Stephen Mathew and Jeyaraj Pandian and a fair number of their colleagues must have missed most of the twentieth century and a good part of the nineteenth when it comes to biblical scholarship. Medical researchers Stephen Mathew and Jeyaraj Pandian seem to be worrying about something that I sure hope doesn’t bother too many other medical researchers. And I know it doesn’t bother any biblical scholars of any repute. In an Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology paper they worry about what medical problems might account for the behavior of Goliath, Samson, Isaac, Ezekiel, Jacob, the child of the Shunnamite woman, and Nabal. For the most part, their paper interacts with the
work thought wild speculations of other like-minded individuals. This interaction provides the paper with the very thinnest cover of scholarly apparatus. In the end, this veneer reviles mush more than it hides. It’s rather shocking how much of this kind of speculation has gone on in recent medical journals. I can’t think of a reputable journal in biblical studies that would publish such tripe. In addition, their paper carries such a massive theological load that even most competent evangelical biblical scholars would blush. It is telling that Mathew and Pandian do not reference a single biblical scholar. They make not the slightest effort to be interdisciplinary. In so doing their paper is not salient to either medicine or biblical studies.
Because I have fairly recently studied the story at some length, I found their musing concerning Nabal particularly amusing,
I Samuel Chapter 25 narrates the story of Nabal, the rich cattle breeder, who refused to provide King David some of his sheep (v10). Angered, David then vows to slay Nabal (v13), but Nabal’s wife Abigail intercedes for him (v26) and secures the life of her husband and sons (v34). After a night of heavy drinking, when Nabal heard of this, “his heart died within him, and he became as a stone” (Chapter 25:37), and 10 days later Nabal passes away. A diagnosis of stroke has been offered in this case. Paralysis of the body, followed by death was regarded as two fundamental symptoms of stroke up until the nineteenth century, a diagnosis fortified in this case by the preceding consumption of an excess of alcohol. It is possible that Nabal suffered acute alcoholic cardiomyopathy or cardiac arrhythmia, leading to what could have been a cardioembolic brainstem stroke. [References omitted]
Noted the moralizing quality of their diagnoses: it was the evil drink that did him in. This kind of interpretation misses the point of the story and substitutes for it something that only free association supported by confirmation bias would find in the account.
What we have in the efforts of Mathew and Pandian is good old nineteenth century Bible/science synchronism. It didn’t work then and it works even less today. In the attempt, they offer highly speculative answers to questions no one is asking now and no one was asking in the Hebrew Bible itself.