Disease (properly מִהֲלֶה machaleh', νόσος). Diseases are not unfrequently alluded to in the Old Testament; but, as no description is given of them, except in one or two instances (see below), it is for the most part impossible to determine much with certainty concerning their nature. The same indefiniteness prevails to a very great degree in the mention of diseases in the New Testament, but few of which are sufficiently explicit to identify them precisely with the descriptions of modern pathology. With respect to this subject, it is known that there are certain words of ancient origin which are used in the Scriptures to express diseases of some kind or other; it will therefore be a prominent attempt with us to ascertain what the diseases are that were designed to be expressed by those words, which will be noticed in their appropriate places. SEE PESTILENCE. The ancients were accustomed to attribute the origin of diseases, particularly of those the natural causes of which they did not understand, to the immediate interference of the Deity (De 28:60; 2Ki 19:35; 1Ch 21:12-15; Ps 39:9-11; Ac 12:23). Hence they were frequently denominated by the ancient Greeks μάστιγες, or the scourges of God, a word which is employed by the physician Luke himself (Lu 7:21), and also in Mr 5:29,34. Two of the plagues of Egypt were of this character. According to Prosper Alpinus (De Med. AEgypt.), diseases prevalent in Egypt, and other countries of a similar climate, were ophthalmies, or diseases of the eyes; leprosies, inflammations of the brain, pains in the joints, the hernia, the stone in the kidneys and bladder, the phthisic, hectic, pestilential, and tertian fevers; weakness of the stomach, and obstructions in the liver and the spleen. The most prevalent diseases of the East at the present day are cutaneous diseases, malignant fevers, dysentery, and ophthalmia. Of the first of these, the most remarkable are leprosy and elephantiasis. The latter is usually thought to have been the disease of Job (q.v.). SEE LEPROSY. To the same class also belongs the singular disease called the mal d'Aleppo, or "Aleppo button," a species of felon, which is confined to Aleppo, Bagdad, Aintab, and the villages on the Segour and Kowick (Russell's Nat. History of Aleppo, 2:299). 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 (Volney, 1:231). Malignant fevers are very frequent, and of this class is the great scourge of the East, the plague (q.v.), which surpasses all others in virulence and contagiousness. The Egyptian ophthalmia is prevalent throughout Egypt and Syria, and is the cause of blindness being so frequent in those countries. SEE BLINDNESS. Of inflammatory diseases in general, Dr. Russell (1.c.) 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 Mohammedans. SEE LUNATIC.
The spermatic issue mentioned in Le 15:5, cannot refer to gonorrhaea virulenta, as has been supposed by Michaelis and Hebenstreit, for the person who exposed himself to infection in the various ways mentioned was only unclean until the evening, which is far too short a time to allow of its being ascertained whether he had escaped contagion or not. Either, then, the law of purification had no reference whatever to the contagiousness of the disease (which is hardly admissible), or the disease alluded to was really not contagious. SEE ISSUE.
Hezekiah (q.v.) suffered, according to our version, from a boil (2Ki 20:7). The term here used, שִׁחִין, shichin', means literally inflammation; but we have no means of identifying it with what we call boil (q.v).
The disease of Jehoram (q.v.), spoken of in 2Ch 21:18 (comp. the similar case of Herod, Ac 12:23), is probably referable to chronic dysentery, which sometimes occasions an exudation of fibrine from the inner coats of the intestines. The fluid fibrine thus exuded coagulates into a continuous tubular membrane, of the same shape as the intestine itself, and as such is expelled. This form of the disease has been noticed by Dr. Good under the name of diarrhaea tubularis (Study of Med. 1:287). A precisely similar formation of false membranes, as they are termed, takes place in the windpipe in severe cases of croup.
The malady of Nebuchadnezzar (q.v.), alluded to in Da 4:33, was a species of melancholy monomania, called by medical 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 every-day 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 (Esquirol, Maladies Montales, 1:622). Calmet informs us that the nuns of a German convent were transformed into cats, and went mewing over the whole house at a fixed hour of the day.
On the cases of persons possessed with unclean spirits, SEE DEMONIAC. For other specifications of disease in the Bible, SEE BLAINS; SEE BOTCH; SEE FLUX; SEE HAEMORRHOIDS; SEE MURRAIN; SEE BLOODY SWEAT; SEE PALSY; SEE LAME; SEE IMPOTENT; SEE WITHERED; SEE LICE, etc. On the methods practiced by the ancient and modern Orientals for curing diseases, SEE HEALING; SEE MEDICINE; SEE PHYSICIAN, etc. The following special treatises exist on the subject: Michaelis, Lex Mosaica de morbis illustrata (Gott. 1757; also in his Syntagma, 2, No. 4); Ader, De morbis in N.T. (Tolet. 1621); Bartholinus, De Morbis Biblicis (F. ad M. 1697, 1705, etc.); Eschenbach, Scripta medico-biblia (Rost. 1779); Jordan, De divino in morbis (F. ad V. 1651); Mead, Medica sacra (Amst. 1749; in German, Leipz. 1777); Richter, Dissertt. medicae (Gotting. 1775); Anon. Untersuch. med. hermen. (Leipz. 1794); Warliz, De morbis Biblicis (Viteb. 1714); Wolf, Von den Krankheiten der Juden (Mann. 1777). SEE SICKNESS.