Medicine, Sciences and Knowledge in Biblical and Talmudic Traditions


The group focuses primarily on medical and scientific ideas and practices in the Biblical and Rabbinic traditions in a wider sense (e.g. New Testament, Qumranic texts, so-called „apocryphal“ traditions, Targum, early Christian texts), as well as in closely related or contemporary traditions (e.g. ancient Babylonia, Persian, Graeco-Roman, Manichean, or early Islamic). The research unit will address the complex and often subtle processes of reception, adaptation and production of medicine and various sciences in the transformative period of (late) antiquity as a rich ‘encyclopaedic’ body of knowledge within their broader trans-cultural, philosophical and religious contexts. Biblical, Talmudic and other traditions of ancient knowledge making will be studied in relation to similar corpora (e.g. scientific, legal and religious compilational texts) and as embedded within broader intellectual trends (e.g. transformation of Wisdom or paideia, concepts of human/nature, emerging Christianity, translation movements). 

Particular attention will be paid also to the interplay between form and content, hermeneutics and representations as specific ways of appropriating scientific ideas and practices to particular cultural or religious epistemologies or knowledge regimes. Contributions should aim at offering a comparative perspective on the embeddedness of medical and scientific discourses in their surrounding cultures (ancient Mesopotamian, Near Eastern, Graeco-Roman, Persian, Byzantine, Syriac etc.). The aim is to examine from a decidedly comparative perspective how the authors gathered, organised and framed their medical and scientific interests through compilation strategies and discursive patterns. On one hand, such a perspective will help assessing ancient Jewish and Talmudic scientific ideas within the broader history of ancient knowledge cultures. On the other, comparison will allow to determine the distinct epistemologies or particular Jewishness of such discourse. Furthermore, a synchronic and diachronic perspective highlights various processes of transmission, transfer, rejection, modification and invention of pertaining concepts and practices. While addressing the interaction between various medical discourses, the group will consider different strategies (borrowing/ camouflage/ negation etc.) which may relate to still unsolved questions in the transcultural history of science(s) and knowledge in (Late) Antiquity.




Medicine, Ancient Science and Knowledge, Epistemology, Encyclopaedia


Markham J. Geller
University College London

Lennart Lehmhaus
Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen

Member Area

Syracuse 2023 Call for Papers

The Whole World in a Book – Encyclopedic Trends of Collecting and Ordering Knowledge in Jewish and Other Traditions 


For our thematic focus in 2023, papers are invited to comparatively explore broader inclinations or subtle shifts toward encyclopaedic impulses of ordering and making knowledge accessible in Jewish, Christian or others traditions. Studies may address the intertwined dimensions of epistemological creativity: namely, structure or order of knowledge; application and practical value of knowledge, and its didactic dimensions. 


In the late antique period, scholars around the Near East and Mediterranean began to agglomerate knowledge in various fields of ancient sciences (broadly conceived including also “disciplines” such as magic, divination, dream interpretation etc.), not exclusively based on classical sources in Greek and Latin. These broader “encyclopaedic” and compilational impulses took place in scholarly as well as in imperial institutions in Jewish, Mesopotamian, Roman, Byzantine. Christian, Carolingian, Irano-Persian and early Islamic contexts. Such endeavors triggered and facilitated but were also shaped by collection, codification and institutionalization of knowledge which was perceived and utilized as ‘cultural capital’ by various players in different ways. In Jewish tradition, such tendencies have been noticed, albeit in passing, regarding the main Talmudic texts and specifically the Babylonian Talmud but also in Midrash Leviticus Rabbah, Geonic period dictionaries and lexica or throughout the scientific reawakening in texts such as Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer, various other Hebrew works of the early Islamic time, and even up to medieval/early modern compilations.  


Moreover, these trends can be studied in different sources ranging from the systematization of scientific fields in ancient Mesopotamian or Egyptian collections, canonic bodies of knowledge and “libraries” or the summary of disciplinary knowledge in technical compendia (Ayurvedic medical sources, PGM; byzantine medical compilations, liturgical, military, architectural or agricultural compendia etc.) to the all-encompassing projects of Pliny the Elder or Isidore of Seville to present the whole world (or empire) in a book. 


Still, the encyclopaedic momentum can also be explored within religious traditions (e.g. rabbinic compilations; monastic traditions/orders, the Persian Avesta, Denkard etc.; Manichean sources) or literary texts (e.g. Plutarch) that were engaged in a dynamic entanglement between scientific, legal and religious discourse. 


On another level, contributions may address compilational features shared between Mesopotamian, Persian, Graeco-Roman (Codes, Digests and Pandects) or Arabic scientific, religious and legal corpora, monastic orders or Talmudic and Midrashic collections as a fruitful comparandum for the encyclopaedic collection of knowledge. Which strategies of selection, dissociation or re-arrangement, and which discursive forms (dialectics, precedents, case stories etc.) can be noticed? Which concepts of or claims to systematic comprehensiveness were applied? Which concepts or clusters of ideas (philosophy, political ideology, theology etc.) formed the basis for these encylopaedic projects? 


We are especially interested in presentations on rabbinic traditions (from antiquity and throughout the long Jewish medieval period) against the foil of their literary and socio-cultural background(s) as well as on earlier and contemporary discourses in the Bible, post-biblical (Second Temple) traditions, and early Christian texts (in Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Latin etc.). In order to offer a comparative perspective, contributions on the embeddedness of these discourses in ancient Babylonian and other Near Eastern cultures (Syriac, Persian, Mandean, Arabic, Indian etc.) are highly welcome. Papers may explore synchronic and diachronic perspective that highlight various processes of transmission, transfer, rejection, modification and invention of the issues at hand. Those presentations will contribute to the transcultural history of science(s) and knowledge in (late) antiquity and beyond.


We would like to stress that, alongside the thematic focus in 2023 on “Encyclopaedic Trends”, we invite also contributions that fall into the general scope of our group as outlined in the programme above. Accordingly, proposals engaging more generally with medical or scientific knowledge and practice in Jewish traditions or related cultures are more than welcome.


The EABS Annual Conference in Sicily 2023 will be in a hybrid format. So, it will be possible to remotely present a paper via a video conferencing system. Please keep this option in mind, if you cannot attend the conference in person for various reasons. If you prefer to present virtually, please let us know this beforehand (ideally, in your proposal) or at your earliest convenience.


The “Medicine, Sciences and Knowledge in Biblical and Talmudic Traditions” group invites paper proposals from scholars of diverse disciplinary and regional backgrounds, from different institutions and at different career stages. Modest stipends for travel, accommodation and registration fees might be available for selected early career scholars/junior faculty without their own funding (please indicate this in your application and/or contact the chairs). 


While the formal application should be done through the online system of EABS, please feel free to email the unit chairs your proposals and contact us in case of any questions related to this call or to the research unit in general.


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