Illness and Healing in Ancient Times
Curator: Ofra Rimon

The need and the ability to find a cure for sickness and pain are as old as humanity, so that in many senses the beginning of medicine coincides with the beginning of human civilization. The exhibition "Illness and Healing in Ancient Times" displays finds that shed light on the history of medicine in Eretz-Israel and neighboring countries from the Chalcolithic period (4th millennium BCE) to the close of the Byzantine period (mid-7th century). The need to find a remedy for the ailments and pains that accompany one from the moment of birth to death, and the need to banish the fear of dying and to prolong the life of man, has led to various solutions. The search for solutions, from which the history of medicine has evolved, originated in prehistory – as is evident from research on human bones from those times – and has continued up to the modern day.
The exhibition has four focuses, each displaying a separate facet in the account of early medicine:

A. Illness and Ways of Healing - Written sources and human skeletons exposed in excavations provide evidence of illnesses that befell the populations of the Ancient Near East and the ways of treating them. Therefore, the display contains, among other things, x-ray photographs of human bones and replicas of human skulls showing signs of illness and marks of medical treatments, written texts and medical instruments. The display highlights the achievements of ancient medicine, beginning with the trepanation, in which an opening was drilled in the skull, and ending with the impressive medical attainments of surgeons at the School of Medicine at Alexandria.
B. Medicine, Cult and Magic - According the biblical outlook, illness, which is a punishment for a sinning person, as well as cure, is in the hands of God: "I will put none of the diseases upon you which I put upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord, your healer" (Exod. 15:26). Among the civilizations of the Ancient Near East, it was widely believed that the health of a person was affected by supernatural forces, and that the cure was in the power of the gods or the priests, their representatives. The distress and fear of the sick led to the creation of amulets and incantations. These were intended to speed up divine salvation and to suppress the forces of evil that had caused the illness.
C. Hygiene and Medicine - Hygiene, deriving from the name Hygieia, goddess of health in Greek mythology, was aimed at preserving a person's health, and therefore it could be regarded as preventive medicine. The commandments of the Torah concerning plague, impurity and purity, as well as the dietary laws, although possessing a religious significance and tendency, indirectly contributed to the development of hygienic concepts, such as the war against contagious diseases. The considerable space devoted to hygiene in the classical medical literature is complemented by the finds of archaeology. Bathtubs, latrines and sewage systems provide evidence of the awareness of hygiene in antiquity, which reached its summit in the Roman period.
D. The Making of Medicaments - Containers of varying materials and shapes that served to hold medications, some of which still contain substances, and the De Materia Medica (facsimile of a 6th-century CE manuscript) by Dioscurides, one of the forefathers of medical botany, which contains descriptions of 600 plants, animals and minerals, resins and plants, accompanied by ancient prescriptions for mixing medicines – all of these and other items help open a window onto the world of the physician-pharmacologist in antiquity.
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