Talitha Qum! An Exploration of the Image of Jesus as Healer-Physician-Savior in the Synoptic Gospels in Relation to the Asclepius Cult


  • Frances Flannery James Madison University


Using social memory theory, I examine three pericopes in the Synoptic Gospels—(i) the raising of Jairus’s daughter from the dead, (ii) the healing of the chronically bleeding woman, and (iii) the raising from the dead of the son of the widow of Nain—to argue that already by the late first century or early second century the earliest Christian audiences of the Gospels would have heard these stories through the lens of traditions associated with the most famous healer of the time, Asclepius—the dream-god known as the “Savior” and “Divine Physician.” I show that the Synoptic Gospels construct the figure of Jesus as healer and divine doctor by contesting the reputation of Asclepius, establishing that Jesus was a better Divine Physician who overcame the constraints of geography, money, time, travel, and ritual that Asclepius placed on his suppliants. This interpretation, firmly situated within the context of Hellenistic Judaism and the influence of the Greco-Roman Asklepieia, resolves a number of puzzling textual elements in these pericopes.

Author Biography

Frances Flannery, James Madison University

Frances Flannery is professor of Judaism and Hebrew Bible at James Madison University (Harrisonburg, VA) and director of the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Terrorism and Peace. She has researched and presented extensively on dreams in antiquity, including on the Asklepios cult and the healing function of dreams. Her publications on the topic include Dreamers, Scribes, and Priests: Jewish Dreams in the Hellenistic and Roman Eras (Brill, 2004); “Dreams in the Ancient Mediterranean World” (Routledge Encyclopedia of Ancient Mediterranean Religions; Routledge, 2015); “Dreams in Second Temple Judaism” (Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception, Volume D; de Gruyter, 2011); and “Dream and Vision Reports” (Dictionary of Early Judaism; Eerdmans, 2009).





Section IV: Coming back to Life in Myth and Narrative