Thursday, March 19, 2015

Was St. Paul Epileptic?

I have to admit I have a bit of an obsession with the Apostle Paul (scroll down in this post and you'll see). I had heard speculation before from various neurologist types that Paul (Saul) of Tarsus had temporal lobe epilepsy. Why? If you know the story of Paul, think about it - he sees a flash of light, falls down in a fit on the road to Damascus, and can't eat, drink or see for 3 days afterward, which sounds very much like a (bad) post-ictal state. Then, if you believe the book of Acts, he goes on to fit a classic profile for Geschwind personality syndrome (which results from poorly controlled temporal lobe epilepsy), writing a quarter to a half of the New Testament (hypergraphia and hyperreligiosity) and showing humorlessness and disinterest in sex on top of it.

If you're still not asleep, then you may be as interested as I was when I ran across the article which crystallized this speculation in 1987, and a follow-up in 2012. The second one goes beyond just Paul.

Landsborough D. St. Paul and temporal lobe epilepsy. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry 1987;50:659-664

Murray ED, Cunningham MG, Price BH. The role of psychotic disorders in religious history considered. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience. 2012 Fall;24(4):410-26. doi: 10.1176/appi.neuropsych.11090214.

1 comment:

Treestan said...

Fascinating. I'm bipolar and the few times I've veered into psychosis I came out of it understanding how saints and mystics could be absolutely convinced they had seen, talked to, slept with god(s). (Me I communicated with other timelines via my iphone, which is much saner (I joke). My dentist got an especially bizarre message left (in code, naturally) on his answering machine, advising him to buy apple stock in 1980. He must still wonder about that one). So, when someone tells me they've seen the devil, I believe them. I also know that it means their brain was malfunctioning spectacularly at the time.