Mon | Feb 6, 2023

That old but fascinating Bible

Published:Tuesday | December 7, 2021 | 12:05 AM


In a recent Gleaner letter, I knocked the dismissal of the Bible based simply on its age as a logical fallacy, dubbed the ‘genetic fallacy’. I hope now to point out a few features of the older sections of the Bible that are truly remarkable. 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.

Without the light microscope (of the 17th century), and especially the 20th-century invention of the electron microscope, no one could have any clue about microscopic organisms that cause diseases in animals and plants.

Considering 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 Clean and 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?

• Swine, available, tasty but forbidden – check the danger of improperly cooked pork.

• Aquatic and marine animals without fins and scales – tasty but forbidden

Almost all of the prohibited ones are scavengers or bottom feeders (often found in relatively shallow waters) historically used for the disposal of garbage and raw sewage. Historically, these animals have been linked with the spread of typhoid.

2 Health practices pertaining to 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 the 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 concerning disease prevention. Ponder Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis during the 1840s in Vienna and his innovation of handwashing, before gloves were invented, to save lives. (Check out Google for details.)

Centuries before Semmelweis, God gave similar instructions to Moses regarding the necessity of washing after handling the dead or the infected living. But is this really divinely suggestive or revealed by God to Moses as Moses claims, or are there plausible and natural explanations for these admittedly surprising phenomena in ancient Israelite culture?

There are two possibilities apart from the God hypothesis.

1 Moses, educated as a son of the palace, simply copied these disease-control practices from Egypt. Consider this – the Egyptian medical Ebers Papyrus, written about 1552 BC, recommends such remedies for diseases as lizard’s blood, swine’s teeth, putrid meat, etc. Nothing resembling the Mosaic prescriptions for disease control appears in the available Egyptian texts!

2 Okay then, Moses originated the disease-control practices. Like seriously, being clueless about the germ theory of diseases and food chains?

Probe the concept of circumcision: its value and especially its timing (Genesis 17.9-14). Google the medical wisdom of not circumcising before the eighth day! Old and irrelevant book, the Bible? Not on your life!