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In Hebrew tradition, the kidneys were:1–5

  • Together with the heart, considered the most important internal organs

  • The seat of:

    • The human spirit

    • Secret thoughts

    • Deep desires

    • Wisdom

    • Secret advice

    • Emotions

    • Prudence

    • Temperament

    • Vigor

  • Associated with inspiration, moral discernment, and reflection

In the Bible, the kidneys (always addressed in the plural form kelayot) are:5

  • Described as being examined by God as a way of judging an individual

  • Mentioned as the site of divine punishment for transgressions

  • Addressed when giving specific instructions on how to proceed with the organs of sacrificial animals

The Talmudic corpus describes that:5

  • One kidney provides good advice

  • The other kidney provides bad advice

The kidneys are mentioned once in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, together with the heart.5

Eventually, the kidneys were replaced as the center of life by the concept of soul, mind, and brain.1,5

Galen (131–200 CE) proved that the kidneys produce urine.5

Historical individuals reported to have had kidney disease, among many others, include:4

  • Emily Dickinson, Buffalo Bill Cody, Ida B. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Cole Porter, Douglas MacArthur, Howard Hughes, Alfred Hitchcock.


  • 3rd Century

    • First (unverified) reported transplant

    • Transplantation of a lower extremity

    • Cosmas and Damian (sainted twin Arab physicians)

  • 1954

    • First kidney transplant to successfully avoid rejection

    • Joseph E. Murray

  • 1966

    • First simultaneous pancreas/kidney transplant

    • Richard Lillehei, William Kelly

  • 1967

    • First liver transplant

    • Thomas E. Starzl

  • 1968

    • First isolated pancreas transplant

    • Richard Lillehei


1. +
Maio  G. The metaphorical and mythical use of the kidney in antiquity. Am J Nephrol. 1999;19(2):101–106. doi: 10.1159/000013434 
2. +
Dvorjetski  E. The history of nephrology in the Talmudic corpus. Am J Nephrol. 2002;22(2–3):119–129. doi: 10.1159/000063749 
3. +
Marczewski  K, Sawicka  A. Nefrologia miłości [Nephrology of love]. Przegl Lek. 2005;62(Suppl 2):61–63.  [PubMed: 16623123]
5. +
Eknoyan  G. The kidneys in the Bible: What happened?. J Am Soc Nephrol. 2005;16(12):3464–3471. doi: 10.1681/ASN.2005091007 
7. +
Barker  CF, Markmann  JF. Historical overview of transplantation. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2013 Apr 1;3(4):a014977. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a014977. PMID: 23545575; PMCID: PMC3684003. 

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