Talmudic Medicine

Subproject by Dr. Lennart Lehmhaus

This side of the joint-project focuses on the medical knowledge that can be found in rabbinic texts of Late Antiquity. The Talmudic literature comprises four main traditions – the basic authoritative text is the Mishnah (early 3rd ct.) and its contemporary tradition of the Toseftah (“Supplement”). Discussion, commentaries and elaborations of the Mishnah’s lore and other early traditions are provided in two Talmudim: the Palestinian Talmud (or Yerushalmi/ ca. 5th -6th ct.) and the Babylonian Talmud (or Bavli/ 6th- 7th ct.).

In striking contrast to Graeco-Roman culture, was the Jewish medical discourse in Late Antiquity always embedded in other textual corpora. Up to the Middle Ages no Hebrew or Aramaic book was exclusively concerned with medicine. However, both Talmudim contain many single and sometimes also complex and detailed medical teachings (about physiology, anatomy, therapies, remedies, diet and regimen etc.). Rather than forming systematical structures this information is generally scattered throughout the whole Talmudic corpus and provides medical knowledge en passant in different contexts. Still, one can find some instances of more coherent frameworks, clusters and other textual structures that point to elaborated medical discussions, well integrated in their thematic contexts; like in the tractates on Heave-offerings (Terumot), Rules of Divorce (Gittin), Laws of Menstrual Impurities (Niddah), the Sabbath (Shabbat) or on Non-Jewish cults (Avodah Zarah).

In the first phase of the project all relevant material from the Talmudic literature will be collected and reviewed. These passages will be analyzed and presented in all available variant readings (manuscripts, prints and fragments) together with an English translation and a commentary. The philological and textual studies will lay the groundwork for the comparative approach of the project with regard to Graeco-Roman, Syriac and Babylonian medical and encyclopaedic traditions.