What did pain and illness mean to early Christians? And how did their approaches to health care compare to those of the ancient Greco-Roman world?
In this wide-ranging interdisciplinary study, Helen Rhee examines how early Christians viewed illness, pain, and health care and how their perspective was influenced both by Judeo-Christian tradition and by the milieu of the larger ancient world. Throughout her analysis, Rhee places the history of medicine, Greco-Roman literature, and ancient philosophy in constructive dialogue with early Christian literature to elucidate early Christians’ understanding, appropriation, and reformulation of Roman and Byzantine conceptions of health and wholeness from the second through the sixth centuries CE.
Utilizing the contemporary field of medical anthropology, Rhee engages illness, pain, and health care as sociocultural matters. Through this and other methodologies, she explores the theological meanings attributed to illness and pain; the religious status of those suffering from these and other afflictions; and the methods, systems, and rituals that Christian individuals, churches, and monasteries devised to care for those who suffered. Rhee’s findings ultimately provide an illuminating glimpse into how Christians began forming a distinct identity—both as part of and apart from their Greco-Roman world.
Table of Contents
1. Health, Disease, and Illness in Greco-Roman Culture
2. Health, Disease, and Illness in the Bible and Early Christianity
3. Pain in Greco-Roman Culture and Early Christianity
4. Health Care in the Greco-Roman World
5. Health Care in Early Christianity
“Rhee has drawn on a deep and wide pool of sources, addressing a diverse range of ancient voices and engaging both classic and more recent scholarship. I have found new and challenging ideas throughout, not least in Rhee’s fresh engagement with the Greek medical and philosophical literature. This volume is a reliable introduction to a range of medical and nonmedical healing of the body and soul, from which specialists and students alike will profit.”
—Andrew Crislip, Virginia Commonwealth University
“Modern health care has deep religious roots, often unrecognized, in the cultures, beliefs, and practices that shaped Christian views on pain, wellness, and therapeutic method. In her newest book, Helen Rhee’s extensive and admirably nuanced scholarship on pain and illness offers a superb cross-disciplinary study on ‘medical pluralisms’ and why they matter in Christian history. The book will especially interest readers in health and religion, late antiquity, health humanities, anthropology, medical education and missions, nursing, and classical studies.”
—Susan R. Holman, John R. Eckrich Chair and Professor in Religion and the Healing Arts, Valparaiso University
“With her characteristic sensitivity to human nature and frailty, Rhee explores how Christians incorporated Greco-Roman medical practices and health philosophies into their own emerging theological, social, and political identities. This multidisciplinary study effectively demonstrates the level of care and attention that early Christians gave to matters of the body as they drew from Jewish, Greek, and Roman sources to inform their own developing views. This study of Christian medical care and constructions of illness and pain is a significant contribution to the growing academic interest in how medical philosophies and theologies shape personal and communal views of health and well-being.”
—Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen, Pacific Lutheran University
“This important study examines Christian practices of identity formation in late antiquity around the nexus of health and its central corollaries: illness, pain, and health care. Rhee demonstrates that each of these reflects a touchpoint between Greco-Roman and early Christian discourses: patristic writers, whether popular or elite, drew on their classical heritage and constructed distinctively Christian ways of understanding their significance. Wide-ranging and unfailingly erudite, her work remains accessible and relevant to readers from a wide range of backgrounds, which is a testimony to Rhee’s skill as scholar and author. Illness, Pain, and Health Care in Early Christianity establishes Rhee’s voice as a vital contributor to the vibrant, interdisciplinary conversation surrounding health, illness, and disability in pre-modernity.”
—Maria E. Doerfler, Yale University
“Helen Rhee’s incisive analysis comes at a critical moment, as we witness a major ‘medical turn’ in early Christian studies. Relying on a sophisticated interdisciplinary trajectory, which includes an emphasis on medical anthropology, Rhee meticulously reconstructs the early Christian experience of illness, pain, and health care in its ancient Mediterranean milieux. This book will no doubt become standard reading for anyone researching the medical world of the early Christians.”
—Chris de Wet, University of South Africa