The Virology of Christ

Aug 10 2010 Published by under Epidemiology, Medicine & Health Now, this is just silly. Last month a case report appeared in the Virology Journal (not, I'll admit, my normal read). It had the following title:

Influenza or not influenza: Analysis of a case of high fever that happened 2000 years ago in Biblical time

The original case was reported from two sources as follows

Matthew 8:14-15

14 And when Jesus was come into Peter's house, he saw his wife's mother lying sick of a fever.

15 And he touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she arose, and ministered unto him.


Mark 1:29-31

29 And straightway, when they were come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.

30 Now Simon's wife's mother lay sick of a fever; and straightway they tell him of her:

31 and he came and took her by the hand, and raised her up; and the fever left her, and she ministered unto them.


Luke 4:38-39

38 And he rose up from the synagogue, and entered into the house of Simon. And Simon's wife's mother was holden with a great fever; and they besought him for her.

39 And he stood over her, and rebuked the fever; and it left her: and immediately she rose up and ministered unto them.


From this the authors deduce that the fever was influenza, despite the description not being as detailed as they would have liked:

Luke did not quantify the fever as the Fahrenheit temperature scale was not invented until 1724

Even God has his limits, eh?

The authors explain why they think this was influenza. They do consider a variety of other causes and reject them. Such as this

One final consideration that one might have is whether the illness was inflicted by a demon or devil. The Bible always tells if an illness is caused by a demon or devil (Matthew 9:18-25, 12:22, 9:32-33; Mark 1:23-26, 5:1-15, 9:17-29; Luke 4:33-35, 8:27-35, 9:38-43, 11:14) [1]. The victims often had what sounded like a convulsion when the demon was cast out. In our index case, demonic influence is not stated, and the woman had no apparent convulsion or residual symptomatology.

This may surprise you, but I'm not 100% convinced. If Jesus had had access to mercury thermometer, and had told Luke the reading, I might have been more impressed. But for now I'm sceptical.

(ht: Cath Ennis)

Hon, K., Ng, P., & Leung, T. (2010). Influenza or not influenza: Analysis of a case of high fever that happened 2000 years ago in Biblical time Virology Journal, 7 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1743-422X-7-169

39 responses so far

  • Jack says:

    "Science is whatever we want it to be."
    Dr. Spaceman

  • Pascale says:

    Perhaps "demon" is Aramaic for "virus?"

  • Albatrossity says:

    This method of "rebuking" a fever sounds interesting; I love to administer a good rebuke or two on a daily basis. I'll try it next time I have a fever, and will report the results here.

    It's also interesting that once these women were cured, they went back to their female-specific duties and "ministered unto" Jesus and the minions. More evidence (as if we needed it) that things never change in the fundy world.

  • J-Dog says:

    Onlookers - I submit to you that the following verse means that JC was married:

    Matthew 8:14-15

    14 And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother lying sick of a fever.

    That's if you take the bible litterally and inerrant.

    The next verse can easily mean that JC is "doing" his mother in law:

    And he touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she arose, and ministered unto him.

    Pretty despicable to take advantage of someone that's ill IMO.

    Gordon - Time to get a new role model!

    • Mimsy Swallows says:

      I'd suggest you get an original version of the Bible and check the Greek before you mock. I'm not suggesting it's in any way more accurate, but you need to go to the source before you get all giddy. Spiros Zodhiates spent a considerable number of years producing an all-out balls-to-the-wall version of the King James Bible with footnotes galore which pointed out where such schoolboy errors as with which you make your daily bread might be avoided. Educate yourself, and be a mighty warrior for atheism. Continue twatting about on forums and... well, go on - you might as well be Fred Phelps.

      • Rotten Arsenal says:

        What "original" version do you mean? We don't have the "Original" copies of these books. At best we have copies (of copies?) that were set to paper a century or more after Jesus roamed about. And the people who authored these books originally, in all likelihood, probably weren't first person witnesses to these happenings anyway

  • Bob O'H says:

    Ha! Albatrossity - make sure you call virologists demonologists from now on.

  • Albatrossity says:

    Oooh, excellent idea. I just hired a virologist; if I called him a demonologist maybe I could get the Kansas legislature to give him a salary raise!

  • As much as I laughed at the "the Fahrenheit temperature scale was not invented until 1724" part, my favourite line came right at the end:

    "The authors declare that they have no competing interests."

    Prove it.

    I'm waiting!

    • Bob O'H says:

      Hm: "Competing interests: the second author believes himself to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, only this time with a thermometer".

  • sparc says:

    Are these two incidents (Peter's house or Simon's and Andrew's house) ? Are Peter and Simon married to the same woman?

  • donscarletti says:

    Simon and Peter are the same man. At that time, Jews spoke two languages, Greek (the official language of the Roman Empire's eastern provinces) and Hebrew (the traditional language of Judea). His Greek name was Petros and his Hebrew name was Simeon. So yes, Simon and Peter were married to the same woman by virtue of being the same person.
    But anyway, a woman can have two daughters, men can share the one mother in law without practicing polyandry.

  • [...] Bob O’H and Cath Ennis comes this truly bizarre article from the Virology Journal: “Influenza or not [...]

  • As Editor-in-Chief of Virology Journal I wish to apologize for the publication of the article entitled ''Influenza or not influenza: Analysis of a case of high fever that happened 2000 years ago in Biblical time”, which clearly does not provide the type of robust supporting data required for a case report and does not meet the high standards expected of a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Virology Journal has always operated an exceptionally high standard of thorough peer review; this article has clearly not met these thresholds for balance and supporting data and as such, the article will be retracted. I should like to apologize for any confusion or concern that this article may have caused among our readership, or more widely.

    Whilst only ever intended as an opinion piece and also a bit of relief from the ‘normal’ business of the journal, the speculations contained within this article clearly would be better expressed outside the confines of a peer-reviewed journal. Biomed Central does not support any views outlined in this article.

  • Albatrossity says:

    The article has been retracted. Read the editor's remorse here.

  • Bob O'H says:

    Thank you for coming here to make the statement, Robert. TBH, I think it would have been fine if you had published it at Christmas, when the medical journals let their hair down a bit. The paper is fine, if you don't take it seriously. It's not clear, though, who was taking it seriously and who not.

  • rpg says:

    Sad that it was retracted. Further adds to the image of scientists (or clinicians) as humorless bastards.

  • Bob O'H says:

    The author has responded to questions about the retraction:

    I was astonished that our article, submitted initially in the debate section of the journal, had stirred up such negative publicity. As an article for debate, there was no absolute right or wrong answer, and the article was only meant for thought provocation. Neither was it meant to be a debate on the concept of miracles. My only focus at the time of writing was “what had caused the fever and debilitation” that was cured by Jesus. I was especially astonished that so many comments were made outside the scope of the journal. In medical writing, colleagues would usually make comments in the “letter to the editors” and the authors would respond in the subsequent correspondence.

    I once again am very sorry to have caused inconvenience to the Journal and anxiety to myself. I think I will never write this type of article any more – not worth the hassles!

    So it doesn't sound as if this was intended as a joke, and it looks like the author was naïve about how the paper would be received.

  • Aside from the methodology involved in fever rebuking, I find this fascinating. The poor woman, who had only moments before, been very ill, got up immediately and made JC a sammich.

    More likely, she was still sick and died later but was afraid that if she didn't get up and fix snacks for everyone, her husband would beat her.

  • Smiling at the outcry about "humourless atheists", when all I've seen is piss-taking...

  • Brian Marks says:

    "The Bible describes that when Jesus touched the woman, the fever retreated instantaneously." Actually it doesn't - most versions say it went away without describing how long. The author of the article has sharpened the detail, just at the author of the Gospel account, writing 40 years later may well have done.

    So we have a man who touches a woman with fever, and some time later the fever recedes. By how much? How quickly? We don't know. If you're a virologist and you do not immediately think, "Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc", then you probably were not paying attention in medical school.

    Which is why skeptics make better researchers than believers.

  • Alan Dove says:

    If an open-access journal retracts a paper, do they have to refund the author's page fees? And if they don't, wouldn't there be even more motivation to lower the editorial standards?

    Just wondering.

  • Andrew Davis says:

    Another fascinating example of the secular and religious world views talking past each other. Certainly the lack of clinical detail, much less PCR results, makes diagnosing influenza a huge stretch beyond the available evidence. Yet many 'scientific' clinicians in 2010 almost routinely give antibiotics designed for bacteria to patients with viral illness. When the fever breaks, was the reason the antibiotic or the empathic support of the healer? Either prayer or an expensive placebo might bring reassurance and support to a patient's own natural healing processes, but those mocking prayer might consider their own seldom questioned form of pharmacological idolatry.

  • rpg says:

    Where's the 'outcry about humorless atheists?'

  • rpg says:

    no... I'm genuinely wondering whether Cath's comment was aimed at me, or whether there is a fuss elsewhere.

    (if the former, that's not what I said nor implied).

  • rpg says:

    No way, Bob—Watercress sandwiches, remember.

  • Tom Hennessy says:

    I believe the atheists MUST be investigated because of their METHODS to target and attack medical journals.

    The ODDS that atheism was NOT the 'deciding factor' here and the 'coincidental' "enthusiasm for retraction" .. ?

    "One of the blogs that brought the paper to notice was This Scientific Life, by Bob O'Hara."

    "Blag Hag: A large list of awesome female atheists

    -5:24am 3 Jan 2010 ... Bob O'Hara said... Grrlscientist is also an atheist and blogger. I think she's awesome. But then I did marry her, so I might be biased."

    " Kam L.E. Hon from the Department of Paediatrics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, was astonished" the article had produced such a negative response since it was only intended for thought provocation."

    "He said he would never to write this kind of article again."

    THAT smacks of cyberbullying.

    In Scientific circles that is unlawful.


  • I have to agree with the cyber bullying. Bullying is never good

    Back to the paper. If the paper only focuses on trying to identify or narrow down the illness based on the symptoms, then its legitimate. Whether or not the bible is truth or fiction does not matter.

    An analogy would be calculating the power of a star destroyer blast based on footage of it shooting at asteroids in Empire strikes back. The ESB is fiction but the math and the reasoning used to arrive at the answer is sound.

  • Bob O'H says:

    Hm. So where in my post was I bullying?