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Magico-medical Knowledge and Practices among Jews and Others in (Late) Antiquity

01.08.2018 - 03.08.2018

Panelsektion der Programmsektion “Medicine in Bible and Talmud” (Markham J. Geller / Lennart Lehmhaus) im Rahmen des International Joint Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) und des European Association of Biblical Studies (EABS)

Auf dem Kongress der SBL und der EABS 2018 in Helsinki organisierte das Teilprojekt A03 insgesamt drei Sitzungen mit neun Beiträgen. Die diesjährigen Panels widmeten sich der Frage, wie und wo die Schnittmengen zwischen magischen und anderen rituellen (Heil)Praktiken und dem medizinischen Wissen bzw. den medizinischen Experten in antiken Kulturen des Mittelmeerraums liegen. Solche  Medizindiskurse wurden für das Judentum in biblischer Zeit und seiner nahöstlichen-mesopotamischen Umgebung genauso wie für rabbinische, frühchristliche und andere jüdische Traditionen der Spätantike untersucht.   Darüber hinaus konnten weitere Beiträge zu frühmittelalterlichen Quellen auf Hebräisch (Sefer Asaf) und Arabisch sowie zu Artefakten des kappadokisch-byzantinischen Christentums wichtige Impulse aus interdisziplinärer und vergleichender Perspektive bieten.


Sessions of the EABS Program Unit “Medicine in Bible and Talmud” (Markham J. Geller and Lennart Lehmhaus, SFB 980 “Episteme in Motion”, Freie Universität Berlin)

1-17 Medicine in Bible and Talmud (EABS)
9:00 AM to 11:00 AM
Room: Room 403 - Fabianinkatu 26, Kielikeskus
Theme: Magico-medical Knowledge and Practices among Jews and Others in (Late) Antiquity, Part 1
Markham Geller, Freie Universität Berlin, Presiding
Mihi Yang, Claremont School of Theology: "Comparison of Hezekiah’s Healing (Isaiah 38)" (40 min)
Annette Weissenrieder, Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg: "Spittle in Biblical Texts and "Popular" and Rational Medicine" (40 min)
Lennart Lehmhaus, Freie Universität Berlin: "Textual Healing: Magico-medical Practices in Rabbinic Texts Reconsidered" (40 min)
This research unit and its panels at the EABS/SBL meeting are generously supported by the Collaborative Research Center – SFB 980 Episteme in Motion of Freie Universität Berlin and the German Research Foundation/Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).

2-15 Medicine in Bible and Talmud (EABS)
9:00 AM to 11:00 AM
Room: Auditorium II - Fabianinkatu 33, Päärakennus

Theme: Magico-medical Knowledge and Practices among Jews and Others in (Late) Antiquity, Part 2
Annette Weissenrieder, Graduate Theological Union, Presiding

Rebecca Lesses, Ithaca College: "Women and Ritual Healing in the Aramaic Incantation Bowls" (40 min)
Markham Geller, Freie Universität Berlin: "A Recipe is a Recipe: Medicine in the Talmud" (40 min)
Rivka Elitzur-Leiman, Tel Aviv University: "A Magic Recipe from the Book of Mysteries (Sefer Ha-Razim) in a Late-Antique Jewish Amulet" (40 min)
This research unit and its panels at the EABS/SBL meeting are generously supported by the Collaborative Research Center – SFB 980 Episteme in Motion of Freie Universität Berlin and the German Research Foundation/Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).

3-11 Medicine in Bible and Talmud (EABS)
9:00 AM to 11:00 AM
Room: Room 21 - Fabianinkatu 33, Päärakennus
Theme: Magico-medical knowledge and practices among Jews and others in (Late) Antiquity, Part 3
Lennart Lehmhaus, Freie Universität Berlin, Presiding
Emunah Levy, Bar Ilan University: "Magic and Rational Medicine in the Twelfth-Century Manuscripts of the Book of Medicines of Asaf the Physician" (40 min)
Zahra Kazani, University of Victoria, Canada: "Magic Embodied: Rethinking the Relationship between Script, Geometry, and Magical Ideas in the Kitab al-Diryaq (Book of Antidotes)" (40 min)
Ferda Barut, Anadolu University: "The Anargyroi (Physician Saints) in Early Christianity and Their Reflections on the Painting Programme of Byzantine Churches in Cappadocia" (40 min)
This research unit and its panels at the EABS/SBL meetings are supported by the Collaborative Research Center – SFB 980 Episteme in Motion of Freie Universität Berlin and the German Research Foundation/Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). 


Mihi Yang (Claremont School of Theology): "Comparison of Hezekiah’s Healing (Isaiah 38)"
The Hebrew Bible shows YHWH’s various healing episodes including His clear self-declaration, “ יהוה רפאך” (I am your healer, Ex 15:26). YHWH’s healing is one of the most important of His consistent works through the Old and New Testaments. His healing usually begins with compassion for patients and is performed by prayers, hymns (liturgy), medicine, and miracles. These healing methods have many similarities and differences with old Syriac and Mesopotamian texts. However, prohibition of the latter’s divination or necromancy in the Hebrew Bible may mask the context of healing in the Bible and limit understanding of biblical healing. For example, King Hezekiah’s healing, which appears in three different texts, 2 Chr. 32:24, 2 Kgs 20:1-11, and Isa. 38, includes the above four methods. Therefore, I compare Hezekiah’s healing to ancient Syriac, Mesopotamian, and Qumran healing texts, such as the Kirta epic, the Gula Hymn of Bulluṭsa-rabi, Lamaštu incantation, 11QPsApa, etc. Most ancient peoples thought that sins or disobedience to gods caused diseases. Therefore, exorcism, amulets against Lamaštu or Lilitu, etc., seem to be popular. The Qumran community’s prayers, e.g. 11QPsApa, also show they depend on exorcising power, calling on David’s or Solon’s names. Single or mixed medicinal plants were used for antidotes for kišpū (black spells) or real therapy. Figs for Hezekiah and milk thistle (šcr klb) for drunken Ilu still show their efficacy. Liturgical and medicinal experts were available for patients (ašipútu and asû, respectively). The Apocrypha also notes, “Honor physicians for their services, for the Lord created them” (Sirach 38:1). Compared to the passive Ugaritic King Kirta, the Judean King, Hezekiah, moved YHWH by his prayer, “(God turned) bitterness to peace” (Isa 38:17). Therefore, Judean (biblical) healing shows some cultural or regional similarities, despite religious differences with other ancient peoples. 
Annette Weissenrieder (Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg): "Spittle in Biblical Texts and 'Popular' and Rational Medicine"

The use of spittle in the Septuagint (e.g. Job 7:19), healings in the Gospel of Mark (7:32-37 and 8:22-26) and John (9:1-11), and possibly Tacitus’ and Suetonius’ account of Vespasian’s healing, or the Talmud (Baba Bathra 126b) demonstrate that views of spittle’s healing use were influenced by the view of spitting as a contemptuous or contaminating action. In secondary literature, the use of spittle is often evaluated as a “magical element,” “folk medicine,” or as “healing with an agent.” In this paper, I intend to present Greco-Roman literature in which a range of ailments and conditions respond to spitting or spittle, although the ways that spit is used as a remedy vary. The uses of spit for healing in ancient texts can be divided into the ceremonial, which focus on spitting as an action (Pliny), and the pharmaceutical (e.g. Aristotle’s History of Animals; Galen), which focus on spittle as a substance.

Lennart Lehmhaus (Freie Universität Berlin, SFB 980): "Textual Healing: Magico-medical Practices in Rabbinic Texts Reconsidered"

Earlier scholarship on the history of medicine and science as well as on ancient Jewish history and Talmud tended to draw sharp distinction between rationale knowledge and magic or superstitious approaches to medicine and the body. Accordingly, many Talmudic passages with rather obscure recipes and therapeutic instructions have been interpreted as belonging to the latter category. However, more recent studies into late ancient medicine, apotropaic texts and practices (e.g. , Aramaic and Syriac incantation bowls, papyri, amulets etc.) or into so-called miraculous healing in the Gospels and early Christian culture have pointed to the problematic nature of such a dichotomous approach. Projecting modern analytical distinctions between magic and medicine/science onto late ancient cultures, one risks to overlook the fluent boundaries and astonishing overlap between such ‘disciplines’ and their respective experts, even within the writings of Graeco-Roman medical authors. Moreover, Talmudic scholarship saw the rabbis in most cases as disapproving of magic and as being solicitous about clear boundaries between legit religious practices and non-Jewish approaches that smacked of ‘magic’. This paper interrogates some Talmudic passages with therapies and recipes that were seen as drawing heavily on ‘popular’ or ‘folk’ healing rather than on medical knowledge proper. However, reading them in light of recent scholarship, I will question usual assumptions about the seclusiveness of the spheres of medical, religious and ritual knowledge and its related practices in rabbinic cultures of Late Antiquity for which ‘magic’ might be too narrow a category.

Markham Geller (Freie Universität Berlin): "A Recipe is a Recipe: Medicine in the Talmud"

Deciphering medical prescriptions in the Babylonian Talmud often turn out to be counter-intuitive, since modern translations and dictionaries usually accept Geonic definitions of rare terms and Rashi's understanding of passages as definitive and reliable. This often leads to finding exotic medical practices in the Talmud, such as snapping one's fingers 60 times over an abscess, with the inference that Talmudic medicine is unique and governed by 'irrational' approaches and not in line with other systems of medicine in late antiquity. This paper will propose that such translations usually represent a lack of understanding of Talmud medical recipes, which usually follow patterns similar to prescriptions from the same region, although the Talmud often reports abbreviated versions of prescriptions which must be interpreted in the light of comparative data.

Rivka Elitzur-Leiman (Tel Aviv University): "The Mysterious History of the Book of Mysteries"

In my paper, I will discuss "the Book of Mysteries" (Sefer Ha-Razim) – a Late Antique Jewish magical composition. I will explore some parallels to this work, as well as early attestations of the use of this influential composition. Finally, I will discuss the possible implications of these parallels on the study of Sefer Ha-Razim in particular and ancient Jewish magic in general.
Emunah Levy (Bar Ilan University), Magic and Rational Medicine in the Twelfth-Century Manuscripts of the Book of Medicines of Asaf the Physician.
The Book of Medicines of Asaf the Physician is the first known medical book to have been written in Hebrew. The book was compiled perhaps as early as the seventh century and no later than the beginning of the tenth century. It was probably written somewhere in the wide expanse of the Byzantine empire, as Syriac and Persian influences on the text have been determined. I would like to speak of the magic copied alongside The Book of Medicines in the twelfth century in the two main manuscript witnesses of the text, one being Italian and the other, German. The book itself is not known for its magic, but rather for its Hippocratic mindset. Hence, the magic recipes copied alongside it in these two manuscripts appear to be at complete odds with it. These recipes seem to stem from several sources of influence: Some have possible connections to Syriac astrological texts; some that were written in Aramaic are reminiscent of the Babylonian practice of using incantation bowels; one recipe also found in the Cairo geniza; and several recipes demand the reciting of a Biblical verse, in direct transgression of the Talmudic prohibition. Alongside these is also evidence of surrounding influences, with Latin magic texts translated or transcribed into Hebrew letters. The marked difference between The Book of Medicines and the texts which surround it in these two witnesses of its text allow perhaps to argue for its being an attempt to make a corpus of Hebrew rational medicine which stands in opposition to the popular Babylonian magical tradition. These two manuscripts present the failure of this attempt, as magic and Hippocratic medicine co-exist in them, perhaps even transmitted together from the onset, as their sources suggest they were perhaps geographically, politically and historically formed not so far apart.

Zahra Kazani (University of Victoria, Canada), Magic Embodied: Rethinking the Relationship between Script, Geometry, and Magical Ideas in the Kitab al-Diryaq (Book of Antidotes)

The Kitab al-Diryaq (Book of Antidotes) of 595 A.H./1198-9 C.E. (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, arabe 2964) is a pseudo-Galen treatise delineating recipes for curing snakebites. The manuscript is written in Arabic and attributed to the region of northern Mesopotamia. The calligraphic pages, having received less attention in scholarship than its figural counterparts, are meticulously executed and have a strong visual impact on the viewer. Not only does one notice a variety of calligraphic forms being utilized, the written recipes themselves are presented in the form of intricate patterns. Careful attention has been paid to visual rhythm and flow within these pages, many times compromising the content of the text. The discussion in this paper will attempt to highlight the calligraphic pages and patterns of the Kitab al-Diryaq with the aim of rethinking and re-evaluating the purely ‘scientific’ nature of such a manuscript. Northern Mesopotamia (present-day north-western Iraq, north-eastern Syria and south-eastern Turkey), from the late eleventh to the early thirteenth centuries was governed by a series of minor Turkish dynasties. Islam was the religion of the governing bodies, but Christianity prevailed amongst the inhabitants. The period exhibits a revival (or survival) of Late Antique intellectual ideas and visual culture, most conspicuously seen in numismatics and architecture that deploy classical Greek and Roman iconography. The same period also witnesses an unprecedented surge in magical objects. The multilingual milieu of northern Mesopotamia, its proximity and exchanges with Byzantium and Latin Crusader cultures, the Late Antique surge of visuals, and the proliferation of magical objects, allow for a rethinking of the script patterns presented in the Kitab al-Diryaq. Acknowledging the multivalent nature of the visual and its interpretations, my research suggests that the Arabic script patterns employed in the Kitab al-Diryaq were perceived as prophylactic and magical.

Ferda Barut (Anadolu University), The Anargyroi (Physician Saints) in Early Christianity and Their Reflections on the Painting Programme of Byzantine Churches in Cappadocia

In Late Antiquity, healing stories were interwoven with the magic. During the rise of Christianity, a transition took place and numerous narratives and hagiographies of physicians known for their ethic and charity appeared. Many of them were accepted as Christian saints of healing and called as Anargyroi, which means without silver, because their service was free for the people in need of help. During their lives they served as physicians and after their death, the cult centers and hospitals were built in the name of them. They were performing both miraculous healing activities and a physician’s practice both. Most of them were from Anatolia. Besides many others, one may mention: sisters Hermione and Eutychia, the founders of charitable hospitals in Caesarea Mazaca and in Ephesus; Zenais and Philonilla of Tarsus in Cilicia Pedias; Karpos the Bishop of Thyateira and Papylos the deacon; a team of doctors namely Kosmas, Damianos, Leontios, Anthimos, Eutropios; the most venerated Anargyroi, the brothers Kosmas and Damianos of Phereman near Kyrrhos; Orestes of Tyana; Stylianos of Paphlagonia, Zotikos the Orphanotrophos; Blasios the bishop; Kaisarios of Arianzos in Cappadocia are just a few of them. As an important center for the Christian communities from the beginning to the Late Byzantine period, Cappadocian churches still have the traces of Anargyroi. The aim of the present paper is to discuss their cult by the way of iconography of the Anargyroi in Byzantine Churches of Cappadocia.