Fever And Dysentery In Acts 28:8 And Ancient Medicine -- By: Craig S. Keener

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 19:3 (NA 2009)
Article: Fever And Dysentery In Acts 28:8 And Ancient Medicine
Author: Craig S. Keener

Fever And Dysentery In Acts 28:8 And Ancient Medicine

Craig S. Keener

Palmer Theological Seminary Of Eastern University

This article explores ancient views about the character of fever and dysentery, as well as both natural and supernatural treatments sometimes prescribed for them. This information affords us greater sensitivity to how Luke’s earliest audiences would have conceived the severity of this ailment and hence appreciated the healing reported here.

Key Words: Acts 28:8, Acts, healing, medical, medicine, sickness, fever, dysentery, doctor, Hippocrates

ἐγένετο δὲ τὸν πατέρα τοῦς Ποπλίου πυρετοίς καὶ δυσεντερίῳ συνεχόμενον κατακεῖσθαι, πρὸς ὃν ὁ Παῦλος εἰσελθὼν καὶ προσευξάμενος ἐπιθεἰς τὰς χεῖρας αὐτῷ ἰάσατο αὐτόν.

And it happened that Publius’s father was confined to bed from intermittent fevers and dysentery. Thus Paul entered, prayed, and laid hands on him, and thereby cured him. (Acts 28:8)

One could examine Acts 28:8 from a variety of important and complementary angles, such as literary, historical, or medical. My particular interest in this article, however, is to demonstrate how mention of the ailment would sound in an ancient medical setting. Recognizing this will help us to hear the ailment of Publius’s father more sympathetically and to appreciate the dramatic character of the healing more fully, that is, in a manner closer to how Luke’s ideal audience would likely have heard the passage. Although I will open with a brief mention of modern suggestions about the nature of the ailments, my purpose here is not to diagnose these ailments in modern medical terms but to examine how an audience familiar with ancient medical conceptions would have heard Luke’s brief mention of them.

To pursue this objective, I draw on ancient medical texts. Admittedly, most of Luke’s audience would not have technical expertise in the Hippocratic corpus;1 but fevers and dysentery were pervasive ailments, and

ancient medical sources offer us the fullest available window into the sorts of ideas about them that circulated in antiquity. However accurate or inaccurate their empirical diagnoses, ancient medical reports also provide the most thorough extant observations available from antiquity. This approach may be of specia...

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