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Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 02:27 GMT
Epilepsy 'found in biblical prophet'
A detail from Raphael's 'Ezekiel's Vision' painted in 1518
A detail from Raphael's 'Ezekiel's Vision' painted in 1518
The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel could have had the oldest recorded case of a form of epilepsy, an American scientist has concluded.

Dr Eric Altschuler, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego, told a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in the city that the biblical figure had all the classic signs of temporal lobe epilepsy.

He said his finding of a case so many years ago provided further evidence that epilepsy had genetic rather than environmental causes.

Earlier this year, Dr Altschuler claimed biblical strongman Samson could have been the first known sufferer of antisocial personality disorder.

We can only guess if Ezekiel actually had temporal lobe epilepsy

British Epilepsy Association spokesman
Epilepsy causes temporary changes in the electrical function of the brain, causing seizures which affect awareness, movement, or sensation.

The British Epilepsy Association estimates one in 130 people in the UK have epilepsy.

'Helps understanding'

Dr Altschuler says Ezekiel, who chronicled the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, displayed some of the common signs of epilepsy such as frequent fainting spells and periods where he was unable to speak.

The fact that the Book of Ezekiel is the fourth longest in the Bible, and only a little shorter than Genesis is, says Dr Altschuler, evidence the prophet suffered from another symptom of epilepsy: hypergraphia, or writing compulsively.

He said: "It's impenetrable. He goes on and on."

Ezekiel was also extremely religious - even more so than other biblical figures, which is another characteristic associated with this form of epilepsy.

Symptoms of temporal lobe epilepsy can include partial seizures, often accompanied by a dreamy feeling things are not quite as they should be, aggression, delusions and pedantic speech.

Epilepsy is caused by temporary electrical changes in the brain
Epilepsy is caused by temporary electrical changes in the brain
Dr Altschuler, whose theory is featured in the New Scientist magazine, said understanding that the prophet may have suffered from epilepsy helped put his writings into perspective.

"Once you appreciate that, you can see where he's coming from," he said.

Accurate diagnosis 'difficult'

A spokesman for the British Epilepsy Association (BEA) said: "There are many different types of epileptic seizure and temporal lobe epilepsy can affect the functions of speech, memory and levels of awareness.

"Epilepsy is a condition that is difficult to accurately diagnose, even with the most up to date technology.

"We can only guess if Ezekiel actually had temporal lobe epilepsy, but we are aware that in very rare cases people with the condition can develop symptoms such as hyper religiosity and hypergraphia."

He added: "Epilepsy is not necessarily a genetic condition, and research is on going into its causes.

"Although some research suggests that certain types of epilepsy, such juvenile myclonic epilepsy, can be inherited, there is no evidence all types of epilepsy are inherited."

The BEA freephone helpline is on 0808 800 5050.

See also:

18 Oct 01 | Health
New epilepsy patients 'failed'
15 Feb 01 | Health
Samson 'was mentally ill'
27 Jan 99 | Health
Thousands mislabelled epileptic
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