Analysis of the Bible
Using a mixed method of text mining and visualizing in Voyant, a literature review and assessment of other secondary scholarship, and some close reading of the Old Testament and New Testament, the research team was able to put together a spreadsheet detailing all of the diseases that appeared throughout the Bible, as well as their causes and their treatments.
When doing the initial text mining, we were looking for terms such as “cholera,” “pain,” “illness,” and “sick.” This method turned out to not be as effective as we originally imagined it would. We decided to reference some secondary scholarship to see where in the Bible we would find specific instances of disease. It quickly became clear to us that the words used in the Bible were very different from the modern medical terminology that we are familiar with today. Instead, we should be looking for specific symptoms of disease in the original context that they were written in.
To account for the differences in terminology and descriptions of disease in the Bible, we used cross-referenced the symptoms of biblical diseases with modern medical journals and other secondary scholarship. By doing this, we were able to assign specific diagnoses to the non-specific diseases that were mentioned in the Old and New Testaments. For example, the phrase “closed womb” was often used to reference infertility. The following list are all of the diseases from the Bible that we were able to diagnose. While some of the categories that were recorded may not strike one as being “diseases”, we recorded them because they were talked about in the Bible in the context of sickness:
- Alcoholism: Characterized by an uncontrollable urge to drink alcohol; may cause alcohol to take precedence over an individual’s personal and professional lives.
- Apoplexy: An illness in which physical and mental impairments are caused by a sudden interruption of blood flow to the brain or other internal organs.
- Arthritis: A condition in which the joints become inflamed and can cause extreme pain.
- Atrophy: Occurs when cells and tissues start to degenerate and cause limbs, organs, and other parts of the body to waste away.
- Boils: Starts off as an infection in an oil gland/hair follicle; eventually forms a bump that fills with pus.
- Club-Foot: Most commonly seen in infants; results from the tendons in the foot being too short and causing the foot to turn inwards.
- Consumption: An archaic term for the wasting of the body; closely associated with pulmonary tuberculosis.
- Delusions: A psychological disorder in which an individual holds a belief that is commonly known to be wrong; often associated with the inability to tell fantasy from reality.
- Drought: Shortage of water; concurrent with “dehydration” in the Bible.
- Dysentery: An inflammation of the intestines; can result in diarrhea accompanied by blood/mucus in the feces.
- Dyspepsia: Another term for indigestion; occurs when the stomach and intestines are abnormally stimulated by motor nerves.
- Eating Disorders/Starvation
- Epilepsy: A neurological disorder that is accompanied by recurrent seizures.
- Fever (possibly caused by Malaria)
- Gangrene: Occurs when there is a cutoff of blood from one side of the body that results in the death of a part of the body.
- Grievous Sores (From Revelations)
- Heart Problems
- Hemorrhage: Generally refers to the loss of blood, either internal or external.
- Infertility: The inability of an individual to get pregnant/get someone pregnant.
- Leprosy: An infection of the body caused by the Mycobacterium leprae bacteria that results in damage to the skin and nervous system.
- Mass Healing
- Pestilence/Plague: Any epidemic-level diseases that arise suddenly and wipe out a significant chunk of the population.
- Physical Pain
- Plague in the River (From Revelations)
- Plague in the Sea (From Revelations)
- Retinal Degeneration/Cataracts: The rapid degeneration of the central part of the retina, therefore impairing vision.
- Smallpox: Caused by the variola virus; accompanied by a high fever and an extensive skin rash.
- Stillbirth: A baby who is delivered after having died in the womb.
- Tuberculosis: A contagious disease that severely limits the abilities of the lungs.
- Withered/Shriveled Hand
Disease in the Old Testament vs. Disease in the New Testament
The first visualization, found below, shows the amount of times that diseases were mentioned in the New Testament versus the amount of times that diseases were mentioned in the Old Testament. The red represents the number of cases that we have from the Old Testament and the blue represents the number of cases that we have from the New Testament. Of the 90 cases in our data set, 63 of them came from the Old Testament and only 27 from the New Testament. After crunching the numbers, we determined that 70% of the cases of disease in our data set came from the Old Testament and 30% of the cases came from the New Testament.
It is unclear whether or not the differences in the number of cases is because of the sheer size of the Old Testament relative to the size of the New Testament. It is also possible that there are simply more cases of disease to be found in the Old Testament. Whatever the case may be, it is important to keep in mind that the majority of our data came from one part of the Bible.
In this next visualization, we see differences in the kinds of diseases represented in the New Testament and the Old Testament. Again, we see the red representing cases from the Old Testament and the blue representing cases from the New Testament. While some of these diseases, such as atrophy, blindness, and leprosy appear in both texts, most of these specific diseases are exclusive to one text. For example, infertility and consumption only appear in the Old Testament while epilepsy and paralysis only appear in the New Testament.
Causes of Disease in the Bible
We also chose to illustrate the different causes of disease that are found in the Bible. Blue bars represent diseases caused by angels and/or God, green bars denote diseases that emerged naturally, red bars indicate that a disease was caused by Satan and/or demons, and yellow bars show that a disease was threatened upon humans by God. Some diseases, such as infertility, paralysis, and eating disorders were thought to have been caused by natural forces and never divine ones. However, diseases like leprosy and boils were believed to have been caused both naturally and through divine intervention.
Similarly, we see diseases such as epilepsy and insanity being attributed to the Devil himself. In the time that the Bible (both the Old and the New Testament) was written, diseases that ailed the mind were seen to have been the work of Satan and his demons. In the specific cases of epilepsy that we found, the seizures were often described as being the result of demonic possession.
Down below, we see more information about the causes of disease between the New Testament and the Old Testament. In the New Testament, we observe most cases of disease emerging in humans naturally, while closely followed by diseases caused by Satan and the angels of God. In the Old Testament, we still see the biggest proportion of cases being caused by natural factors, but it is accompanied by diseases brought on by God and/or threatened by God.
Treatments for Disease in the Bible
When it comes to the treatments for disease in the Bible, we see a wide variation. Throughout the entirety of the text, there are 34 specific cases that show a disease being treated. The biggest chunk of the pie chart down below is representative of diseases that were cured by Jesus while the second largest chunk is representative of diseases that were healed by God. After doing some calculations, an estimated 44% of diseases in our data set were healed by Jesus. After that, 29% of cases were healed by God, 12% of cases were cured by prayer, 9% of cases were cured by fig paste, wine, and self-treatment, and 6% of cases were cured by the freeing of the Israeli people. As Jesus does not appear in the Old Testament, we can see that the majority of cases where cures were discussed in the Bible come from the New Testament.
The last graphic shows the differences between the New Testament and the Old Testament in the way that disease was believed to have been treated. In the New Testament, we see most cases being healed through Jesus Christ with only one case being treated through the consumption of wine. On the other hand, there is much more variation in the treatment of disease in the Old Testament. While the majority of cases were treated by God, there were also numerous cases where diseases were treated through prayer, fig paste, self-treatment, and the freeing of the people of Israel.