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Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity

, 264 pages
April 2009



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Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity

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.

Gary B. Ferngren is a professor of history at Oregon State University and editor of Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, also published by Johns Hopkins.

"Medical historians and historians interested in the classical age will welcome this well written book to their libraries. Medical practioners in every field with a strong interest in medical history will profit from reading it as well. Certainly, libraries at every medical university and graduate school will want this book."

"Well written and well researched."

"A succinct, thoughtful, well-written, and carefully argued assessment of Christian involvement with medical matters in the first five centuries of the common era... It is to Ferngren's credit that he has opened questions and explored them so astutely. This fine work looks forward as well as backward; it invites fuller reflection of the many senses in which medicine and religion intersect and merits wide readership."

"The story that [Ferngren] tells is provocative for Christian readers who live in a culture of fear and who tremble at the thought of new pandemics."

"We must be grateful for this closely argued book and the light it sheds on early Christian health care."

"Reading this book gives one the impression of discovering something new. One can see how some medical and social ideas were born, and how mutual relations between religion and medicine were developing."

"A very fine book. Well written, well researched, and remarkably original. It will have lasting impact."

"[An] excellent and thought-provoking work."

"A highly important investigation in medicine and healing in early Christianity. A book that every scholar of healing in early Christianity should read."

"Ferngren's approach and evidence are persuasive and a wonderful introduction to an element of early Christianity frequently overlooked, misunderstood, or both."

"A good book."

"[An] excellent and thought-provoking work."

"Ferngren writes in an engaging manner that will be especially attractive to physicians who do not have a background in theology or Church history. This book would be of great interest to any Christian physician or health-care professional who is interested in learning more about medicine at the time of Christ and its impact on Christianity and, perhaps more importantly, Christianity's impact on the care of the ill."

"Readable and widely researched... an important book for mission studies and American Catholic movements, the book posits the question of what can take its place in today's challenging religious culture."

"This is an important book, for students of Christian theology who understand health and healing to be topics of theological interest, and for health care practitioners who seek a historical perspective on the development of the ethos of their vocation."

"In this superb work of historical and conceptual scholarship, Ferngren unfolds for the reader a cultural milieu of healing practices during the early centuries of Christianity... His arguments are always compelling and usually convincing. He shows how Christians lived out their faith as a positive healing and caring witness, boldly living out their Christianity as a persuasive alternative to the failed pagan responses to fellow human beings in need."

" Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity, written with deep affection for the subject, is a rich study, important for any scholar interested in the emergence and development of medicine in the Christian society of late antiquity."

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