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St Luke The Physician

In the midst of what has been called the higher criticism of the Bible

in recent times, one of the long accepted traditions that has been most

strenuously assailed and, indeed, in the minds of many scholars, seemed,

for a time at least, quite discredited, was that St. Luke the

Evangelist, the author of the Third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles,

was a physician. Distinguished authorities in early Christian

s have declared that the pillars of primitive Christian

history are the genuine Epistles of St. Paul, the writings of St. Luke,

and the history of Eusebius. It is quite easy to understand, then, that

the attack upon the authenticity of the writings usually assigned to St.

Luke, which in many minds seemed successful, has been considered of

great importance. In the very recent time there has been a decided

reaction in this matter. This has come, not so much from Roman

Catholics, who have always clung to the traditional view, and whose

great Biblical students have been foremost in the support of the

previously accepted opinion, but from some of the most strenuous of the

German higher critics, who now appreciate that destructive, so-called

higher criticism went too far, and that the traditional view not only

can be maintained, but is the only opinion that will adequately respond

to all the new facts that have been found, and all the recently gathered

information with regard to the relations of events in the olden time.

By far the most important contribution to the discussion in recent

years came not long since from the pen of Professor Adolph Harnack, the

professor of church history in the University of Berlin. Professor

Harnack's name is usually cited as that of one of the most destructive

of the higher critics. His recent book, however, Luke the

Physician,[33] is an entire submission to the old-fashioned viewpoint

that the writer of the Third Gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles was

a Greek fellow-worker of St. Paul, who had been in company for years

with Mark and Philip and James, and who had previously been a physician,

and was evidently well versed in all the medical lore of that time.

Harnack does not merely concede the old position. As might be expected,

his rediscussion of the subject clinches the arguments for the

traditional view, and makes it impossible ever to call it in question

again. It is easy to understand how important are such admissions when

we recall how much this traditional view has been assailed, and how

those who have held it have been accused of old-fogyism and lack of

scholarship, and unwarranted clinging to antiquated notions just because

they thought they were of faith, and how, lacking in true scholarship,

seriously hampering genuine investigation, such conservatism has been

declared to be.

The question of Luke's having been a physician is an extremely valuable

one, and no one in our time is better fitted by early training and long

years of study to elucidate it than Professor Harnack. He began his

excursions into historical writing years ago, as I understand, as an

historian of early Christian medicine. Some of his works on medical

conditions just before and after Christ are quoted confidently by the

distinguished German medical historians. From this department he

graduated into the field of the higher criticism. He is eminently in a

position, therefore, to state the case with regard to St. Luke fully,

and to indicate absolutely the conclusions that should be drawn from the

premises of fact, writings, and traditions that we have. He does so in a

very striking way. Perhaps no better example of his thoroughly lucid and

eminently logical mode of argumentation is to be found than the

paragraph in which he states the question. It might well be recommended

as an example of terse forcefulness and logical sequence that deserves

the emulation of all those who want to write on medical subjects. If we

had more of these characteristic qualities of Harnack's style, our

medical literature, so called, would not need to occupy so many pages of

print as it does--yet would say more. Here it is:

St. Luke, according to St. Paul, was a physician. When a

physician writes a historical work it does not necessarily

follow that his profession shows itself in his writing; yet it

is only natural for one to look for traces of the author's

medical profession in such a work. These traces may be of

different kinds: 1, The whole character of the narrative may

be determined by points of view, aims, and ideals which are

more or less medical (disease and its treatment); 2, marked

preference may be shown for stories concerning the healing of

diseases, which stories may be given in great number and

detail; 3, the language may be colored by the language of

physicians (medical technical terms, metaphors of medical

character, etc.). All these three groups of characteristic

signs are found, as we shall see, in the historical work which

bears the name of St. Luke. Here, however, it may be objected

that the subject matter itself is responsible for these

traits, so that their evidence is not decisive for the medical

calling of the author. Jesus appeared as a great physician and

healer. All the evangelists say this of Him; hence it is not

surprising that one of them has set this phase of His ministry

in the foreground, and has regarded it as the most important.

Our evangelist need not therefore have been a physician,

especially if he were a Greek, seeing that in those days

Greeks with religious interests were disposed to regard

religion mainly under the category of healing and salvation.

This is true, yet such a combination of characteristic signs

will compel us to believe that the author was a physician if,

4, the description of the particular cases of disease shows

distinct traces of medical diagnosis and scientific knowledge;

5, if the language, even where questions of medicine or of

healing are not touched upon, is colored by medical

phraseology; and, 6, if in those passages where the author

speaks as an eye-witness medical traits are especially and

prominently apparent. These three kinds of tokens are also

found in the historical work of our author. It is accordingly

proved that it proceeds from the pen of a physician.

The importance of the concession that Luke was a physician should be

properly appreciated. His whole gospel is written from that standpoint.

For him the Saviour was the healer, the good physician who went about

curing the ills of the body, while ministering to people's souls. He has

more accounts of miracles of healing than any of the other Evangelists.

He has taken certain of the stories of the other Evangelists who were

eye-witnesses, and when they were told in naive and popular language

that obscured the real condition that was present, he has retold the

story from the physician's standpoint, and thus the miracle becomes

clearer than ever. In one case, where Mark has a slur on physicians,

Luke eliminates it. In a number of cases the correction of Mark's

popular language in the description of ailments is made in terms that

could not have been used except by one thoroughly versed in the Greek

medical terminology of the times. As a matter of fact, there seems to be

no doubt now that Luke had been, before he became an Evangelist, a

practising physician in Malta of considerable experience. His testimony,

then, to the miracles is particularly valuable as almost a medical


In medical science, St. Luke's time was by no means barren of knowledge.

The Alexandrian school of medicine had done some fine work in its time.

It was the first university medical school in the world's history, and

there dissection was first practised regularly and publicly for the sake

of anatomy, and even the vivisection of criminals who were supplied by

the Ptolemei for human physiology, was a part of the school curriculum.

A number of important discoveries in brain anatomy are attributed to

Herophilus, after whom the torcular herophili within the skull is named,

and who invented the term calamus scriptorius for certain appearances

in the fourth ventricle. His colleague, Erasistratus, the co-founder of

this school at Alexandria, did work in pathological anatomy, and laid

the foundation for serious study there. For three centuries there is

some good worker, at or in connection with Alexandria, whose name is

preserved for us in the history of medicine. Other Greek schools of

medicine in the East, as, for instance, that of Pergamos, also did

excellent work. Galen is the great representative of this school, and he

came in the century after St. Luke. A physician educated in Greek

medicine at that time, then, would be in an excellent position to judge

critically of the miracles of healing of the Christ, and it would seem

to have been providential that Luke was called for this purpose.

The evidence for his membership of our profession will doubtless be

interesting to all physicians. Some of the distinctive passages in which

Luke's familiarity with medical terms to such an extent that to express

his meaning he found himself compelled to use them, will appeal at once

to these, for whom such terms are part of everyday speech. The use of

the word hydropikos, which is not to be met with anywhere else in the

New Testament, nor in the non-medical Greek literature of that time,

though the word is of frequent occurrence as a designation for a person

suffering from dropsy (and always, as in Luke, the adjective for the

substantive), in Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and Galen is a typical


Where such vague terms as paralyzed occur Luke does not use the familiar

word, but the medical term that meant stricken with paralysis,

indicating not any inability to use the limbs, but such a one as was due

to a stroke of apoplexy. We who, as physicians, have heard of so many

cures of paralysis from our friends, the Eddyites, are prone to ask, as

the first question, what sort of a paralysis it was. Luke made inquiries

from men who were eye-witnesses, and then has described the scene with

such details as convinced him as a physician of the reality of the

miracle, and his description was meant to carry conviction to the minds

of others.

Occasionally St. Luke uses words which only a physician would be likely

to know at all. That is to say, even a man reasonably familiar with

medical terminology and medical literature would not be likely to know

them unless he had been technically trained. One of these is the word

sphudron, a word which is only medical, and is not to be found even in

such large Greek lexicons of ordinary words as that of Passow. Sphudron

is the anatomical term of the Graeco-Alexandrian school for the condyles

of the femur. Galen and other medical authors use it, and Luke, in

giving the details of the story of the lame man cured, in the third

chapter of the Acts, seventh verse, selects it because it exactly

expresses the meaning he wished to convey. In this story there are a

number of added medical details. These are all evidently arranged so as

to give the full medical significance to the miracle. For instance, the

man had been lame from birth, literally from the womb of his mother.

At this time he was forty years of age, an age at which the spontaneous

cure of such an ailment or, indeed, any cure of it, could scarcely be

expected, if, during the preceding time, there had been no improvement.

In the story of the cure of Saul's blindness Luke says in the Acts that

his blindness fell from him like scales. The figure is a typically

medical one. The word for fall that is used is, as was pointed out by

Hobart (Medical Language of St. Luke, Dublin, 1882), exactly the term

that is used for the falling of scales from the body. The term for

scales is the specific designation of the particles that fall from the

body during certain skin diseases or after certain of the infectious

fevers, as in scarlet fever. Hippocrates and Galen have used it in many

places. It is distinctively a medical word. In the story of the vision

of St. Peter, told also in the Acts, the word ecstasis, from which we

derive our word ecstasy, is used. This is the only word St. Luke uses

for vision and he alone uses it. This term is of constant employment in

a technical sense in the medical writers of St. Luke's time and before

it. When the other evangelists talk of lame people they use the popular

term. This might mean anything or nothing for a physician. Luke uses one

of the terms that is employed by physicians when they wish to indicate

that for some definite reason there is inability to walk.

In the story of the Good Samaritan there are some interesting details

that indicate medical interest on the part of the writer. It is Luke's

characteristic story and a typical medical instance. He employs certain

words in it that are used only by medical writers. The use of oil and

wine in the treatment of the wounds of the stranger traveller was at one

time said to indicate that it could not have been a physician who wrote

the story, since the ancients used oil for external applications in such

cases but not wine. More careful search of the old masters of medicine,

however, has shown that they used oil and wine not only internally but

externally. Hippocrates, for instance, has a number of recommendations

of this combination for wounds. It is rather interesting to realize

this, and especially the wine in addition to the oil, because wine

contains enough alcohol to be rather satisfactorily antiseptic. There

seems no doubt that wounds that had been bathed in wine and then had oil

poured over them would be likely to do better than those which were

treated in other ways. The wine would cleanse and at least inhibit

bacterial growth. The subsequent covering with oil would serve to

protect the wound to some degree from external contamination.

Sometimes there is an application of medical terms to something

extraneous from medicine that makes the phrase employed quite amusing.

For instance, when Luke wants to explain how they strengthened the

vessel in which they were to sail he describes the process by the term

which was used in medical Greek to mean the splinting of a part or at

least the binding of it up in such a way as to enable it to be used. The

word was quite a puzzle to the commentators until it was pointed out

that it was the familiar medical term, and then it was easy to

understand. Occasionally this use of a medical term gives a strikingly

accurate significance to Luke's diction. For instance, where other

evangelists talk of the Lord looking at a patient or turning to them,

Luke uses the expression that was technically employed for a physician's

examination of his patient, as if the Lord carefully looked over the

ailing people to see their physical needs, and then proceeded to cure

them. Manifestly in Luke's mind the most interesting phase of the Lord's

life was His exhibition of curative powers, and the Saviour was for him

the divine healer, the God physician of bodies as well as of souls.

There are many little incidents which he relates that emphasize this.

For instance, where St. Mark talks about the healing of the man with a

withered hand, St. Luke adds the characteristic medical note that it was

the right hand. When he tells of the cutting off of the ear of the

servant of the high priest in the Garden of Olives St. Luke takes the

story from St. Mark, but adds the information that would appeal to a

physician that it was the right ear. Moreover, though all four

evangelists record the cutting off of the ear, only St. Luke adds the

information that the Lord healed it again. It is as if he were defending

the kindly feelings of the Divine Physician and as if it would have been

inexcusable had He not exerted His miraculous powers of healing on this

occasion. It is St. Luke, too, who has constantly distinguished between

natural illnesses and cases of possession. This careful distinction

alone would point to the author of the third gospel and the Acts as

surely a physician. As it is it confirms beyond all doubt the claim that

the writer of these portions of the New Testament was a physician

thoroughly familiar with all the medical writings of the time and

probably a physician who had practised for a long time.

Certain miracles of healing are related only by St. Luke as if he

realized better than any of the other evangelists the evidential value

that such instances would have for future generations as to the divinity

of the personage who worked them. The beautiful story of the raising

from death of the son of the widow of Nain is probably one of the

oftenest quoted passages from St. Luke. It is a charming bit of

literature. While it suggests the writer physician it makes one almost

sure that the other tradition according to which St. Luke was also a

painter must be true. The scene is as picturesque as it can be. The Lord

and His Apostles and the multitudes coming to the gate of the little

city just as in the evening sun the funeral cortege with the widow

burying her only son came out of it. The approach of the Lord to the

weeping mother, His command to the dead son to arise, and the simple

words, and he gave him back to his mother, constitute as charming a

scene as a painter ever tried to visualize. Besides this, Luke alone has

the story of the man suffering with dropsy and the woman suffering from

weakness. The intensely picturesque quality of many of these scenes that

he describes so vividly would indeed seem to place beyond all doubt the

old tradition that he was an artist as well as a physician.

It is interesting to realize that it is to Luke alone that we owe the

account of the well-known message sent by Christ Himself to John the

Baptist when John sent his disciples to inquire as to His mission. After

describing His ministry He said: Go and relate to John what you have

heard and seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the lepers

are made clean, the dead rise again, to the poor the Gospel is

preached. To no one more than to a physician would that description of

His mission appeal as surely divine.

To those who care to follow the subject still further, and above all, to

read opinions given before the reversal of the verdict of the higher

criticism on the Lucan writings, indeed before ever that trial was

brought, there is much in Horae Lucanae--A Biography of St. Luke, by

Henry Samuel Baynes (Longmans, 1870), that will surely be of interest.

He has some interesting quotations which show how thoroughly previous

centuries realized all the force of modern arguments. For instance, the

following paragraph from Dr. Nathaniel Robinson, a Scotch physician of

the eighteenth century, will illustrate this. Dr. Robinson said:

It is manifest from his Gospel, that Luke was both an acute

observer, and had even given professional attention to all our

Saviour's miracles of healing. Originally, among the

Egyptians, divinity and physic were united in the same order

of men, so that the priest had the care of souls, and was also

the physician. It was much the same under the Jewish economy.

But after physic came to be studied by the Greeks, they

separated the two professions. That a physician should write

the history of our Saviour's life was appropriate, as there

were divers mysterious things to be noticed, concerning which

his education enabled him to form a becoming judgment.

It is even interesting to realize that St. Luke's tendency to use

medical terms has been of definite value in determining the question

whether both the third gospel and the Acts of the Apostles are by the

same man. They have been attributed to St. Luke traditionally, but in

the higher criticism some doubt has been thrown on this and an elaborate

hypothesis of dual authorship set up. It has been asserted that it is

very improbable on extrinsic grounds that they were both written by one

hand and certain intrinsic evidence, changes in the mode of narration,

especially the use of the first personal pronoun in the plural in

certain passages, has been pointed to as making against single

authorship. This tendency to deny old-time traditions of authorship with

regard to many classical writings was a marked characteristic of the

early part of the nineteenth century, but the close of the century saw

practically all of these denials discredited. The nineteenth century

ushered in studies of Homer, with the separatist school perfectly

confident in their assertion that the Iliad and the Odyssey were not by

the same person, and even that the Iliad itself was the work of several


At the beginning of the twentieth century we are quite as sure that both

the Iliad and Odyssey were written by the same person and that the

separatists were hurried into a contrary decision not a little by the

feeling of the sensation that such a contradiction of previously

accepted ideas would create. This is a determining factor in many a

supposed novel discovery, that it is hard always to discount

sufficiently. A thing may be right even though it is old, and most new

discoveries, it must not be forgotten, that is, most of those announced

with a great blare of trumpets, do not maintain themselves. The simple

argument that the separatists would have to find another poet equal to

Homer to write the other poem has done more than anything else to bring

their opinion into disrepute. It is much easier to explain certain

discrepancies, differences of style, and of treatment of subjects, as

well as other minor variants, than to supply another great poet. Most of

the works of our older literatures have gone through a similar trial

during the over-hasty superficially critical nineteenth century. The

Nibelungenlied has been attributed to two or three writers instead of

one. The Cid, the national epic of Spain, and the Arthur Legends, the

first British epic, have been at least supposed to be amenable to the

same sort of criticism. In every case, scholars have gone back to the

older traditional view of a single author. The phases of literary and

historic criticism with regard to Luke's writings are, then, only a

repetition of what all our great national classics have gone through

from supercilious scholarship during the past hundred years.

It is not surprising, then, that there should be dual or even triple

ascriptions of authorship for various portions of the Scriptures, and

Luke's writings have on this score suffered as much or more even than

others, with the possible exception of Moses. It is now definitely

settled, however, that the similarities of style between the Acts and

the third gospel are too great for them to have come from two different

minds. This is especially true, as pointed out by Harnack, in all that

regards the use of medical terms. The writer of the Acts and the writer

of the third gospel knew Greek from the standpoint of the physician of

that time. Each used terms that we find nowhere else in Greek literature

except among medical writers. What is thus true for one critical attack

on Luke's reputation is also true in another phase of recent higher

criticism. It has been said that certain portions of the Acts which are

called the we portions because the narration changes in them from the

third to the first person were to be attributed to another writer than

the one who wrote the narrative portions. Here, once more, the test of

the medical words employed has decided the case for Luke's sole

authorship. It is evidently an excellent thing to be able to use medical

terms properly if one wants to be recognized with certainty later on in

history for just what one's business was. It has certainly saved the

situation for St. Luke, though there may be some doubt as to the real

force of objections thus easily overthrown.

It is rather interesting to realize that many scholars of the present

generation had allowed themselves to be led away by the German higher

criticism from the old tradition with regard to Luke as a physician and

now will doubtless be led back to former views by the leader of German

biblical critics. It shows how much more distant things may influence

certain people than those nearer home--how the hills are green far away.

Harnack confesses that the best book ever written on the subject of Luke

as a physician, the one that has proved of most value to him, and that

he still recommends everyone to read, was originally written in English.

It is Hobart's Medical Language of St. Luke,[34] written more than a

quarter of a century before Harnack. The Germans generally had rather

despised what the English were doing in the matter of biblical

criticism, and above all in philology. Yet now the acknowledged

coryphaeus of them all, Harnack, not only admits the superiority of an

old-time English book, but confesses that it is the best statement of

the subject up to the present time, including his own. He constantly

quotes from it, and it is evident that it has been the foundation of all

of his arguments. It is not the first time that men have fetched from

afar what they might have got just as well or better at home.

Harnack has made complete the demonstration, then, that the third

gospel and the Acts were written by St. Luke, who had been a practising

physician. In spite of this, however, he finds many objections to the

Luke narratives and considers that they add very little that is valuable

to the contemporary evidence that we have with regard to Christ. He

impairs with one hand the value of what he has so lavishly yielded with

the other. He finds inconsistencies and discrepancies in the narrative

that for him destroy their value as testimony. A lawyer would probably

say that this is that very human element in the writings which

demonstrates their authenticity and adds to their value as evidence,

because it shows clearly the lack of any attempt to do anything more

than tell a direct story as it had come to the narrator. No special

effort was made to avoid critical objections founded on details. It was

the general impression that was looked for.

Sir William Ramsay, in his Luke the Physician and Other Studies in the

History of Religion (New York: Armstrong and Sons, 1908), has answered

Harnack from the side of the professional critic with much force. He

appreciates thoroughly the value of Professor Harnack's book, and above

all the reactionary tendency away from nihilistic so-called higher

criticism which characterized so much of German writing on biblical

themes in the nineteenth century. He says (p. 7): This [book of

Harnack's] alone carries Lukan criticism a long step forwards, and sets

it on a new and higher plane. Never has the unity and character of the

book been demonstrated so convincingly and conclusively. The step is

made and the plane is reached by the method which is practised in other

departments of literary criticism, viz., by dispassionate investigation

of the work and by discarding fashionable a priori theories.

The distinguished English traveller and writer on biblical subjects

points out, however, that in detail many of Harnack's objections to the

Lukan narratives are due to insufficient consideration of the

circumstances in which they were written and the comparative

significance of the details criticised. He says, Harnack lays much

stress on the fact that inconsistencies and inexactnesses occur all

through Acts. Some of these are undeniable; and I have argued that they

are to be regarded in the same light as similar phenomena in the poem of

Lucretius and in other ancient classical writers, viz., as proofs that

the work never received the final form which Luke intended to give it,

but was still incomplete when he died. The evident need for a third book

to complete the work, together with those blemishes in expression, form

the proof.

Ramsay's placing of Harnack's writing in general is interesting in this

connection. (P. 8) Professor Harnack stands on the border between the

nineteenth and twentieth century. His book shows that he is to a certain

degree sensitive of and obedient to the new spirit; but he is only

partially so. The nineteenth century critical method was false, and is

already antiquated....

The first century could find nothing real and true that was not

accompanied by the marvellous and the 'supernatural.' The nineteenth

century could find nothing real and true that was. Which view was right

and which was wrong? Was either complete? Of these two questions, the

second alone is profitable at the present. Both views were right--in a

certain way of contemplating; both views were wrong--in a certain way.

Neither was complete. At present, as we are struggling to throw off the

fetters which impeded thought in the nineteenth century, it is most

important to free ourselves from its prejudices and narrowness.

He adds (pp. 26 and 27): There are clear signs of the unfinished state

in which this chapter was left by Luke; but some of the German scholar's

criticisms show that he has not a right idea of the simplicity of life

and equipment that evidently characterized the jailer's house and the

prison. The details which he blames as inexact and inconsistent are

sometimes most instructive about the circumstances of this provincial

town and Roman colonia.

But it is never safe to lay much stress on small points of inexactness

or inconsistency in any author. One finds such faults even in the works

of modern scholarship if one examines them in the microscopic fashion in

which Luke is studied here. I think I can find them in the author

[Harnack] himself. His point of view sometimes varies in a puzzling


As a matter of fact, Harnack, as pointed out by Ramsay, was evidently

working himself more and more out of the old conclusion as to the lack

of authenticity of the Lucan writings into an opinion ever more and more

favorable to Luke. For instance, in a notice of his own book, published

in the Theologische Literaturzeitung, he speaks far more favorably

about the trustworthiness and credibility of Luke, as being generally in

a position to acquire and transmit reliable information, and as having

proved himself able to take advantage of his position. Harnack was

gradually working his way to a new plane of thought. His later opinion

is more favorable.

Ramsay also points out that Professor Giffert, one of our American

biblical critics, had felt compelled by the geographical and historical

evidence to abandon in part the older unfavorable criticism of Luke and

to admit that the Acts is more trustworthy than previous critics

allowed. Above all, he saw that it was a living piece of literature

written by one author. In a word, Luke is being vindicated in every


Some of the supposed inaccuracies of Luke vanish when careful

investigation is made. Some of his natural history details, for

instance, have been impugned and the story of the viper that fastened

itself upon St. Paul in Malta has been cited as an example of a story

that would not have been told in that way by a man who knew medicine and

the related sciences in Luke's time. Because the passage illustrates a

number of phases of the discussion with regard to Luke's language I make

a rather long quotation from Ramsay:

Take as a specimen with which to finish off this paper the

passage Acts xxviii, 9 et seq., which is very fully

discussed by Harnack twice. He argues that the true meaning of

the passage was not understood until medical language was

compared, when it was shown that the Greek word by which the

act of the viper to Paul's hand is described, implies bit

and not merely fastened upon. But it is a well-assured fact

that the viper, a poisonous snake, only strikes, fixes the

poison fangs on the flesh for a moment, and withdraws its head

instantly. Its action could never be what is attributed by

Luke the eye witness to this Maltese viper; that it hung from

Paul's hand and was shaken off into the fire by him. On the

other hand, constrictors, which have no poison fangs, cling in

the way described, but as a rule do not bite. Are we, then, to

understand in spite of the medical style and the authority of

Professor Blass (who translates momordit in his edition),

that the viper fastened upon the apostle's hand? Then, the

very name viper is a difficulty. Was Luke mistaken about the

kind of snake which he saw? A trained medical man in ancient

times was usually a good authority about serpents, to which

great respect was paid in ancient medicine and custom.

Mere verbal study is here utterly at fault. We can make no

progress without turning to the realities and facts of Maltese

natural history. A correspondent obligingly informed me some

years ago that Mr. Bryan Hook, of Farnham, Surrey (who, my

correspondent assures me, is a thoroughly good naturalist),

had found in Malta a small snake, Coronella austriaca, which

is rare in England, but common in many parts of Europe. It is

a constrictor, without poison fangs, which would cling to the

hand or arm as Luke describes. It is similar in size to the

viper, and so like in markings and general appearance that Mr.

Hook, when he caught his specimen, thought he was killing a


My friend, Prof. J.W.H. Trail, of Aberdeen, whom I consulted,

replied that Coronella laevis or austriaca, is known in

Sicily and the adjoining islands; but he can find no evidence

of its existence in Malta. It is known to be rather irritable,

and to fix its small teeth so firmly into the human skin as to

need a little force to pull it off, though the teeth are too

short to do any real injury to the skin. Coronella is at a

glance very much like a viper; and in the flames it would not

be closely examined. While it is not reported as found in

Malta except by Mr. Hook, two species are known there

belonging to the same family and having similar habits

(leopardinus and zamenis (or coluber) gemonensis). The

coloring of Coronella leopardinus would be the most likely

to suggest a viper.

The observations justify Luke entirely. We have here a snake

so closely resembling a viper as to be taken for one by a good

naturalist until he had caught and examined a specimen. It

clings, and yet it also bites without doing harm. That the

Maltese rustics should mistake this harmless snake for a

venomous one is not strange. Many uneducated people have the

idea that all snakes are poisonous in varying degrees, just as

the vulgar often firmly believe that toads are poisonous.

Every detail as related by Luke is natural, and in accordance

with the facts of the country.

In a word, then, the whole question as to Luke's authority as a writer,

as an eye-witness of many things, and as the relator of many others with

regard to which he had obtained the testimony of eye-witnesses is fully

vindicated. Twenty years ago many scholars were prone to doubt this

whole question. Ten years ago most of them were convinced that the Luke

traditions were not justified by recent investigation. Now we have come

back once more to the complete acceptance of the old traditions.

Perhaps the most unfortunate characteristic of much nineteenth-century

criticism in all departments, even those strictly scientific, was the

marked tendency to reject previous opinions for new ones. Somehow men

felt themselves so far ahead of old-time writers and thinkers that they

concluded they must hold opinions different from their ancestors. In

nearly every case the new ideas that they evolved by supposedly newer

methods are not standing the test of time and further study. There had

been a continuous belief in men's minds, having its basis very probably

on a passage in one of St. Peter's Epistles, that the earth would

dissolve by fire. This was openly contradicted all during the nineteenth

century and the time when the earth would freeze up definitely

calculated by our mathematicians. Now after having studied

radioactivity and learned from the physicist that the earth is heating

up and will eventually get too hot for life, we calmly go back to the

old Petrine declaration. Some of the most distinguished of the German

biologists of the present day, such men as Driesch and others, calmly

tell us that the edifice erected by Darwin will have to come down

because of newly discovered evidence, and indeed some of them go so far

as to declare that Darwinism was a crude hypothesis very superficial in

its philosophical aspects and therefore acceptable to a great many

people who, because it was easy to understand and was very different

from what our fathers had believed, hastened to accept it. Nothing shows

the necessity for being conservative in the matter of new views in

science or ethics or religion more than the curious transition state in

which we are with regard to many opinions at the present time, with a

distinct tendency toward reaction to older views that a few years ago

were thought quite untenable. We are rather proud of the advance that we

are supposed to be making along many lines in science and scholarship,

and yet over and over again, after years of work, we prove to have been

following a wrong lead and must come back to where we started. This has

been the way of man from the beginning and doubtless will continue. The

present generation are having this curious regression that follows

supposed progress strongly emphasized for them.