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Neues Testament


Wells, Louise


The Greek Language of Healing from Homer to New Testament Times.


Berlin-New York: de Gruyter 1998. XVIII, 489 S. m. Abb., 7 Taf. gr.8 = Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, 83. Lw. DM 208,-. ISBN 3-11-015389-0.


Gerard Mussies

"The Greek language of healing in the title would have been better phrased as: The Greek terminology for "healing", for it is with this word field that the study is concerned, and not so much with a description of the Greek medical vocabulary in general, as the suggestion might seem to be. In dealing with this word field the authoress starts from the poems of Homer, especially the Iliad, where battle field medicine can be expected to play a prominent part. Here it is still Apollo who is the god both of disease and of healing, whereas Asklepios, who was to become the god of medicine par excellence of later times, is here still an ordinary human, the local prince of Trikke albeit at the same time a "blameless physician", like his two sons Podaleirios and Machaon. He is, however, the pivotal figure of the following paragraphs, for the pagan inscriptions and literary sources about healing(s) are dealt with according to four rather different centres of healing and medicine, the Asklepios temples of Epidaurus, Athens, Cos and Pergamum. Under the heading of "Athens" are also discussed such literary sources as Thucydides’ account of the plague epidemy which ravaged this city during the Peloponnesian War, as well as Isocrates’ account of medical care in general, whereas selections from Hippokrates’ corpus and from Galen’s and Aelius Aristides’ oeuvre figure respectively under "Cos" and "Pergamum" because of their (alleged) ties with these sanctuaries. Each of these four sections describe first the history of the local Asklepios cult, its practice, the origin of the patients and their most frequent complaints. Full attention is also paid to the special connections which famous persons had with a specific Asklepios cult, such as those which Galen the court physician of Marcus Aurelius had with the cult at Pergamum.

If in Homer the verbs akeomai "to restore to previous good health", therapeuo "to treat medically, to nurse", iaomai "to treat successfully" and sozo "to rescue from imminent death" are most prominent, in the inscriptions of Epidaurus (IG IV-2 nrs. 121-122: IV B. C., and 126: A. D. II) the term akesmai has given way to the synonymous hygies-hygiaino, and the same holds good of the inscriptions in the other temples and the related literary sources.

The next section of the book is devoted to the New Testament terms for "healing". However, before dealing with the New Testament proper a short survey is given of the use of such terms in the Septuagint and in selections from the works of Philo of Alexandria and Fl. Josephus. Here it appears that iaomai is a verb of which the subject is preferably God, whereas therapeuo refers mostly to human activity; hygies and cognates still describe physical health, but in addition eirene refers now to health in a holistic sense, which also includes spiritual aspects. Of the more important NT healing terms therapeuo and iaomai are studied separately according to their use in the Synoptic Gospels, John and the rest of the NT; the remaining terms such as (dia) sozo, hygies and in connection with leprosy now also katharizo (e. g. Mt 10,8) are studied for the NT as a whole and not according to such a subdivision.

Jesus’ healing ministry is presented by the Synoptists as evidence of the divine nature of his commission and forms an indissoluble unity with his teaching and preaching. It is especially Mark who stresses the demoniac nature of illness. It was a widespread Jewish belief that illnesses had their origin in the world of the demons, each specific illness or disease being the domain of an individual demon. Accordingly terms of healing usually indicate here not only the physical but also the spiritual healing. This is most conspicuous with such a verb as therapeuo, which in addition to its Pagan use as "to treat" can clearly mean "to cure" (e. g. Mt 17,18 and Acts 4,14). In the case of Jesus this always involved some activity like "touching" (haptomai), "laying on of hands" (epitithemi tas cheiras) or even "spitting" (Mk 7,33 ptyo ; in John 9,6 in order to make a mud-unguent), and when this was done on a shabbath it could be seen as "work". The authoress elaborates here and posits the conclusion that therapeuo had rather Jewish, iaomai Pagan overtones, especially so in Luke, but this emphasis may be too strong. For on the one hand Luke uses iaois and therapeumenon for the healing of one and the same Jewish individual (Acts 4,14 and 22), and on the other hand we see that already such a man as Epicurus had used the verb therapeuo n a purely spiritual sense, to refer to the treatment or healing of human passion (pathos): "Empty is the word of that philosopher by which no human passion (or; none of the human passions) is treated". In this connection the authoress often translates the imperfect etherapeuen by "he began healing them" (e. g. 127, 130, 137), which migh be taken as an intentional compromise between ist two senses "to treat" and "to heal", were it not that she also translated edidasken (148), iato (160), parekalem (181), ekeryssen (184) in this way. This is a rather unorthodox way of dealing with the imperfect, since normally only aorists can have an ingressive sense cf. E. Schweizer II p. 277.3 "Ein inchoatives (inzeptives, ingressives) Imperfekt anzusetzen sehe ich keinen Grund."

The second part of the book is devoted to Appendices which elaborately display all the sources made use of in part 1 "Argument". The classical sources, the Septuagint, Philo and Josephus are given in two columns, one for the Greek text and one for the English translation, whereas the Pagan temple inscriptions and the New Testament passages are not shown in complete texts but in an analysis in 5 or 7 columns, devoted to the healer, the patient, the illness, the terminology used, etc.

The book is beautifully illustrated and contains a good subject index.