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Bible specifies good medical and hygienic practices (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Bible specifies good medical and hygienic practices (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.

Claim CH135:

The Bible describes medical and sanitary practices remarkable for the time. It says you should bury your excrement [Deut. 23:13]. It requires people to wash themselves after touching a dead body [Numbers 19:11-22]. It notes that the eighth day after birth is the safest time to perform circumcisions [Gen. 17:12;Lev. 12:2-3].


  • Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1985. Life--How Did It Get Here? Brooklyn, NY, p. 204-206.

CreationWiki response: (Talk.Origins quotes in blue)

1. Accuracy on one point does not show overall accuracy.

True, but accuracy on many points supports overall accuracy.

Genesis 30:25-33, for example, describes a breeding program based on sympathetic magic.

Actually Talk Origins has the reference is wrong. The correct one is Genesis 30:37-43. Aside from that Talk Origins is correct, that the passage is describing a breeding program based on sympathetic magic, but they have left out the fact that the Bible is simply describing what Jacob did and that it does not endorse it or indicate a real cause and effect relationship. On the contrary Genesis 31:10-13 shows that God was controlling the results not Jacob's actions.

Reference: Mr. Green Genes?

2. Deuteronomy 23:9-14 is not about hygiene. The purpose of burying excrement is so God will not be offended by seeing anything indecent and turn away. The idea is religious; uncleanliness would make one unfit for a religious war.

Actually, it is about both, in that it serves both purposes. The religious uncleanness is a stated reason but God established it in part for purposes of hygiene. Furthermore having a religious reason given does not change the fact that burying excrement would be good hygiene.

There is also a danger that exposed excrement could be found by the enemy and used magically against one.

Here is another case of Talk Origins making a baseless claim even though it is from another source. There's no hint of this in the passage.

Numbers 19:11-22 is not about hygiene. It refers to ritual purification conducted by sprinkling water, not washing with it. The purification is to be done not immediately after touching the body, as good health practice would demand, but on the third and seventh days. Whoever fails to perform the ritual is unclean and must be ostracized from Israel. Basically, it is a superstitious taboo. Similar taboos against people who have touched dead bodies appear to be universal in Polynesia. Furthermore, unless they have died from pestilence or have been decaying for a few days, dead bodies are no less clean than live ones.

Talk Origins is correct that this is a purely ritual purification having nothing to do with hygiene. They show their bias however by calling it a superstitious taboo. It also needs to be noted that there is no evidence of contact between ancient Israel and Polynesian Islands. This was about religious purification with no evidence of superstition connected to it.

3. The Bible does not include directives that really would indicate good medical practices, such as burying feces downhill from the source for drinking water, and washing ones hands in clean water in circumstances that really would prevent spreading dangerous germs.

Deuteronomy 23:9-14 is describing a war time situation. Any clean water that was available would be needed for drinking, and wandering around outside that camp looking for a place for burying feces downhill from drinking water would be dangerous. Simply burying the feces would be the most practical way of dealing with it.

4. Attributing a requirement of some special knowledge to account for knowledge of good health practices assumes the ancient Hebrews were idiots. People can often see the results that come from bad practices.

True, except when it is said to have come personally from God.