Bible and Science Icon

Institute for Biblical & Scientific Studies

Site Map | Contacts | Links | Newsletter |  

The Bible and Science:

Medicine and the Bible

Leviticus 17:11 - "The Life of the flesh is in the Blood"

Jeffrey states, "Incredibly, Moses reveals that our blood is the essence of life (p.154). This concept of life being in the blood is a very old concept common to the ancient Near East (Kedar-Kopfstein 1978, 237-9). Let us look at a few examples.

In Mesopotamia the code of Hammurabi (about 1727 BC) which came well before Leviticus was written says, ta-ba-ak na-pis-ti-šu ki-ma me-e which Driver translates, "to pour out his life-blood like water" (Driver & Miles 1955, 101-3). The Akkadian word napištum is very similar to the Hebrew word nephesh (Driver & Miles 1955, 295). Probably around the same time that the code of Hammurabi was written, Enuma Elish was composed which describes the creation of man. Tablet VI says, "Kingu it was who created strife, And caused Tiamat to revolt and prepare for battle. They bound him and held him before Ea; Punishment they inflicted upon him by cutting (the arteries of) his blood. With his blood they created mankind" (Heidel 1942, 47). Kedar-Kopfstein states, "Blood is regarded as the true life substance, so that damu (blood) and balatu (life) can be used in parallelism….In rites of renewal, the blood of the person being renewed is obtained by cutting the skin, or an animal is slaughtered as his substitute and its blood used (1978, 238).

In Ugaritic there are also several parallels of dm, "blood" with nps, "soul" or "life" as there are in Hebrew (see Genesis 37:21-22, 42:21-22; Deut. 12:23; Psalm 72:14, 94:21, and Ezekiel 3:18-21, 33:8-9: Fisher 1972, #155). In the story of Aqhat, the son of Daniel it says, spill (his) blood like a … like a ‘killer’ on his knees. Let his breath go forth like a wind, his life like spittle" (CTA 18 IV:24-25, 35-36; Gibson 1977, 112-3).

In Egypt in 1862 Edwin Smith bought a papyrus in Luxor that has been dated to 1600 BC, but the archaic words in the text suggest that it was copied from an earlier text around 2,500 BC (Reeves 1992, 51). The Edwin Smith papyrus contains descriptions of 48 surgical cases. At the beginning of the papyrus it says, "The counting of anything with the fingers (is done) to recognize the way the heart goes. There are vessels in it leading to every part of the body … When a Sekhmet priest, any sinw doctor … puts his fingers to the head … to the two hands, to the place of the heart …it speaks … in every vessel, every part of the body" (Reeves 1992, 52, S1; Breasted 1930). Reeves states that the Egyptians "believed the heart to be the source of life within the body and may, indeed, have felt the pulse and measured it by comparison with their own pulses. The Egyptians also believed that all the ‘inner juices of the body’ flowed through vessels emanating from the heart" (Reeves 1992, 52-3). We must not read our modern science back into this Egyptian text, or the Hebrew text. We must understand these texts in their cultural context.

Egyptian Medicine

Jeffrey states, "the Egyptian’s level of medical knowledge was extremely primitive and dangerous" (p.141). Having compared Egyptian medicine with Hebrew medicine, I found the Egyptians to be far more advanced. Egyptian doctors were world renown in the ancient world. Jeffrey talks about the terrible use of urine and dung by the Egyptians. Reeves states, "the fact that the Egyptians recognize that urine carried the pregnancy factor was remarkable" (1992, 54). The use of mud, urine and dung is similar to homeopathic medicine today where like is treated with like. Louis Pasteur discovered that bacteria living in the bodies of humans and animals release byproducts into dung and urine which are antibiotic (Reeves 1992, 59-60). Certain soils also produce fungi that can kill bacteria (Ibid.). Today urine (uric acid) is used in many hand creams to preserve the skin. A very common prescription was the use of honey which is very resistant to bacterial growth. Numerous herbs were also used that are still useful today.

There was also personal hygiene (Reeves, 18) and disposal of impurities by burying, washing, or burning (Wright 1987, 258-259). Evil was banished in a similar way to the Biblical scapegoat rite (ZAW 92 (1980) 43-59). Mesopotamian rituals mainly got rid of the demons where Hittite rituals were generally nondemonic (Wright 1987, 261). The Egyptians did mix magic with medicine, but some manuscripts (Edwin Smith papyrus) show little use of magic, and followed rational means of diagnosis and treatment (Nunn 1996, 26). .

Even before the Ebers Papyrus was written, the Egyptians had discovered the use of Castor oil, Onions for antiseptic use, plus many more substances that have been shown to be helpful according to modern science (Bryan 1930, xvii). A.S. Yahouda saw Moses as "the child of the Nile" with the OT medical knowledge essentially identical with Ebers Papyrus (Ibid.). I see the Ebers Papyrus as far more detailed and technical than the OT.


Contrary to what Jeffery says, the leprosy mentioned in Leviticus 13-14 is probably not the leprosy we commonly know today. Wenham comments, "It is difficult to find one English word to cover these diverse conditions. Inspired by the Greek translation (lepra), traditional English translations have rendered tsara’at by ‘leprosy.’ This is obviously inappropriate in the case of mold and mildew in clothes and houses. As for the various skin complaints covered by the Hebrew term, it is doubtful if any of them corresponds to true leprosy (Hansen’s disease; 1979, 192). Avalos states, "In this regard, Leviticus is consistent with Mesopotamian sentiments about skin diseases such as saharsubbu" (1995, 311). He also doubts that the word rendered "leprosy" is the modern day Hansen’s disease (Ibid., 311-318). "K. van der Toorn has documented the overlap between Mesopotamia and Israel insofar as ideas concerning hygiene, illness, sin, and punishment are concerned" (Ibid., 13-14).

The Chemistry of the Blood

Medical Doctor M.R. DeHann wrote a book entitled The Chemistry of the Blood in 1943. Today with the advances in modern medicine this book is out of date and wrong, yet copies are still being printed.

None of These Diseases

There is an interesting book written by a medical doctor, S.I. McMillen, entitled None of these diseases published by Revell in 1963. The title is a quote from Exodus 15:26. If Israel obeyed God then they would not get sick. He posits that the laws of God are more advanced than ancient and modern medicine. The rest of the book tries to demonstrate this. When I was much younger I bought hook line and sinker into this book, but after studying other ancient languages and writings my views have changed. Egyptian medicine seems far more advanced than the simple dietary laws of Leviticus.

Ellen G. White based her diet book on the strict observance of these laws. Most Seventh Day Adventist will follow these laws. Bill Gothard also strictly follows the Levitical Laws. The principles of the New Testament are ignored.