Despite the Talmud being the richest repository of medical remedies in ancient Judaism, this important strain of Jewish thought has been largely ignored – even as the study of ancient medicine has exploded in recent years. In a comprehensive study of this topic, Jason Sion Mokhtarian recuperates this obscure genre of Talmudic text, which has been marginalized in the Jewish tradition since the Middle Ages, to reveal the unexpected depth of the rabbis' medical knowledge. Medicine in the Talmud: Natural and Supernatural Therapies Between Magic and Science (U California Press, 2022) argues that these therapies represent a form of rabbinic scientific rationality that relied on human observation and the use of nature while downplaying the role of God and the Torah in health and illness. Drawing from a wide range of both Jewish and Sasanian sources – from the Bible, the Talmud, and Maimonides to texts written in Akkadian, Syriac, and Mandaic, as well as the incantation bowls – Mokhatarian offers rare insight into how the rabbis of late antique Babylonia adapted the medical knowledge of their time to address the needs of their community. In the process, he narrates an untold chapter in the history of ancient medicine.
Rachel Pagones is an acupuncturist, educator, and author based in Cambridge, England. Her book, Acupuncture as Revolution: Suffering, Liberation, and Love (Brevis Press) was published in 2021.