Healing versus Sorcery

05 Feb

from Google Images

After the woman who had secretly touched Jesus from behind in order to be healed came forward, Jesus said to her “Shalom, (or be at peace), your faith has saved you!” (Luke 8:48). Apparently, the woman may have taken part in a number of healing efforts conducted by “spiritual healers” of Jesus’ day. It is interesting that the original text of Luke, the beloved physician (cf. Colossians 4:14), doesn’t mention that the woman spent all her living on physicians who couldn’t heal her. That is, what we find in Luke 8:43 in some translations is contested by some scholars, but that phrase and others pertaining to physicians is found in Mark and is uncontested.

Whether or not the phrase is genuine in Luke, I have to wonder, considering the woman’s desire to merely touch the tassel of Jesus’ garment (Luke 8:44; cf. Numbers 15:38-39), what genuine remedy was offered her, and was it physicians, as we understand them today, or faith healers whose services she sought? After all, Jesus never claimed to be a physician in the sense that the medical profession was his chosen vocation. Rather, he was the son of a carpenter (Mark 6:3). Nevertheless, the fact that he healed folks, labeled him a physician (cf. Luke 4:23), which seems to indicate that physicians and faith healers were lumped together, at least among the Jews during the first century AD.

With this in mind, the Jewish Talmud offers some strange ‘cures’ for women having an issue of blood, and these ‘remedies’ were in place during the first century AD:

“…she should be made to sit at cross-roads, hold a cup of wine in her hand, and a man comes up from behind, frightens her and exclaims, ‘Cease your discharge!’ … But if not, let sixty pieces of sealing clay of a [wine] vessel be brought, and let them smear her[1] [therewith] and say to her, ‘Cease your discharge’. But if not, let one take a fern,[2] boil it in wine, smear her with it and say to her, ‘Cease your discharge’. But if not, let one take a thistle growing among Roman thorns,[3] burn it, and gather it up in linen rags in summer and in cotton rags in winter…” [Babylonians Talmud: Shabbath 110b (footnotes in the text)]

Such cures amounted to nothing less than sorcery. If these things represent attempts at religious healings, as I believe they do, there is no mention of God, and nothing is said of prayers that were said during the procedure. Nevertheless, if one would argue the excerpt doesn’t describe spiritual healing but, rather, describes poor medical advice that had no medicinal value, how should we understand the purpose of the words: “Cease your discharge,” which was repeatedly said over the woman after each remedy was applied? The repeated phrase seems to imply the process had more to do with magic or sorcery than anything else. One has to wonder, if it wasn’t this sort of understanding that the woman employed, while believing all she had to do was touch the hem of Jesus’ garment in order to be cured of her hemorrhage.

Nothing in the above excerpt offers any compassion for women who had menstrual problems. In fact some of the cures seem to convey a great disrespect for her. This is not so with Jesus, as he is described in the Synoptics. Luke and Mark tell us that Jesus paused from his journey and repeatedly asked the crowd who touched him (Luke 8:45). He wanted the woman to come forward for her own good. She needed to know how she was healed (cf. Luke 8:48).

The remedies offered in the Talmud excerpt above are very impersonal. While it may express a desire to be successful, it treats the woman as an unimportant object in the pursuit of that success. Jesus, on the other hand, could have gone on to Jairus’ home without ever mentioning the woman, and the woman would have remained healed. In other words, the operation would have been a success whether or not the woman came forward. Nevertheless, Jesus shows us the woman was more important than the healing she received. He wished to bring the healing out into the open so she could rejoice in her restoration to Jewish society. For twelve years she was ashamed and had to remain hidden (Luke 8:43), but now Jesus called her forth, calling her daughter and saying Shalombe at peace, no need to hide or be ashamed (cf. Luke 8:48), come forward and show everyone what God has done for you!


[1] Rashi: after soaking it in water.

[2] Pastina. The word means a low, spreading plant.

[3] Jast.: probably corduelis spinosa.

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Posted by on February 5, 2017 in Gospel of Luke


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