The Bible’s priorities are clear from where it spends its time (and it doesn’t spend time on improving the welfare of the people).
The Bible has a detailed description of the priestly costume in Exodus 28. If the Bible devotes an entire chapter to attire, why not spend a few verses on a method for making something beneficial, like soap?
It’s easy to make. Suppose the following soap recipe were in the Bible:
Pack a wooden bucket with wood ashes. Pour in boiling water. Make a small hole near the bottom and collect the water in a pot as it drips out. The liquid is caustic, so don’t let it touch skin or metal. Pour the liquid back through the ashes until it is strong enough to dissolve a feather.
Boil this liquid to remove most of the water. Add rendered fat from cattle or other animals and stir while cooking until it thickens. Pour into molds and let it harden.
Use this soap to clean your hands before preparing food or eating.
There are lots of tricks to making good soap, but a priesthood could have perfected the technique.
In addition to soap, the Bible could have then added the basics of health care—when and how to use this soap, how boiling will purify water, how to build and site latrines, how to avoid polluting the water supply, how to respond to a plague, how germs transmit disease, the basics of nutrition, how to treat wounds, and so on. After health, it could outline other ways to improve society—low-tech ways to pump water, spin fiber, make metal alloys, keep livestock healthy, or improve crop yields.
One attempt to salvage the Bible’s medical reputation argues that its kosher dietary rules (no pork or shellfish, no mixing of meat and dairy, and so on) show an advanced understanding of health, but these rules are arbitrary when seen from a modern standpoint. They weren’t health rules but ritual rules, ways of culturally distinguishing their tribe from others. Sure, avoiding pork means you can’t get sick from eating poorly cooked pork, but you can still get sick from eating contaminated meat from other animals.
The problem continues in the New Testament. Someone who preached “Love your neighbor as yourself” would have been eager to share any knowledge he had about public health.
For a book that is supposed to be inspired by an omniscient god, the Bible’s understanding of science and medicine is primitive. It looks instead like just another book of mythology and superstition like all the rest.
There are two explanations for the Bible’s poor health advice. First, an infinitely loving God created us but didn’t care about the health of his creation. He could have made healthy practices into mandatory rituals, but he didn’t. However, he did care enough about making his priests look stylish to devote an entire chapter to their outfits.
Or, option two, the Bible was written by primitive men long ago and reflects the knowledge and interests of the time.
Which seems more likely?
Continue to chapter 16.
Image credit: Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Exodus 28: God is quite detailed in what the priest must wear—a blue robe with bell tassels, an embroidered apron and sash, The Breastplate of Judgement with twelve precious stones, a linen turban, magic stones to divine God’s will, and more.
Origin of soap: Babylonians were the first culture to make soap, in around 2800 BCE.
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