Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Healing in the Ancient World
    The roots of healing go back to the beginning of time. Healing touch was used during the New Stone Age – the Neolithic Era; as long ago as c 10,200BC.  Luminous cave paintings discovered in the Pyrenees, France show clear evidence of this. 1 Healing and the laying on of hands was common practice in centers such as Babylon, Greece and Egypt. Ancient Greece was the birthplace of medicine and the healing profession as we know it today. The great Asklepios founded a number of Sanatoria which were famed throughout the world for their success in healing therapies. Myths and legends grew up over the centuries around Asklepios’ name. Brushing under the patina of the centuries, however, some facts come to light.
Asklepios (in Greed Ἀσκληπιός) was honoured as a god of healing. He was known as the son of Apollo (the sun god and god of light) His mother was the mortal woman Coronis. Thus the legend; and the religion that grew up around Asklepios. It is now thought that Asklepios was an actual historical figure, renowned for his healing abilities. He and his sons are mentioned in the Iliad in c 8BC. Asklepios passed his healing knowledge on to Podalirios and Machaon, who in The Iliad healed Menelaus from an arrow wound, by putting balm on the wound. 2
     Asklepios founded healing shrines, then temples; which eventually led to the foundation of the first hospital. About 430BC a great temple was built to Asklepios at Epidaurus. Greece. This temple began as a healing shrine. Great healings took place in Epidaurus, and other of Asklepion healing centers.
    Healing took place in shrines which followed the blueprint for healings thereafter.
·        Water was an essential element. The shrine of Asklepios in Corinth was built immediately adjacent to a spring; with healing waters
·        Peace and rest was needed; a stepping away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Corinth’s Asklepios was set apart from the city center and bustle
·        Faith was an essential part of the healing process
    Priests and priestesses in the shrine attended to healing duties. Healing itself was seen as the mystery. Patients were treated with plant compounds; fractures and surgery were dealt with. Patients drink the healthful waters from the underground springs and bathed in it; the water was considered to carry within its essence the healing powers of the earth.
    Many patients fasted; and carried out repeated ablutions in the sacred precincts of the Abaton, the temple. Patients then slept  in the group dormitories of the Abaton so they might dream. Specific rituals for encouraging dreaming were held, where the deepest wisdom was called on to send dreams revealing the reasons for the patient’s illness and how to treat it. The next day the patient told the dream to the priests who then prescribed a treatment. It was also said, that the first image which came into the dreamer’s mind would become a guardian spirit, and would never leave them.
    An interesting part of the healing was the use of non-venomous snakes which slithered all over the floor of the dormitories during the night. They were believed to be divinities who mediated between Asklepios and the patient. In past times the snake was not regarded with revulsion. They were revered; because of the way they shed their skins, snakes were a symbol of rebirth and resurrection. Wonderful healings were reported, such as the healing of Theopompas the writer of comedies; whom Asklepios healed by the laying on of hands. A man having but one good eye slept in the temple, and dreamed that Asklepios applied an ointment to the empty socket. He awoke in the morning with two sound eyes.
    It is easy to see why many saw in the goodness and service of Asklepios and his follower Hippocrates, a symbol of the forebears of the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. Not least among the symbols would be the snakes. Would you be surprised if I told you that Jesus Christ claimed in effect, “I am the Snake of Life”? The words of Jesus relating to snakes and the Torah is not always well known or understood today; yet, seen in the context of healing and prophecy, they make perfect sense. Let us discuss this controversial statement of the Messiah.
The Snake of Belief
      What has a snake got to do with healing, you may ask me. Well, everything really. Modern physicians and pharmacists display the sign of medicine; the distinctive snake-entwined staff, the symbol of healing. This symbol stems from the times of Greece and Rome. In art, Asklepios is usually depicted as a powerful bearded man of middle or advancing years, with bare or sandaled feet and an ankle-length cloak slung across the left shoulder. His distinctive attribute is the snake-entwined staff, and Hygieia – his daughter – is often shown with the same symbol of healing. For among her other powers and duties Hygieia assisted in the temple and fed the snakes that were sacred to her father. The staff probably signified the long walking stick used by Greek travelers. This would have been a natural attribute of Asklepios, who journeyed widely as a mortal physician and – according to legend – later as a healing god. The staff was imbued with symbolic meaning, as a support or relief for the sick. 3
    Are you frightened of snakes? Or do you admire them? Either reaction to a snake shows a negative or positive reaction. And, in just the same way, snakes evoke a negative and positive reaction in the ancient mysteries.
    Jesus would have known the Torah, the life of the great Moses, and possibly the healing history of Greece and Rome. It is thought that Jesus may have done worked as carpenter in the sophisticated city of Sepphoris which lay six kilometers north of Nazareth. International news travelled in on the Silk Road which hosted international travelers. This road passed through the valley below Nazareth. It was the main trade route between the Orient and Rome to Egypt, and it is more than likely that the young Jesus would have had ample opportunity to get up to mischief, and spend time chatting to travelers. What would be more natural than to hear about Asklepion, and the mysterious healings at the shrines?  
    The history of healing and snakes has been closely tied for centuries. The word “life” in Chaldean is the same for “snake”, and in Arabic it’s the same except for one letter. Among the ancient Egyptians, the uraeus – the divine cobra on the headdress or forehead of the pharaoh – represented the life force with all its power, as it was supposed to strike with lightning any enemy or any negative principle. However, they did not confuse this snake of highly positive qualities with the other, the serpent Apophis who brought chaos and negativity. 4
    The snake of negativity was seen as bringing in sin, pain and death in Genesis.
Yahweh made great use of the snake symbolism, both in its positive and negative aspects.
  Consider the words of the Prophet Malachi in ancient times, ‘the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings’ Now listen to the words of Jesus, ‘Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you’’. You can clearly see that the Torah, the Old Testament, foretold that Jesus, Son of God, the sun of righteousness would primarily bring healing; and that Jesus affirmed our need for healing.
      In society today, there is a great need for healers – and for priests with the gift of healing. Many people are suffering, and need someone to help them heal. There are many forms of suffering; and many forms of healing ministries.
Moses and the Bronze Serpent
  As the people of Israel travelled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, they experienced a plague of venomous snakes. Many were bitten and tragically died.
  The people came to Moses in desperation, and asked for his intercession. Moses prayed for his people, and God directed him with the following words;
  'Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.'
So Moses made a bronze snake, and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they no longer were doomed to fatality; they lived. 5
We are not told the species of snake that was so troublesome.
  As the Israeli summer heats up, so does humidity ... and snakes. Snakes can be found from the Negev all the way to the north. Many of the small snakes in Israel are not poisonous; of those that are, the viper is routinely found in built-up areas between Beer Sheva in the south and the Upper Galilee in the north.
  In the south, rare finds include the adder, ringed snake, black cobra and several other poisonous snakes.
  The amazing story of the bronze serpent of Moses has a prophetic element; GOD has the power to override nature itself.
  In this instance, the natural course of events would have led to mortality after snakebite. However, when the afflicted Israelite looked with faith at the bronze image GOD had directed to be uplifted, that believer was healed.
  The faith of the afflicted, together with the mercy and the absolute power that GOD has over all of nature, worked together in a powerful symbolism for our age; belief in GOD can cause miracles.
  The use by GOD of the snake analogy in the Book of Numbers was an apparently deliberate prophecy of the ultimate healing of humanity.
  The Israelites were poisoned by the venom from the snake. All of humanity has been poisoned by the venom of the snake of negativity, which symbolizes satan or the fallen angel who led our ancestors into rebellion against GOD. 6
  GOD had made provision in His Divine Plan for ultimate healing - not merely of physical, mental, spiritual and social ailments which humanity are subject to - but the full healing of the dreadful effects of The Fall.
  In order for this massive Plan to be carried out, He required the deliberate confrontation of the Snake of Life [GOD] to face and conquer the Snake of Death [satan].
  This confrontation was to occur in future centuries, in future generations - in fact, in the generation of Mary of Nazareth, Joseph her betrothed, and Jesus Christ.
  The Plan of God for this confrontation was already laid out soon after The Fall.
He clearly stated, 'I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you wills strike his heel.' 7
  The woman was to be Mary of Nazareth. Her offspring, the Son of God; Jesus Christ.
This came to pass in the Incarnation and the Nativity, in which Jesus Christ - the Greatest Healer of all - was born to our earth. 8
  Once Jesus had grown to full stature and come to full mature understanding of His Call as Healer according to the prophecy of Moses, He openly attested to the fulfilment of the prophecy in His own Person.
  'Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness,  so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.
  For GOD so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.' 9
  Jesus was lifted up during crucifixion, so that all could look at Him. Today, we continue to look in prayer at the crucifixion and realize the immense healing that flows from Him.
  Countless are the testimonies of those who have cried to Him for healing and been healed. How many are the places of healing that have been founded in His Name.
  How often the mercies of healing and peace of heart have been received by those who turn towards the uplifted Son of God.
  Healing in the Ancient World wove its way through history from the kindly healers Asklepios, Hippocrates and Hygieia through the prophecy of Moses to the fulfilment of the Divine Healer of all, Jesus Christ.
Questions for Reflection
1. What importance did the snake have in the ancient world?
2. Why do you think GOD made use of the snake symbolism from earliest times?
1 Sherwood, Keith; The Art of Spiritual Healing, Llewellyn Publications, USA, 1985, p 142
2 Lawson, Russell M; Science in the Ancient World, An Encyclopedia. ABC-Clio.Inc, USA, 2004, P 117
3 Cure and Cult in Ancient Corinth. A Guide to the Asklepieion. American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Princeton, New Jersey, 1977
4 Gigal, Antoine; Secrets of the Serapeum, Part 2., 2013.
5 Book of Numbers 21;4-8
6. Genesis 3;1-15
7. Genesis e;15
8. Luke 1; 26-38
9. John 3;14-16
Good Shepherd Church Seminary
Doctor of Healing Ministry Lesson One

Good Shepherd Church Seminary
Doctor of Healing Ministry Lesson Two

Rev Catherine
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