Original Research - Special Collection: A.G.van Aarde Festschrift

Medical anthropology as an antidote for ethnocentrism in Jesus research? Putting the illness–disease distinction into perspective

Pieter F. Craffert
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 67, No 1 | a970 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v67i1.970 | © 2011 Pieter F. Craffert | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 October 2010 | Published: 14 April 2011

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Pieter F. Craffert, Department of New Testament and Early Christian Studies, University of South Africa, South Africa

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Medicine often has side-effects or unintended consequences that are more harmful than the original disease. Medical anthropology in general and the illness–disease distinction in particular has been introduced into historical Jesus research with the intent to protect it from medicocentrism and thus to offer ways of comprehending sickness and healing in the world of Jesus and his first followers without distorting these phenomena by imposing the biomedical framework onto the texts. In particular the illness–disease distinction is used for making sense of healing accounts whilst claiming to cross the cultural gap. Based on an analysis of the illness–disease distinction in medical anthropology and its use in historical Jesus research this article suggests that instead of protecting from ethnocentrism this distinction actually increases the risk of ethnocentrism and consequently distorts in many instances the healing accounts of the New Testament.


Medical anthropology; historical Jesus research; healing; New Testament


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