Medicine in Bible and Talmud


The group focuses on medical ideas and healing practices in the Bible and Rabbinic sources, as well as in closely related or contemporary traditions (e.g. New Testament, Qumranic texts, apocryphal traditions, Targum, early Christian texts). The group will address the complex and often subtle processes of reception, adaptation and production of (secular or scientific) medical knowledge in the transformative period of (Late) Antiquity. Particular attention will be paid also to the interplay between form and content. In which way did specific hermeneutics and forms of representation not only serve as a ‘channel’ for transmission or seal for authority but also as a method for acquiring knowledge? An analysis of these specific ways of appropriation of medical ideas and practices will help to grasp the particular cultural or religious (Mesopotamian, Jewish, Christian, Graeco-Roman) character of the epistemologies and the knowledge generated through these exchanges.

Contributors should aim at offering a comparative perspective by keeping an eye on the embeddedness of medical discourses in their surrounding cultures( ancient Babylonian, Near Eastern, Graeco-Roman, Persian, Byzantine/Syriac or early Islamicate traditions). Such a perspective will allow for assessing Jewish and Talmudic medical knowledge within a broader history of ancient knowledge cultures and helps to determine their distinct epistemologies or particular Jewishness. Furthermore, a synchronic and diachronic perspective enhances to highlight various processes of transmission, transfer, rejection, modification and invention of the issues under discussion. 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, Magic, Encyclopaedia, Ancient Science, Diagnosis


Markham J. Geller
Freie Universität Berlin

Lennart Lehmhaus
Freie Universität Berlin

Member Area

Warsaw 2019 Call for Papers

We welcome contributions on ancient medicine and knowledge that fall into the general scope of our program unit as outlined above.

For the next meeting in Warsaw 2019 we invite proposals for presentations or for pre-organized panel-sessions on the theme “Even the best among doctors is destined for Gehenna/Hell- ancient medical expertise and healing experts”. The thematic sessions will deal with questions of experts and expertise in various medical and religious cultures of (Late) Antiquity, ideally from a comparative perspective.

It has become a common notion that the ancient “medical marketplace” (V. Nutton) was not confined to various, competing medical schools and high-profile medical authors. Rather, this was a crowded arena with a variety of actors, in which different types and fields (e.g. medical subfields, botany, pharmaceutics, astrology/astronomy, religion, and philosophy) of related expertise merged, complemented but also fiercely contestedeach other. Healing expertise comprised various approaches (diagnosis/prognosis; recipes, diet, and other cures including amulets and incantations; divination, dream interpretation, dream healing and incubation; charismatic healing) in different contexts (private households, a doctor’s or pharmacist’s house, public places, temples, churches, monasteries etc.). What was the attitude of so-called political, intellectual or religious elites (like priests, rabbinic sages, philosophers, medical authors, Christian clergy, heads of academies etc.) to and their involvement in the field of medicine? Do ancient sources relate to the role of women as healing experts and to what extent may one discern a gender bias that reflect hierarchies of authority or prerogatives of male legit experts against illicit female healing personnel?

In a dialogue with current research on ancient medicine and sciences, thispanel aims at discussing how medical and related types of expertise manifests itself in and were appropriated to different, overlapping traditions, practices, and socio-historical settings. This pertains to traditions that were primarily associated with religious and normative discourse and (ritual) practices such as medical (technical) information integrated in religious texts and contexts. However, is also aims at medical traditions that developed in dialogue with or contain philosophical and theological questions.

How do authority and authorship interlace? Which strategies of self-fashioning, claims to expertise and superior knowledge techniques (theories, taxonomies, empiricism) play a major role, also for the transmission of certain knowledge? Papers can also address the framing of medical expertise in specific genres like case (hi)stories, question and answer formats, anecdotes and other narratives. May one discern some striking differences between so-called miraculous healing stories and other healing narratives? Alternatively, do these various approaches mix within our sources? How do language and narratives about illness and health function among and between patients and doctors in different traditions and various healing contexts? What other aspects and cultural specificities may we observe in the interaction between different medical experts, on the one hand, and between patients and the healing experts they attended to, on the other?

As mentioned in the program unit’s description, we welcome papers that relate to one or more of these issues in relevant traditions and periods, if possible, with a comparative (synchronic or diachronic perspective), while discussing the central theoretical or methodological assumptions and challenges involved.

The Annual Conference 2020
has been cancelled.