THREE MORE PROBLEMS ABOUT WALKER’s MYTH of CHRISTIAN MEDICINE
A little more research on Walker’s claims about the ‘myth” of Christian medicine – very revealing. Walker claimed that there were much earlier medical hospitals that pre-dated Christianity. He seems to mean a building with wards and scientific non-religious medicine, an assumption which is going to rule out a lot of history, but let’s roll with that one! He also says this early medicine died out due to Christianity. The following three sources which he cites are actually are against him:
1. From his reference on Persian medicine, the following article makes it clear that they owed their origin for medicine and other intellectual disciplines to the Christians from Edessa (Orthodox), and later to others, who were themselves persecuted by the Byzantine (Western) emperor. SO it was caused, like the Crusades, by a particular political correlation of the western empire not its christianity. Further, these early Christians did amazing scholarly work for the Persians and later the Muslims.
In 489 AD, the Nestorian theological and scientific center in Edessa was ordered closed by the Byzantine emperor Zeno, and transferred itself to become the School of Nisibis, also known as "Nisibīn, then under Persian rule with its secular faculties at Gundishapur, Khuzestan. Here, scholars, together with Pagan philosophers banished from Athens by Justinian in 529, carried out important research in Medicine, Astronomy, and Mathematics".
However, it was under the rule of the Sassanid emperor Khosrau I (531-579 AD), called Anushiravan literally "Immortal Soul" and known to the Greeks and Romans as Chosroes, that Gondeshapur became known for medicine and erudition. Khosrau I gave refuge to various Greek philosophers, Syriac-speaking Christians and Nestorian Christians fleeing religious persecution by the Byzantine empire. The Sassanids had long battled the Romans and Byzantines for control of present day Iraq and Syria and were naturally disposed to welcome the refugees.
The king commissioned the refugees to translate Greek and Syriac texts into Pahlavi. They translated various works on medicine, astronomy, philosophy, and useful crafts.
Anushiravan also turned towards the east, and sent the famous physician Borzouye to invite Indian and Chinese scholars to Gondeshapur. These visitors translated Indian texts on astronomy, astrology, mathematics and medicine and Chinese texts on herbal medicine and religion. Borzouye is said to have himself translated the Pañcatantra from Sanskrit into Persian as Kalila u Dimana.
An East Syrian monastery was established in the city of Gondishapur sometime before 376/7. By the sixth century the city became famed for its theological school were Rabban Hormizd once studied. According to a letter from the Catholicos of the East Timothy I, the Metropolitanate of Beth Huzaye took charge of both the theological and medical institutions.
Significance of Gondeshapur
[T]o a very large extent, the credit for the whole hospital system must be given to Persia.
—Cyril Elgood, A Medical History of Persia
In addition to systemizing medical treatment and knowledge, the scholars of the academy also transformed medical education; rather than apprenticing with just one physician, medical students were required to work in the hospital under the supervision of the whole medical faculty. There is even evidence that graduates had to pass exams in order to practice as accredited Gondeshapur physicians (as recorded in an Arabic text, the Tārīkh al-ḥukamā). Gondeshapur also had a pivotal role in the history of mathematics.
2. Walker’s claim that Asclepius represents an early healing science is tendentious. Historians surmise that there might have been an historical person, later divinized, but the only actual evidence we have of Asclepian medicine is as follows, obviously very mystical:
“One of the earliest Greek gods to specialize in healing was Asclepius (known to the Romans as Aesculapius). Healers and those in need of healing invoked Asclepius’ name in prayer and healing ceremonies in temples and at home. A healing clan known as the Asclepiads claimed to be the descendants of Asclepius and to have inherited a knowledge and mystical power of healing from him.”
3. Lastly, the claim that the Romans had hospitals called Valetudinaria from 100BC, is very doubtful. They were some kind fo military guest hourse. There is no place for operating or convenient latrines. Following the claim above that hospital system emerged from the Christian era, no less an authority than the science museum echoes these doubts:
“They are thought to have been for the relief of slaves and soldiers, and to have provided hospitality for travellers. Literary and archaeological evidence suggests there was one at Neuss, in the lower Rhine area of Germany. There is less evidence of civilian hospitals during this period – there were no buildings devoted entirely to the care of the sick until well into the Christian era.”
Walker only seems to see Western or Catholic forms of early Christianity. There were several eastern branches and a non-Roman western forms among the ‘barbarians’, which he later partially acknowledges. Something is driving his polemic against catholicism and it is not science.
His own references show that Christianity was singularly great at establishing hospitals for the populace, an internationally enriched innovation in medicine that founded the hospital system.
Rev Dr Ian Robinson