CPR in Ancient Israel

I was reading about the theme of the number seven in the Tanakh, and of the passages mentioned is I Kings 2:34, where a child wakes from the dead and sneezes seven times. Knowing that there is no concrete concept of resurrection in the Tanakh, I wondered what the real context was and looked at it. The story begins at I Kings 4:8, but I am cutting to the main point here:

And Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff upon the face of the child; but there was neither voice, nor hearing. Wherefore he returned to meet him, and told him, saying: ‘The child is not awaked.’ And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed. He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD. And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; and he stretched himself upon him; and the flesh of the child waxed warm. Then he returned, and walked in the house once to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him; and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. (2 Kings 4:31-35)

Elisha Raising the Shunammite’s Son by Benjamin West (1765)

Elisha Raising the Shunammite’s Son by Benjamin West (1765)

For starters, we know that up until recent medical knowledge, people often thought those in a coma were dead. They could even appear to not be breathing. Not to mention all the other conditions that give the appearance of death. So, it is almost certain that the child was not dead, and in fact, was merely unconscious. Making things more interesting is how the author seems to be describing Elisha the prophet performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR): “and put his mouth upon his mouth”. He also appears to provide chest compressions by mounting the boys chest.

While the whole process is a bit different from modern CPR, this story is so painfully close to the practice that it has to be CPR. To claim that ancient peoples could not have conceived of this way to save lives is absurd. It is such a simple concept that could easily be discovered thru trial and error over just a short period of time. Think about the passage in Genesis that describes how God breathes life into the first man. Considering the other well-established health practices (clean eating, constant bathing to ward off illness, etc) in ancient Israel, this is not a stretch. Unfortunately, the concept may have been lost until the 1700s. And today, we know the best CPR methods to provide resuscitation and keep the body alive, which are a bit more fine-tuned. Nevertheless, it is still amazing to see how much the ancients knew.

Performing mouth to mouth resuscitation

Performing mouth to mouth resuscitation

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