In the Bible, a general term designating all diseases that are accompanied by high body temperature. Malaria is one of the most common febrile diseases in the Middle East. At Leviticus 26:16 the Hebrew word qad·daʹhhath, “burning fever, inflammation,” is translated in the Septuagint Version by a form of the Greek word iʹkte·ros, “jaundice.” Jaundice is also commonly known in Palestine, and may be accompanied by fever.
Dysentery is another febrile disease specifically mentioned in the Bible, at Acts 28:8. This ailment is characterized by severe inflammation of the colon, at times producing evacuation of blood and mucus. It is commonly accompanied by high fever, and ancient Greek medical writers often used the combination of ‘fever and dysentery’ to designate a specific pathological condition. Some scholars suggest that the ‘malady of the intestines’ that brought death to King Jehoram of Judah was chronic amoebic dysentery.—2 Chron. 21:15-19.
While the Law with its provisions was primarily for Israel’s spiritual benefit and to maintain its separateness from the pagan nations, an examination of the dietary and sanitary regulations of the Law reveals that it had a beneficial secondary effect in protecting the nation against the causes and spread of many diseases, including certain febrile diseases, usually infectious.
(1) The diet of the Hebrews did not normally include a great deal of meat, but when a family wanted to slaughter a domestic animal for meat they took the animal to the sanctuary (unless, after they entered the Promised Land, the family lived too far away). (Lev. 17:3-5; Deut. 12:20-27) They ate the meat after the priest offered some of it on the altar and received his portion. Some communion sacrifices were to be eaten on the same day. Others could not be eaten after the second day, but the flesh was to be burned with fire. In Palestine’s warm climate and with no refrigeration, this not only would keep that which was offered before Jehovah from becoming foul and detestable to him, but would also have the side effect of avoiding the eating of contaminated meat. (Lev. 7:15-18) (2) The flesh of certain prohibited animals, such as the pig, the hare, carrion-eating animals and birds, rodents and certain water animals and fish, is known to be a possible contributory factor in various diseases, including fevers. (Lev. 11:1-31) (3) The sanitary regulations helped safeguard the cooking utensils and also the drinking-water supply from contamination, a source of typhoid, dysentery and other febrile diseases. (Lev. 11:32-38) (4) Anyone touching the body or eating some of an animal that died of itself had to cleanse himself. (Lev. 11:39, 40) (5) The laws commanding the covering of fecal waste by each individual, also the covering of blood with dust, protected against diseases, including jaundice. (Lev. 17:13; Deut. 23:12, 13) (6) The moral laws would practically eliminate all venereal disease, which disease can affect all organs of the body and cause various forms of fever. (7) Prevention of the spread of such diseases and others was also helped by the Law’s stipulation that emission of semen, menstruation or running discharge from genital organs made persons, garments or a bed or certain other things unclean for a specified time, and included other persons who as much as touched these things. (Lev. 15:16-28) (8) The quarantine laws worked to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.—Lev. chap. 13; Num. 19:11, 12, 16; 31:19.
Jehovah warned Israel that if they went contrary to his commandments they would undergo exhaustion from hunger, a contributory factor in many febrile diseases; they would be afflicted with burning fever, inflammation and feverish heat; they would suffer boils, skin eruptions (sicknesses that are often accompanied by burning fever) and blindness. (Lev. 26:14-16) All of this came to fulfillment after Israel’s repeated rebellions against Jehovah and their violations of his laws.—Ezek. 4:16, 17; 33:10.
When Jesus Christ was on earth many persons afflicted with fevers were healed by him. One case was that of the mother-in-law of the apostle Simon Peter. (Matt. 8:14, 15; Mark 1:29-31) Luke, apparently because he was a physician, draws attention to the degree of fever in that case, classifying it as a “high fever.” (Luke 4:38) On one occasion Jesus, in Cana, healed the son of an attendant to King Herod Antipas, although the feverish boy was dying several miles away in Capernaum. As a result, the man and his entire household became believers.—John 4:46-54.
The apostle Paul used the God-given power of healing, one of the miraculous gifts through Jesus Christ to certain members of the early Christian congregation (1 Cor. 12:7-9, 11, 30), to cure a case of fever and dysentery suffered by the father of Publius, the principal man and a landowner of the island of Malta. On learning of this, the island’s natives came to Paul, and he healed many of their various sicknesses.—Acts 28:7-9.