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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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(σεληνιάζομαι, to be moon-struck, as the Latin term lunaticus also signifies, a term the origin of which is to be found in the belief that diseases of a paroxysmal character were affected by the light, or by the changes of the moon), in Greek usage is i.q. epileptic, the symptoms of which disease were supposed to become more aggravated with the increasing moon (comp. Lucan. Tox. 24); in the N. Test. (and elsewhere) the same malady is ascribed to the influence of daemons or malignant spirits (Matthew 4:24; Matthew 17:15; comp. Lucan. Philops. 16; Isidor. Orig. 4:7; Manetho, 4:81, 216). In the enumeration of Matthew 4:24, the "lunatics" are distinguished from the daemoniacs; in Matthew 17:15, the name is applied to a boy who is expressly declared to have been possessed. It is evident, therefore, that the word itself refers to some disease affecting both the body and the mind, which might or might not be a sign of possession. Perhaps the distinction in the one case was that of periodicity or lucid intervals, in contrast with the continual demency of the possessed. (See DAEMONIAC).

Persons of this description are highly venerated in the East as saints, or individuals highly favored of heaven. In Egypt, according to Lane (Modern Egyptians, 1:345 sq.), "Lunatics who are dangerous to society are kept in confinement, but those who are harmless are generally regarded as saints. Most of the reputed saints of Egypt are either lunatics, or idiots, or impostors. Some of them go about perfectly naked, and are so highly venerated that even women do not shun them. Moen of this class are supported by alms, which they often receive without asking for them. An idiot or a fool is vulgarly regarded by them as a being whose mind is in heaven, while his grosser part mingles among ordinary mortals; consequently he is regarded as an especial favorite of heaven." This opinion entertained of lunatics by the Orientals serves to illustrate what is said of David when he lied to Achish, king of the Philistines, and feigned himself mad, and thus saved his life (1 Samuel 21:10-15). Also the words of the apostle are thought to be illustrated from the same superstitious custom: "For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise" (2 Corinthians 11:19). (See MADNESS).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Lunatic'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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