The following tales are fictional. Sort of.
Last week we considered the story of Marcus, a physician in second-century Alexandria. Let us consider a set of similar situations briefly.
Daljeet was a physician in the Punjab region of India in the seventh century A.D. Like Marcus, he was well respected in his profession, and like Marcus, in his middle age he converted to Christianity. In his case it was not a miraculous healing, but the simple witness of a spice trader to whom he had extended his hospitality. When he heard the story of Jesus, Daljeet felt like a gong had been struck inside his chest, like he had known the story all along, and had just been waiting for someone to remind him. Like Marcus, he ceased his offerings to pagan gods, but continued as best he could in his profession. Of course, his textbooks were the Charaka Samhita and the Sustruta Samhita instead of Hippocrates and Galen, and he was interested in balancing the three ayurvedic humors (wind, bile and phlegm) instead of Hippocrates’ four humors. Daljeet had a much greater focus on the medicinal qualities of different kinds of food than Marcus, and he was just as likely to prescribe a certain menu for his patients as he was to prescribe a certain herbal medicine — although he could do that as well. Daljeet also had a surgical practice extending from stitching up wounds and removing foreign objects to a form of cataract surgery and even cesarean section birthing if necessary. Daljeet also believed that treating the physical body was insufficient — what a person thought and believed, the words that were said to him and the conditions he lived in could cause as much damage as any injury or poison. So he would do his best to treat the soul as well — and when he came to the Great Physician, he found that his ability to treat the soul took a great leap forward.
Far from suffering because of his conversion to Christianity, Daljeet’s practice saw even more success in the year following his conversion. The stories of near-miraculous healing spread throughout the region, and Daljeet was careful to tell anyone who would listen that it was not Daljeet the doctor, but Jesus of Nazareth, the Great Physician, who was responsible for these healings. The community around Daljeet was at once amazed and scandalized. No one could offend the gods as Daljeet was doing and hope to escape their wrath, and yet, it seemed there was a new incredible healing every few days. If the gods were angry, they also seemed content to sit back and let Daljeet heal people. The stunned amazement persisted for almost a year after Daljeet had been very publicly baptized by the spice trader.
Then one day in the marketplace an overzealous devotee of one of the offended deities attacked Daljeet from behind and stabbed him to death. By the time anyone realized what was happening, it was too late, and Daljeet died before they could carry him back home.
In the eighth century A.D., a bishop of the Church of the East fell ill while traveling through central China, in what is now Shaanxi province. He was taken to the city of Xian and treated by a doctor there, a man named Chao. The bishop was only there a week, but he struck up an acquaintance with Chao, and the two men corresponded for some years and became friends. Eventually persuaded by his friend’s humility and devotion, Chao became a Christian. He too remained in his profession. His friendship with the bishop gave him access to the Scriptures, so of course he realized that the Taoist story of how the world came to be was false, and he began to adjust his thinking accordingly. Like Marcus and Daljeet before him, he set aside his false gods and worshiped only the true and living God.
Also like Daljeet and Marcus, Chao was interested in restoring his patients to bodily harmony, but he did not seek to do this through balancing bodily humors, but rather by massaging or needling points on their bodies in order to balance the blood and chi that flowed through their organs and each organ’s associated meridians, as he had learned from his medical textbooks, The Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic, Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders, and others.
Also like the other two doctors before him, Chao believed that illness could have a spiritual cause like a witch’s curse or a malign deity — such things were not unheard of — but that in general illness was a natural process best treated by natural means. Doctors in his tradition had believed this since before the Yellow Emperor’s Classic was written seven centuries before. In addition to massage and acupuncture, Chao had recourse to a wide array of herbs and foods to address different illnesses, and he also could prescribe certain exercises for his patients that would have the effect of strengthening the function of a weak organ.
Chao’s conversion was not dramatic. Even after he confided in his friend the bishop that he had come to believe in Jesus, it took some time before he ceased making sacrifices, and more than a year before he worked up the courage to be baptized into the Church. Rejected by his family and community as a result of his baptism, Chao lost everything, and one day showed up knocking on the door of his friend the bishop, homeless, penniless and ashamed, with nowhere to go. He had nothing but the clothes on his back, his needles, and a few herbs. The bishop took him in, and from that day forward, the two men were inseparable. The bishop traveled to encourage the churches under his care, and wherever he went, Chao would go and treat the sick. “I will share Jesus with their spirits,” the bishop would say to Chao, “and you see what Jesus will do for their bodies.”
After some years, the bishop felt himself called to go up into the mountains of Tibet as a missionary. He told Chao that it would be quite dangerous, and that he ought to stay behind. “My friend,” Chao said, “If it is going to be dangerous, you had better take a doctor with you.” The bishop took several months to anoint a successor and set his affairs in order, and then, commissioned by the people of the diocese, the two men set off on the long and dangerous journey. No one knows if they ever made it to Tibet, and if they did, how they fared there. The two men were never heard from again.