EVIDENCE FROM SCIENCE AND THE BIBLE by John Oakes
The Bible, A Book Written by an Ignorant People in an Ignorant Age.? This was
the title of a book a scientist friend of mine set out to write as a young and
zealous atheist.? The friend is John Clayton.? In the process of writing the
book, he became convinced that it was his own ignorance of the Bible that was on
trial.? Ultimately, John became convinced, through comparing historical and
scientific evidence to what is written in the Bible, that it is truly inspired
by God.? The evidence turned a zealous atheist into a zealous believer.? He has
spent the past twenty-five years giving lectures on science and the Bible throughout
the United States.
The Bible clearly is not a science book, but it certainly does include content
which is relevant to the questions that scientists ask.? What is the history
of the earth?? What is the history of the universe?? What about life?? What
is the origin of mankind?? What about the forces that determine the weather?? These
are questions which the ancients thought about, and which the Bible does address
to some extent.
Was the Bible written by an ignorant people in an ignorant age?? That would
be putting it a bit strongly, but the fact is that at the time the Bible was
written, especially the Old Testament, people were in general quite ignorant
of the laws of nature which have been discovered through modern science.? There
were no telescopes or microscopes available.? People were not performing controlled
scientific experiments to determine the age of the earth.? Knowledge of how
the human body works was virtually non-existent.? From the modern perspective, yes,
the writers of the Old Testament were scientifically ignorant.? The question,
then, is whether the relatively small portion of the Old Testament which does
relate to scientific questions reflects the scientific ignorance of the age
in which it is written, or whether it reflects a supernatural knowledge of the
laws of nature.
The question of science and religion?let us put it more plainly?the debate between
certain religious persons and the atheistic scientific community has raged unabated
since the publication of Darwin?s Origin of Species in 1859.? It is not the
intent of this chapter to deal with all these questions.? The scientific arguments
for a creator, the laws of thermodynamics, a detailed discussion of the theory
of evolution and so forth are very important, but they are outside the range
of the current discussion.? For a fuller treatment of these issues see my book Is There
a God?? The subject of this chapter is the specific content in the Old Testament
which relates to scientific questions.? Do these passages show signs of scientific
ignorance or of inspiration?
In case there is any doubt in the mind of the reader about the lack of scientific
insight of the ancient Jews, consider a passage from a Hebrew writing from around
the time of the New Testament.
The flood was produced by a union of the male waters, which
?are above the firmament, and the female waters issuing from
?the earth.? The upper waters rushed through the space left
?when God removed two stars out of the constellation Pleiades.
?Afterward, to put a stop to the flood, God had to transfer two
?stars from the constellation of the Bear to the constellation of
?the Pleiades.? That is why the Bear runs after the Pleiades.
?She wants her children back, but they will be restored to her
?only in the future world.
Well, I guess that explains why the constellation Bear runs after the Pleiades.?
The scientific validity of male and female waters is a bit questionable, to
say the least. ?Is anyone prepared to defend the view that two stars were moved
at some point in the past from the Bear to the Pleiades?? This myth is typical,
not only of the writings of the Jews, but of myths which can be found from all
the ancient cultures of the Near East.? If the Bible was simply an ignorant
book written by an ignorant people in an ignorant age, or if it simply was written
without the inspiration of God, myths like these would undoubtedly have crept
into it.? The scriptures of such world religions as Shinto, Hinduism, Jain,
and Buddhism certainly do contain such myths.? The reader is invited to search the
Bible for examples of the same sort of thing.? Despite the false claims of its
critics, one will simply not find such myths in the Bible.
The reader may be saying to him or herself, ?What about the Genesis creation
myth??? That will be a good place to start.
Without a doubt, the greatest amount of controversy surrounding questions of
science and the Bible have revolved around the creation accounts found in Genesis
chapters one and two.? Genesis one describes the famous seven ?days? of creation.?
Scientists and philosophers have railed against this ?myth.?? Many, finding
parallels with the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic, have claimed that the Genesis
myth was borrowed and adapted from the contemporary mythology of the Hebrew?s
Mesopotamian neighbors.? Let us consider this most controversial of Bible passages
A logical place to start is by actually reading Genesis chapter one.? The first
five verses will be quoted here.? It is hoped that the reader will pull out
a Bible and read the whole chapter.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the
earth.? Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was
?over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was
?hovering over the waters.? And God said, ?Let there be light,?
?and there was light.? God saw that the light was good, and he
?separated the light from the darkness.? God called the light
??day,? and the darkness he called ?night.?? And there was
?evening, and there was morning?the first day?. God saw all
?that he had made, and it was very good.? And there was
?evening, and there was morning?the sixth day. (Genesis 1:1-
A reasonable first question to ask is, what is the overall message of Genesis
chapter one?? The message seems to be that God is the creator of all things
in the heavens and on the earth.? It also seems clear that according to Genesis
chapter one, the culmination and the purpose of God?s plan was the creation of mankind.
??????????? What is the outline of Genesis chapter one?? A possible bare-bones
outline would be as follows;
1. God existed before the creation of the universe.
2. God created the universe out of nothing
3. After creating the universe, including the stars and the earth, God created
every kind of life.
4. Last of all, God created human beings.
It would be fair to ask at what point there is direct conflict between this
outline and current scientific knowledge?? Science cannot demonstrate the existence
of God through experiment, but science can certainly be used to show that there
was a creator.? In fact, the cosmological model now accepted by most scientists describes
the creation of the entire universe out of nothing.? This model is known as
the Big Bang theory.? The idea that the universe has always existed?that it
was not created?has been more or less discredited because it violates the laws
of thermodynamics.? This defunct idea is known as the Steady State model.
< br> According to the predominant theory of cosmologists, the entire universe was
created out of nothing from what is known as a singularity.? By this widely-accepted
model, the initial ?stuff? of the big bang was created at a very high temperature?trillions of degre
es.? The temperature was so high, that all the energy existed in the form of
light.? According to the big bang model, the creator said, ?Let there be light,?
and there was light.
Following the brief outline of Genesis chapter one above, after creating the
universe, the stars and the earth, God created the various forms of life.? Of
course, many scientists believe that life came about by some sort of natural,
random event.? According to the atheist philosopher Thomas Huxley;
We are as much a product of blind forces as is the falling of a stone to earth,
or the ebb and flow of the tides. We have just happened, and man was made flesh
by a long series of singularly beneficial accidents.
This is the standard line of many scientists.? However, those outside of science
would do well to understand where this statement comes from.? This is the statement
of a person who began his investigation of nature by assuming that there is
a ?natural? explanation for everything which can be observed in nature.? God
is disallowed as a force which might affect nature from the very beginning by
definition.? The standard line of the atheist is to begin by assuming that there
is not now, nor has there ever been anything which might be described as a supernatural
event. Those who start with the atheistic assumption are sure to come back around
by circular reasoning to conclude that life was not created.
Despite the confident claims of circular-reasoning scientists, the fact remains
that according to well-known and understood laws of nature, life must have been
created.? Many PhD theses have been written along with a multitude of books
on the subject, but the fact remains that no plausible model for the creation of
life by a natural process has yet been created.
The same laws of thermodynamics which preclude an eternal universe completely
rule out the possibility that an object of such irreducible complexity as a
living thing could be created by random chance.? Never mind the fact that the
laws of nature themselves have every sign of having been designed in order to allow
for the existence of life, the laws of thermodynamics and of probability
do not allow for a single working piece of DNA to be created by chance.? One
could go on to mention the impossibility that the proteins needed to allow for
DNA to reproduce itself could be created at random at the same time and place
as the DNA.? The list of impossible coincidences required to create even the
simplest life form could be continued until they fill an entire book.? The more we
learn about the biochemistry of life, the more clear it becomes that a living
thing is a marvelously complex machine.? Suffice it to say that despite the
confident claims of many self-deceived scientists, life was created.
Last of all, according to Genesis chapter one, and last of all according to
scientists as well, man appeared on earth.? Where is the myth and scientific
blunder so far in Genesis one?
But the devil, they say, is in the details.? What about the details of Genesis
chapter one?? In looking at the first chapter of Genesis, one should bear in
mind that the creation account is obviously not a scientific treatise.? The
original Hebrew audience of Genesis did not even have words for such scientific concepts
as species, DNA, genetics, chemical elements, or energy.? Of necessity, then,
the creation account paints in the broadest of terms a process whose details
would escape the original readers.? Lest we feel too superior to the ancient Hebrews,
it is probably safe to say that if God were to describe to us today in detail
exactly how he created the universe and all the life on earth, he would go way
over the head of even our most brilliant scientists!
The approach we will use is to paraphrase Genesis chapter one, interjecting
current scientific knowlege.? This paraphrased version of the Genesis creation
account will be written from the point of view of an observer at the surface
of the earth (Genesis 1:1).? This ?observer? would first note that the sun, as
it was formed, began to produce light through the process of nuclear fusion.?
The early atmosphere of the earth was so thick that the sun itself was invisible
from the surface.? When the earth formed, it was already spinning, so when the sun
began to produce light, even though it was not visible from the surface, there
were periods of light and darkness (Genesis 1:3).? Later, as the earth ?evolved,?
a separate atmosphere and ocean emerged (Genesis 1:6-8).? Next, as the planet continued
to cool and the crust thickened, lighter rocks, mostly silicates such as quartz
and granite rose up above the lower-lying basalt, creating the first dry land
(Genesis 1:9,10).? Once the chemistry of the earth?s atmosphere had evolved sufficiently,
God created various life forms?gymnosperms (non fruit-bearing plants) before
angiosperms (fruit-bearing plants) (Genesis 1:11-13).? As the early plant and
other life which God had created proliferated, they absorbed sufficient amounts
of carbon dioxide and other gases, allowing the earth to cool to the point that
the thick veil of clouds finally parted, allowing an observer on the surface
of the planet to observe the sun, moon and stars for the first time (Genesis
1:15-19).? Next, God created many different species of higher life forms, such as
fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals; first in the water, then on the
land (Genesis 1:20-25).? Last of all, God produced his finest creation, man,
homo sapiens (Genesis 1:26-28).
Where are the scientific blunders here?? Is this a myth or is it a simplified
account of God?s creation of the earth and all the life on the earth?? The supposed
Genesis ?myth? has a remarkable affinity with what is known from scientific
investigation.? How is one to explain this fact?
It is helpful to compare the Genesis creation account with the creation stories
of other peoples.? Most relevant is the Babylonian creation story, because some
have claimed that Genesis chapter one was borrowed and adapted from the Babylonian
Gilgamesh epic.? The Babylonian creation myth involved gods emerging from a divine
swamp which had existed forever.? These gods came out of the swamp in male and
female pairs.? As the younger gods appeared, they did battle with the older
gods.? In one battle, Marduk, the son of Ea (the earth god) attacked and killed the
first goddess of all, Tiamat.? He caught her in a net and crushed her skull.?
As the divine blood of Tiamat spilled to earth, the blood and mud mixture formed
the first humans.
It is possible to detect some similarity between the Genesis creation account
and the Gilgamesh epic/myth.? However, the clear difference between the two
is that the Genesis creation account is consistent with scientific knowledge,
while the Babylonian creation myth is clearly that?a myth.? Who borrowed from
Ancient Egyptian religion included a creation story as well.? The Egyptian myth
included belief that in the beginning the universe was filled with a primordial
ocean called the Nun.? The waters of the Nun were stagnant.? Out of the limitless
flood rose up the primeval hill.? This hill eventually grew into the entire eart
The priests of the great cult centers in Egypt each claimed that their city
was the point our of which the land mass of the earth originated.? Some believe
that the pyramids are intended as representations of the primeval hill.
It would be possible to continue with the creation myths of the Japanese Shinto
religion, of Hindu scripture, of the Popul Vuh, the ancient Mayan creation myth,
or with those of the Iroquois or other Native American groups and so forth.?
Most ancient cultures had a creation myth.? From the modern perspective, it is
difficult to take these myths seriously in view of what we know from science.?
The radical exception to this rule is Genesis chapter one.? Rather than showing
signs that the Bible is a collection of fables and myths, Genesis chapter one shows
signs that the Bible is inspired by the same God who created the world and everything
A couple of objections could be raised at this point.? First, some would point
out that the book of Genesis seems to imply that creation took place just a
few thousand years ago, over six twenty-four hour periods.? After all, each
of the six days ends with a phrase such as, ?And there was evening, and there was
morning?the first day.?? From this perspective it may seem impossible that scientific
knowledge and Genesis one can agree.? Even the most basic background in science
would lead one to believe that the earth is very old.
In answer to this point, let it be said that six twenty-four hour days of creation
is certainly a reasonable interpretation of Genesis 1.? In fact, if it were
not for what we know from science, it would at least appear to be the most obvious
interpretation.? However, one should bear in mind that the Hebrew word used for day here
is yom.? In the Old Testament, this word is variously translated ?day,? ?time,?
?forever,? ?age,? ?continuously,? ?today,? ?life,? and ?perpetually,? depending
on the context.? In fact, long before the scientific revolution, many of both
Christian and Jewish theologians took a non-literal day interpretation of Genesis
chapter one.? For example, one could mention the Jewish theologian Philo, as
well as the early Christian authors Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Clement
of Alexandria, Origen, Lactantius, Eusebius and Augustine.? This incomplete
list proves that the idea of taking the six ?days? of creation to be ages rather
than literal twenty-four hour periods is not necessarily a child of science.? Careful
Bible study can lead to the same conclusion.
Could an all-powerful, all-knowing God create the universe in six twenty-four
hour periods, with an ?appearance of age,? with the light from distant galaxies
already in transit, with dinosaur and trilobite fossils already in the ground??
The answer is yes, it certainly seems reasonable that the same God who is powerful
enough to create the universe could also create it with an appearance of age.?
Jesus created wine ready to drink and fish ready to eat.? A better question
is this: did he?? All we can say for sure is that what we know from scientific
investigation is in dramatic agreement with the creation outline found in Genesis
The second point some would raise with regard to Genesis chapter one actually
has to do with chapter two.? Some would claim that Genesis 2:4-25 is a second,
contradictory creation story by a different author from chapter one.? Whether
the first and second chapter had different authors is, of course, difficult to prove
one way or another.? In either case, whether by two authors or one, there is
no contradiction between these two accounts.? Genesis chapter one is a description
of the creation of the earth and everything on it.? Genesis chapter two, beginning
in verse seven, is a description of the creation of the first people.? Unless
someone can point out a specific contradiction between the two accounts, the
criticism is worthless.? Having listened to such arguments, I have found myself
shrugging my shoulders.? What contradiction?
In summary, despite its lack of scientific detail and technical language, the
creation account in Genesis is in striking agreement with what we know from
science.? When compared to the creation stories of other ancient cultures, that
found in Genesis has every mark of being inspired by the creator.
RATTLESNAKE FAT, ANYONE? MEDICAL EVIDENCE
Of the different fields of science, it is the area of medical knowledge that
the Bible touches on the most.? At first, this may seem surprising, but if one
thinks about it, for the Jews, knowledge about astronomy, chemistry, physics
or biology may have been of philosophical interest, but medical knowledge was
of very practical use.? The survival of God?s people was at stake.? How did
God communicate medical knowledge to Israel?
The first five books of the Old Testament were often referred to as ?the Law?
by the Jews. The third book of the Law is Leviticus. This book contains the
largest portion of the legal code in the Old Testament. A number of regulations
can be found in Leviticus which are related to health and diet issues. These examples
will now be examined closely
Before doing this, however, it will be useful to consider the nature of medical
knowledge in cultures immediately surrounding Israel in the time frame of the
writing of Leviticus. If the Bible is simply a book written by man, then its
allusions to medical questions would reflect the level of insight or ignorance of the
dominant cultures in the Near East at the time in which it was written. On the
other hand, if the Bible is inspired by God, one would expect it to show insight
which reflects that inspiration, even when it touches on medical knowledge.
?Of the ancient cultures surrounding ancient Israel, the Egyptians are considered
by many to have been the most advanced in medical knowledge. Through trial and
error, the Egyptian culture may very well have gained some useful knowledge
about how to treat certain illnesses.? However, if one looks at the written records
of Egyptian medical science, some of the prescriptions in them would not stand
up to modern science, to say the least. A quote from the famous Embers Papyrus,
a medical text written about 1550 BC, prescribes;
To prevent the hair from turning gray, anoint it with the blood
?of a black calf which has been boiled in oil, or with the fat of a
or concerning hair-loss,
When it falls out, one remedy is to apply a mixture of six fats,
namely those of the horse, the hippopotamus, the crocodile,
?the cat, the snake, and the ibex.
Other prescriptions from the Embers Papyrus include such dubious drugs as dust-of-a-statue,
shell-of-a-beetle, head-of-the-electric eel, guts-of-the-goose, tail-of-a-mouse,
fat-of-the-hippopotamus, hair-of-a-cat, eyes-of-a-pig, toes-of-a-dog, and semen-of-
a-man. These medicines seem humorous to the modern reader, but the consequences
of this medical and scientific ignorance was surely devastating to the people
of that day. These examples are brought up not so much to reveal the ignorance
of the Egyptians at that time, but to provide a background against which one may compare
the writings of the Old Testament: writings from approximately the same time
period as those of the Embers Papyrus. Lest we in the modern world become too
proud of ourselves, it is worth remembering that medical know
ledge in the Western
world two hundred years ago had barely progressed beyond that found in the Embers
papyrus.?? What, then, was the state of medical knowledge found in the Old Testament??
In looking at Old Testament health laws, the author would acknowledge significant
contributions in this area from a book by S. I McMillen, MD.
Through most of its recorded history, the Jewish nation as a whole has been
noted for its medical expertise. At least part of the reason for this fact may
be discovered from a look at some Bible passages which gave the Jews an advantage
in medical science. To the extent that they followed the ?prescriptions? in the Old
Testament, the Jews were automatically way ahead of their time. However, to
show how advanced in areas of medicine the Israelites were in and of themselves,
apart from the revelation of the Old Testament, consider an excerpt from a Jewish
book of medical knowledge from a time roughly contemporary to the writing of
the New Testament.
?Whatever God created has value.? Even the animals and the insects that seem
useless and noxious at first sight have a vocation to fulfill. The snail trailing
a moist streak after it as it crawls, and so using up its vitality serves as
a remedy for boils. The sting of a hornet is healed by the housefly, crushed and
applied to the wound. The gnat, feeble creature, taking in food but never secreting
it, is a specific against the poison of a viper, and this venomous reptile itself
cures eruptions, while the lizard is the antidote to the scorpion.
Would anyone like to try any of these prescriptions? Also, note the scientific
error regarding the digestive system of gnats. It seems reasonable to agree
with the writer that ?everything God created has value,? but most people would
presumably not be eager to try out these prescriptions. This passage is typical
of the writings of the Jews of the age as well as those of the Egyptians and
other cultures at the time. However, it is in complete and remarkable contrast
to what can be found in the Bible, as will be shown. Why? Because the Old Testament
writers were lucky? Because the Jewish doctors were using the scientific method
to carefully examine their medical practices? Or could it be a sign that the
Bible is no ordinary book, but rather the inspired Word of God. As the following
sections are presented, the readers should judge for themselves.
Please note that no one is claiming that all the medical knowledge of the ancients,
be they Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Greek, Native American, or any other is mere
superstition. Through trial and error methods, some of the most ancient cultures
evolved medical folklore which is of some value. However, this folklore inevitably
contains a large proportion of remedies which are about as effective as using
rattlesnake fat to prevent premature grayness.
As mentioned before, this section will focus primarily on the book of Leviticus,
the book of Law received by Moses from God at a time contemporary to the writing
of the Embers Papyrus. Moses himself was born in Egypt.? Anyone who would claim
that the Bible is just a record of the opinion of the Hebrew nation of the day should
consider comparison of Leviticus to the Embers Papyrus.
To begin, consider a remarkable claim made by God through Moses to the nation
of Israel while they were wandering in the wilderness for forty years, as recorded
in Exodus 15:26.
If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right
in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees,
I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for
I am the Lord who heals you.
Here God is claiming that if the nation of Israel will obey his decrees, they
will avoid all kinds of diseases. History bears out the ramifications of this
claim. The Jews have always been a relatively small nation, yet they have survived
repeated invasions and even attempts at extermination. Time and again the Assyrians,
the Babylonians, the Greeks and the Romans as well as others have attacked and
scattered the Hebrew people. Although scattered, the Jews have somehow always
managed to recover and to grow in number. One factor in the resilience of the Jews
was their health practices as inspired by the Old Testament.
For example, consider Leviticus chapter eleven. A summary of this section is
given here, rather than a detailed quote. In this chapter, God tells his people
that pigs, rabbits, rodents, crustaceans, lizards, and all carnivores are ?unclean??in
other words not acceptable to be eaten. On the other hand, fish with scales, cows,
sheep, goats, and certain non-carnivorous birds are ?clean.? It just so happens
that all the animals on the unclean list are relatively dangerous to eat unless
very thoroughly cooked. Pork is the type of meat which is most famous for being
considered ?unclean? by the Jews. Pork is also famous for causing trichinosis.
On the other hand, beef, fish and lamb are relatively safe. All of these types
of meat, if handled properly, may be eaten safely even when uncooked (although
certain safety precautions are highly recommended). Could this correspondence
between what Leviticus calls clean and what is in fact relatively safe be mere
How did Moses know which types of meat were relatively safe? Did he learn it
from the Egyptians? Certainly not, for they often ate many of the unclean meats,
especially pork. Did he run some controlled scientific experiments?giving pork
to some Israelites and sheep to others, and keeping careful record of how many got sick?
That seems extremely unlikely. The nation of Israel at the time was relatively
ignorant scientifically, but the Law contained in the Bible reflects a different
level of knowledge. It is therefore not at all unreasonable to think that the
ultimate author of the Law, God, was protecting his people from ?the diseases
I brought on the Egyptians.?
Next, consider Leviticus chapters 13 and 14. Here one finds very specific laws
regarding several different types of infectious skin diseases, including leprosy.
Specific instructions are given to quarantine the subjects with certain skin
diseases for a set period of time, to burn their clothing and even destroy the
pottery implements off of which they had eaten.
Throughout time, the spread of leprosy has been blamed on such causes as heredity,
the eating of certain foods, or even on the alignment of the planets. These
false ideas naturally led to an inability to stop the spread of the disease.
Finally, after thousands of years of human suffering, leprosy was brought under
control in the Western world in the Middle Ages.
Leadership was taken by the church, as the physicians had nothing to offer.
The church took as its guiding principle the concept of contagion as embodied
in the Old Testament….This idea and its practical consequences are defined
with great clarity in the book of Leviticus….Once the condition of leprosy was
established, the patient was to be segregated and excluded from the community.
Following the precepts laid down in Leviticus the church undertook the task
of combating leprosy…it accomplished the first great feat…in methodical
eradication of disease.
The incredible devastation which has been caused by leprosy throughout Europe,
Africa and Asia could have been largely avoided if the medical practitioners
had simply heeded the command in Le
viticus 13:46. ?As long as he has the infection
he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.? In fact,
once quarantine was initiated, leprosy was dramatically reduced in Western Europe.
Does anyone believe Moses made this up because he was a brilliant doctor, or
because of the great medical knowledge he had acquired in Egypt? Even if someone was
a skeptic who believed that the book of Leviticus was written by a group of
Jewish priests at around 500 BC rather than by Moses at around 1400 BC, how
could they explain the discovery of quarantine by these priests over two thousand years
before its general application in Europe?
In 1873, Dr. Armauer Hansen identified the bacterium which causes leprosy, proving
once and for all that it is indeed an infectious disease (medical science refers
to leprosy as Hansen?s disease). Today, if caught early, it is entirely curable.?
Fortunately, leprosy can now be controlled by antibiotics, so that there is no longer
a need to quarantine lepers. However from the time of the writing of the Old
Testament, right up until the 1940?s, God?s prescription was the most effective
way to prevent the spread of this disease.
Three years later, the Norwegian Leprosy Act was passed. This law ordered lepers
to live in precautionary isolation away from their families. In 1856, there
were 2858 lepers living in Norway. By the turn of the century, only 577 lepers
were left; and that number plummeted to 69. By 1930 the spectacular discoveries
of science allowed Norway to control this disease, but the precautions had been
written down by Moses almost 3,500 years earlier.
Next, consider another law found in Numbers chapter nineteen. It would be helpful
to read the chapter before continuing if you have a Bible handy. Here one finds
the command from God that anyone who touches the body of a dead person is to
be considered unclean for seven days. In addition, they are to be considered unclean
until several very precisely specified hand and body washings have been completed.
Even the person who aided in the cleansing was required to wash himself.
In Numbers 19, God specifically prescribed the use of water containing ash and
hyssop. The ashes in combination with the oil of the hyssop plant made a kind
of soap. It just so happens that the hyssop plant, a type of marjoram which
grows in the Middle East, contains in its oil about 50% carvacrol, an organic
compound almost identical to the commonly used antifungal and antibacterial
compound thymol. Therefore, ash and hyssop work both as a soap and as a natural
antibiotic.? Does it seem reasonable to believe this was just luck on Moses? part?
It is extremely interesting to note that the stringent practice of hand washing
between the touching of patients or after touching dead bodies was only introduced
to ?modern? medicine by the work of Ignaz Semmelweis in the 1840?s and 1850?s.
 Semmelweis worked at that time in a hospital in Vienna at which one in six of
the maternity patients died in the hospital. No wonder women preferred to have
their children at home! These depressing statistics were typical numbers for
hospitals at that time. Semmelweis noted that a typical practice for the doctors
in hospitals was to perform autopsies on the patients who had died the previous
day before immediately proceeding to examine their patients. Today, of course,
one cringes to hear of this practice, but it should be noted that the concept of
infectious disease, commonly known as the germ theory, was not introduced to
the world or proved by modern science until the nineteenth century by the work
of the likes of Pasteur, Lister and Semmelweis. Semmelweis ordered that all
doctors performing autopsies must wash their hands thoroughly before working
with live patients.? There was an immediate fourteen-fold decrease in mortality.
If only doctors had heeded the commands of Moses concerning washing after the
touching of dead bodies before this date!
Semmelweis eventually noted that even the touching of a maternity patient after
touching another live patient could result in infection, so he further ordered
hand cleansing between obstetrical examinations. The mortality rate went down
further. Semmelweis could have referred to Leviticus chapter 12 at this point where women
who give birth are proclaimed to be ?unclean? for seven days. It is now known,
of course, that the nature of childbirth, which opens the circulatory system
of the mother to outside infection makes it a particularly dangerous practice
for doctors to move from one maternity patient to another without a very thorough
washing of the hands. This remains true for several days after childbirth. The
Bible prescribes seven days. Fortunately, thanks to modern science, obstetricians do not
need to wait seven days between examinations. Nevertheless one can see that
if medical practitioners had obeyed the practice described in the Law of Moses,
millions of unnecessary deaths would have been prevented.
It is an interesting side note that the work of Semmelweis was not easily accepted
by the medical establishment, to say the least. He was ridiculed by many of
his peers in the medical community. Eventually, he was persecuted so strongly
that he was fired from the hospital where he did his original work. Even after
publishing convincing proof of the effectiveness of hand washing, he was scorned
by his peers. Eventually, Semmelweis was committed to a mental institution where,
ironically, he died of a blood infection.
Semmelweis was not the only proponent of germ theory to be persecuted. Louis
Pasteur, the great French chemist, proposed the existence of viruses to explain
such infectious diseases as smallpox and rabies. Despite major successes in
curing diseases such as smallpox, his virus theory was vigorously opposed. One
of his opponents, the fellow French scientist Guerin, even challenged him to
But there is more! For example, consider Leviticus 17:13,14.
Any Israelite or any alien living among you who hunts any animal or bird that
may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth, because the life
of every creature is its blood. That