New book – ‘Madness’ in the Ancient World: Innate or Acquired? From Theoretical Concepts to Daily Life, ed. by Christian Laes, Irina Metzler, Brepols


This is the first book volume ever to study the ‘difficult’ subject of congenital, intellectual disability in the ancient world. The contributions cover the Ancient Near East, Egypt and the Graeco-Roman world, up to the late ancient period, China, the rabbinic tradition, Byzantium, the Islamic world, and the Middle Ages in the Latin West. The engaging and thought-provoking chapters combine careful textual analysis with attention to the material evidence and comparative perspectives, not the least those offered by disability history for recent periods in history.



1. Hidden in Plain Sight or Simply Untraceable? The Challenge of Studying Intellectual Disability in the Ancient World (Christian Laes)

2. ‘Mad Bones’: Tracing Mental Disability in the Bioarchaeological Record and its Possible Socio-Economic Implications in Past Societies (Chryssa Bourbou)
3. Dagger of the Mind: Macedonian Kings and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) (Alexandra F. Morris)
4. The Quest for Down Syndrome (and Other Symptoms) in Antiquity (Edgar Kellenberger)
5. Excluded from the Kingdom or Leading the Revolution? Môroi and the Question of Intellectual Disability in New Testament Writings (Dominika Kurek-Chomycz & Emma Swai)
6. Brain Injury and Intellectual Disabilities in Early and Medieval China: Two Case Studies (Olivia Milburn)
7. The Shoteh in Rabbinic Sources: Intellectual Disability or Mental Illness? (Lennart Lehmhaus)
8. Searching for Intellectual Disability in Byzantium (Fotis Vasileiou)
9. Fools in Arabic Medicine and Hospitals: Medical, Social and Economic Studies (Peter E. Pormann)
10. Incapacitas mentis: Mediaeval Musings on Congenital Fools (Irina Metzler)
11. Living Creatively with Intellectual Disabilities: A Father’s Observations as an Opportunity for Historical Research (Edgar Kellenberger)

General Index
Source Index

More on the editor’s website

New Book – Disability, Medicine, and Healing Discourse in Early Christianity, ed. by Susan R. Holman, Chris L. de Wet, Jonathan L. Zecher, Routledge

Susan R. Holman, Chris L. de Wet, Jonathan L. Zecher (Editors)

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Routledge; 1st edition (August 4, 2023)
Language ‏ : ‎ English
Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 194 pages
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0367521004

Using contemporary theories drawn from health humanities, this volume analyses the nature and effects of disability, medicine, and health discourse in a variety of early Christian literature.

In recent years, the “medical turn” in early Christian studies has developed a robust literature around health, disability, and medicine, and the health humanities have made critical interventions in modern conversations around the aims of health and the nature of healthcare. Considering these developments, it has become clear that early Christian texts and ideas have much to offer modern conversations, and that these texts are illuminated using theoretical lenses drawn from modern medicine and public health. The chapters in this book explore different facets of early Christian engagement with medicine, either in itself or as metaphor and material for theological reflections on human impairment, restoration, and flourishing. Through its focus on late antique religious texts, the book raises questions around the social, rather than biological, aspects of illness and diminishment as a human experience, as well as the strategies by which that experience is navigated. The result is an innovative and timely intervention in the study of health and healthcare that bridges current divides between historical studies and contemporary issues.

Taken together, the book offers a prismatic conversation of perspectives on aspects of care at the heart of societal and individual “wellness” today, inviting readers to meet or revisit patristic texts as tracings across a map of embodied identity, dissonance, and corporal care. It is a fascinating resource for anyone working on ancient medicine and health, or the social worlds of early Christianity.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Discourses of Health between Late Antiquity and Postmodernity; 

Part One: Marking Bodies, Making Communities; 

2. Christ the Physician and his Deaf Followers: Medical Metaphors in the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch – Anna Rebecca Sølevag;

3. A Circumcising Mission to the Gentiles and Hazing Culture – Adam Booth;

4. Pain in Ancient Medicine and Literature, and Early Christianity: A Paradox of Insharability and Agency – Helen Rhee; 

Part Two: Defining Patients, Delimiting Communities; 

5. To Be, or Not to Be Sterile: that is a Question of Well-being in Byzantine Medical Discourse of the Sixth Century AD – Elisa Groff;

6. The Negotiation of Meaning in Late Antique Clinical Practice: Alexander of Tralles and “Natural Remedies” – Jonathan L. Zecher;

7. Medical Discourse, Identity Formation, and Otherness in Early Eastern Christianity – Chris L. de Wet; 

Part Three: Performing Health, Preserving Communities; 

8. Hagiography and “Mental Health” in Late Antique Monasticism – Paul Dilley;

9. Shaping Water: Public Health and the ‘Medicine of Mortality’ in Late Antiquity – Susan R. Holman; 


10. Intersecting Christian Antiquity and Modern Health Care – Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen.

More information on the editor’s website.

New Book – The Malleable Body: Surgeons, Artisans, and Amputees in Early Modern Germany, by Heidi Hausse, pub. by Manchester University

This book uses amputation and prostheses to tell a new story about medicine and embodied knowledge-making in early modern Europe. It draws on the writings of craft surgeons and learned physicians to follow the heated debates that arose from changing practices of removing limbs, uncovering tense moments in which decisions to operate were made. Importantly, it teases out surgeons’ ideas about the body embedded in their technical instructions.

This unique study also explores the material culture of mechanical hands that amputees commissioned locksmiths, clockmakers, and other artisans to create, revealing their roles in developing a new prosthetic technology. Over two centuries of surgical and artisanal interventions emerged a growing perception, fundamental to biomedicine today, that humans could alter the body – that it was malleable.


1 Writing the craft of surgery
2 Communities face the cold fire
3 Visions of the body
4 After the operation
5 Mechanical hands
6 Prosthetic technology on the move

More information on the editor’s website

New book – Disabled Clerics in the Late Middle Ages, by Ninon Dubourg, pub. by Amsterdam University Press

Un/suitable for Divine Service?

The petitions received and the letters sent by the Papal Chancery during the Late Middle Ages attest to the recognition of disability at the highest levels of the medieval Church. These documents acknowledge the existence of physical and/or mental impairments, with the papacy issuing dispensations allowing some supplicants to adapt their clerical missions according to their abilities. A disease, impairment, or old age could prevent both secular and regular clerics from fulfilling the duties of their divine office. Such conditions can, thus, be understood as forms of disability. In these cases, the Papal Chancery bore the responsibility for determining if disabled people were suitable to serve as clerics, with all the rights and duties of divine services. Whilst some petitioners were allowed to enter the clergy, or – in the case of currently serving churchmen – to stay more or less active in their work, others were compelled to resign their position and leave the clergy entirely. Petitions and papal letters lie at intersection of authorized, institutional policy and practical sources chronicling the lived experiences of disabled people in the Middle Ages. As such, they constitute an excellent analytical laboratory in which to study medieval disability in its relation to the papacy as an institution, alongside the impact of official ecclesiastical judgments on disabled lives.
Table of Contents
Introduction: A Formal Dialogue
Chapter 1: Legal Origins of the Prohibition on Clerical Disability
Chapter 2: Aetiologies of Impairment: Congenital, Geriatric, and Acquired Conditions
Chapter 3: Joining the Clergy
Chapter 4: Staying in the Clergy
Chapter 5: Leaving the Clergy
List of works cited for each chapter

New book – Hospitals in Communities of the Late Medieval Rhineland, by Lucy Barnhouse, pub. by Amsterdam University Press

From the mid-twelfth century onwards, the development of European hospitals was shaped by their claim to the legal status of religious institutions, with its attendant privileges and responsibilities. The questions of whom hospitals should serve and why they should do so have recurred ― and been invested with moral weight ― in successive centuries, though similarities between medieval and modern debates on the subject have often been overlooked. Hospitals’ legal status as religious institutions could be tendentious and therefore had to be vigorously defended in order to protect hospitals’ resources. This status could also, however, be invoked to impose limits on who could serve in and be served by hospitals. As recent scholarship demonstrates, disputes over whom hospitals should serve, and how, find parallels in other periods of history and current debates.

Table of Contents

Houses of God
Civic Hospitals in the City and Archdiocese of Mainz
Mainz’s Hospital Sisters and the Rights of Religious Women
Leprosaria and the Leprous: Legal Status and Social Ties
“For all miserable persons”: Small and Extra-Urban Hospitals
Hospitals and their Networks: Recreating Relationships

More info on the publisher website

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