Preface

In humans, the instinct to survive surmounts any other emotion. Transmissible and genetic diseases generated fear in ancient civilisations as they were not understood and often attributed to the work of supernatural forces. Extreme measures were taken to avoid angering these powerful deities. Rituals and sacrifices perhaps granting some form of hope against the inexplicable ravages of natural phenomena. This book explores the precarious relationship between scientific research and religious belief influenced by the Old and New testaments of the Bible. In analysing the uninformed behaviour of Old Testament society with a modern scientific rational, a logical, though seemingly inhumane, answer to disease management is revealed. Gradually, the extreme methods of disease management enforced by regulations in the Old Testament were replaced by a more compassionate Greco-Roman influenced approach in the New Testament, that prescribed treatment rather than ostracism.

Scientific advances in microbiology and immunology now largely replace religious methods of disease prevention, but do not completely obliterate fear and uncertainty. Controversies involving the corruptive influences that can lead to fatalities and human misery are discussed at length within this work, as are conflicts between religion and science in the molecular era. The gradual domestication of leaven into yeast is used to organise and focus the text. Yeast has become one of the most extensively researched organisms on Earth in its role as a molecular model system and as a crucial constituent in the food industry. It was viewed with equal importance in ancient civilisations although the mechanisms behind its properties were not understood.

Leaven was a portion of dough that contained fermentative natural yeasts frequently used by ancient communities to make risen bread. To the Hebrews, enslaved by the Egyptians, leaven represented corruptive or egotistical influences. It was omitted from ancient sacrifices and rituals such as the Passover, a ceremony that was performed to ward off evil spirits and the bringers of plague. Through religious practices, the Hebrews had developed an intriguing knowledge of quarantine and disease control, a quality that the Egyptians lacked. A difference in culture that may have contributed to the Exodus, allowing Moses to lead the Hebrews from slavery while the Egyptians were preoccupied with disease. After escaping Egypt, the Hebrews developed the Law of Moses (the Torah) to preserve the unique disease management skills they unwittingly possessed. Two major religious cults the Pharisees and the Sadducees evolved from the teachings of the Torah.

As time passed the Hebrews settled in Palestine, but despairingly found themselves again oppressed, this time by the Romans. The Hebrews once more looked towards a redeemer to free them from these shackles, a contender being Jesus of Nazareth. The Pharisees, Sadducees and the conquering Romans were enjoying the type of power and wealth that created an underclass of disgruntled people. To these suppressed people, the philosophies of Jesus seemed an attractive alternative to the corrupt religious doctrines of the high priests. Not surprisingly, Jesus lost favour with the Pharisees and Sadducees, not only because he was corrupting their followers but also because he disobeyed the Torah by associating with unclean people. The religious high priests conspired to dispose of, what was to them, the dissident deceiver.

The festival of the unleavened bread had been preserved to remind the Hebrews of their flight from Egypt. It was during this festival on the eve of the Passover that the Last Supper took place. Since then the festival of the unleavened bread has been used to celebrate the body of Christ in yet another twist to the original Passover ceremony, the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, yeast is omitted from bread to demonstrate the purity of Christ’s body. Curiously though, his blood is represented by wine also fermented by yeast. Wine, blood, animals and unleavened bread were all important components of ancient Hebrew sacrifice.

The purpose of this book is not to condemn or favour views held in religion or science but to bring these doctrines together in order to analyse the way in which society deals with uncertainty and faith. Uncertainty perhaps arising from a loss of faith, brought about by controversies or lack of knowledge. The first chapter investigates the objectives of both science and religion in searching for solutions that will resolve uncertainty. By investigating how the fermentative properties of leaven are interpreted in the Bible, there is a surprising insight into how ancient societies dealt with uncertainty.

Scientific investigators, such as, Copernicus, Galileo and Isaac Newton demonstrated that through the gift of reality and natural laws, society would be able to share the mathematical structure by which God created the world. Theologians took up science in order to decipher the complexity of God’s creation. For instance, Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian monk who was equally committed to science and religious endeavour, established the laws of inheritance. Tensions between science and religion emerged when evolutionary theory challenged the Christian concept of creation as presented in the Bible. Darwin, also a theologian, produced evidence of a gradual adaptation that had taken place over millions of years. This was in direct conflict with religious perceptions of ready-made organisms that had recently been placed on Earth only a few thousand years ago. In the molecular era, religion and science are often in dispute over certain issues such as evolution,  novel genetic techniques, cloning human embryos and stem cell research.

This second chapter focuses on how science resolved the processes of fermentation through advances in microbiology and biochemistry. It reviews the importance of microscopy in the understanding of disease and discusses the development of knowledge that allowed yeast to be characterised. Theories involving the spontaneous generation of living beings were widely accepted for centuries. The Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle in the 4th century BC held views that contradicted a gradual evolution of life forms. Plato argued that there were two worlds; one was real the other was imaginary. The variations that were present in plants and animals were merely imperfect illusions of an already perfect form. The discovery of humans at various stages of evolution has diminished the concept that humans were created in their current form or generated spontaneously. Evolution theories, creationism and spontaneous generation are discussed in this chapter which ends by discussing the influence of yeast in the development of western culture.

Chapter three mainly deals with the pagan religious practices revealed in the Old Testament. The Old Testament is derived from four literary sources that span over several decades from 950 to 587 BC. The most authoritative form was thought to be The Pentateuch. The Pentateuch was adopted around 400 BC and consisted of five books from the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The Hebrew word for these five books is the Torah, meaning law or teachings. The Pentateuch mainly describes the story of Moses: his birth, teachings through a covenant with God and ending with his death.

The Passover was an ancient ceremony carried out by Hebrews as a ritual to ward off evil spirits. It was practiced by shepherds, to protect lambs and goats during birth and began at the first full moon of spring. Thereby explaining why a young sheep or goat was chosen as the sacrificial beast. The Hebrews believed a lot of evil spirits were present that would kill newly born animals. The blood of the sacrificed animal was smeared on doorposts to keep away the ‘Destroyer’. The destroyer was most likely to be the bringer of disease or plagues. Leaven was not allowed to be eaten anywhere within the dwelling during the Passover. When the Hebrews left Egypt they continued to treat leaven as a corruptive substance that could displease God. The Book of Leviticus contains a number of rules and regulations that would prevent disease from spreading within the community. This chapter goes on to discuss diseases that were present in the Biblical era and the procedures used to control them, such as the quarantine of affected individuals and obsessive personal hygiene. It closes by  proposing that  the Exodus was likely to have been aided by the epidemiological differences between Egyptian and Hebrew cultures.

As with the Old Testament the New Testament was written during a time of rapid social change. Chapter four discusses the changes in religious attitude that occurred as society gradually abandoned ritual sacrifices and looked for other means to resolve uncertainties. The Jews were a minority group struggling against the vastness of the Roman Empire. There was confusion and doubt surrounding religious beliefs as the Romans had conquered Egypt and Greece combining a multitude of different Gods and ideals. Greek philosophy impacted social behaviour influencing education, life-styles and religious views. Despite these changes, obeying the Torah was still viewed with great importance in fact there was a religious court set up specifically to punish those who disobeyed. The Jews thought that if they did not follow the words of God as told to Moses in the Torah they would become slaves once more. The teachings of Jesus of Nazareth did not obey the Torah in the way that the Jews were familiar and therefore the religious groups wanted him to be tried in the court. This chapter describes the social changes that are impacting this era and how they have changed the conception of disease management by describing the approaches taken by Jesus in dealing with diseased individuals and the tensions that are created between him and the Pharisees.

In the synoptic gospels of the New Testament, Jesus uses the characteristics of leaven to denote human behaviour or more specifically a mutual social conduct that permeates through society, such as, sin or corruption. Symbolically he was warning his followers against false doctrine and hypocritical practises. There were numerous conflicts between the philosophies of Jesus and the Pharisees, particularly in the association with undesirables, sinners and social outcasts. According to the Pharisees, Jesus constantly defiled himself by coming in to contact with lepers and outcasts and therefore was ritually unclean and in direct contradiction to the Torah. The Torah vindicated sacrificing the few in order to spare the many while the Greco-Roman influenced philosophies of Jesus demanded that the few should be saved even if this meant sacrificing the majority. This chapter closes by discussing the rituals performed at the last supper made during the festival of leavened bread.

The teachings and philosophies in the New Testament are predominately analogical; they tried to encourage new insights by allowing people to draw comparisons with familiar situations. Parables were used to encourage self-assessment. They were also easy to remember and the stories could permeate through the community. The purpose of chapter five is to compare the divergent methods by which science and religion are communicated. In particular, how risk and uncertainty is communicated through the media especially in relation to disease management.

The leaven parable can be divided into three component parts: the leaven, the woman and the meal or flour. Each of these components play a different role in the message being conveyed within the parable and are discussed separately in the text. There are many ways of interpreting this particular parable. This is perhaps synonymous with the many different ways that the Bible, science or religion can be interpreted. This chapter takes the opportunity to discuss the role of alternative hypotheses in the development of science and religion and the ways in which they are recorded.

Wine is not referred to in the Bible as either leaven or unleavened although it does play a prominent part in sacrifices and rituals. In the Old Testament it is used in large quantities as part of a daily sacrificial offering that also included animals and unleavened bread. Wine is also offered on the Sabbath and on the first day of the month, where the quantity varies depending on the type of animal used in the sacrifice. Most notably, wine was offered in the daily sacrifice during the festival of the unleavened bread. Jesus refers to himself as the sacrificial lamb used in the traditional Passover ceremony and to the wine as the sacrificial blood. Chapter six discusses the present debate of using wine as opposed to water or fruit juice in the modern Eucharist. It also discusses how advances in microbiology have changed the social conception of the Bible. The Eucharist was established to serve as a reminder of how Jesus gave his life in return for his convictions. In many aspects this modern religious ceremony seems to go against the philosophies of Jesus by its ritual connotations and sectarian exclusion. It perhaps serves more as a means of retaining the ceremonial sacrifices, religious gibberish and symbolic worship of the Pharisees that were rejected in the teachings of Jesus. The problems surrounding the obstructive nature of traditions and rituals in relation to science and religion are discussed in this chapter.

Not only does yeast serve as one of the most important organisms throughout domestic history, in recent years it has also substantially contributed to biological research. The numerous molecular techniques that have evolved in yeast  allow it to make an important contribution to a number of areas in science. Through studying various types of yeast and other microbes, scientists now know a great deal about the molecular processes involved in cell division, rapid evolution and disease. As a consequence of these discoveries, disease in the 21st century is generally less feared than in the Biblical era, when life expectancy was rarely above thirty-five years. Chapter seven discusses how advances in microbiology and genetics have helped eradicate many diseases that were endemic in the Biblical era. Hebrews believed that illness and disease were the wrath of God therefore religion playing a prominent role in disease management.

Work in yeast genetics has greatly contributed to our understanding of mutation and therefore the mechanisms that lead to cancers and some hereditary disease. Yeast is also used as a model system to research ageing. The seventh chapter discusses the emergence of yeast as a molecular tool and the diverse type of research it covers and closes with discussion about the impact of molecular research on society.

In many ways science and religion persist partly to alleviate the fear of uncertainty, especially where disease management is concerned. To the ancient Hebrews, uncertainty in this area existed possibly through a lack of knowledge and control. It is evident from the rituals described in the Torah that fear preoccupied the lives of the Hebrews and they looked towards religion to search for solutions. Perhaps through practicing rituals they were hoping to control the merciless elements of disease and in some respects this seems to have worked. Through trial and error, they seem to have created a regime of quarantine and cleanliness that most likely led to disease prevention. They ritually washed utensils and hands, burnt uneaten food, avoided animals with blemishes, isolated people who showed any sign of or had come in contact with disease, and viewed leaven as an impurity that was completely excluded from their living areas during various festivals.

This final chapter compares uncertainty in Biblical times with the uncertainty that is present today when society loses faith in science. There are a number of factors that could be perceived as permeating an influence like leaven: the media, scientists, commercial companies (pharmaceutical, agricultural), academics, and government policy. Today’s society seems to be as fearful of uncertainty as ancient societies were. Uncertainty and fear associated with science was perhaps earned through a series of controversies. The controversy surrounding the Thalidomide disaster in the 1960s is given as an example. A similar uncertainty surrounds the use of the combined MMR combined vaccine. Public opinion is concerned about these issues because they affect the vulnerable, those individuals that do not have a choice but rely on the judgment of others, who in turn must have faith in organizations such as pharmaceutical companies and governments. This is discussed at length to close the chapter and the book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s