The question came up recently, why didn’t Jesus bring better health science with him when he came? Think of all the misery that could have been spared, even if he had taught people to boil bandages before applying them to wounds.
What if questions are impossible to get reliably right, but for this one I think we can apply Clarke’s maxim: “Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic.” If Jesus had introduced scientific medicine that far ahead of its time, it would have been regarded as supernatural, without actually being supernatural. I don’t think the outcome would have been as good as some suppose.
Maybe from our vantage point it’s hard to conceive of a world without microscopes, without knowledge of cells in our bodies and cells that are independent organisms on their own. It’s hard to appreciate just how much our generation’s knowledge depends on the past centuries of discovery. When Leeuwenhoek submitted his first microscope drawings of single-celled organisms to the Royal Society they had trouble believing him — and these were scientists, sixteen centuries later. What kind of disbelief would people have felt concerning germs and viruses in the first century?
We all have to assimilate new knowledge into our existing structures. The structures of knowledge in the first century would not have permitted anything even close to an accurate understanding of what bandage-boiling really would have accomplished.
So I think it’s very likely it would have been co-opted into a false kind of religion. Predictably there would have arisen a magic lore around it, a defined magic priesthood, and a set of magic rituals. There would have been blessings required for the boiling-pots: just any old pot you had lying around the house would never do! There would have been arcane explanations, probably associated with the drowning of cold-loving demons.
It would have been totally right on one level: bandage-boiling reduces infection. It would have been incredibly wrong on both the explanatory and spiritual levels.
One might say in response, many cultures have discovered useful medical techniques by trial and error, without understanding the principles beneath. Someone found out that willow bark relieves pain. Eventually it was discovered that it contained salicyn, which scientists refined into salicylic acid and then acetylsalicylic acid: aspirin. It wasn’t until recently that aspirin was understood well enough so that doctors could explain why it works. No priesthood developed around willow bark, though—so why do I conjecture that it would have done so around boiling bandages?
The difference is that willow bark’s effects were discovered by a folk process of trial and outcome. If Jesus had introduced bandage-boiling, it would have come from a teacher of religion. It would have been associated with religion. It would have had religion tied to it almost inseparably.
Not only that, but the magic/religious aspect would likely have inhibited progress when people like Leeuwenhoek, Lister, and Pasteur would have come along to say, “Look, these germs Jesus was talking about — they really are just little organisms, and they’re just growing inside people like mice multiply in the fields.” What would the boiling-priests have said to that? If you think religion interfered with science in real history (it didn’t) realize that in this alternate history it certainly would have. Science would have had bandage-boiling-religion confusing it.
And the truth about life, God, and eternity Jesus came to bring would have had bandage-boiling contaminating and confusing it.
I suppose if he had chosen to do so, Jesus could have been history’s greatest source of scientific knowledge—although in one man’s lifetime that long ago, it could never have risen above magic-science. Instead he chose to be history’s greatest source of wisdom and life.
Sometimes I wonder whether the current virtual worship of science has led people to think wisdom and life were a bad choice on Jesus’ part. Not so. He knew better.