Wholeness and holiness — synergy or tension? Medicine, disease and the purity laws of Ancient Israel
Glasby, Michael A.
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The Book of Leviticus has been described as the ‘first hygiene text’ based upon the observation that Leviticus contains a great deal of matter relating to two conditions. The first is צרעת translated in the Septuagint as λέπρα and confused in English translations with modern leprosy. The second, זוב was misused as a generic term for a whole spectrum of genital discharges. Apart from these, Leviticus contains nothing of a ‘medical’ nature. The question arises, as to whether these terms implied any sort of medical context or whether their only significance was as markers of ritual impurity to the priesthood. In Chapter 1 this question is developed and an hypothesis arrived at. A hermeneutic and methodology for the study are introduced and discussed. Chapter 2 is a review of the state of developing ‘medical practice’ in the Ancient Near East. Chapter 3 is concerned with the ideology of the levitical priesthood and their worldview in particular in respect of the establishment and operation of practice of ritual. Chapter 4 treats on the Levitical notion of impurity considered from both taxonomical and sociological standpoints and these approaches are discussed in the context of the present study. Chapters 5 and 6 each contain a detailed ‘medical exegesis’ of chapters 13 and 15 of Leviticus dealing with צרעת and .זוב Chapter 7 contains a similar treatment of the biblical notion of blemish and addresses the question of whether this was a mark of impurity like צרעת and .זוב In Chapter 8 embodies idea of contagion in the context of the ‘hygienic’ theme in Leviticus and the priests’ concern with what might imperil sacred objects. Chapter 9 employs context logometrical analysis in a detailed study of the word צרעת and whether there was, in Ancient Israel, any relationship, adverse or synergic between the activities of the priests in preserving purity, and early healthcare practice. Chapter 10 is a discussion of how צרעת has been seen from a theological perspective. While the exact nature of צרעת remains unknown, its biblical context — levitical and non levitical — is considered in relation to modern theories of the relationship of the impurity laws, sin and the wholeness↔ healthcare dynamic. Chapter 11 is a presentation of the conclusions that may be drawn from this study in respect of the wholeness↔ holiness paradigm posited in the hypothesis. It is concluded that there is no clear evidence to suggest that the priesthood saw צרעת and זוב in any terms commensurate with modern pathology and clinical medicine. Consequently it would be wrong to suppose, as many authors have, that in the levitical context, countermeasures to these conditions, though diagnostic, were hygienic in the modern, medical, — they were not, nor were they ever envisaged to be. That some of these measures subsequently found a significant place in preventive medicine appears to have been both fortuitous and fortunate.