Saturday, May 27, 2023

PTSD Through the Ages

By Naomi Craig

"My past is an armour I cannot take off, no matter how many times you tell me the war is over." ~Unknown

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
Mental-illness-overview.jpg Wikimedia

Our society currently recognizes the effects trauma can have on our brains and lives and while there have been great advancements in dealing with mental health and healing in the past forty years, but mental illness is not a new concept.

Even with the awareness and advancements in how we care for ourselves mentally, there is still a heavy stigma that is attached with mental illness.

If you broke your leg while training for a marathon, I would not expect you to run the 26 miles with a cast.

But if you are dealing with an invisible illness like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that one is a bit harder to see from the outside. From the outside you may look absolutely fine and healthy.

Because I don’t see your symptoms, I might not understand your pain.
There is nothing new under the sun, and you can see evidence of PTSD( by varied names) throughout the ages.
Modern depiction of Roman legionaries, Wikimedia

Ancient warriors attributed their version of PTSD as malevolent ghosts or spirits of those who were killed in battle seeking revenge on their killer. According to the Australian Army Resource Centre, each culture had their ritual to welcome the soldiers back into society. What isn't thought of as often is usually soldiers fought a long way from home, so they had time to mourn their comrades and reflect with those who had gone through the same thing. This practice is detailed in Numbers 31 as accommodations were made for warriors coming back from war. They were required to wait seven days outside of the Israelites camp to be purified before reentering the community. Being able to decompress with men who had been through the same experiences, sounds like the Lord took into account the trauma they would have endured.

Authors including Homer (The Illiad), William Shakespeare (King Henry IV), and Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities) wrote about what we would now call PTSD. Trauma was endured and the aftereffects were present for long afterwards.
Josef Leopold Auenbrugger, Wikimedia

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, in 1761, Austrian physician, Josef Leopold, gave the term "nostalgia." Men exposed to military trauma reported missing home, feeling sad, sleep problems and anxiety. This line of thought opened eyes to psychological injury even if no physical injury was sustained.

During the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, the medical field began making attempts to understand the problems that accompanied those who had been exposed to military combat.

As knowledge progressed, the terms "Soldier's heart" and "Railway Spine" described the rapid pulse, anxiety, trouble breathing and injury to the central nervous system.
Image from The Great War taken in an Australian Advanced Dressing Station near Ypres in 1917. The wounded soldier in the lower left of the photo has a dazed, thousand-yard stare - a frequent symptom of "shell-shock". Wikimedia

By World War I, the term "shell-shock" became common, and was thought of as the brain's reaction to heavy artillery and explosions. For those who had not been near the explosions and yet had the same symptoms, "War Neuroses" was termed.

World War II brought the term "Combat Stress Reaction" or "Battle Fatigue."

In 1952, "gross stress reaction" was included in the first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-1). At this time, all symptoms from trauma were expected to dissipate within six months.

UH-1D helicopters in Vietnam 1966.jpg, James K. F. Dung, SFC, Photographer, Wikimedia

In 1980, The American Psychiatric Association included the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in DSM-111. This diagnosis included research on returning Vietnam Veterans, Holocaust survivors, sexual trauma victims and others who had dealt with a traumatic experience and still dealt with the aftermath.

The research continues, and by 2013 DSM-5 has classified PTSD in the Trauma-and-Stressor-Related Disorders and is relatively common.

While the knowledge and research has advanced the study of the effects of trauma on the brain, psychological effects of trauma is surely present to the beginning of time.
Early Bronze II period, City walls, 3000 - 2700 BC, Tell Es -Sultan, Jericho, Wikimedia

In the book of Joshua, Rahab went from harlot to heroine.
Whatever led her to her profession, she still had to overcome the trauma of her previous lifestyle.
I can imagine the Hebrews were wary about accepting a harlot as part of their numbers. After all they had lost 24,000 of their number just on the other side of the Jordan river when they got involved with prostitutes.

The social isolation in anyone's healing would be extremely influential in the whole process

As Rahab is learning to assimilate into this new nation, learning the laws and trying to overcome her traumatic experiences, I can imagine that social acceptance was still a struggle.
Yet, despite her struggles and her past, the Lord saw fit for Rahab to be in Jesus's lineage.

Let's flip the coin. What call would the leader of Judah’s tribe (Rahab’s husband is mentioned in the Bible, Salmah) have to marry a Canaanite harlot? Especially when he saw the result of the previous generation dying out in the wilderness due to disobeying the Lord’s commands.

What baggage do you think he would have to overcome as he walked through life with a wife who had a past?

Further study:,became%20battle%20weary%20and%20exhausted.

Author of Biblical fiction, avid reader, pastor's wife, Naomi loves reading the Bible and imagining how things were at the time. When she’s not serving in various areas at church or trying to stay on top of mountains of dishes, you'll most likely find her enjoying a good book and a cup of coffee. Naomi co-hosts #BehindTheStory on YouTube and helps facilitate Biblical Fiction Aficionados Community on Facebook. When not writing or trying to wrangle social media, Naomi attempts to get her rescue dog to be cute on command for the many pics she takes throughout the day.

A scarlet cord tethers one ruined woman to the salvation of mankind.

Harboring two fugitives in a city slated for destruction, Rahab has one small chance of escape. In exchange for their safety, she bargains for her own. Their agreement rewards her courage, and she flees Jericho and a life of prostitution for a new life among the people of Israel. Never again will she have to depend on anyone—especially men.

Except Salmah won’t take the hint.

High ranking soldier and leader of the tribe of Judah, Salmah is determined not to repeat his parents’ mistakes. He will keep the Lord’s commandments. Rahab’s growing faith fits right in with phase one of his plans: find a wife who loves the Lord and settle down in the new land.

Rahab finds shelter and meaning in the Lord’s ways until her past comes back to haunt her. As her new faith is put to test, she finds herself alone. Isn’t that what she’d always wanted?

With her courage waning, only the Lord can turn Rahab’s life around again, but will He do it before she loses everyone and everything that really matters to her—to her heart?

Download your free novella, On Desolate Heights, Balaam's Story at


  1. Thank you for posting today. Your subject is timely on this Memorial Day weekend, when lost comrades surely haunt their fellow soldiers as we all grieve. Your question about Salmah is interesting. Why would any of the Bible's faithful people do what they did, except for undeniable calling from God? Everyone thought Moses and Noah were crazy for their decisions, until God was faithful and proved their decisions were His Will.

    1. Hi Connie, I hadn't even thought of it being Memorial weekend. My heart goes out to those who have sacrificed so much. Thank you isn't enough

  2. Very interesting read. Thanks for sharing this.