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|This is a list of notable people
who have, or had, the medical condition epilepsy.
Many religious figures have been suspected of having had temporal lobe epilepsy. Looking for physical explanations of mystical experiences is controversial. Sudden religious conversion, together with visions, has been documented in a small number of individuals with temporal lobe epilepsy, but the association between epilepsy and intense religious feelings is rare.
source of the Pentateuch
||According to one researcher, the
writing has a pedantic and aggressive style, shows extreme religiosity,
verbosity and redundant style. These are said to be evidence of
Geschwind syndrome, though there is no evidence of any seizures since
we have no personal information regarding the author.
||622BC – ?
||Fainting spells, occasions of
speechlessness, compulsive writing, extremely religious, pedantic
|Paul of Tarsus
||3-10 – 62-68
||Epilepsy is one of many
suggestions regarding his "thorn in the flesh". F.F. Bruce says, "Many
guesses have been made about the identity of this "splinter in the
flesh"; and their very variety proves the impossibility of a certain
diagnosis. One favourite guess has been epilepsy ... but it is no more
than a guess". Researchers are quite divided on the cause of his
Damascus conversion and vision. In addition to a seizure, heat
exhaustion, the voice of conscience together with a migraine, and even
a bolt of lightning have been suggested.
||Her skull shows evidence of a
meningioma, which is a cause of epilepsy and may explain her visions.
However, it is not in the temporal lobe and other researches suggest
psychogenic non-epileptic seizures, or a combination.
|Joan of Arc
||Experienced religious messages
through voices and visions which she said others could sometimes
experience simultaneously. Some researchers consider the visions to be
ecstatic epileptic auras, though more recent research may implicate
idiopathic partial epilepsy with auditory features. Epileptic seizures
with clear auditory and visual hallucinations are very rare. This,
together with the extreme length of her visions, lead some to reject
epilepsy as a cause.
|| No specific details available.
||Visions, chronic headaches,
transient loss of consciousness and also a four-day coma.
||Visual hallucinations. Loss of
consciousness for 28 hours.
||No specific details available.
||No specific details available.
||Swedish scientist, philosopher,
seer, and theologian.
|Joseph Smith, Jr.
||Seized with a strange power,
rendered speechless, and fell on his back. Visions of darkness and
|Ellen G. White
||Severe head injury followed by
three weeks of limited consciousness. Her visions involved loss of
consciousness, upward eye deflection, visual hallucinations, affective
changes, gestural automatisms, preservation of speech, a
post-ictal-like period. Further, she meets several criteria for the
Geschwind syndrome: extreme religiosity, hypergraphia (100,000 pages in
4,000 articles), repetitiveness, hypermoralism, and hyposexuality.
Thérèse de Lisieux
||Seized with "strange and violent
tremblings all over her body". Visual hallucinations and celestial
||Had visions at an early age
about God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
|St Paul and temporal lobe
Evidence is offered to suggest a neurological origin for Paul's ecstatic visions. Paul's physical state at the time of his conversion is discussed and related to these ecstatic experiences. It is postulated that both were manifestations of temporal lobe epilepsy.
Neurological disease is recorded in the Bible. Examples are grand mal seizures (Luke 9:37-42), aphasia (Luke 1:21-23, 62-65) and concussion (Acts 20:9-12). A tentative diagnosis may be made in the case of subarachnoid haemorrhage (2 Kings 4:17-37), paraplegia (Mark 2:3-12), poliomyelitis (Luke 6:6-11), cerebral palsy (Acts 3:1-8) and hysterical paralysis (Acts 9:33-35). The terrifying aspects of the psychoses (Luke 8:26-39) and of epilepsy were interpreted as manifestations of demoniacal possession. Some of the above conditions are portrayed in stained glass windows on the first floor of the National Hospital, Queen Square, London. St Paul (Paul of Tarsus), in a letter to the Church in Corinth, describes an ecstatic personal experience in which he felt "caught up to paradise", and mentions other "visions". In relation to these he writes of a "thorn in the flesh", a metaphor for an unpleasant infirmity which periodically racked him. It is postulated that Paul was subject to episodes of temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) or complex partial seizures, some of which progressed to generalised convulsions. Much has been written about the nature of Paul's illness, and many theories propounded. The evidence upon which a diagnosis can be made is meagre, yet the description of his ecstatic experience is perhaps the most important index.
|D Landsborough. Formerly of
Chang-hua Christian Hospital, Taiwan
Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry 1987; 50:659-664
| Saint Paul
born 5-15 AD in Tarsus/Cilicia, died approx. 64 AD in Rome
In old Ireland, epilepsy was known as 'Saint Paul's disease'. The name points to the centuries-old assumption that the apostle suffered from epilepsy.
To support this view, people usually point to Saint Paul's experience on the road to Damascus, reported in the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament (Acts 9, 3-9), in which Paul, or Saul as he was known before his conversion to Christianity, is reported to have a fit similar to an epileptic seizure: '...suddenly a light from the sky flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him: ''Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?''...Saul got up from the ground and opened his eyes, but he could not see a thing... For three days he was not able to see, and during that time he did not eat or drink anything.'
Saul's sudden fall, the fact that he first lay motionless on the ground but was then able to get up unaided, led people very early on to suspect that this dramatic incident might have been caused by a grand mal seizure. In more recent times, this opinion has found support from the fact that sight impediment-including temporary blindness lasting from several hours to several days-has been observed as being a symptom or result of an epileptic seizure and has been mentioned in many case reports.
In his letters St Paul occasionally gives discreet hints about his 'physical ailment', by which he perhaps means a chronic illness. In the second letter to the Corinthians, for instance, he states: 'But to keep me from being puffed up with pride... I was given a painful physical ailment, which acts as Satan's messenger to beat me and keep me from being proud.' (2 Corinthians, 12,7). In his letter to the Galatians, Paul again describes his physical weakness: 'You remember why I preached the gospel to you the first time; it was because I was ill. But even though my physical condition was a great trial to you, you did not despise or reject me.' (Galatians 4, 13-14) In ancient times people used to spit at 'epileptics', either out of disgust or in order to ward off what they thought to be the 'contagious matter' (epilepsy as 'morbus insputatus': the illness at which one spits).
|German Epilepsymuseum Kork -
Museum for epilepsy and the history of epilepsy
|Criticism of Muhammad
In Vichitra Jivan, Sharma wrote that Muhammad fell victim to many evils, all his marriages were extraordinary and improper, and that he suffered from epilepsy.
Psychological and medical condition
Muhammad is reported to have had mysterious seizures at the moments of inspiration. According to Philip Schaff (1819–93), during his revelations Muhammad "sometimes growled like a camel, foamed at his mouth, and streamed with perspiration." Welch, a scholar of Islamic studies, in the Encyclopedia of Islam states that the graphic descriptions of Muhammad's condition at these moments may be regarded as genuine, since they are unlikely to have been invented by later Muslims. According to Welch, these seizures should have been the most convincing evidence for the superhuman origin of Muhammad's inspirations for people around him. Others adopted alternative explanations for these seizures and claimed that he was possessed, a soothsayer, or a magician. Welch states it remains uncertain whether Muhammad had such experiences before he began to see himself as a prophet and if so how long did he have such experiences.
According to Temkin, the first attribution of epileptic seizures to Muhammad comes from the 8th century Byzantine historian Theophanes who wrote that Muhammad’s wife "was very much grieved that she, being of noble descent, was tied to such a man, who was not only poor but epileptic as well." In the Middle Ages, the general perception of those who suffered epilepsy was an unclean and incurable wretch who might be possessed by the Devil. The political hostility between Islam and Christianity contributed to the continuation of the accusation of epilepsy throughout the Middle Ages. The Christian minister Archdeacon Humphrey Prideaux gave the following description of Muhammad's visions:
He pretended to receive all his revelations from the Angel Gabriel, and that he was sent from God of purpose to deliver them unto him. And whereas he was subject to the falling-sickness, whenever the fit was upon him, he pretended it to be a Trance, and that the Angel Gabriel comes from God with some Revelations unto him.
Some modern Western scholars also have a skeptical view of Muhammad's seizures. Frank R. Freemon states Muhammad had "conscious control over the course of the spells and can pretend to be in a religious trance." During the nineteenth century, as Islam was no longer a political or military threat to Western society, and perceptions of epilepsy changed, the theological and moral associations with epilepsy were removed; epilepsy was now viewed as a medical disorder. Nineteenth-century orientalist Margoliouth claimed that Muhammad suffered from epilepsy and even occasionally faked it for effect.
Sprenger attributes Muhammad's revelations to epileptic fits or a "paroxysm of cataleptic insanity." In Schaff's view, Muhammad's "early and frequent epileptic fits" provided "some light on his revelations." The most famous epileptic of the 19th century, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–1881) wrote that epileptic attacks have an inspirational quality; he said they are “a supreme exaltation of emotional subjectivity” in which time stands still. Dostoyevsky claimed that his own attacks were similar to those of Muhammad: "Probably it was of such an instant, that the epileptic Mahomet was speaking when he said that he had visited all the dwelling places of Allah within a shorter time than it took for his pitcher full of water to empty itself."
In an essay that discusses views of Muhammad's psychology, Franz Bul (1903) is said to have observed that "hysterical natures find unusual difficulty and often complete inability to distinguish the false from the true", and to have thought this to be "the safest way to interpret the strange inconsistencies in the life of the Prophet." In the same essay Duncan Black Macdonald (1911) is credited with the opinion that "fruitful investigation of the Prophet's life (should) proceed upon the assumption that he was fundamentally a pathological case."
Modern Western scholars of Islam have rejected the diagnosis of epilepsy. Tor Andrae rejects the idea that the inspired state is pathological attributing it to a scientifically superficial and hasty theory arguing that those who consider Muhammad epileptic should consider all types of semi-conscious and trance-like states, occasional loss of consciousness, and similar conditions as epileptic attacks. Andrae writes that "if epilepsy is to denote only those severe attacks which involve serious consequences for the physical and mental health, then the statement that Mohammad suffered from epilepsy must be emphatically rejected." Caesar Farah suggests that "these insinuations resulted from the 19th-century infatuation with scientifically superficial theories of medical psychology." Noth, in the Encyclopedia of Islam, states that such accusations were a typical feature of medieval European Christian polemic.
Maxime Rodinson says that it is most probable that Muhammad's conditions was basically of the same kind as that found in many mystics rather than epilepsy. Fazlur Rahman refutes epileptic fits for the following reasons: Muhammad's condition begins with his career at the age of 40; according to the tradition seizures are invariably associated with the revelation and never occur by itself. Lastly, a sophisticated society like the Meccan or Medinese would have identified epilepsy clearly and definitely.
William Montgomery Watt also disagrees with the epilepsy diagnosis, saying that "there are no real grounds for such a view." Elaborating, he says that "epilepsy leads to physical and mental degeneration, and there are no signs of that in Muhammad." He then goes further and states that Muhammad was psychologically sound in general: "he (Muhammad) was clearly in full possession of his faculties to the very end of his life." Watt concludes by stating "It is incredible that a person subject to epilepsy, or hysteria, or even ungovernable fits of emotion, could have been the active leader of military expeditions, or the cool far-seeing guide of a city-state and a growing religious community; but all this we know Muhammad to have been."
Frank R. Freemon (1976) thinks that the above reasons given by modern biographers of Muhammad in rejection of epilepsy come from the widespread misconceptions about the various types of epilepsy. In his differential diagnosis, Freemon rejects schizophrenic hallucinations, drug-induced mental changes such as might occur after eating plants containing hallucinogenic materials, transient ischemic attacks, hypoglycemia, labyrinthitis, Ménière's disease, or other inner ear maladies. At the end, Freemon argues that if one were forced to make a diagnosis psychomotor seizures of temporal lobe epilepsy would be the most tenable one, although our lack of scientific as well as historical knowledge makes unequivocal decision impossible. Freemon cites evidences supporting and opposing this diagnosis. In the end, Freemon points out that a medical diagnosis should not ignore Muhammad’s moral message because it is just as likely, perhaps more likely, for God communicate with a person in an abnormal state of mind.
From a Muslim point of view, Freemon says, Muhammed's mental state at the time of revelation was unique and is not therefore amenable to medical or scientific discourse. In reaction to Freemon's article, GM. S. Megahed, a Muslim neurologist criticized the article arguing that there are no scientific explanations for many religious phenomena, and that if Muhammad's message is a result of psychomotor seizures, then on the same basis Moses' and Jesus' message would be the result of psychomotor seizures. In response, Freemon attributed such negative reactions to his article to the general misconceptions about epilepsy as a demeaning condition. Freemon said that he did plan to write an article on the inspirational spells of St. Paul, but the existence of such misconceptions caused him to cancel it.
| Sudden religious conversions in
temporal lobe epilepsy
Six cases of religious conversion experiences occurring in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy are described. The conversion experiences of various mystics and saints, who were probably epileptic, are reviewed. Some theological and psychiatric aspects of religion are discussed.
Dewhursta (Research Psychiatrist, Littlemore Hospital, Oxford, UK) and
A.W. Beardb (Physician in Psychological Medicine, The Middlesex
Hospital, W.1, UK)
Epilepsy & Behavior 4 (2003) 78–87
| Did St Birgitta suffer from
epilepsy? A neuropathography
Several famous religious personalities have been discussed as possibly having had epilepsy. Partial epileptic fits can be accompanied by religious experiences. The Swedish St Birgitta of Vadstena is focused on from this perspective as the exterior of the skull thought to belong to her has a prominent tuberculum with a corresponding interior indentation possibly indicating the previous existence of a meningioma, a well known cause of epilepsy. This article scrutinises arguments for and against the possibility of epileptic features in the revelations of the saint, as well as in her life story.
Division of Neurology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Linköping, S-581 85 Linköping, Sweden
Seizure - European Journal of Epilepsy. Volume 13, Issue 3, Pages 161–167, April 2004
|Jesus Christ 'may have suffered
from mental health problems', claims Church of England
Express. August 28, 2012
|Was St. Birgitta suffering from
|Anne-Marie Landtblom MD PhD
| Old Testament prophet showed
by Alison Motluk
|NewScientist. 17 November 2001|
| Temporal lobe epilepsy in the
priestly source of the Pentateuch
Lewin Altschuler. Mt Sinai School of Medicine.Madison Avenue. New York,
and Brain and Perception Laboratory, University of California, San Diego
South African Medical Journal 94 (11): 870. PMID 15587438.
|About the book
Ellen G. White received her first vision in 1844, when she was only seventeen years old. Her prophetic role was central in guiding the developing Adventist church through many perils.
In recent years a number of critics have revived the old allegation that Ellen White’s visions were due to temporal lobe epilepsy resulting from an injury she received when she was nine years old. In this book Dr. Peterson thoroughly explodes this theory.
|Visions or Seizures. Was Ellen
White the Victim of Epilepsy?
Donald I. Peterson, MD. Pacific Press Publishing Association. Boise, Idaho. ISBN 0-8163-0795-4
| The Significance of Ellen
White's Head Injury
Adventist Currents, June 1985