IT COMES AS A SURPRISE to most folks, but one of the techniques Jesus used to heal the blind is very much like some remedies that show up in a first-century Roman collection of 37 science books called Natural History, written by a Roman named Pliny.
Blindness was probably more common in Bible times than it is today—for the same reason it’s more common in undeveloped parts of the world that don’t have access to good sanitation or antibiotics and other medical treatment.
Bacteria attack the eyes, producing infections such as trachoma—which is highly contagious and spreads by direct contact: touching the secretions from the eyes or nose, or clothing with secretions on it.
Trachoma is the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness, affecting 40 percent of the children in some of the poorest countries. Risk factors: poverty, poor hygiene, crowded living conditions, few latrines, high number of flies, children ages 3–5.
Trachoma is easily treated today with a single dose of the antibiotic azithromycin, sold under the brand name of Zithromax. But left untreated, this infection can produce sores on the cornea, followed by blindness.
One ancient treatment was to apply various concoctions to the ailing eyes.
Jesus, who cured at least seven blind people and more likely hundreds, generally did nothing more than speak the cure or touch the person. But on one occasion he did use a technique that would have been familiar to the patient, a man born blind.
Perhaps to help increase the man’s faith, “he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes” (John 9:6, NLT). Then he told the man to wash off the mud.
That’s similar to a combo of treatments recommended in Natural History:
“To cure inflammation of the eyes, wash the eyes each morning with spit from your overnight fast” (Remedies from Living Creatures, book 28, chapter 10).
“To protect your eyes from developing eye diseases including inflammation of the eyes, do this and you will never again develop an eye disease. Each time you wash the dust off your feet, touch your eyes three times with the muddy water” (Remedies from Living Creatures, book 28, chapter 10).
Excerpt from Steve’s new release: Understanding Jesus: A Guide to His Life and Times.