BIBLICAL Old Testament texts contain ‘clues’ in the race to discover a cure for the Coronavirus pandemic, religious scholars have bizarrely announced.
Despite intense global efforts, no cure or vaccine has yet been found for coronavirus. But a cabal of religious scholars now believe a story in the Bible contains a clue that a natural antimalarial drug such as hydroxychloroquine may be crucial in creating a treatment for coronavirus. In the Book of Exodus 15:22-26, the Bible describes how, directly after crossing through the miraculously divided Reed Sea, the Children of Israel were distressed at being without water for three days in the desert of Shur.
They came to a place called Marah (bitter), presumably a spring or well, but could not drink the water as it was bitter.
Hashem showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the water and the water became sweet
After praying to God, Moses was shown a piece of wood which he threw into the water, thereby sweetening the water.
Exodus 15:24-25, states: “And the people grumbled against Moshe, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’
“So he cried out to Hashem, and Hashem showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the water and the water became sweet.”
Jewish sources note the ‘wood’ was a plant that was bitter by nature, emphasising the miraculous transformation.
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Instead of turning more bitter with the addition of the bitter plant, the waters became sweet.
Midrash Tanhuma, a collection of religious literature, suggests the wood might have been an olive branch, a willow branch, a pomegranate branch, or an oleander branch, all known for their extreme bitterness.
Oleander would have been a shocking additive since the desert variety is poisonous to animals.
Rabbi Moshe Alshich, a prominent 16th century Torah scholar and Kabbalist who lived in Safed, suggested a different species of tree: Artemisia Judaica, known in the Bible as לענה (la’anah), meaning ‘curse’ in Hebrew.
Many today know the plant by its more common name – wormwood.
Rabbi Alshich wrote the incident was a parable that would teach the Jews an important lesson about the Torah they were about to receive at Mount Sinai.
Just as adding bitter to bitter creating sweetwater was counterintuitive, many of the Torah laws were counterintuitive but would sweeten their lives nonetheless.
Scholars have now realised a derivative of wormwood, Artemisinin, has been proven to be a superior antimalarial than quinine or its modern version, chloroquine, especially in poor countries where modern antimalarial drugs are often unavailable.
They now believe the verse directly after the bitter waters incident describes Torah observance is significant for preventing diseases.
Exodus 15:26 states: “If you will heed Hashem your God diligently, doing what is upright in His sight, giving ear to His commandments and keeping all His laws, then I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I Hashem am your healer.”
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Another quinine derivative used in the treatment of Malaria has become both a hope and a source of debate during the recent pandemic: hydroxychloroquine.
And like hydroxychloroquine, the ‘wood’ Moses threw into the bitter waters is now being tested as a possible treatment for COVID-19.
Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces has conducted tests to determine whether Artemisia annua plant extract and its artemisinin derivatives could eventually be used to fight the novel coronavirus.
Extracts were used from specially bred Artemisia annua plants developed and grown by US-based company ArtemiLife.
The yet to be peer-reviewed study was carried out in vitro tests using monkey lung cells.
Researchers treated the cells with the different formulations and then infected them with the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 to determine the anti-viral activity.
The two extracts resulted in less of the virus forming, with the ethanol and coffee found to be the most active.
Pure artemisinin on its own did not provide much antiviral activity.
Professor Klaus Osterrieder, who conducted the viral tests at the Free University of Berlin, said: “There is an effect, it is repeatable between laboratories.”
The research was verified by a second laboratory in Denmark who carried out their own tests to ensure consistency of the results.
Researchers discovered the leaves of Artemisia extract showed anti-viral activity after being extracted with pure ethanol or distilled water.
The anti-viral activity increased considerably when the ethanol extract was combined with coffee.
Professor Osterrieder added: “I was surprised that Artemisia extracts worked much better as a derivative, and that adding coffee increased the anti-viral activity.
“There have been no clinical trials of the remedy.
The first phase of the trial will last a month, involving six patients being treated for 14 days, according to Jill Kolesar, an expert in pharmacy at the University of Kentucky.
Research has also been conducted into artemisia’s use in combatting HIV and its effectiveness against SARS, another type of coronavirus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warns on its website there is “no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be prevented or treated with products made from Artemisia-based plant material.”
Nonetheless, the WHO encourages testing of Artemisia as a possible treatment for COVID-19, especially in areas, like Africa, where modern medical alternatives may be less available.
The NGO said: “WHO recognises that traditional, complementary and alternative medicine has many benefits and Africa has a long history of traditional medicine and practitioners that play an important role in providing care to populations.
“Medicinal plants such as Artemisia annua are being considered as possible treatments for COVID-19 and should be tested for efficacy and adverse side effects.
“Africans deserve to use medicines tested to the same standards as people in the rest of the world.
“Even if therapies are derived from traditional practice and natural, establishing their efficacy and safety through rigorous clinical trials is critical.”