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Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity

Gary B. Ferngren

Publication Year: 2009

Drawing on New Testament studies and recent scholarship on the expansion of the Christian church, Gary B. Ferngren presents a comprehensive historical account of medicine and medical philanthropy in the first five centuries of the Christian era. Ferngren first describes how early Christians understood disease. He examines the relationship of early Christian medicine to the natural and supernatural modes of healing found in the Bible. Despite biblical accounts of demonic possession and miraculous healing, Ferngren argues that early Christians generally accepted naturalistic assumptions about disease and cared for the sick with medical knowledge gleaned from the Greeks and Romans. Ferngren next explores the origins of medical philanthropy in the early Christian church. Rather than viewing illness as punishment for sins, early Christians believed that the sick deserved both medical assistance and compassion. Even as they were being persecuted, Christians cared for the sick both within and outside of their community. Their long experience in medical charity led to the creation of the first hospitals, a singular Christian contribution to health care. Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity is essential reading for scholars and students in the history of medicine and religious studies.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

This volume addresses in a connected way the early Christian reception of Greek medicine and the origin and development of Christian medical philanthropy in the first five centuries of the Christian era. I began it while I held a resident fellowship at the Oregon State University Center for the Humanities. I continued my writing during a two-term sabbatical leave from Oregon State University ...

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1. Methods and Approaches

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pp. 1-12

The intersection of medicine and the Bible, particularly in the Bible’s passing references to illness and healing, has long fascinated medical professionals and lay readers alike. Many of the subjects that fall under the rubric of biblical disease and medicine have been repeatedly discussed.1 What was the natureof biblical leprosy and how did it differ from modern leprosy? Why was it associated ...

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2. The Christian Reception of Greek Medicine

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pp. 13-41

It is the thesis of this book that Christians of the first five centuries held views regarding the use of medicine and the healing of disease that did not di√er appreciably from those that were widely taken for granted in the Graeco- Roman world in which they lived. They did not attribute most diseases to demons, they did not ordinarily seek miraculous or religious cures, and they employed ...

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3. Early Christian Views of the Etiology of Disease

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pp. 42-63

On opening the pages of the New Testament, many modern readers find themselves in what appears to be an alien world, in which supernatural forces intervene in ordinary life. The Gospels focus on the extraordinary Palestinian ministry of Jesus, who casts out demons and miraculously heals the sick of every description.1 The Book of Acts recounts the activities of Jesus’s apostles, ...

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4. Christianity as a Religion of Healing

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pp. 64-85

Since the time of Adolf Harnack (1851–1930) it has been widely maintained that an emphasis on physical healing was, from the New Testament era to the end of antiquity, a major aspect of early Christianity.1 One might cite many authorities for this view.2 I merely adduce two. First, Harnack: ‘‘Deliberately and consciously [Christianity] assumed the form of ‘the religion of salvation or healing ...

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5. The Basis of Christian Medical Philanthropy

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pp. 86-112

Christianity spread rapidly in the first century, owing to its extensive missionary activity, from its birthplace in Palestine throughout the Roman Empire. By about A.D. 60 the new faith had been carried to most parts of the eastern Mediterranean and as far west as Rome. In A.D. 64 Nero accused the Christian community in Rome of having set fire to the city, and in order to divert ...

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6. Health Care in the Early Church

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pp. 113`139-154

The development of the care of the sick in early Christianity has sometimes been viewed as having occurred in two stages. In the pre-Constantinian church, charitable activity, including the care of the sick, depended largely on the ministrations of nonmedical clergy and laity. After the legalization of Christianity in A.D. 313 and the influx of state funds that came to be directed to its ...

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7. Some Concluding Observations

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pp. 140-152

Modern reconstructions of the attitudes of early Christians to disease and healing have been varied. Some scholars maintain that early Christians believed in a demonic etiology of disease. While on first reading this view seems to gain support from the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’s healings, a closer examination indicates that there is little in them to suggest that a theory of demonic causation of ordinary disease was held by either Jesus or the first generation of ...


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pp. 153-154


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pp. 155-208


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pp. 209-238


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pp. 239-246

E-ISBN-13: 9780801895227
E-ISBN-10: 0801895227
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801891427
Print-ISBN-10: 0801891426

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2009