Wednesday, September 20, 2017
King-Drew & African Medicine
By Dr. Firpo W. Carr (Columnist)
Published June 4, 2009

(Part 1 of 2)

Ancient Egyptian medicine could have had a positive impact on the service record at Martin Luther King, Jr./Charles Drew Medical Center. Medical protocols penned by the African Moses thousands of years ago could also dramatically embellish the curriculum at Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science. Furthermore, the examination of two different schools of thought as represented by two prominent Egyptian notables will be held in juxtaposition. Aside from watching them tear down White Front back in the 60’s, and watching them build the King-Drew medical facilities from scratch not long thereafter, my interest has been “hands on” as well.  
Back in January 2003 I was invited to lecture to surgeons, physicians, nurses, and other medical staff at the facilities as an expert on the rationale behind the Biblical prohibition on blood transfusion. For these reasons, my lecture was well attended by persons required to be present, and by other medical professionals who had a keen interest in what I had to say during the “Grand Round,” a weekly meeting where physicians compare notes; discuss interesting cases; caution each other on the results of the nuances of various diseases and the techniques used to address them; as well as confer on the subjects of morbidity and mortality. What is particularly fascinating is that two Egyptian heavyweights–though centuries apart–were at variance insofar as the use of blood in medicine was concerned.

Moses vs. Imhotep?: An African American, Dr. Charles Drew, is world renown for ‘inventing’ modern-day blood transfusion. He even established the Blood Bank for the American Red Cross and was its first director. In an intriguing twist of irony, while Imhotep would probably agree with Drew’s use of blood in medicine, Moses most certainly would not. Imhotep lived during the Third Dynasty (2686-2613 BCE). Not only was this highly educated, gifted, and multi-talented man an adviser to King Djoser, he was an innovative architect with extraordinary vision, as well as an astronomer. But, “It was as a physician,” says the book A Biographical Dictionary of Ancient Egypt (1992) by Rosalie and Antony E. David, “that Imhotep was most revered.” It adds: “He was deified and worshipped as a god of medicine and healing.” Later, the Greeks practically worshiped him by linking him with their god of medicine, Asklepios. They even dedicated and named buildings inside various temple complexes after him. What was the prevailing view of the medicinal use of blood in his day?

“In a medical papyrus from the third dynasty,” reports Egyptian Erotica: The Essence of Ancient Egyptian Erotica in Art and Literature (2004) by El-Qhamid and Joseph Toledano, “37 different potions used for various diseases and problems are mentioned. The list of the ingredients required for the potions mentions…blood six times.” And then there’s the authoritative Ebers papyrus. According to Ancient Egyptian Medicine (AEM, 1996), by John F. Nunn, it “comprises 110 pages and is by far the longest of the medical papyri, in superb condition and written in a clear hand. It is dated by a passage on the verso [reverse side] to the ninth year of the reign of Amenhotep I, about 1534 BC.” Regarding the medical use of blood it says: “Blood of a wide range of species was recommended, mainly as a component of external applications. Ebers 425, a remedy to prevent an eyelash growing into the eye after it has been pulled out, included blood of ox, ass, pig, dog and goat. Other remedies included the blood of a lizard and bat (Ebers 24) and flies (Ebers 857). In all, the Grundriss lists blood from twenty-one species used as a medication.” (Emphasis mine.) In contradistinction, Moses wrote that while fat from a dead animal shouldn’t be eaten, that same fat could be “used for anything else conceivable” (Lev 7:24), this was not the case with blood. “You must not eat any blood…whether that of fowl or that of beast.”–Lev. 7:26.

So, when eating meat the blood shouldn’t be eaten with it. Instead of using it “for anything else conceivable,” blood was to be treated as disease-promoting toxic waste and disposed of by pouring it out on the ground and covering it up–just as was to be done with human waste. (Lev 17:10-14; Deut 12:16, 22-24; 15:23; 23:12, 13) Conversely, Ebers 808 contained a treatment for a woman’s sagging breast that involved the use of blood. “The recommended treatment is that the breasts, the belly and the thighs should be smeared with (literally ‘drink’) the blood (senef) of one whose menstruation has just begun.” (AEM) So, for purposes of our discussion, there are at least two outstanding points here: (1) the concept of using one person’s blood on another person for medicinal purposes was not foreign to the Egyptians; (2) neither was the concept of a human ‘drinking’ blood as a “recommended [medical] treatment” or “remedy” foreign to Ancient Egyptian medicine during the time of Moses.  

Egyptian Medicine vs. Israelite Medicine:
The Egyptian priest/physicians were the first to practice embalming. Interestingly, religion was the motivating force behind both embalming and the pyramid (a giant tomb) as they were connected with the belief in life after death. Motivation notwithstanding, frankly, when it came to certain medical practices, the Egyptians were no slouches. In ancient Egyptian medical records the connections of the metu, plural of met, is described. There are no English equivalents for these words. In any event, “What is transported by the metu,” says AEM, “is often specified and this may be blood.” Mucus, urine, and semen are also included. From this we conclude that the Egyptians understood that water-based fluids–like water itself–can be transported.

Still, when it came to blood in medicine they, like Dr. Drew, were askew. Simply put, whatever fluids leave the body in the natural physiological sequence of things are never meant to be reintroduced back into it according to Israelite “medicine.” This holds true whether it is saliva (compare Num 12:14; Deut 25:9); tears (compare Isa 25:8; Ps 42:3; 56:8; 80:5); semen (compare Gen 38:9; Lev 15:16-18); sweat (compare Gen 3:19); vomit (compare Prov 26:11; Isa 28:8); pus (compare 1 Ki 22:35; Job 5:18; 34:6; Isa 3:7), vaginal fluids or secretions (compare Lev 15:19-26); and, of course, blood. (Gen 9:5, 6; Lev 17:10-14) Stay tune for Part 2, “‘Christian’ Medicine at King-Drew?” 

Categories: Dr. Firpo W. Carr

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