Friday, December 21, 2012

Health Care and the Christmas Story

December the 25th has special meaning to millions of people, not only in America, but around the world. This date has historically marked the celebration of the birth of Christ, the Savior of the world--Emmanuel. God with us! Mankind was provided a special gift on that first Christmas day two thousand years ago in Bethlehem, the City of David. Now, in 2012, modern celebrations focus in a big way on the Holiday, more than the Reason for the Season.

In Roman times, life was hard. Life was short, and many people died young. The region where Jesus was born was known as a wasteland by those who lived there and did not want to be there, like Roman soldiers and slaves from all over the known conquered world.

Shortly before Jesus was born, the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus decided that a census be taken throughout the Roman Empire, including the land of Israel. People were required to return to their ancestral homes for registration. For Joseph and Mary, that meant leaving Nazareth, which is a town in the northern district of Galilee, and traveling to Bethlehem, which is in the southern region called Judah or Judea. After they arrived in Bethlehem, Mary was ready to give birth to Jesus, according to

So, Joseph and Mary went to a manger because they could not find other lodging. It was a manger, where animals are kept, that served as the humble place of birth for Jesus. Bethlehem is an important city for Messianic prophecy. King David, who ruled over Israel about 1,000 years before the time of Jesus, was born in Bethlehem. And the Hebrew prophet Micah, who lived about 700 years before Jesus, announced that Bethlehem would be the birthplace for the Messiah:

"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." - Micah 5:2 (NIV translation). More information can be also found at this website: .

Now, here is the Story of the first Christmas, according to the New International Version of Luke 2: 1-20: "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.' 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told."

The historical events of that period had a profound influence on the thought and way of life of the Jews and consequently on the development of Jewish medical art as well. As a result of the Babylonian Exile, of Greek rule followed by the Hasmonean Wars, the rise of Christianity and the Exile after the destruction of the Second Temple, the Jewish community became wide open to influences from neighboring countries and to foreign philosophies, which had their effect on every walk of life, including medicine, according to The Jewish Virtual Library.

The sources for this period are the Apocryphal books, Greco-Roman writings of Jews and non-Jews, the Mishnah, the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds, the Midrashim, and, in part, the recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls. None of these sources is a medical book as such. Except for a few cases, medical matters are dealt with mainly to illustrate points of ritual, or civil and criminal law. The influence of Persian and Babylonian magic medicine is clear from references to amulets, the evil eye, demons, etc.

The Greek influence on Jewish medical thought was considerable, but we find that the scholars were not blind adherents of the humoral pathology, but rather followers of anatomic pathology. This was doubtless based on their experiments and observations of sick animals before and after slaughter, as well as on their studies of human bodies and corpses. One of the interpretations given to the name of the sect known as Essenes is "healers." Their medicine mainly influenced Christian medicine and medical thought. They studied and collected herbs and roots for healing purposes, though their chief remedies were prayer, mystic formulas, and amulets.

Abiding faith was all that was considered necessary for curing physical and mental diseases as well as chronic defects such as blindness, lameness, and deafness. The medicine mentioned in the New Testament is almost entirely of this type of miracle cure. By contrast, the attitude of Jewish scholars of the time, and later those of the Talmud, is generally a scientific one, according to the Jewish Virtual Library.

The medicines mentioned in the Talmud include powders, medicated drinks, juices, balsams, bandages, compresses, and incense. Meat and eggs were considered to be the most nourishing foods; fried food or food containing fat was regarded as difficult to digest. The eating of vegetables throughout the year and the drinking of fresh water at every meal were recommended. Baths and mineral waters were regarded as general strengthening tonics and as therapeutics for certain skin diseases. Herbs were used for constipation; and purges were recommended in serious cases, except for pregnant women. The use of opium as an analgesic and hypnotic drug was known, and warning was given against overdosing. Anything useful for healing purposes was permitted at any time, even on the Sabbath.

Surgeons operated in special halls. "Sleeping drugs" were used as anesthetics. From descriptions of operations, knowledge has been learned of trepannings, amputations, and removal of the spleen. A cesarean was also performed, but it is not clear whether the operation was done on a living or on an already dead body. In general, the life of the mother had priority and therefore the killing of a fetus during a difficult birth was allowed. Wound edges were cut in order to ensure complete and clean healing. Surgeons wore special operation aprons . Much more detailed material about healthcare in Biblical days can be found at this website: .

Life was difficult, even hazardous, in those days. Jesus was born in a location that was dirty and definitely highly unsanitary, especially by today’s standard. Yet, He survived and lived a full life until He gave His life at the age of 33--crucified on a cross, and buried in a borrowed tomb. The Good News is that three days later God the Father raised Him from the dead, and Jesus overcame both death and the grave. For those who believe, it is the story of salvation and everlasting life. If you haven’t discovered it, the Christmas story is where it begins, but the end is still being told. Don’t overlook the Life that was given amid all the glitz of the Season. It would be a shame to receive presents, but miss the greatest Gift of all. Jesus is the Reason.

Merry Christmas!


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