially in inadequately cooked pork.
• Aquatic & marine animals without fins & scales, tasty but forbidden
Almost all of the prohibited ones are scavengers or bottom feeders (feed low in the food chain) often found in relatively shallow waters, historically used for disposal of garbage and raw sewage. Historically these animals have been linked with the spread of typhoid.
• Rodents (rats, mice, etc), forbidden
Natural reservoir for some of the worst diseases known, transmitted by touch, by rodent bite or via an insect that has bitten the rodent or is harboured by it (cf. Bubonic plague, rabies virus, tapeworms)
1.2 Health practices re dead bodies (Numbers 19.11-22; Leviticus 11.32-35)
• Note the issue of ‘unclean till evening’ (vv.7-8, 19, 21) as a suggestion of the need for washing plus exposure to sun as a health precaution.
• Open vessels near a dead body, regarded as unclean, and if made of clay (porous) were to be smashed (Lev. 11. 32ff). All of this avoids the building up of culture media for microorganisms.
• This may seem like common-sense ideas until you reckon with medical history re disease prevention. Ponder the case of Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis, 1840s in Vienna.
In the maternity wards of the celebrated hospital Allegemeine Krankenhaus 1 out of every 6 women died, [common stats. around the world]. Dead women wheeled into autopsy room, examined by physicians and med. students who wore no gloves. Afterward, without washing their hands they proceeded to the maternity wards to do pelvic examinations of the living maternity patients.
Semmelweis made the connection between the women who became ill and died and the team doing the autopsies and instituted hand-washing. As the practice caught on 1 out of every 42 died, then 1 out of every 84. Then one day, after performing autopsies and washing their hands, the physicians and students entered a maternity ward and examined 12 women. 11 of them developed temperatures and died. Semmelweis surmised that something mysterious and deadly was being carried from live patient to live patient and he demanded handwashing after each patient was examined, dead or alive. Howls of protest resulted despite the decrease in mortality rates.
Semmelweis was eventually fired for the nuisance he became, demanding handwashing and his successor dispensed with the practice of handwashing. The dismal death stats. went up again but nobody made the connection. Meanwhile Semmelweis could not get a job and so went back home to Budapest to a maternity hospital with high mortality rates and repeated history. To cut a long story short, he died in a mental institution, a broken and rejected man.
Centuries before Semmelweis God gave similar instructions to Moses re the necessity of washing after handling the dead or the infected living.
But is all of this really divinely suggestive or revealed by God to Moses as Moses claims or are there other plausible and natural explanations for these admittedly surprising phenomena in ancient Jewish culture.
There are 3 possibilities apart from the God hypothesis.
1. Moses, who grew up and was educated in Egypt to the highest level, no doubt, as a son of the Palace, simply copied these disease control practices from Egypt. On my usual scale of possible, probable, likely, certain, this suggestion is at least possible. But is it probable?
Consider this, the available medical literature of Egypt, especially the Papyrus Ebers, written about 1552 BC, recommends such remedies for diseases as lizard’s blood, swine’s teeth, putrid meat, excreta from animals including human beings, donkeys, antelopes, dogs, cats, and even flies!! Nothing resembling the Mosaic prescriptions re disease control appears in the available Egyptian texts!
2. Well, Moses got the knowledge from some other culture. Possible but the medical records of no other culture predating or contemporary with Moses reflects anything like what is found in the Mosaic texts re disease control.
3. Okay then, Moses originated the disease control practices. This is just barely possible though highly unlikely since he would have had to know something about the germ theory of disease minus the knowledge of germs. He would have needed to know something about the nutritional requirements of infectious microorganisms to know that open clay pots with food particles could maintain such organisms; he would have to know about food chains to know that pathogens can be carried in that manner for him to know which animals should be regarded as clean or unclean.
The evidence points toward a Divine Source behind the Mosaic documents.
But that’s just a starter, there’s more that is puzzling or divine.
1.3 Circumcision: value and timing (Genesis 17.9-14)
• “…under the foreskin is an excellent incubation spot for many bacteria and certain ones in particular. For instance Mycobacterium smegmatis…grows there prolifically. This organism as well as others produces carcinogenic by-products. The region under the foreskin is one that can easily be missed in washing and bathing. Scrupulous personal hygiene is necessary to insure that the area stays clean. WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE OF THE POTENTIAL PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH NOT WASHING UNDER THE FORESKIN, THERE WOULD BE LITTLE INCENTIVE FOR SUCH HYGIENE. During intercourse [without a condom], these multiplied organisms would be deposited on the cervix where they would easily grow, produce their by-products and cause cancer, especially in women who had any sort of genital irritation from infection, disease, or recent childbirth.” (William Cairney)
• Timing of circumcision – 8th day after birth
Infants have an especially great tendency to bleed between days 2 and 5 after birth. Researchers note the cruciality of vitamin K and Prothrombin in the blood clotting process. (Prothrombin, converted to thrombin which converts fibrinogen to fibrin which forms the actual clot mesh).
Vitamin K, an important blood-clotting element, is not present in the infant until between days 5 and 7, THUS THE FIRST SAFE DAY FOR CIRCUMCISION IS DAY 8.
But Prothrombin is also necessary for blood-clotting. Holt Pediatrics advises that on the 3rd day, the infant’s available Prothrombin is only 30% of normal. By the 8th day Prothrombin skyrockets to 110% of normal then levels to 100% thereafter. THUS THE FIRST SAFE DAY FOR CIRCUMCISION IS DAY 8.
The evidence points toward a Divine Source behind this timed-practice of circumcision in the Mosaic documents.
We could, if only we had the time, explore the health implications re heart-disease and blocking of arteries from the command in passages like Lev. 3.17, “…you must not eat any fat or any blood.”Old and irrelevant book the Bible? Not on your life!