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MEDICAL MIRACLES FROM A PHYSICIAN-SCIENTIST'S VIEWPOINT RICHARD E. PESCHEL* and ENID RHODES PESCHELt With only five loaves and two fishes, Jesus fed 5,000 men. Moses stretched out his hand and parted the Red Sea. Jesus walked on the sea. Lot's wife was changed into a pillar of salt. Jesus turned water into wine at Cana. Aaron's rod became a serpent in Pharoah's court. These tales illustrate how thoroughly familiar we are with the concept of miracles, an idea not at all unique to theJudeo-Christian world. In fact, the notion of miracles is universal. It has existed in all cultures and all times. From the general concept of miracles it is but a step to the specific idea of medical miracles: miracles of healing. We know of such tales from our own culture. "And great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, . . . and cast them down at Jesus' feet, and he healed them" (Matt. 15:30). The Gospels relate that Jesus cured various people of leprosy (Luke 17:11-19), dropsy (Luke 14:2-4), blindness (Matt. 9:27-30, Mark 8:22-5, Luke 18:35-43, John 9:1-7), paralysis (Matt. 9:2-7, Mark 2:3-11, Luke 5:18-25), deafness and dumbness (Matt. 9:32-33, Mark 7:32-37), and revived Lazarus from the dead (John 1 1 : 14-44). In the Old Testament we read that Elijah brought the widow's son back to life (1 Kings 17:17-24) and that the prophet Elisha cured a man of leprosy and reanimated the Shunammite's dead son (2 Kings 5:8 and 4:32). The stories in the New and Old Testaments afford only a meager idea of the multitudinous tales of medical miracles that have circulated in all eras and all lands. A sampling of other early cultures reveals such The authors are grateful to Ronald Green and Ann Klein for their advice about Buddhist tales of miracle healings. ?Associate professor of therapeutic radiology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut. tCo-Director, Program for Humanities in Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut. Mailing address: 8 Country Club Drive, Woodbridge, Connecticut 06525.© 1988 by the authors. 003 1-5982/88/3 103-0585$01 .00 Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 31, 3 ¦ Spring 1988 | 391 legends in Egypt and Babylonia, India and Tibet, Greece and Rome, and among the ancient Celts. Later in time we find reports of the "healing touch" credited to French and English kings, stories from Native American folklore, and some twentieth-century accounts from Lourdes. A brief look at the diversity—and similarity—of these tales of miracle cures provides insights into man, his beliefs, his fears—and his hopes. A Sampling ofMedical Miraclesfrom Ancient Egypt to Twentieth-Century Lourdes In ancient Egypt, the stories go, the god Thoth restored life to Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, when Horus was stung by a scorpion. When Horus lost an eye in battle, Thoth spat upon the wound and miraculously healed it. Eventually a large healing cult developed around Horus's mother, the goddess Isis. It was said that when her husband, Osiris, was killed and dismembered, Isis breathed into his mouth and revived him so well that he was able to impregnate her on the spot with Horus. In the first century b.c. the Greek historian Diodorus of Sicily wrote that the Egyptians believe that Isis, who, they say, can heal the blind, the maimed, and others, "works remarkable cures upon such as submit themselves to her; and many who have been despaired of by their physicians because of the difficult nature of their malady are restored to health by her" [1, p. 81]. How often—in ancient and modern times alike—does one need more than the mere healing power of doctors! In Babylonia healing miracles were attributed to Marduk, who became chief divinity through Hammurabi's favor around 2200 b.c. Ancient tablets recount one man's cure: "sickness . . . I struck my neck and crushed my back. . . . / Food became bitter and putrid," but Marduk "tore out the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 391-404
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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