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Friday, January 9, 2015

1200 B.C.: Asthmatic Hebrew Girl

The Israelite children were amused in song as the ladies stood by in delight. Yet one girl, her name is Adina, does not sing. She stands near the edge of the woods, leaning against a tree, her shoulders hunched high, her breathing obviously heavy. Instead of song she mouths words of prayer to the Jewish God for healing.
How blessed is he who considers the helpless; the Lord will deliver him in a day of trouble.The Lord will protect him and keep him alive,and he shall be called blessed upon the earth...The Lord  will sustain him upon his sickbed; in his illness, You restore him to health.
It's a psalm (Psalm 41:1-3), and she prays it when her breathing becomes labored, which lately was a lot.  She prayed and she stood in the back of the group hoping no one would notice; hoping savta (grandma) didn't notice, because savta surely would pay Adina special attention Adina felt she didn't deserve.

I interviewed Adina for several hours as we walked through the woods.  She showed me her favorite place of worship in a clearing where the sun showed bright and hot overhead.  It was her God peering down upon her, blessing her with His touch.  She knelt in prayer and encouraged me to do the same.  

In a mellifluous whisper she prayed, a psalm of healing (Psalm 57: 2-3):  "I will cry out to God Most High, to God who performs all things for me.  He shall send from heaven and save me." 

As if on cue a soft, fresh breeze wafts over the field causing the grass and leaves to talk.  "It's our God talking," she says.  She smiles brightly, holding firmly in her grasp the device that saved her, the device that gave her her breath back, the device I brought with me from a distant time, a time when her God, the Israelite God, is still worshiped.  

"Do you not have natural remedies?" I ask.  "Something like that inhaler, something you inhale, that gives you your breath back like that inhaler did. It's a natural remedy.  "

"No," she answered swiftly.  "God alone decides who is sick and who is well.  His people see it as pointless, blasphemous, to take measures that would interfere with His will."  (Prioreschi, vol I, page 520)

"I consider that inhaler," I motion to the blue device in her grasp, "a gift from God. Why don't your people?"

"I guess we are not there yet," she closes her eyes.  "We do have physicians, although they are from distant lands.  They have what you call natural remedies.  They have salves and smoke to inhale through reeds.  Savta has me use such from the chabash (Prioreschi, page 521)although sometimes they make me worse.  I don't want to insult her, so I try to hide my," she pauses as though in search of the best word, "dyspnea as you call it."  

After saying several prayers with her, and listening to her sweet voice sing many others, I was summoned back to the time machine.  On the way back to 2012 I reviewed Plinio Prioreschi's "A History of Medicine, where he listed the following Biblical references to physicians and natural medicine:

And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father...  (Genisis, 50: 2)

And Asa in the thirty and ninth year of his reign was diseases in his feet, until his disease was exceeding great:  yet in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians.  And Asa slept with is fathers, and died in the one and forieth year of his reign. (II Chronicles, 16: 12,13)
But ye ar forgers of lies, ye are all physicians of no value.  (Job, 13: 4) 
Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there?  why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered? (Jeremiah, 8: 22)
...shall grow all trees... and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine. (Ezekiel, 47: 12) 
...thou has no healing medicines... (Jeremiah, 31: 13) vain shalt thou use many medicines;; for thou shalt not be cured.  (Jeremiah, 46:11)
A merry heart doeth good like a medicine:  but a broken spirit drieth the bones. (Proverbs, 17:22)
It seemed a lengthy task finding the above references on my own, so I referenced Plinio Prioreschi's book, "A History of Medicine," volume I, pages 516 and 521 for the above Biblical references.  

We must understand that the Ancient Hebrews, the Israelites, as Adina said, had access to physicians and natural medicine, although they were more focused on using prayer for it's healing purposes.

The reason was, or may have been, because the Hebrew believed God created all things, including health and sickness.  For this reason, to seek a physician for medicine may have been seen as "blasphemous," according to Prioreschi (page 526-7).  Physicians were only sought when prayer failed to work.

This may have been for the best too, as natural remedies were sometimes worse than allowing nature to take it's course.

Note:  Chabash is a Biblical term used for healer (Prioreschi, "A History of Medicine," Vol. I, second edition, 1996, page 460, page 521 in the first edition printed in 1991).  Teruphah is Hebrew for "healing reemedy." (Prioreschi page 535)

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