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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.


  1. Accuracy on one point does not show overall accuracy. Genesis 30:25-33, for example, describes a breeding program based on sympathetic magic.

  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. There is also a danger that exposed excrement could be found by the enemy and used magically against one (Scott 1979).

    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 (Frazer 1993, 206). Furthermore, unless they have died from pestilence or have been decaying for a few days, dead bodies are no less clean than live ones.

  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.

  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.


  1. Frazer, Sir James, 1993. The Golden Bough. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth.
  2. Scott, D. Russell, 1979. Deuteronomy. In: The Abingdon Bible Commentary, Eiselen, C., E. Lewis and D. G. Downey, eds., New York: Abingdon Press. Citing Frazer, Golden Bough vol. i, pp. 327f.

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created 2003-7-11