Earliest Mention in Bible.

The science dealing with the structure of organisms, especially that of the human body. The information given in the Bible concerning the parts of the human body is merely popular in character. Thus a point of human Anatomy seems to be given in the narrative of Jacob wrestling with the angel. There it is said that the angel touched Jacob's (hollow of the thigh), and put it out of joint. . . . Therefore the children of Israel eat not of ("the sinew that shrank") (Gen. xxxii. 25-33). The Hebrew word gid, which is translated in the A. V. "sinew," means also nerve. The circumstances clearly indicate the sinew of the nervus ischiadicus, the nerve extending through the thigh and leg to the ankle.

Several members of the human body and of animals are mentioned in Ex. xxviii., xxix.; for example: (heart), (brow), (shoulder), (breast), (lobe of the ear), (hand), (finger), and (thumb). In Ex. xxix. 17 the Hebrew term for dissecting is for the first time mentioned: "And thou shalt cut [dissect] the ram into sections." The word is , from which is derived the modern Hebrew name for the science of Anatomy (). Some of the visceral portions of the sacrifices are also given, such as (inwards), (caul), (liver), (fat), (kidneys). (shoulder) and (skin) also occur.

A considerable number of parts of beasts and of birds are named in Lev. i. There the priests are commanded to cut up the sacrifices; to "flay the burnt offering and cut it in pieces . . . the head and the fat" (the word means the fat that covers the intestines under the omentum). But if the sacrifice is a bird the priest is to pinch off () the neck, and remove its crop () with its feathers (Lev. i. 14-16; v. 8). These anatomical parts, however, are only of the main organs, or those portions that the priest in sacrificing would naturally notice. There is no allusion to arteries, veins, or nerves.

"The apple of the eye" (iris) is mentioned in Deut. xxxii. 10. Lids, (keepers or preservers of the eye), are erroneously rendered in the A. V. (Ps. lxxvii. 5), "Thou holdest mine eyes waking." (eyelids) occurs in Jer. ix. 17, et passim.

The laconic description of Job, x. 9-11 points to a merely rudimentary knowledge of embryology and the components of the human body. "Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast made me as the clay. . . . Hast thou not poured me out as milk, and curdled me like cheese? Thou hast clothed me with skin and flesh, and hast fenced me [R. V., "and knit me together"] with bones and sinews []."

The allegorical picturing of the human body in decrepit old age as described in Eccl. xii. 2-6 alludes only to the outward members of man. However, the allegorical name (grinders = molars) for (teeth) seems to indicate that the writer possessed some knowledge of the classification and function of the various teeth. In the poetical description of the respective forms of the lovers in the Song of Solomon a few more names of organs of the human body occur, which are also referred to in other poetical or prophetic books of the Bible; for example, (palate) and (temple) (Cant. ii. 3, vi. 7).

In Talmudic Times.

After Ezra's time the Hebrew sages took a step forward in the field of Anatomy. The Greco-Egyptian school at Alexandria, under the auspices of Ptolemy I. and his successor, Ptolemy Philadelphus, greatly influenced the Hebrew academies, and the medical knowledge of the Greeksgradually became the property of the Jewish physicians. The latter, judging from the discussions in various treatises, were well acquainted with most of the parts of the human body and even practised —that is, dissection of the same.

The rabbis declared that there were 248 members (bones) in the human body; namely, 40 in the tarsal region and the foot (30+10 = 40); 2 in the leg (the tibia and fibula); 6 in the knee (including the head of the femur, and the epiphyses of the tibia and fibula); 3 in the pelvis (ilium, ischium, and pubes); 11 ribs (the twelfth rib, owing to its diminutive size, was not counted); 30 in the hand (the carpal bones and the phalanges); 2 in the forearm (radius and ulna); 2 at the elbow (the olecranon and the head of the radius); 1 in the arm (humerus); 4 in the shoulder (clavicle, scapula, coracoid process, and acromion)—which makes 101 for each side of the body, or 202 for both—18 vertebræ; 9 in the head (cranium and face), 8 in the neck (7 vertebral and the os hyoides), 5 around the openings [sic] of the body (cartilaginous bones), and 6 in the key of the heart (the sternum) (Oh. i. 8). Bergel ("Studien," p. 7) has shown, however, that the true number would be 208. But the fact that the rabbis had advanced far enough to enumerate the bones at all shows a certain acquaintance with osteology.

An incident is related which shows that the disciples of R. Ishmael engaged in practical Anatomy:

"The disciples of Rabbi Ishmael once dissected the corpse of a harlot who had been condemned by the king to be burned. On close examination they discovered that the body had 252 members instead of 248. Rabbi Ishmael explained the discrepancy, and supported his reasonings with citations from Scripture. In addition to the ordinary number of 248 members found in the male body, that of the female has "two hinges and two doors," making four more parts (Bek. 45a).

Limitations of Knowledge.

However near the truth the Jewish sages were in their specification of the human bones, they were nevertheless in the dark in matters concerning lymphangeiology, splanchnology, etc. For instance, under the name of they often included sinews, nerves, and even blood-vessels. Further, their knowledge of the construction of the urinary and generative organs was exceedingly faulty. They were, however, acquainted with the science of Anatomy as it was taught in those days. Many treatises—especially Ḥullin, Bekorot, Oholot, and Niddah —contain discussions upon the Anatomy and physiology of man and beast. The theories of the sages in matters of gynecology are interesting; even facts concerning the (placenta) and (matrix) are discussed. The (trachea), and (esophagus) are often mentioned, as well as the (lungs), (bronchi), (gall), (covering of the brain: meninges), (spinal cord), (spleen), and many other internal parts. See Lewysohn, "Zoologie des Talmud," pp. 18-55.

The numerous discussions in connection with sacrificial precepts, uncleanliness, and purification, recorded in several treatises, demonstrate that the Talmudical sages were not behind the Gentile physicians in the field of medical science.

From the time when the Talmud was completed until after the death of Mohammed, little or no progress was made by the Jews in the various sciences. But with the advent of the califate, art and science revived and new seats of learning were opened. The students of the Jewish academies joined the Arabian and Moorish schools. The works of Hippocrates, Galen, and others were translated into Arabic, and not a few into Hebrew.

From these schools proceeded a large number of Hebrew savants who became distinguished in letters, philosophy, and science; but very little is known of their labors in Anatomy, possibly owing to the fact that the Arabs themselves had objections to Anatomy (Humboldt, "Cosmos," ii. 254). There must have been some experts in that branch of medical science; for the names of several skilled Jewish surgeons have been recorded, as, for instance, Samuel ibn Wakkar.

Israeli and Maimonides.

The foremost of all the Judæo-Arabian surgeons of that period (900) was Isaac Israeli of Kairwan. He was court physician to Abu Mohammed al Mahdi; yet among his works, which have been translated from the Arabic into Latin (published in Leyden, 1515), there is not a single treatise on Anatomy and only a few references to it.

The most eminent of all Jewish philosophers and physicians was Moses b. Maimon (Maimonides, 1135-1204). But even he, notwithstanding his many works, only touched on Anatomy, merely translating a few extracts from Galen, whom he considers his great authority (see Preface to Maimonides' "Pirḳe Mosheh" or "Sefer ha-Refuot," ed. Wilna, 1888, p. v.):

"These chapters which I have composed I do not attribute to myself, but I have selected and collected them from the works of Galen, and from his sayings concerning the writings of Hippocrates. I have not quoted him verbatim, as I have done in my previous opuscula, having taken special care to elucidate those obscure passages in Galen, where, in his attempt to explain the theories of Hippocrates, the latter's words seem to be confounded with his own."

That Maimonides studied Anatomy and was an expert in it, is evident from his own words. In speaking of the nerves, etc., he says:

"Those that are not acquainted with Anatomy think that nerves, arteries, etc., are the same; and were it not for the study of Anatomy in which we were busily engaged, we also should not know the difference."

In the folk-medicine of the Jews there was a rough enumeration of twelve members or parts of the body, with which were associated certain qualities of the mind or character, anger with the liver, hearing with the left nerve, and the like. These are found enumerated in the "Sefer Yeẓirah," and led in later cabalistic writings to the pictorial conception of Adam Ḳadmon (see Zunz, "Literaturgeschichte," p. 609).

The only other striking statement worthy of notice concerning the old Jewish system of Anatomy is that in the Zohar (cxxxvii. 33). The author (supposed to be Moses de Leon, about the end of the thirteenth century) says:

"There are 248 members [] in the human body, corresponding to the 248 precepts of the law, and to the 248 angels investing the Shekinah, whose names are the same as their master's. And there are also in the human body 365 sinews [; under which vague term are included, as stated above, arteries, nerves, etc.], corresponding to the 365 negative laws, and representing the 365 days of the year. These are governed by 365 angels, one of whom is Samael himself, who represents the ninth day of the month of Ab [the fast commemorating the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans]. The reason why the sinew of the thigh nerve [] was forbidden was because it represents Samael [Satan], who is one of the 365 angels whose day is the Ninth of Ab."

Several attempts have been made by modern Hebrew writers to reconcile the "248 members" theory of the ancients with modern science. The most recent are "Maseket Nittuaḥ," by Schereschewski, and "ReMaḤ Ebarim" (the 248 members), by Katznellson.

  • Bergel, Medicin der Talmudisten, 1885;
  • idem, Studien über die Naturwissenschaftlichen Kenntnisse der Talmudisten, pp. 6-14 (Anatomie), Leipsic, 1880;
  • Maimonides,Pirḳe Mosheh, Wilna, 1888;
  • Münz, Maimonides als Medicinische Autorität, Berlin, 1895;
  • idem, Ueber die Jüdischen Aerzte im Mittelalter, Berlin, 1887;
  • Landau, Gesch. der Jüdischen Aerzte, Berlin, 1895;
  • Rabbinowicz, La Médecine du Thalmud, Paris, 1880;
  • Rosenzweig, Das Auge in Bibel und Talmud, pp. 11, 12, Berlin, 1892;
  • Schereschewski, Maseket Nittuaḥ, 1886;
  • Steinschneider, Hebr. Uebers. ii.;
  • Hyrtl, Das Hebräische und Arabische in der Anatomie, 1879.
S. A. B.
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