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Discovery Magazine 4/1/2009

The Bible, Reptiles, and Disease

When I was a child, my brothers and I lived next to a pond. The pond had all kinds of fish and frogs in it. It also had lots of tiny paint turtles. My brothers and I found a way to catch the baby turtles and we began to sell them to our friends at school. I think we sold them for one dollar each, which was a really good price. But when the adults at school learned what we were doing, they told us we could not sell the turtles because turtles can carry a harmful bacteria called Salmonella (sal-muh-NELL-uh).

Reptiles such as turtles, snakes, and lizards are often carriers of Salmonella. They are called carriers because they have the bacteria in their stomachs and intestines, but the bacteria do not cause the reptiles to get sick. Unfortunately, the bacteria can cause humans to get sick. Many animals carry the bacteria, but reptiles carry it more often than most other animals. Since about nine out of 10 reptiles carry Salmonella, doctors recommend that houses where there are small children under five years old should not have reptiles as pets.

One way that Salmonella can get passed from a reptile to a human is if the lizard, turtle, or snake touches something that a person might put into his mouth. For instance, suppose a lizard crawled on a kitchen counter. If that counter was used later to prepare food, the Salmonella might get on the food and cause sickness.

People in the Old Testament did not have microscopes to help them see bacteria. In fact, they did not know what Salmonella was or which animals often carried it. But God, who inspired the Bible, did know about bacteria. God gave Moses instructions about how to make sure that lizards and reptiles did not pass bacteria to the Israelites. In Leviticus 11:29-38, God called lizards and reptiles “unclean” animals. This meant that the Israelites could not eat them. Furthermore, God told Moses that if any of these reptiles touched anything, like a container that might have water or food in it, then that container had to be cleaned or thrown away (depending on what it was made of).

The instructions about lizards and reptiles in Leviticus help us know that the Bible is from God, since the people during Bible times did not know about Salmonella or other bacteria. The instructions also help us understand that God’s rules are designed to help people be healthy and happy. And even though we are not under the Old Testament rules anymore, God’s laws in the New Testament help us to be happy and show us how to get to heaven.



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