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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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In the primitive ages of the world, diseases, in consequence of the great simplicity in the mode of living, were but few in number. At a subsequent period the number was increased by the accession of diseases that had been previously unknown. Epidemicsalso, diseases somewhat peculiar in their character, and still more fearful in their consequences, soon made their appearance, some infesting one period of life, and some another; some limiting their ravages to one country, and some to another. Prosper Alpinus mentions the diseases which are prevalent in Egypt, and in other countries in the same climate: they are ophthalmies, leprosies, inflammations of the brain, pains in the joints, the hernia, the stone in the reins and bladder, the phthisic, hectic, pestilential, and tertian fevers, weakness of the stomach, obstructions in the liver, and the spleen. Of these diseases, ophthalmies, pestilential fevers, and inflammations of the brain, are epidemics; the others are of a different character. The leprosy prevails in Egypt, in the southern part of Upper Asia, and in fact may be considered a disease endemic in warm climates generally. Accordingly, it is not at all surprising, if many of the Hebrews, when they left Egypt, were infected with it; but the assertion of Manetho, that they were all thus infected, and were in consequence of the infection, driven out by force, in which he is precipitately and carelessly followed by Strabo, Tacitus, by Justin Trogus, and others more recent, is a mere dream without any foundation. The appearance of the disease externally is not always the same. The spot is commonly small, and resembling in its appearance the small red spot that would be the consequence of a puncture from a needle, or the pustules of a ringworm.

The spots for the most part make their appearance very suddenly, especially if the infected person, at the period when the disease shows itself externally, happens to be in great fear, or to be moved with anger, Numbers 12:10; 2 Chronicles 26:19 . They commonly exhibit themselves in the first instance on the face, about the nose and eyes; and gradually increase in size for a number of years, till they become, as respects the extent of surface which they embrace on the skin, as large as a pea or bean; they are then called שאת . The white spot or pustule, בהרת , morphea alba, and also the dark spot, ספחת , morphea nigra, are indications of the existence of the real leprosy, Leviticus 13:2; Leviticus 13:39; Leviticus 14:56 . From these it is necessary to distinguish the spot, which, whatever resemblance there may be in form, is so different in its effects, called בהק , and also the harmless sort of scab, which occurs under the word סמפחת , Leviticus 13:6-8; Leviticus 13:29 . Moses, in the thirteenth chapter of Leviticus, lays down very explicit rules for the purpose of distinguishing between those spots which are proofs of the actual existence of the leprosy, and those spots which are harmless, and result from some other cause. Those spots which are the genuine effects and marks of the leprosy gradually dilate themselves, till at length they cover the whole body. Not only the skin is subject to a total destruction, but the body is affected in every part. The pain, it is true, is not very great, but there is a great debility of the system, and great uneasiness and grief, so much so, as almost to drive the victim of the disease to self-destruction.

2. Moses acted the part of a wise legislator in making those laws which have come down to us concerning the inspection and separation of leprous persons. The object of these laws will appear peculiarly worthy, when it is considered, that they were designed, not wantonly to fix the charge of being a leper upon an innocent person, and thus to impose upon him those restraints and inconveniences which the truth of such a charge naturally implies, but to ascertain, in the fairest and most satisfactory manner, and to separate those, and those only, who were truly and really leprous. As this was the prominent object of his laws that have come down to us on this subject, namely, to secure a fair and impartial decision on a question of this kind, he has not mentioned those signs of leprosy which admitted of no doubt, but those only which might be the subject of contention; and left it to the priests, who also fulfilled the office of physicians, to distinguish between the really leprous, and those who had only the appearance of being such. We find mention, in the rules laid down by Moses for the purpose of ascertaining the true tokens of leprosy, of a cutaneous disorder which is denominated by him bohak. The words of Moses, which may be found in Leviticus 13:38-39 , are as follows: "If a man or woman have white spots on the skin, and the priest see that the colour of these spots is faint and pale, it is, in this case, the bohak that has broken out on the skin, and they are clean." A person, accordingly, who was attacked with this disease, the bohak, was not declared unclean; and the reason of it was, that it is not only harmless in itself, but is free from that infectious and hereditary character which belongs to the true leprosy. "The bohak" says Mr. Niebuhr, "is neither infectious nor dangerous. A black boy at Mocha, who was attacked with this sort of leprosy, had white spots here and there on his body. It was said that the use of sulphur had for some time been of service to this boy, but had not altogether removed the disease." He then adds the following extract from the papers of a Dr. Foster: "May 15th, 1763, I myself saw a case of the bohak in a Jew at Mocha. The spots in this disease are of unequal size. They have no shining appearance, nor are they perceptibly elevated above the skin; and they do not change the colour of the hair. Their colour is an obscure white, or somewhat reddish. The rest of the skin of this patient was blacker than that of the people of the country was in general, but the spots were not so white as the skin of an European when not sunburnt. The spots, in this species of leprosy, do not appear on the hands, nor about the navel, but on the neck and face; not, however, on that part of the head where the hair grows very thick. They gradually spread, and continue sometimes only about two months; but in some cases, indeed, as long as two years, and then disappear, by degrees, of themselves. This disorder is neither infectious nor hereditary, nor does it occasion any inconvenience. "That all this," remarks Michaelis, "should still be found exactly to hold at the distance of three thousand five hundred years from the time of Moses, ought certainly to gain some credit to his laws, even with those who will not allow them to be of divine authority." The pestilence, in its effects, is equally terrible with the leprosy, and is much more rapid in its progress; for it terminates the existence of those who are infected with it almost immediately, and at the farthest within three or four days. The Gentiles were in the habit of referring back the pestilence to the agency and interference of that being, whatever it might be, whether idol or spirit, whom they regarded as the divinity. The Hebrews, also, every where attribute it to the agency either of God himself, or of that legate or angel, whom they denominate מלאכּ? .

3. The palsy of the New Testament is a disease of very wide import. Many infirmities, as Richter has demonstrated, were comprehended under the word which is rendered palsy in the New Testament.

1. The apoplexy, a paralytic shock, which affected the whole body.

2. The hemiplegy, which affects and paralyzes only one side of the body.

3. The paraplegy, which paralyzes all the parts of the system below the neck.

4. The catalepsy, which is caused by a contraction of the muscles in the whole or a part of the body, for example, in the hands, and is very dangerous. The effects upon the parts seized are very violent and deadly. For instance: when a person is struck with it, if his hand happens to be extended, he is unable to draw it back. If the hand is not

extended when he is struck with the disease, he is unable to extend it: it appears diminished in size, and dried up in appearance. Hence the Hebrews were in the habit of calling it "a withered hand," 1 Kings

Leviticus 13:4-6; Zechariah 11:17; Matthew 12:10-13; John 5:3 .

5. The cramp, in oriental countries, is a fearful malady, and by no means unfrequent. It originates from the chills of the night. The limbs, when seized with it, remain immovable, sometimes turned in, and sometimes out, in the same position as when they were first seized. The person afflicted resembles those undergoing the torture βασανιζομενοι , and experiences nearly the same exquisite sufferings. Death follows the disease in a few days, Matthew 8:6; Matthew 8:8; Luke

Matthew 7:2; 1Ma_9:55-58 .

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Diseases'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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