Rabbinic authority, medical rhetoric, and body hermeneutics in Mishnah Nega'im

Mira Balberg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The second century CE has long been recognized as a time of intense preoccupation with medicine and health in the Graeco-Roman world. Medicine had always been a part of the Greek paideia, and acquaintance with it was traditionally required of every aristocrat, but it was during the second Sophistic period that a new form of medical self-presentation emerged in which the knowledge of medicine was hailed not only as one of the apices of the intellectual habitus, but also as indispensable to everyday life. As Michel Foucault observed, the literature of this period placed an enormous emphasis on the body not just as a tool to be used but also as an end in itself, and the classic philosophical ideal of "caring for the Self" (epimeleia heautou) came to entail unrelenting attention to one's health and physical well-being. In this setting, the doctor-the bearer of medical knowledge and the ultimate caretaker of the Self-was seen as offering more than physical relief: The doctor was both a healer and a mentor, and functioned as a watchperson and a guide to right living. Indeed, it is in this period that we first come across the appellations iatrophilosophos (doctor-philosopher) and iatrosophistes (doctor-sophist). Medical knowledge had thus become a most esteemed form of knowledge during the Antonine period of the Roman Empire, and doctors, as its guardians, interpreters, and practitioners, were invested with substantial power and authority.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)323-346
Number of pages24
JournalAJS Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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