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The Medicine of The Old Testament.

The Medicine of The Old Testament.

By: Stuart B. Blakely, M.D.

Binghamton, N.Y.

Reprinted from

The Medical Record

June 5, 1915

In a study of the medicine of the Old Testament two points must be kept always clearly in mind: (1) It is a study of the non-medical literature of a primitive, nomad race. (2) References to disease and medical subjects are dark and incomplete. Careful study of the original Hebrew words themselves has been of little service. Most of the diseases described are either those of kings or personages of high estate or epidemics. If we realize that little is absolutely sure, that much must be inferred, and if we recognize the difficulties of the problems we shall not be led far astray in a medical survey of the Old Testament.

The scriptural references given in this article by no means exhaust the possibilities of the text.

The medicine of the ancient Hebrews was partly of Egyptian, partly of Assyrian and Babylonian origin with, in later times, a possible trace of Greek influence. The medicine of Egypt was famous in its time throughout the East. Cyrus and Darius both summoned physicians from that country. Many of the physicians at the courts of the kings of Israel were probably Egyptian. The learning and culture of Assyria Babylonia reached flood mark. The ancient Hebrews acquired tier medicine during the reign of Solomon, and during the captivities. the Hebrews were never scientists. They had no scientific institutions. Their science and their medicine were borrowed and empirical. To their minds, Jehovah was the Supreme Healer. (Ex. 15,26; Dt. 32,39; Ps. 6, 2; 30, 2; 103, 3; Is. 30,26.) Injury disease and death were usually regarded as expressions of his wrath, as direct results of his omnipotent will. As a consequence of this belief, we find little or nothing in the Old Testament concerning the cause, the course, or the curing of disease. Disease was often looked upon as a direct punishment for sin, a belief prevalent among primitive folk. Threats of disease for sin and disobedience and promises of protection against disease are very common. (Ex. 15, 26; Nu. 14, 12; Dt. 7, 15; 28. 59-62; 32, 39; II Sa. 24, 16; II K. 19, 35; II Ch. 21, 14; Job 2, 5-7; Is. 58,8.)

Among most early people's medicine has been at first the property of the priesthood alone. Among the Hebrews, however, the medical work of the priests seems to have been that of some sanitary police observing, isolating, and disinfecting. Their duties seem to have been always distinct from those of the physicians. (Gn. 50, 2; Ex. 21, 19; II K. 8, 29; II Ch. 16, 12; Job 13, 4; Jer. 8, 22.) The physicians gathered and prepared their materia medica, prescribed for symptoms of disease and treated wounds. The word “physician” in Jer. 8,22, is literally “a bandage.” Many are said to have established themselves east of the Jordan. There are two references to definite consultations with physicians Asa to be cured of the disease of his feet and Joram to be healed of his wounds. (II Ch. 16, 12; II K. 8 and 9.) The profession was not so highly nor so strictly specialized as among the Egyptians the corps of physicians in the service of Joseph (Gn. 50,2.). It was usually held in high esteem, but Asa was reproached because “in his disease, he sought not to the Lord but to the physicians.” The author of the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus is thought to have been a physician. The prophets Abijah, Elijah, Elisha, and Isaiah, by virtue of what we call their miracles, may be classed among the healers of the Hebrews. Midwives followed their calling as they do today. (Ex. 1, 15-21.) Their duties were of the simplest. They received the baby, cut and tied the cord, washed the child, rubbed it with salt and wrapped it in swaddling clothes. (Ezk. 16, 4.) It has been suggested that the two mentioned by name in Ex. 1, 15, were the heads of corporations or societies of midwives. Such a thing as a hospital was unknown; the sick, except the lepers and probably the “unclean,” were cared for in their homes. (Lv. 13, 46; Nu. 5, 2; II Ch. 26, 21.) The dead were burned, buried or placed in sepulchers. The Hebrews did not Embalm. Their mind had no sympathy with the Egyptian idea that originated the custom. Jacob and Joseph were embalmed only to preserve their bodies until burial could take place. Among the Egyptians, the art of embalming formed a special branch of medicine. The process varied, not only according to the wealth and rank of the deceased but also at different times in Egyptian history.

It might be interesting to glance briefly at that ancient Hebrews’ ideas of anatomy. It is possible that dissection of the human body for scientific purposes had already been done at that early date, but in any knowledge thus obtained the Jewish slaves could have had no share. The Hebrews had no medical schools, no system of medical education. What little true anatomical knowledge they possessed of the internal organs was derived from injuries, war, and the slaughter of animals. All else was tradition or speculation. There are references to the heart, the liver, and the bile or gall, the diaphragm “the caul above the liver” (Ex. 29, 13), the kidneys, the intestines, and the internal fat, and the womb or matrix. The liver was evidently of value in divination. (Ezk. 21,21.) Certain verses of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes have been cited as proof of Solomon’s knowledge of anatomy and healing art. Traces of a rude conception of embryology are found. (Job 10, 10; Ps. 139, 13-16; Eccl. 11,5.) Blood to them was life, therefore sacred, and together with the internal fat must be returned to God before the flesh was eaten. (Gn. 9, 4; Lv. 7, 23-27; 17, 10-14; 19,26; Dt. 12,23.) They knew that dreams originated from inside the head. (Dan. 4, 5, 13; 7, 1.) The liver was the source of happiness; in several places in the Psalms it is called the “glory.” (Ps. 16, 9; 30, 12; 57, 8; 108,1.) The navel was the seat of health, the heart the source of emotion and of mental and moral activity, the reins or kidneys the seat of desire and determination, the bowels the place of affection and sympathy. We still preserve many of these ideas as figures of speech, but many of these ideas as figures of speech, but the Hebrews believe them to be truths. The books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes contain a curious store of medical lore.

Palestine was probably healthier than Egypt. In the latter country, the valley of the Nile was flooded every year, creating conditions favorable for the development of disease. The plagues of the Egyptians were closely associated with the rising of the Nile and with other well-known climatic conditions favorable for the development of disease. The plagues of the Egyptians were closely associated with the rising of the Nile and with other well-known climatic conditions of the country. Palestine, on the other hand, was isolated by land and sea. Communication with it as difficult. Disease was not apt to be carried to it. The land was dry and sanitation was good. There was no overcrowding and no poverty. Under the leadership of Moses, a priest from the temple of the Sun at Heliopolis, the Hebrews became the founders of public hygiene. In Leviticus and Deuteronomy are very definite rules and regulations regarding food, clean and unclean things, sexual hygiene personal predicting, and contagious disease. In Ex. 21, 22, and Lv. 24, are found traces of a medical jurisprudence.

The ancient Hebrews had many medicines. (Jer. 46,11. ) We hear of no specifics. The following were some of their therapeutic agents: leaves of trees (Ezk. 47, 12), olive oil, balm of Gilead, a famous resinous application for pain and wounds, and a valuable article of commerce, fig plasters, oil and wine for wounds. The mandrake root was used for barrenness, following the old doctrine of signatures. (Gn. 30, 14-17.) The word translated “gourd” in the last chapter of Jonah is thought by some to mean the castor-oil plant. The personal and ceremonial use of ointments, perfumes, and incense was common, as among all Orientals. These were prepared by the apothecaries and confectioners. (ex. 30, 25; 37,29; Isa. 8, 13; II Ch.16, 4; Neh. 3, 8; Eccl. 10, 1.) The ingredients were both domestic and imported, and their list is long. Among them were frankincense, myrrh, aloes, calamus, camphire or henna, cassia, cinnamon, galbanum, rue, spicery, saffron, storax and others. The following were more strictly medical in their use, as condiments or carminatives cassia, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, salt, and probably also anise, mint and mustard. The prescription for the \holy anointing oil is given in Ex., 30. Salt was used to harden the skin, nitro and soap to cleanse it. (Jer. 2, 22.) The niter was natron, a mineral alkali; the soap was probably potassium carbonate mixed with oil. Elisha used salt to purify springs of water that were reputed to cause miscarriage and death. (II K. 2, 19,22.) Hyssop seems to have been a substance whose use approached that of an antiseptic. It was probably either the marjoram or caper plant. The Psalmist lauds its “purging” powers; it was sprinkled on the doorposts of the Israelites in Egypt and was employed to purify leapers and leprous uses. (Ps. 51, 7; Ex. 12, 22; Lv. 14, 4-7, 49-52.) Mankind still clings tenaciously to the belief that the smoke or vapor from burning incense or other odoriferous substances possess detergent properties. It is possible that Hazael practiced hydrotherapy when he dipped a cloth in water and spread it on the face of Benhadad, King of Syria, though it sounds more like murder. (II K. 8, 15.) Mineral and oil baths were sometimes employed. The pool of Siloam possessed healing power. (Neh. 3, 15; Is. 8, 6.) Hot springs “mules” are mentioned in Gn. 36, 24. These were probably near the Dead Sea. The water of the Jordon contained Sulphur and was famous for its curative properties, Naaman’s leprosy. The wearing of amulets, the use of charms and invocations and the laying on of hands in the presence of disease were common practices then as they are today. The influence of the state of mind on sickness was clearly recognized “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” Some kind of arrow poison was possibly in use, most probably aconite. The water of gall, or the “water of poisonous plant,” may refer to the poppy. Food poisoning of vegetable origin possibly the plague that followed the eating of the quail. The Hebrews knew well the action of alcoholic drink. They made wine from honey, dates, grapes, and other fruits, and it was sometimes spiced. Certain localities were famed for their product of the vine. The drunkard has been inimitably portrayed in Pr. 23.

As among the Egyptians many remedies were dietary. The ancient Hebrews had an ample and excellent variety of food: meat, fish, fowl, game, locusts, eggs, butter, milk, cheese, sour milk, meal of various grains, bread, beans, cucumbers, onions, garlic, lentils, herbs, manna, honey, fruits, melons, figs, raisins, grapes, nuts, olive oil, vinegar or sour wine, salt, and condiments. The ancient Hebrews probably had no sugar; honey, manna, and fruit juice decoctions were substitutes. The “sweet cane” of Is. 43, 24, and Jer. 6, 20, was probably the sweet flag or calamus. There is evidence of cannibalism taking place in Old Testament times under stress of circumstances. This is said to have occurred at the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and at its destruction by the Romans.

The surgical lore of the Old Testament is very scanty. Knives of flint or metal were used for sacrifice and circumcision, and awls for boring holes in the ears. These procedures, castration and “Uncircumcision” were probably the only operations. Inflammatory reactions following operative procedures are recorded in We hear of no tumors, benign or malignant. Burns must have occurred, but it is interesting and curious that nowhere in the Old Testaments is any method given for producing fire. In II Sam. 21, 20, is mention of giant born so with supernumerary digits, six fingers and six toes, twenty-four digits in all. In I Ch. 20, 6, his gigantism is described as hereditary. Moses is thought to have had some defect of speech. Legend says that when a boy he puts a live coal into his mouth and burns his tongue so that he was unable to pronounce the labials. It has been suggested, however, that Moses referred to his lack of practice in the Egyptian language. Lameness and blindness were common them as now. Just what happened to Jacob’s hip when in his wrestling the angel “touched the hollow of his thigh” we do not know, probably a severe sprain of the hip and thigh or a severe injury to the sciatic nerve. The “sinew that shrank” was probably this nerve trunk or possibly an atrophied muscle. Saul’s grandson was lame in both his feet, due to his nurse having let him fall when he was five years old, a common history of lameness to this day. Bone disease existed. A crooked back is often due to tuberculosis of the spine, and this was one of the physical blemished that barred a man from the priesthood. Dislocations were known. There are possible references to fracture of the skull. Eli fractured his neck by a fall backward from his seat on hearing the news of the death of his sons and the capture of the ark. Fractures of the long bones were put up in splints. There are three references to penetrating wounds of the chest, and three to penetrating wounds of the abdomen. There are battle wounds and infected wounds. NO methods are given for stopping hemorrhage. Wounds were washed, the edges drawn together and bound up in oil and wine. There is a possible reference to leeches. The pathology of Pr. 20, 30 is very obscure. There is a suicide by hanging, another by the burning down of a palace, and King Saul fell upon his sword. Abimelech would have committed suicide had he been able.

Without question the common diseases of today existed in Old Testament times. In Lv. 26, 16, and Dt. 28, 22, there are possible references to such diseases as tuberculosis, typhoid, malaria, Malta fever, and smallpox. “The pestilence that walketh in darkness” suggests malaria. Certain conditions were termed incurable. There are possible references to affections of the heart. Men were gray-haired and bald then as now. Diabetes is comparatively common among modern Jews, but no evidence is found of its existence among the ancient Hebrews. Scurvy almost surely prevailed during their desert wanderings. We do not know what was the “botch of Egypt” possibly smallpox. Liver disorders and bowel disturbances were known. The latter are said to have been most common among the priests because they went about so much in their bare feet on the cold floors of the temple. The Hebrews knew that some disease was contagious, and they recognized the results of a fever. Beyond that, the exact differentiation of most fevers has been made within the memory of men still living.

Of all diseases of Bible times and lands leprosy has always aroused the greatest interest. It was the most important and best known, was endemic in the land, and was considered infectious, contagious and even hereditary. Without question some, possibly much of leprosy so called of the Bible, as well as that of the Middle Ages, was not leprosy was confused with syphilis and tuberculosis, and was often not differentiated from such skin diseases as eczema, ringworm, and psoriasis. Leprosy, or at least scaly skin conditions, were common in Old Testament times. Lv. 13, shows the results of keen observation of the disease. The leprosy of garments and of houses was probably molds or fungi. As far as the writer can learn, the following are the only cases cited as leprosy in the Old Testament: (1) the hand of Moses becoming leprous (ex.4,6); (2) Miriam becoming a leaper (Nu. 12,10); (3) the four leprous men before the gates of Samaria (II K. 7); (4) Naaman’s leprosy and its transference to Ghazi (II K. 5); (5) the leprosy of King Uzziah (Azariah) (II Ch. 26,19; II K.15,5); Five references in all. Some palpably could not have been true leprosy. The subject is too big to enter into any further detail.

The plague is one of the oldest diseases of mankind. It existed centuries before Christ. It was the Plague at Athens? During the Middle Ages, it destroyed one and a quarter millions of people in Germany alone. Seventy thousand died from it in London in 1664. It was the Black Death. It is to be seriously questioned whether the word plague as it occurs in the Old Testament means always the same disease; indeed, probably not. In the Old Testament, the term plague seems to have been applied to any epidemic disease, usually occurring in cities or camps, rapidly fatal to a great number. Let us analyze the five epidemics among the Israelites. (1) the plague caused by eating the quail. This sounds much like ptomaine, or meat poisoning, though it may have been the pulmonary form of the plague. (2) the disease among the spies sent by Moses to explore the region of the Red Sea. It is idle to speculate what this disease was, possibly cholera. (3) the plague that destroyed 14,000 after the rebellion of Korah. This resembles the real Black Death more than any of the other epidemics, especially since it followed an earthquake. (4) The plague of Baal-Peor from which 24,000 died. This was in all probability a venereal disease, most likely syphilis. Baal-Peor was a phallic god, and worship of this god seems to have been the ascribed cause of the disease. (5) a three days pestilence that destroyed 70,000. This may have been the plague, cholera, or influenza. It is manifestly impossible to identify each epidemic with a definite disease as known to science of today.

In passing it may be well to call attention to the fact that the ancient Hebrews were prone to exaggerate numbers. For example, 600,000 warriors are said to have left Egypt, implying a total population of a million or more an incredible number to have participated in the Exodus. In I Ch.21, 5, it is stated that Israel had a population of over a million, with 480,000 warriors in Judah. When Sennacherib overran the country, the Israelites numbered about 200,000 all told.

There are other plagues of the Old Testament that have caused much discussion. One is the sixth plague of the Egyptian. It was probably an eruptive disease accompanied by abscesses and ulcers boils and sores. The two most plausible guesses are anthrax, r smallpox, for the disease affected both man and beast. This was probably the so-called “botch of Egypt”. The death of the firstborn was probably due to some epidemic disease. Another is the plague of the Philistines. This was probably syphilis and will be more fully discussed under the venereal disease. 185,000 of Sennacherib’s army are said to have been smitten by an angel. We do not know what this visitation was. A great deal of energy has been expended in the effort to explain the “fiery serpents” that were visited upon the Israelites, and of which frequent mention is made. Actual serpents and their bites may be meant. The term may be a euphemism for venereal disease. An ingenious explanation is that these fiery serpents were guinea worms. These worms are several inches long, enter the skin, especially of the legs, produce ulcers and abscesses, and are the cause of the so-called guinea worm disease that occurs in the East.

Eye disease and blindness were, and still are, common in the Orient, due to neglect and to the blinding glare of the sun and sand. Leah was “tender-eyed” because she had ophthalmia. Sudden blindness transient or permanent was not uncommon. The loss of sight due to advancing years was well known. Isaac; Jacob; Eli. Moses had probably the farsightedness of old age.

The venereal disease, gonorrhea, and syphilis were prevalent among the ancient Hebrews. Irregular sexual relations were widespread. There are many references to prostitutes and brothels. Possibly the best known are Rahab of Jericho, Delilah the Philistine, and the two harlots probably Greek who came before King Solomon. (Jos. 2, 1; Jdg. 16, 4-18; I K. 3,16) Read Gn. 38; Ezk. 16 and 23; Proverbs 7 is a classic. Sexual perversions were very common. The cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, and Gibeah were notorious for the number of sexual prevents among their inhabitants. Much of the “uncleanness by issues” of Lv. 15 undoubtedly refer to gonorrhea. Syphilis is the only disease that visits the sins of the father upon the children to the third and fourth generation. The word “emerods,” also translated “tumors,” which occurs in I Sa. 5, 6-9, and Dt. 28,27, meant the sexual organs. By making “golden emerods” and worshiping copies of the diseased parts the people hoped that the disease itself would disappear, the idea that like cures like being a very old superstition. This was the plague of the Philistines and was undoubtedly a venereal disease, probably syphilis. The Plague of Baal-Peor, previously mentioned, was almost surely syphilis. Nu. 5, 22-27; II Ch.21, 13-15, may refer to syphilis. It has been claimed that Sarah, Abraham’s wife, and David both had venereal disease. The passages quoted in support of this contention are not conclusive. Certain verses of Psalms have been said to refer t gummata of the bones, the subcutaneous tissues, and even the liver. It is fairly certain that the Hebrews recognized the relationship of sexual intercourse and certain diseases, as attested by several passages, especially in Proverbs.

There are a few special individual cases that are of interest. Asa died f a disease of his feet. It was probably not gout, but either senile gangrene or dropsy, because it “moved upwards in his body.” King Jehoram died of cancer of the lower bowel, or of a severe dysentery at the comparatively young age of forty years. King Hezekiah’s disease is mentioned in three different places. It is described as inflammation, or boil, and was cured by a fig plaster, or literally “by rubbing a cake of figs upon the boil.” A very ingenious and not at all improbable theory is that this so-called boil was a neck abscess that later ruptured; for Is. 38,14, reads “like a crane or a swallow so did I chatter” the idea being that the abscess interfered with the action of the larynx and so with speech. We do not know what the diseases of Abijah, Benhadad, Elisha and Joash.

There has been a great deal of discussion about Job’s disease or diseases. The ancients believed that he had “black leprosy.” The usual guesses for that are all that they can be are leprosy, syphilis, and Aleppo boil. It has been said that o fulfills all the symptoms presented, Job must have suffered from leprosy, elephantiasis, nightmare, gut, dysentery, ulcerated mouth, marasmus, and lice! It is probably better, at least for our purposes, to regard Job as an allegorical, rather than as a historical character.

Diseases and abnormal conditions of the nervous system were present among the Hebrews. The state of trace was recognized. Fainting attacks are told as occurring to Eli, Daniel, and Saul. Epilepsy was observed. Sun or heat stroke was not infrequent. We read that “the sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night”. To be moonstruck meant either epilepsy or lunacy. Jonah was stricken by the sun and heat. The incident told of the widow’s three-year-old son in II k. 4, 18 refers in all probability to such a sun or heat stroke. The boy went into the harvest field to his father, he suddenly cried out, “My head, my head,” and was taken home unconscious. Elisha was summoned and revived him. Another widow’s son was revived by Elijah. This child’s unconsciousness was probably due to infantile convulsions. Apoplexy and its results were recognized. Uzziah's death by the ark was probably caused by a stroke, possibly by an electric shock. Nabal died of a stroke of apoplexy due to arteriosclerosis, following a drunken feast, a common occurrence as all physicians know. The palsy of King Jeroboam was caused, probably, by the temporary arrest of an embolus or blood clot, in a vessel of the brain, or of the arm itself.

Of course, the ancient Hebrews had no classification of mental diseases. The belief in demons was widespread. Normal reason, normal mentality, and normal mental processes were to their minds, literally, the indwelling of the spirit of God. When a person’s reason weakened or was lost, an evil spirit had entered into the individual. The person thus became insane. Insanity was not infrequent. David feigned madness, crudely but successfully, and so escaped from Achish, King of Gath. Lunatics are carefully respected in the Orient. The two most noteworthy cases of mental disease recorded in the Old Testament are those of King Saul and King Nebuchadnezzar.

The case of King Saul is very interesting. The King of Israel was handsome, shy, self-conscious, of weak judgment and violent passions, easily exalted or depressed. He had troubles at home and aboard. His enemies pressed him hard. He was threatened with loss of his kingdom. He became a prey of fear, had premonitions of his own death and showed homicidal tendencies. Samuel was dead and the priests had been driven away. He had no one to advise or counsel. In disguise and at night, harassed by haunting fears and loneliness, he consulted the witch of Endor. Little wonder that she could conjure up for his distorted mind, Samuel’s spirit. Weak from lack of food and weak with fear he fainted. He had hallucinations of sight and hearing. Sometime later, sorely wounded, his sons slain, his kingdom lost to the Philistines in battle at Armageddon, King Saul fell upon his sword and committed suicide. The development and course of King Saul’s mental malady may be traced in I Sa. 16; 19;22;28; 31. It was either melancholia or, more likely, manic-depressive insanity.

The other interesting mental case is that of King Nebuchadnezzar as related in the book of Daniel. This king of Babylon had visions of grandeur. A dream and its interpretations, preyed upon his mind. He had hallucinations, ideas of persecution, and periods of exaltation followed by depression. At the end of a year, he was driven away from men. He believed himself an ox, and for seven years lived as a beast, neglecting all care of his body, and eating grass. His was probably the metal disease called paranoia, though at the end of seven years he is said to have recovered his reason. The whole story of the companions of Ulysses becoming swine, and other old Greek tales of lycanthropy.

The mysteries of sex, pregnancy, and birth have always attracted and held the interest of all people of all times. The ancient Hebrews were no exception. No other medical subjects are so thoroughly covered in the Old Testament. The Hebrews discussed the primitive facts of life brutally, openly and unashamed. Without question, much that is really valuable has been lost to most of us by the translators toning down or eliminating passages that might shock our sensitive modern ear.

We cannot enter into any of the interesting detail of the obstetrics and gynecology of the Old Testament. We can glance at but a few passages.

A very old belief of ancient cattle breeders in the influence of prenatal or maternal impressions on the offspring is recorded in the last part of Gn. 30. The close relationship of menstruation, nursing, and the menopause to childbearing was well known (Gn. 18; Hos.1,8). It was observed that miscarriage might follow bodily injury or mental shock. Miscarriage is invoked in Hos. 9,14. Barrenness was looked upon as an affliction, as a calamity, often as a punishment. Pregnancy and children, especially after years of sterility, were regarded as a blessing, as a gift from God. Sarah is said to have given birth to Isaac at the age of over ninety years. Rebecca was barren for nineteen years. Manoah, Samson’s mother and Hannah were also elderly primipara. The nursing period often lasted two or three years. There are references to nurses and sick children.

Of the many births recorded in the Old Testament for are of special interest: (1) The death of Rachel in childbirth due to, or at least contributed to, by her age and the journey (Gn.35); (2) the premature labor of the wife of Phineas, induced by the shock of distressing news, and her speedy death, probably from hemorrhage (I Sa. 4, 19); (3) the twins of Rebecca (Gn.25).

The two pairs of twins are interesting because the diagnosis of twins seems to have been made before birth, and also because both were hand presentations. One of the wins is commonly larger and stronger than the other. This seems to have been the case with Esau and Jacob; besides, the former had an overgrowth of hair hypertrichosis. The rules for the lying-in period are given in Lv. 12. The days for the “purifying” for a female child were longer than for a male child. This is traced to the very old superstition that it is more dangerous for a mother to give birth to a female child.

The Hebrews regarded old age as a reward for piety, as a token of God’s favor. A hoary head was a crown of glory? David is pictured as old and stricken in years in IK.1. One of the best descriptions of old age and death that has ever been written is found in Eccl. 12. The Preacher speaks in highly symbolic terms. It is the picture of an old man. The following seems to be the most reasonable explanation of the passage:

Verse 2. His mind, his physical well-being, often his prosperity fails. He is fretful and peevish, his pains recur, he often weeps and is depressed.

Verse 3. His arms and hands become weak; they shake and tremble. His legs are bent beneath their load. His teeth are few or gone; chewing is difficult. Hs sight fails often from cataract.

Verse 4. His lips and cheeks are sunken, referring to the peculiar appearance of a toothless, aged person’s face, especially when chewing, the doors being the lips, and the street the mouth. The sound of the grinding is low because the mouth is shut and the teeth are few or gone. His early morning insomnia very characteristic. The bird, or cock, is easily aroused and is early astir. He becomes deaf and his voice is cracked and quavering, the daughter of music being voice and hearing.

Verse 5. He is feeble; he fears new undertakings. His hair is white, the blossoms of the almond tree being of that color. There have been other interpretations of this passage. He has an annoying rupture, the belly of a grasshopper resembling the sac of a large inguinal hernia. A dried and shriveled up old man is often a burden to his friends. His sexual desire fails to act.

Verse 6. His back is bent, his shoulders stooped, the silver cord being the white glistening ligaments that support the spinal column. The “golden bowl” is obscure. It may mean the watery eyes, or the chronic nasal discharged, so common in the old. It has been suggested that the loosing of the silver cord and the breaking of the golden bowl refer to the breakdown of his central nervous system, his spinal cord, and his brain respectively. His bladder is weak, he dribbles urine. The circulation at his heart fails. It has been here suggested that the breaking of the wheel at the cistern refer to the breakdown of his circulation, Venous and arterial respectively.

Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

Originally published: Wednesday, July 11, 2018; most-recently modified: Friday, June 07, 2019

 

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