This section is from the book "The Transmission Of Life. Counsels On The Nature And Hygiene Of The Masculine Function", by George H. Napheys. Also available from Amazon: The Transmission of Life.
The Old Testament by its clear and sublime teachings preserved the Israelites from the contamination by which they were surrounded. Situated in the midst of nations by whom an unlicensed debauchery was regarded as a part and parcel of religious life, the chosen people successfully maintained its purity, and even in the darkest hour of its history there were found four hundred men who had never bowed the knee to Baal.
The doctrines of the Mosaic law are most explicit in what relates to individual purity. Far from passing by in silence these delicate relations as indifferent, or of doubtful utility, or as possibly harmful if discussed openly - as the modern fashion widely prevails - the sacred word enters with singular minuteness into the admonitions for chastity, for temperance in the marital relation, and for sanitary precautions connected therewith.
We do not think it necessary to quote all the many texts which are at hand to support this assertion. Any one who will take the pains to examine the various chapters in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, which contain the directions to single and married men. will there find an explicitness and' a minuteness which writers of the present day cannot attempt to imitate.
It will be of interest and value, however, to recall and clothe in modern language the directions given on some of the points to which we have referred in the preceding chapters, both for the purpose of substantiating what we have just said and to admire again the accuracy and wisdom of the inspired word, even in its minutest portions.
In regard to nocturnal and involuntary emissions the law distinctly recognizes them as an "uncleanness." The man was ordered to bathe himself thoroughly in water, and his garments likewise The cold bath, the value of which to control such discharges we have several times emphasized, was thus early enjoined for the same affection. A soldier who was so disturbed during war was to wander about outside the camp during the whole of the next day, and at night, when fatigued with the exercise, was tobathe himself and return. The exercise and the cold affusion were quite certain to prevent any immediate return. (Leviticus xv. 16; Deuteronomy xxiii. 10, 11.)
The intimate connection which we have shown to exist between the health of the parts and the general mental and physical soundness is recognized in the Mosaic law in a variety of references. Any one wounded or maimed there was forbidden to enter into the congregation of the Lord, and still less could he become a priest. Even during a struggle it was positively forbidden for a wife to interfere in such a manner that she might cause an injury to functions of the man; and if she did so, the penalty was to be carried out without mercy; "thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her." (Deuteronomy xxiii. 1; xxv. 11.)
The diseases peculiar to the organs, those which in the former pages we have designated as " secret diseases," were clearly by no means uncommon, and, whatever a spurious modern diffidence may say about it, were most indubitably considered by the publisher of that great law and admirable hygienic code, as most proper subjects for public instruction. For it must not be forgotten that the Mosaic law was no series of esoteric maxims for the behoof of a limited few, but was regularly read aloud to all the assembled people, without omission and without reserve. They were nurtured from childhood in its precepts, and no one arose to proclaim that it contained perilous and insidious information.
Considered in this aspect, the very full and detailed descriptions it gives of sexual diseases have additional importance. Some inaccuracies, or, perhaps, hesitations, in the rendering considerably obscure to the ordinary reader the real purport of the advice. For instance, there can be no reasonable doubt but that in the earlier verses of the fifteenth chapter of Leviticus the disease referred to is gonorrhoea. The words in the second verse, "a running issue out of the flesh," is rendered in the margin of the English version " a running of the reins." Saint Jerome, the translator of the Latin vulgate, thought that the disease intended was* spermatorrhoea, and therefore rendered the original by: " Vir, qui patitur fluxum seminis." The third verse, which contains what physicians call the diagnosis, is in the English version wholly unintelligible; but in the vulgate the test is clearly given which we now recognize as distinguishing a slight and innocent discharge from one which is specific and contagious:-
"Et tunc judicabitur huic vitio subjacere, cum per singula momenta adhaeserit carni ejus, atque concreverit, foedus humor."
The contagious nature of the disease was impressed on the people by the most stringent regulations. The saddle that the victim rede on, the cup that he drank from, the bed he slept in, and the bench he sat upon were all to be considered unclean and not to be touched by a healthy person. In part explanation of the minuteness of these directions, it is to be remembered that the clothing in ancient times did not provide the concealment and protection which our modern fashions afford. Even after a complete cure had been obtained, the man must hold aloof for seven days and wash himself and his clothes in fresh running water.
The thirteenth chapter of Leviticus has been subjected to several most critical examinations of late years by physicians who were also skilled Hebraists. One of the most recent of these studies is before us, written by a learned teacher in Vienna. He gives an exhaustive commentary on the original text, and adduces strong evidence that the word in the second verse and elsewhere, rendered in the English version "flesh," has reference solely to the virile member; and that the disease designated as leprosy, and which as described does not exist at present either in Palestine or Europe, was syphilis. He supports this view by pointing out with a large array of evidence that the description given does apply to this loathsome and dangerous complaint, and that the injunctions of complete seclusion and periodical examinations of a suspected sore are precisely those which, were it in our power, ought to be carried out to-day. "We do not pretend to judge* on so difficult a question in linguistic and Biblical lore as is here presented; but so far as the medical aspect of the discussion is concerned, we have been strongly impressed by the arguments used. And certainly, after what we have already said of the subtle and disastrous character of this scourge, we may well believe that special precautions would have been given by the Divine Voice to guard the chosen people from its contamination.
Passing to another part of the law, we find the vice of masturbation in the form in which it was then commonly practised by the heathen nations as a religious rite, con demned and punished with death. (Leviticus xviii. 21; xx. 2.) That other and more heinous sin, which brought down the wrath of God upon, and derived its name from the city of Sodom, was repeatedly condemned as an "abomination" (Leviticus xviii. 22; Deuteronomy xxiii. 17); and an equally vile crime against nature is solemnly cursed in more than one passage. (Exodus xxii. 19; Leviticus xviii. 23; xx. 15.)
The relations of the sexes were defined with an accuracy which left no pretext for unrighteousness. In spite of all that modern political economists have written about the use-lessness of sumptuary laws, we perceive a deep wisdom in the prohibition of either sex using clothing which pertains to the other. (Deuteronomy xxii. 5.) Prostitution was absolutely prohibited; incest, adultery, rape, and fornication punished with severe penalties.
In marriage the relations of the sexes were defined distinctly. A newly married man was not to be called upon to go to war, nor to be charged with any onerous business for the space of one year. (Deuteronomy xxiv. 5.) Husbands were not to deny their wives "the duty of marriage," but were forbidden to demand from them this duty during the monthly illness, and not until after the cleansing from it, which took place on the eighth day after its cessation. (Leviticus xviii. 19, and xv. 28.)
As the reproduction of the species was considered one of the chief ends of marriage, any action by which this was permanently avoided, as in the case of Onan, who refused to be instrumental in raising up an heir to his deceased brother's estate, was regarded as criminal, and punished accordingly We have by no means exhausted this interesting Biblical study. We might exemplify by many copious quotations from different parts of both Old and New Testaments, the importance which the Word of God attributes to a proper understanding of our duties as parents of future generations. And why, let us ask, was it deemed of such importance The reason given is both a fact in history and a warning for all time.
" Ye shall not commit any of these abominations. . " That the land spue not you out, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations which were before you.
"For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cast off from among their people."
Terrible words, true at all times, and of all people! The curse of uncleanness, of sexual vice, is sure finally to destroy the individual, the family, society, the nation, and extend its blighting power to unborn generations.