Neurology in the Bible (Tanach) and the Talmud

Division of Clinical Neurosciences, Faculty of Medicine, The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel
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The Bible, a major pillar of Western Civilization is made of Hebrew Scriptures of historical lore, sublime prophecies, hymns and aphorisms of wisdom assembled over more than a millennium and accepted as of divine origin, sealed and canonized towards the second century CE. The Talmud, made of the Mishna and the Gemara, is a compendium of Jewish laws, covering every possible aspect of life, collected, analyzed in depth and studied in the Land of Israel and Babylon from 200 BCE to 600CE, becoming the foundation of Jewish way of life.

The Bible and the Talmud have no medical sections and Medicine as a discipline was regarded warily being contaminated by magical attitudes. Still, the all encompassing character of the books brought out numerous medical problems and observations that appear in various connotations. When in need to clarify various dilemmas the Talmudic sages displayed such accurate anatomical knowledge that Vesalius made use of (in Hebrew letters and terms) in his atlas.

Julius Preuss published in 1911 his endeavor to collect and categorize the medical knowledge in the Bible and the Talmud. A special chapter was devoted for neurology. This pioneering work was followed by some books and many articles extracting more observations of neurological significance.

I shall maintain and bring examples that the instances reported in the Bible show very accurate observations but are no sign of knowledge. The many observations of neurological significance reported in the Talmud, expressed as common experience, are evident of a substantial medical knowledge, basically derived from Hellenistic origins, that a large amount of it may have been lost in books that were not included in the canonized Jewish literature.

Presidential Address
Saturday, 24 June 2006, 9.15 - 10.00 am

11th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Pavia, Italy, 2006