Medicine, Sciences and Knowledge in Biblical and Talmudic Traditions


The group focuses primarily on medical and scientific ideas and practices in the Biblical and Rabbinic traditions in a wider sense (e.g. New Testament, Qumranic texts, so-called „apocryphal“ traditions, Targum, early Christian texts), as well as in closely related or contemporary traditions (e.g. ancient Babylonia, Persian, Graeco-Roman, Manichean, or early Islamic). The research unit will address the complex and often subtle processes of reception, adaptation and production of medicine and various sciences in the transformative period of (late) antiquity as a rich ‘encyclopaedic’ body of knowledge within their broader trans-cultural, philosophical and religious contexts. Biblical, Talmudic and other traditions of ancient knowledge making will be studied in relation to similar corpora (e.g. scientific, legal and religious compilational texts) and as embedded within broader intellectual trends (e.g. transformation of Wisdom or paideia, concepts of human/nature, emerging Christianity, translation movements). 

Particular attention will be paid also to the interplay between form and content, hermeneutics and representations as specific ways of appropriating scientific ideas and practices to particular cultural or religious epistemologies or knowledge regimes. Contributions should aim at offering a comparative perspective on the embeddedness of medical and scientific discourses in their surrounding cultures (ancient Mesopotamian, Near Eastern, Graeco-Roman, Persian, Byzantine, Syriac etc.). The aim is to examine from a decidedly comparative perspective how the authors gathered, organised and framed their medical and scientific interests through compilation strategies and discursive patterns. On one hand, such a perspective will help assessing ancient Jewish and Talmudic scientific ideas within the broader history of ancient knowledge cultures. On the other, comparison will allow to determine the distinct epistemologies or particular Jewishness of such discourse. Furthermore, a synchronic and diachronic perspective highlights various processes of transmission, transfer, rejection, modification and invention of pertaining concepts and practices. While addressing the interaction between various medical discourses, the group will consider different strategies (borrowing/ camouflage/ negation etc.) which may relate to still unsolved questions in the transcultural history of science(s) and knowledge in (Late) Antiquity.




Medicine, Ancient Science and Knowledge, Epistemology, Encyclopaedia


Markham J. Geller
University College London

Lennart Lehmhaus
Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen

Member Area

Toulouse 2022 Call for Papers

Knowledge Entanglements - medical and other scientific traditions/practice/discourses in legal and religious texts/cultures

Papers are invited to explore possible overlaps, entanglements but also frictions between legal and religious texts/cultures and medical and other scientific traditions/practice/discourses in Jewish or Christian traditions and beyond.

In the late antique period, scholars around the Near East and Mediterranean began to agglomerate knowledge in various fields of ancient sciences, not exclusively based on classical sources in Greek and Latin. These broader impulses of ordering and making knowledge accessible in antiquity took place in scholarly as well as in imperial institutions in Jewish, Mesopotamian, Roman-Byzantine, and Persian contexts. At the same time, one may witness a surge of medial and other technical handbooks for various purposes. Those phenomena might have facilitated the popularization of expert knowledge and its appropriation into primarily non-technical, literary texts (e.g. narratives, drama, epistles etc.; cf. Plutarch or Aelius Aristides) and religious traditions (e.g. rabbinic compilations; monastic traditions, the Persian Denkard; various early Christian authors). How can we understand the dynamic interplay between legal and religious discourse (e.g. rabbinic texts, monastic orders, hagiography etc.) and ancient medical and scientific discourse? Which purposes did the integration of medicine and science in those traditions serve for? Can we identify (epistemic/ ideological/ theological) limitations regarding the appropriation or merging of such knowledge? 

On another level, compilational features shared between Mesopotamian, Persian, Graeco-Roman (Codes, Digests and Pandects) or Arabic scientific, religious and legal corpora, monastic orders or Talmudic and Midrashic collections also constitute a fruitful comparandum for the collection of scientific knowledge. Which strategies of selection, dissociation or re-arrangement, and which discursive forms (dialectics, precedents, case stories etc.) were shared between these legal, religious, and scientific texts? What concepts of or claims to systematic comprehensiveness can be singled out?

We are especially interested in presentations on rabbinic-Talmudic traditions (until the early medieval period) against the foil of their literary and socio-cultural background(s) as well as on earlier and contemporary discourses in the Bible, post-biblical (Second Temple) traditions, and early Christian texts (in Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Latin etc.). In order to offer a comparative perspective, contributions on the embeddedness of these medical and scientific discourses in ancient Babylonian and other Near Eastern cultures (Persian, Mandean, Arabic) are highly welcome. Papers may explore synchronic and diachronic perspective that highlight various processes of transmission, transfer, rejection, modification and invention of the issues at hand. Those presentations will contribute to the transcultural history of science(s) and knowledge in (late) antiquity.

The “Medicine in Bible and Talmud” group invites paper proposals from scholars of diverse disciplinary and regional backgrounds, from different institutions and at different career stages. Modest stipends for travel, accommodation and registration fees might be available for selected early career scholars/junior faculty. Further information will follow. 

We would like to stress that, alongside the thematic focus in 2022 on “Knowledge Entanglements”, we invite also contributions that fall into the general scope of our group as outlined above on our website. Accordingly, proposals engaging more generally with medical or other related (scientific) knowledge and practice in Jewish traditions or related cultures are welcome.