Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hygiene-HOORAY! for the Law of Moses

If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God...I will put none of these diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. I am the LORD who heals you. Exodus 15:26

"An obscure race of people attempting to cross the Sinai Peninsula about 3,500 years ago received a highly advanced system of disease prevention and medical hygiene. The people followed these instructions and somehow escaped the communicable diseases and social ills that devastated other civilizations over the millennia, as they were promised:

If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God...I will put none of these diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. I am the LORD who heals you. (Exodus 15:26)

What was their secret?

It sure wasn’t the prevailing wisdom of the times. Their leader Moses, who received the dietary and hygiene system, from God, had been trained as a prince of Egypt in the most “advanced” medical system of his era.

Yet, Moses did not advocate to Israel the sure-fire Egyptian prescription for avoiding epidemics. They did not embrace Egypt’s “two vulture feathers” and the promise from a god named “Flame-in-his-face” to save them “from every sickness.” History records that the Egyptians treated pinkeye with “the urine of a faithful wife” and favored other treatments such as the “blood of a worm” and a healthy plaster of the latest manure concoction! (S.I. McMillen, M.d. and David E. Stern, M.D., None of These Diseases [Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 2000], 9-11, 13-14; citing excerpts from The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, trans. James H. Breasted [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1930], 473-475)

Forensic examinations of mummified Egyptians indicate the upper-class Egyptians didn’t receive much benefit from the best that Egyptian physicians had to offer. They suffered from many of the same diseases that afflict us today. (They had a taste for unhealthy foods and a blatant disregard for hygiene.)

The Practice of Advanced Hygiene

In contrast, the Israelites followed advanced hygienic practices according to the divine instructions given to Moses. And they enjoyed an extraordinary resistance to sickness and disease. God’s hygiene system is remarkably up to date. In fact, modern hospitals everywhere follow nearly every one of the original guidelines God laid out in the Bible.

For example, the biblical hygiene regimen recorded in Numbers 19:11-22 required strict separation of the corpses of the dead from the living. When a person died, those present and anyone who prepared the body for burial (mandated before sundown) were considered unclean for seven days.

Those individuals were to wash their hands, clothing, and utensils with running water, extensive scrubbing, and a mild astringent. The water was treated with ashes—a key component of soap for millennia—and administered with hyssop, which contained the antiseptic thymol (the active ingredient in Listerine mouthwash). (ibid, 25)

In addition, this biblical hygiene system required that hands be washed before meals and at other key times to ensure cleanliness.

The Bible also prescribes specific techniques for purifying clothing and key instruments or utensils, along with the safe disposal of human waste, proper burial methods, childbirth procedures, sexual hygiene, feminine hygienic guidelines (for the menses), and more.

Leviticus 13 provides detailed instructions for the diagnosis of the disease called leprosy, with strict guidelines for the purification of fabrics contaminated by the disease. It also called for the quarantine of people with any highly infectious disease."

(Rubin, Jordan S., The Maker’s Diet, Siloam, Lake Mary, Florida, 2004, pgs. 62-63)


  1. Russell M. Nelson, a heart surgeon, made similar points. See Russell M. Nelson, “Where Is Wisdom?,” Ensign, Nov 1992, 6 at

  2. And yet I believe that the "clean" and "unclean" portions of the Law of Moses has a lot more to do with symbolism than hygiene. For example, contact with a corpse symbolized contact with a "dead" person spiritually, hence the "need" to ritually cleanse oneself.

    Steven Montgomery