Folk medicine was available (Jer. 8: 22) but knowledge of physiology was rudimentary—the heart was thought to be the seat of moral judgement (Job 27: 6; Deut. 2: 30). Diagnosis was haphazard. Disease was regarded as connected with sin, and good health with good behaviour (Isa. 58: 8). Medicines were simple in character, and the one recommended for the faithful was prayer (Ps. 38). Recourse to a shrine was common (1 Sam. 1) and bronze serpents were part of the therapeutic apparatus (Num. 21: 9; 2 Kgs. 18: 4). Observation had led to some sound precautions, such as avoiding a second person living in a house with another person with certain kinds of ailment (Lev. 13: 46). Diets were important; balm of Gilead was applied to soothe pain (Gen. 37: 25). Regulations governing clean and unclean foods probably had their origin in popular observations about personal hygiene and cases of food‐poisoning.
By the 2nd cent. BCE Hellenistic theories were displacing ancient Hebrew beliefs about disease and medicine. Instead of a diseased skin being seen as penalty for sin (Num. 12: 10–11), for which the prescribed remedy was penitence, Greek scientific knowledge led to appreciation of the skills of the physician. Whereas Asa was rebuked for resorting to a physician to treat gangrene in his foot (2 Chron. 16: 12) Ben Sirach urges that ‘the Lord has created medicines’ and doctors, and it is sensible to use their services (Ecclus. [= Sir.] 38: 1–15). Physicians were available in NT times but were not always very successful (Mark 5: 26). Jesus went out of his way to meet sufferers who were not able to visit the Temple (Mark 14: 3). The NT, however, does not share a former hostility to ordinary medicine (as in 2 Chron. 16: 12); and Luke was appreciated as a physician by Paul (Col. 4: 14).