We exist to improve the lives
of everyone affected by epilepsy

Old Testament prophet showed symptoms of epilepsy

21 November, 2001

The Bible may contain the oldest recorded case of temporal lobe epilepsy. Ezekiel, the prophet whose visions are recorded in a book of the Old Testament, apparently had all the classic signs of the ,condition, according to research published in the New Scientist.

Earlier in 2001, Eric Altschuler, a neuroscientist at the University of California at San Diego, claimed that the Biblical strongman Samson may have been the earliest known sufferer of antisocial personality disorder. Now he says that records in the Bible reveal that Ezekiel, who lived about 2,600 years ago, showed extreme classic symptoms of temporal lobe epilepsy.

People with the condition experience partial seizures, often accompanied by a dreamy feeling that things are not quite as they should be. Patients are often misdiagnosed with psychiatric problems. Neurologically, Ezekiel displayed some obvious signs of epilepsy, such as frequent fainting spells and episodes of not being able to speak.

The Biblical figure, who chronicled the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, exhibited other peculiarities associated with the condition. For instance, he wrote compulsively, a trait known as hypergraphia. Altschuler points out that the Book of Ezekiel is the fourth longest in the Bible - only slightly shorter than Genesis. "It's impenetrable," he says. "He goes on and on."

Ezekiel was also extremely religious, another characteristic associated with this form of epilepsy. While many Biblical figures are pious, none was as aggressively religious as Ezekiel, says Altschuler.

Understanding that Ezekiel may have had epilepsy helps put his writings into perspective, says Altschuler. "Once you appreciate that, you can see where he's coming from."