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 / University College London

Lennart Lehmhaus
Freie Universität Berlin

Member Area

Wuppertal 2021 Call for Papers

An Apple a Day? – Diet and Regimen in Ancient Jewish and Related Traditions

Wellness and a healthy lifestyle have become major topics in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, mostly in the Western globalized world. However, works about regimen – proper nutrition, care of the body and physical exercise – formed a distinct genre (diaita/ δῐ́αιτᾰ) in the corpus of Greek medical writings from as early as the fifth century BCE. This knowledge was appropriated and re-organized during Hellenistic, later Roman, early Byzantine and Islamicate time. Spreading in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, such ideas and practices affected many different cultures and religious communities. Besides the emphasis on dietary laws, discussions on food and concerns about a healthy way of life figure in many Jewish, early Christian and Islamic traditions.

This year’s topic aims at examining how pertaining Graeco-Roman and other cultures’ concepts or practices regarding a regimen of health were appropriated, transformed or rejected in ancient to early medieval Jewish culture in relation to various neighboring traditions (Egyptian; Babylonian-Persian; Greek, Syriac, Latin and Coptic Christian; Muslim; Manichean; Mandaean and others). Given the close connection to everyday routines, we can assume the familiarity of ancient Jews and their contemporaries with relevant (transmitted) knowledge and practices.

Topics to be discussed may include: diet or nutrition; exercises and physical manipulations; care of the body such as toilet habits, bathing, massages etc.; and purging practices such as sweating or the use of emetics or bloodletting. Contributions may explore the relationship between religious laws (e.g. dietary laws/ kashrut, Halakhic rules, monastic rules), certain rituals or practices (e.g. prayer, meals, offerings) and concepts of health regimen. Alternatively, the papers may focus on narrative and other (visual, embodied, performative) forms of representation of pertaining ideas or the symbolic impact of certain foodstuff or specific places (springs, rivers, gardens etc.) to health and healing. The discussion can also address the specific role of a healthy way of life for certain groups (priests, rabbis, scribes, monks etc.; women, children, elderly, a sick person) and how this regimen interfered with or complemented a life of learning and religious duties. We are especially interested in papers that combine research into ancient medicine, discussions of bodily practice and their religious or cultural implications. Ideally, papers should focus on one or two traditions or one broader regional context with its cultural specifics, while paying attention to and highlighting processes of transmission and other comparative aspects.

The “Medicine in Bible and Talmud” group invites paper proposals from scholars of diverse disciplinary backgrounds from different institutions and at different career stages. We would be particularly interested in co-sponsoring a session with the new group on “Food Symbolism”.

We would like to stress that, alongside the thematic focus in 2021 on diet and regimen or related bodily and medical practiceswe invite also contributions that fall into the general scope of our group as outlined on our websiteAccordingly, proposals engaging with medical knowledge and practice in Jewish traditions or related cultures are highly welcome.


Please submit your proposal until 31 January 2021 via the electronic application system which will be available from 1st December 2020 on the EABS website. 

Please, send it also to the chairs of this research unit:

Markham J. Geller [email protected]  and Lennart Lehmhaus [email protected]e