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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Diseases of the Jews

The most prevalent diseases of the East are cutaneous diseases, malignant fevers, dysentery, and ophthalmia. Of the first of these the most remarkable are leprosy and elephantiasis [LEPROSY]. To the same class also belongs the singular disease called the mal d'Aleppo, which is confined to Aleppo, Bagdad, Aintab, and the villages on the Segour and Kowick. It consists in an eruption of one or more small red tubercles, which give no uneasiness at first, but, after a few weeks, become prurient, discharge a little moisture, and sometimes ulcerate. Its duration is from a few months to a year. It does not affect the general health at all, and is only dreaded on account of the scars it leaves. Foreigners who have visited Aleppo have sometimes been affected by it several years after their return to their own country. It is a remarkable fact that dogs and cats are likewise attacked by it. The Egyptians are subject to an eruption of red spots and pimples, which cause a troublesome smarting. The eruption returns every year towards the end of June or beginning of July, and is on that account attributed to the rising of the Nile. Malignant fevers are very frequent, and of this class is the great scourge of the East, the plague, which surpasses all others in virulence and contagiousness [PESTILENCE]. The Egyptian ophthalmia is prevalent throughout Egypt and Syria, and is the cause of blindness being so frequent in those countries [BLINDNESS]. Of inflammatory diseases in general, Dr. Russell says that at Aleppo he has not found them more frequent, nor more rapid in their course, than in Great Britain. Epilepsy and diseases of the mind are commonly met with. Melancholy monomaniacs are regarded as sacred persons in Egypt, and are held in the highest veneration by all Muhammadans.

Diseases are not infrequently alluded to in the Old Testament; but, as no description is given of them, except in one or two instances, it is for the most part impossible even to hazard a conjecture concerning their nature.

Hezekiah suffered, according to our version, from a boil. The term here used means literally inflammation; but we have no means of identifying it with what we call boil. The same may be said of the plague of boils and blains, and of the names of diseases mentioned in Deuteronomy 28, such as pestilence, consumption, fever, botch of Egypt, itch, scab. The case of Job, in which the term translated boil also occurs, demands a separate notice [JOB]. Nebuchadnezzar's disease was a species of melancholy monomania, called by authors zoanthropia, or more commonly lycanthropia, because the transformation into a wolf was the most ordinary illusion. Esquirol considers it to have originated in the ancient custom of sacrificing animals. But, whatever effect this practice might have had at the time, the cases recorded are independent of any such influence; and it really does not seem necessary to trace this particular hallucination to a remote historical cause, when we remember that the imaginary transformations into inanimate objects, such as glass, butter, etc. which are of everyday occurrence, are equally irreconcilable with the natural instincts of the mind. The same author relates that a nobleman of the court of Louis XIV was in the habit of frequently putting his head out of a window, in order to satisfy the urgent desire he had to bark. Calmet informs us that the nuns of a German convent were transformed into cats, and went meowing over the whole house at a fixed hour of the day. Antiochus and Herod died, like Sylla, from phthiriasis, a disease which was well known to the ancients. Nothing is known respecting the immediate causes of this malady; but there is no doubt that it depends on the general state of the constitution, and must not be attributed to uncleanliness. Alibert mentions the case of a person who, as soon as these animals had been destroyed, fell into a typhoid state, and shortly after died. The question of alleged demoniacal possession, so often mentioned in the New Testament, has been considered under another head [DEMONIACS], and need not be reopened in this place.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Diseases of the Jews'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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