- From the Guest Editors
In recent years, there has been increased interest in the intersections of religion, medicine, health, healing and disability in Late Antiquity, producing an array of exciting new scholarship.1 Capitalizing on this momentum, the international working group ReMeDHe (Religion, Medicine, Disability and Health in Late Antiquity) was formed to support research and scholarly collaborations in these areas.2 As a resource for researchers working on these topics, together we are compiling a set of open-access bibliographies devoted to records of late ancient medical professionals in historical texts, papyri, and inscriptions, as well as published secondary scholarship. We are also providing spaces in which scholars can share their work-in-progress at conference workshops and paper sessions and can solicit research help from members on the ReMeDHe listserve. The working group has given rise to collaborations among members related to data collection, research projects, and grants.
Through these outlets, we strive to bring together scholarly discussions that have, until now, taken place in relative isolation from each other. As we discuss in more detail in our State of the Question essay, conversations about late ancient medicine and those concerning late ancient disability have remained largely distinct. Moreover, scholars working on ancillary topics in Jewish or Christian sources—such as, gender, sexuality, and the body; significations of sickness; spiritual and physical health; miraculous healing; and Jewish and Christian science—rarely engage with late ancient medical writings or disability theory. Encouraging more interaction among scholars will inevitably lead to a richer and more comprehensive picture of the late ancient world.
This special issue, a result of collaboration among ReMeDHe working group members, showcases the level of scholarship we can produce when working together. The special issue aims to serve as a resource for scholars embarking on research projects related to these topics by providing a state of the question essay and a comprehensive bibliography that will orient readers to the scholarly landscape.3 Moreover, the individual essays illustrate promising [End Page 253] directions for future research both in terms of addressing previously neglected topics of inquiry and employing innovative methodological approaches from disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, literary criticism, as well as theoretically informed models from environmental, gender, and critical animal studies. Our hope is that the special issue will encourage more scholars to join the ongoing conversations represented here.
In the first essay of the issue, “In and Out of the Body: The Significance of Intestinal Disease in Rabbinic Literature,” Mira Balberg explores rabbinic constructions of intestinal disease, a disease which was understood by the rabbis to be both repulsive and cleansing. The essay illuminates the ways in which meanings of disease are tied to culturally specific significations. Moreover, Balberg’s study demonstrates that even widespread and physically devastating ailments have the potential to be regarded in positive terms, having salutary functions. As such, the essay requires us to broaden our notion of “health” beyond the limits of modern medical categories when working with sources from Late Antiquity. In her essay, “Disability, Animality, and Enslavement in Rabbinic Narratives of Bodily Restoration and Resurrection,” Julia Watts Belser similarly prompts us to broaden our understanding of what constituted health in late ancient sources. Belser analyzes how some rabbis figure the health of resurrection bodies in terms of physical restoration as well as in terms of sociality. Specifically, these rabbis draw parallels between the healing of wounds and marks that resulted from oppression and injustice with the healing of animal communities: predators making peace with their prey in the “World to Come.” Belser notes that the grouping of these rabbinic insights together allows for multiple readings of disability and disfigurement, many of them positive.
The next two essays dissect the enfolded logics of late ancient texts. In her essay, “Paralysis and Sexuality in Medical Literature and the Acts of Peter,” Meghan Henning scrutinizes the paralysis of Peter’s daughter in Acts of Peter by placing the impairment within the contemporaneous medical framework wherein paralysis was linked to sexual dysfunction and infertility. Thus, as Henning explains, readers of the Acts of Peter might have understood Peter’s daughter to be unsuitable for marriage not...