Disability in the World of the Apostolic Writings

What can we know about the daily lives, experiences, and perceptions of people with disabilities in the Second Temple period? As a Messianic Jewish parent of a child with significant physical disabilities,1 I am particularly interested in how the Apostolic Writings (or New Testament) depict people living with mobility disabilities. This paper draws from emerging scholarship on disability in the ancient world to (1) explore the lives of people with disabilities in the Second Temple period along with society’s perspectives towards them and (2) identify perspectives on disability within the Apostolic Writings.

Methodological considerations

The ancient world had no overarching category describing persons with disabilities.2 While this meant that such individuals were “involved in everyday life” without being boxed in by a disabling categorization, they nevertheless would have faced “a continual balance between integration and exclusion.”3 Uncovering the details of their experiences requires us to translate our modern categories and diagnoses into ancient terminology and ways of thinking.

For purposes of this paper, I will adopt a definition of disability from Martin Albl, who writes:

I cannot do justice to the complex contemporary debates in disability studies. . . . I shall simply follow [bioethicist] David Wasserman by referring to two basic aspects of disability: (1) disability conceived as a kind of natural impairment or functional limitation (a biomedical condition) and (2) disability construed as the social stigma or limitations placed by a society on certain groups who are labeled as “disabled.”4

The following caveats from Kelley are also instructive:

It would be remiss to discuss the culturally contingent nature of . . . disability without mentioning recent scholarship that employs the vocabulary of postmodernity to challenge the entire concept of disability as a normative discourse. . . . disability is not so much an objective reality as the product of discursive practices (broadly construed) that marginalize, exclude, and limit those whose bodies have certain physical traits. . . .
Although these terms and categories were not employed by ancient Greeks and Romans, they nevertheless capture something of the Greco-Roman notion that physically extraordinary individuals fell short of bodily or aesthetic ideals.5

Part 1: Disabilities in the World of the Apostolic Writings

Incidence and prevalence

A wide range of physical disabilities would have been prevalent in the ancient world. Rose writes:

In any given public gathering place, one would have seen a much greater variety of physical conditions than one would see in the developed world today . . . children affected by clubfoot and rickets, people with spastic cerebral palsy, disabled war veterans, and people with a host of other somatic variations.6

Kelley adds:

Many people were disfigured by participation in combat, sporting events, or the acquisition of viral and bacterial diseases and the like; even something as minor as a broken arm or leg was likely to result in permanent deformity or disability.7

Rose continues:

References to permanent physical handicaps are scattered throughout nearly all the literary material, but handicaps did not belong in the domain of rational medicine, which treated curable diseases; in fact, a Hippocratic practitioner’s ability to distinguish an incurable case as opposed to a curable one was part of his skill.8

Concerning paralysis, Celsus wrote:

Relaxing of the sinews is a frequent disease everywhere. It attacks at times the whole body, at times part of it. . . . Those who are gravely paralyzed in all their limbs are as a rule quickly carried off, but if not so carried off, some may live a long while, yet rarely however regain health. Mostly they drag out a miserable existence, their memory lost also.9

Disabilities from birth

Regarding children born with congenital abnormalities, Kelley adds: “The pervasiveness of malnutrition, disease, and interbreeding—all major causes of birth defects—suggests that many infants may have been born with congenital abnormalities.”10 Several Greco-Roman sources prescribe exposure as the appropriate response. In his description of an idealized Republic, Plato wrote, “the offspring of the inferior, and any of those of the other sort who are born defective, they will properly dispose of in secret.”11 And Dionysios of Halikarnassos wrote:

Romulus [the founder of Rome] demanded that all the city’s residents should raise all their male children and the first born of the girls and not kill any child under three unless the child was disabled.12

Kelley cautions against assuming that these texts describe the general practice, highlighting that three of four such passages in the ancient literature are “idealized rather than everyday, ‘real-life’ situations,”13 thus indicating that some Greeks did decide to raise their children born with congenital abnormalities.14 Nevertheless, Abrams observes that “exposure of infants with and without birth defects was so common that the Greeks and the Romans thought it peculiar that Egyptians, Germans, and Jews did not expose any of their children.”15 The Didache, Epistle of Barnabas, and early Christian fathers condemned such practices.16

Artifacts related to disability

Despite the widespread prevalence of disabilities, archaeology has yielded relatively few artifacts having to do with disability.17 “Prostheses or corrective aids [were] known already in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greco-Roman cultures,”18 and we may reasonably assume that handmade carts and buggies were also used.19 The Besorot (Four Gospels) record how one paralytic was carried on a mat or bed.20 Septuagint, Greek inscriptions, and the Mishnah mention walking staffs, crutches, and other assistive devices.21 In light of the limited evidence, accounts from contemporary wheelchair users touring biblical sites may shed additional light on the ancient experience.22

Economic outlook

While we might suppose that people dependent on friends to transport them from place to place would also be economically dependent,23 there is ample evidence that people with mobility disabilities could and did earn a living. One example is Hephaestus, the legendary son of Zeus’s wife Hera who, according to some accounts, was cast out from Mount Olympus when Hera discovered he was “shriveled of foot,”24 only to become the “blacksmith of the gods” and divine patron of metalworkers and other artisans.25 Kelley observes:

[Though] a mythological figure rather than a real person . . . Hephaestus’ reputation for his skills as an artisan is indicative of an economic reality in the ancient world: physically handicapped people were “involved in a wide range of economic activities,” . . . their economic outlook was not necessarily bleak or characterized by utter dependence on family and friends.26

Social standing

Some persons with disabilities might have been able to earn a living in the ancient world, but most experienced degraded social status due to their disabilities. Pliny the Younger described one paralyzed man, Domitius Tullus, as “a pitiful thing”: even though the latter was wealthy enough to meet all his needs and even had slaves to assist him with daily living, “he could only enjoy his huge wealth by looking at it and could not turn in bed without help. He even needed to have his teeth cleaned for him.”27 Plutarch wrote concerning the pharmakos (an ancient Greek human scapegoat ritual which sometimes ended in death28) that cities selected “the most deformed of all” for this ritual. “The most unpleasant and mistreated by nature, maimed and lame man, such sort . . . they sacrificed.”29 Kelley adds that “in late republican and early imperial Rome, deformed individuals emerged as a form of personal entertainment.”30

The Greco-Roman world also practiced physiognomy, an ancient discipline through which, it was thought, one could make deductions about an individual’s moral character based on their physical appearance.31 Under physiognomic reasoning, bodily deformity or ugliness signifies defects of character or the soul. “Physiognomic consciousness diverts attention from literal disability to questions of inner character.”32 33 One example of physiognomic reasoning with implications for those lacking leg mobility is found in Polemon of Laodicea:

If you see contracted, strong feet, and their tendons are straight and strong, and their joints are evenly proportioned, these are the signs of powerful and mighty men. If the feet are very fleshy and soft, they indicate weakness, softness, and laxity.34

Stigmatization happened in the Jewish world as well. 4 Ezra 2:21 commands, “Do not ridicule a lame man.” The Apocryphon of Ezekiel (first century BCE or first century CE) appears to assume, in its figurative representation of the body and soul as a lame man and a blind man, that each is only “half a man.”35 Ben Sira’s generalizations about comportment echo the physiognomic perspective.36 Cason argues that the narratives in Philo’s Life of Moses, 4 Maccabees, Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, and the Testament of Job all “employ a unique strategy for restoring the disabled male body,” which constitutes an able-bodied bias.37

In the early rabbinic corpus, M. Hagigah 1:1 exempts a number of groups from the obligation to appear three times a year at the Temple, including “the lame” and others “who cannot ascend to the Temple Mount on their own feet.” Whether this exemption constituted a formal and ritual exclusion is “hotly debated and probably irresolvable” according to Parsons, who finds that “the location of the lame man at ‘the gate of the temple’ [in Acts 3:2] raises a question: would the authorial audience have inferred that the man was socially ostracized, lying, as it were, ‘outside’ the boundaries of institutional religion?”38

Part 2: Perspectives on Disability in the Apostolic Writings

Parson’s question hints at the complexities involved in parsing perspectives on disabilities in the Apostolic Writings: individual texts may simultaneously reveal multiple perspectives, both within the text (of named and unnamed characters, bystanders) and behind/beyond the text (author, original audience, later reception history). The following is an attempt to characterize recurring themes against the background laid in the first part of the paper.

Tensions in the reception history of apostolic perspectives on disability

The majority of times that individuals with disabilities appear in the Apostolic Writings is as a prelude to them being miraculously healed. This has led some to suggest that the New Testament has “fuelled destructive attitudes towards disability.”39 While these healings confer obvious benefits on their recipients, they also can reinforce beliefs about normal/abled bodies, suggesting (either implicitly or explicitly) that the answer to the questions raised by disabled bodies is that those bodies cannot be fully incorporated into the communal “body” until they are healed (that is, conformed to the norm). Furthermore, if disability has two components, physical and social (the latter being manifested not only in the person with the disability but also in the community around them), then healing an individual addresses the first aspect but not necessarily the second (and risks reinforcing pre-existing social stigmas). Mitchell and Snyder describe this as “the erasure rather than acceptance of disability.”40

Another phenomenon associated with these healing stories is the “invisibilizing” of disabled bodies behind “supposedly more important spiritual-theological realities.”41 It may be difficult to discern whether this phenomenon is found explicitly in the texts or read into them by interpreters.42

We also find physiognomic reasoning at work in some of the healing stories of the Besorot. Carter writes:

Jesus employs this physiognomic framework to link illness and sin in [his] warning [to] the newly healed man [in John 5:14, which] frames the man’s disabling 38 year illness as a reflection of and punishment for his sinful character. The disciples do the same thing with the man born blind of chapter 9. On seeing the man, their immediate response is to ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents . . . ?” (John 9:2). Their default assumption is physiognomic. . . . On this occasion, interestingly, Jesus subverts this view of disability—perhaps in a worse way—by attributing the man’s blindness to God and declaring the man to be a “sort of photo opportunity” for God’s working (9:3).43

When Carter questions the appropriateness of Yeshua’s attributing the man’s blindness to God, he interprets “the works of God” quite narrowly, as if it refers solely to the man’s impending healing. However, the plural “works” suggests that Yeshua has a broader set of referents in mind (perhaps distributed over the course of the man’s life). Reframing disability as a channel for God’s work to be accomplished is a perspective attested elsewhere in the Apostolic Writings (see below). This way of seeing difference as part of God’s will for a person may be likened to the perspective found in b. Berachot 58b that, upon seeing someone with a congenital disability, one should recite a blessing of the God “who makes people different.”

Another alternative to reading miracle stories as acts of erasure is found by asking questions about agency. On at least one occasion, Yeshua asked an individual, “What would you have me do for you?44 Rather than assuming that the man wants or needs to be cured of his blindness, Yeshua gives agency to the individual by allowing him to specify his as-yet-unstated request.45

As for ancient physiognomic thinking, Parsons locates an instance of the Apostolic Writings subverting such reasoning in the Acts 3 account of the healing of a man lame from birth.46 While the depiction of the healed man standing boldly alongside the apostles (in 4:13–14) does align with ancient physiognomic expectations, the man’s immediate response to being healed is in dramatic contrast to the “slow, dignified gait” prescribed by ancient Greco-Roman (and later Christian) writers as appropriate for “a man of courage and vigorous character.”47 Like many commentators, Parsons finds in this reaction—“walking and leaping and praising God”—an intertextual echo of Isaiah 35:5–6a48 by which “Luke shows that [the man] is an enthusiastic and grateful member of the eschatological community of God.”49 Parson concludes:

The authorial audience experiences both continuity with and discontinuity from physiognomic conventions as Luke subverts them in the name of Jewish eschatological expectation. . . . Luke invokes the categories of physiognomy and cultural biases against the disabled only to overturn them.50

This brings us to a final perspective on disability in the Apostolic Writings: the potential for people with disabilities to serve redemptively as leaders and exemplars within the community, either in spite of or because of their disabilities. Two figures embodying this perspective are Paul and Yeshua himself. Disability, rather than being “a master trope of human disqualification,”51 thereby becomes a channel for unlocking the power of God on behalf of others.

Paul, apostle with a disability

In Galatians 4:13–14,52 Paul references a “physical ailment,” which Albl and others interpret as a functional disability.53 In 2 Corinthians 12:7,54 Paul speaks of his “thorn in the flesh,” understood by most interpreters as a physical illness or disability.55 Each passage also invokes an associated stigma: Albl also identifies the Galatians’ “trial” as “the temptation to attach a social stigma to Paul’s disability” (possibly due to the “common ancient etiology . . . that sin caused disability”56) while in 2 Corinthians 10:10, Paul quotes a criticism levied at him by so-called “super-apostles” that uses physiognomic reasoning to undermine his standing with the Corinthians.57

Noting that the term translated “reject” in Galatians 4:14 literally means “to spit out,” Albl suggests that Paul had a mild form of epilepsy, described in Roman sources as “the disease that is spat upon.”58 In other words, Paul’s physical infirmity and limited speaking ability are purported to be outward signs of an inward deficiency. But rather than deny his weaknesses, Paul glories in them, claiming:

[God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Messiah may dwell in me. (2 Cor 12:9 TLV)

After all, it was due to an illness that Paul first preached the good news to the Galatians—his message received in part because the Galatians refused to yield to the societal stigma surrounding Paul’s disability.

A disabled Messiah?

As for Yeshua himself: Albl argues that when Paul wrote, “Jewish people ask for signs and Greek people seek after wisdom, but we proclaim Messiah crucified—a stumbling block to Jewish people and foolishness to Greeks,” (1 Cor 1:22–23, adapted from TLV), his description of a crucified Messiah fit exactly into the definition of disability, since:

On the one hand, a crucified person was the ultimate symbol of “functional limitations”—a person stripped of all ability to do anything for him or herself. With regard to the second aspect of disability, a crucified person bore the ultimate in social stigmatization.59

This idea is foreshadowed by Isaiah 53, a key messianic passage in the Apostolic Writings that invokes disability.60 Seen through this lens, Yeshua takes his place in a storied line of Jewish figures whose disability served as a channel for divine action on Israel’s behalf, including the matriarch Sarah (whose infertility precipitated a miraculous conception), patriarch Isaac and matriarch Leah (both of whom had weak eyesight), Jacob/Israel (who walked with a limp after wrestling the angel), and Moses (who was “slow of speech”).


Western civilization traces its roots to Greco-Roman philosophy and culture, and an investigation of the experiences of individuals with disabilities in the ancient world reveals “the darker side of Roman culture . . . most disabled people in the Roman world would have existed on the margins of society, condemned to lives of poverty and isolation.”61 As Christian influence pervaded the Roman Empire, the lot of individuals with disabilities improved since

Christian authors emphasise[d] the right to life for every individual, and ponder[ed] the place of their handicapped fellow humans within God’s creation . . . [leading to] hospitals and institutes to which people with disabilities could also turn [and an exponential increase in] the number of sources for disability history.62

This institutional growth was motivated by the conviction that healthcare was vital to the mission of the church, not only in light of the common humanity of individuals who needed it, but also for the sake of the salvation of the community as a whole.63 Likewise, theologians of disability in our time have taken up the task of recovering and expounding this and similar convictions, in the hope that, through inclusion of all God’s people, our communities can become both whole and holy.64

In today’s world, where nearly one in seven people has a disability,65 the message of the Apostolic Writings about an inclusive eschatological “body” made up of many members, all following a handicapped Messiah, still resounds as good news. People with disabilities should not be marginalized, but honored, for “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are [in fact] indispensable” (1 Cor 12:22 NIV). If our experience falls short of this vision, we must ask ourselves whether we have yet to fully embrace the good news—for “God has chosen the ‘weak’ things of the world to put to shame the things which are ‘mighty’” (1 Cor 12:27 NKJV adapted).

Rabbi Yahnatan Lasko is a second-generation Messianic Jew from the Washington D.C. area. He grew up at Beth Messiah Congregation, a synagogue he now helps to lead, and attended Ets Chaiyim, a Messianic Jewish day school, from preschool through high school. Having completed two engineering degrees at Johns Hopkins University, he currently works as a computer scientist. He completed a Masters of Jewish Studies from MJTI in 2016 and was ordained by the UMJC in 2018 and the MJRC in 2019. He and his wife Kristen are exploring Judaism from the perspective of different abilities with their son Max, who has spinal muscular atrophy.

1 Max is seven years old and has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), type 1. http://www.maxstrength.org.

2 Martha L. Rose, The Staff of Oedipus: Transforming Disability in Ancient Greece (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003), 9–11.

3 Christian Laes, Disabilities and the Disabled in the Roman World: A Social and Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), vii.

4 Martin Albl, “For Whenever I Am Weak, Then I Am Strong: Disability in Paul’s Epistles,” in This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies, eds. Hector Avalos, Sarah J. Melcher and Jeremy Schipper (Boston: Brill, 2007), 145.

5 Nicole Kelley, “Deformity and Disability in Ancient Rome,” in This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies, eds. Hector Avalos, Sarah J. Melcher and Jeremy Schipper (Boston: Brill, 2007), 34.

6 Rose, 9–11.

7 Kelley, 31.

8 Rose, 11.

9 Celsus, On Medicine, vol. 1 (trans. Spencer), 3.27. Quoted in Wendy Cotter, Miracles in Greco-Roman Antiquity: A Sourcebook for the Study of New Testament Miracle Stories (London: Routledge, 1999), 220.

10 Kelley, 31.

11 Book five of The Republic (460c), quoted in Kelley, 36 (translation attributed to Shorey).

12 Victoria Brignel, “Ancient world: Smeared in mustard, paraded naked—the curious and often cruel treatment of disabled people in Anci,” in New Statesman, April 7, 2008, https://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/crips-column/2008/04/disabled-slaves-child-roman.

13 Kelley, 36 (citing Rose, 31–34).

14 Kelley, 37.

15 Judith Z. Abrams, Judaism and Disability: Portrayals in Ancient Texts from the Tanach through the Bavli (Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 1998), 121.

16 “Contraception, procreation, and abortion, ethics of,” in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, eds. F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 410.

17 Kelley, 31.

18 Julia Watts Belser and Lennart Lehmhaus, “Disability in rabbinic culture: Identifying disability in rabbinic sources,” in Disability in Antiquity, ed. Christian Laes (London: Routledge, 2017), 442.

19 Janet Lees, “Enabling the Body,” in This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies, eds. Hector Avalos, Sarah J. Melcher and Jeremy Schipper (Boston: Brill, 2007), 170.

20 Mark 2:1–4 and Luke 5:17–20; c.f. Cephesias, whose healing from crippling horse-riding accident was attributed to Asclepius. See Cotter, 20.

21 LXX 2 Sam. 3:29; Inscriptiones Graecae 4.1.121–122: Stele 2.36, quoted in Cotter, 20; m. Shabbat 6:8. The Mishnah also mentions specialized supportive cushions called samokhot/semukhot (lit. “supports”); see Belser and Lehmhaus, 447–448, who note:

None of these texts contain information about the actual production, usage or treatment of medical problems resulting from the prosthesis or aid. Instead, the discussions remain focused on technical-halakhic issues, relating to whether using such an aid violates the commandments regarding Shabbat and the Day of Atonement or whether the device can transmit (ritual) impurity.

22 The following experience of a modern-day wheelchair user visiting some of the locations mentioned in the Besorot (as part of an attempt “to interpret the Palm Sunday story from the perspective of people with disabilities”) gives us an additional window into the ancient experience:

[As] a pilgrim in Jerusalem, [Andrew] felt very vulnerable in the crowds in his wheelchair. In some places on this journey, he sat out of his wheelchair on the ground, in the dust looking at people’s legs. Andrew reminds us that this is the main view people with severely impaired mobility would have had of Jesus’ ministry in first-century Palestine: just the legs. This could have been quite frightening. It is therefore not surprising that people might have shouted out as a way of drawing attention to themselves so that people did not step on them.

See Lees, 169.

23 As attested in Y. Peah 8:9, a tale of how a visit paid by Nahum, Ish Gamzo (R. Akiva’s teacher) to a blind man inspired the man’s town to make better provisions for his needs. See Abrams, 97–98.

24 Kelley, 37 (quoting the declaration of Hera in the Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo 316–18).

25 Fritz Graf, “Hephaestus,” in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, eds. Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, 3rd ed. revised (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 682.

26 Kelley, 41 (quoting Rose, 40). Examples cited by Kelley include “earn[ing] a living as potters, leather workers, teachers and metal workers, [and] serving in the military.”

27 Kelley, 41.

28 Jan N. Bremmer, “pharmakos,” in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, eds. Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, 3rd ed. revised (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 1155.

29 Todd M. Compton, Victim of the Muses: Poet as Scapegoat, Warrior and Hero in Greco-Roman and Indo-European Myth and History, (Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies), https://chs.harvard.edu/CHS/article/display/4912.part-i-greece-1-the-pharmakos-in-archaic-greece.

30 Kelley, 40, quoting Carlin A. Barton:

The dwarf and the giant, the hunchback and the living skeleton ceased being prodigies and became pets; they ceased being destroyed and expiated and became objects of the attention and cultivation of every class.

She also observes:

Plutarch comments on the existence of a “monster market” in Rome (Moralia 520c), and Longinus reports that the demand for distorti is so great that some children are being deliberately deformed, presumably to increase their market value (De sublimitate 44.5; Barton: 86).

31 Maria Michela Sassi, “physiognomy,” in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, eds. Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, 3rd ed. revised, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 1181.

32 Warren Carter, “‘The blind, the lame, and the paralyzed’ (John 5:3): John’s Gospel, Disability Studies, and Postcolonial Perspectives” in Disability Studies and Biblical Literature, eds. Candida R. Moss and Jeremy Schipper (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 132.

33 This sort of reasoning endures as a narrative device in film and TV. Critics refer to the “evil cripple” or “disabled villain” tropes. See Alaina Leary, “How Disfigured Villains Like ‘Wonder Woman’s’ Dr. Poison Perpetuate Stigma,” Teen Vogue, July 5, 2017. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/disfigured-villains-dr-poison-wonder-woman. See also the entries for “Disabled Villain” and “Evil Cripple” at TVTropes.org. Retrieved on May 27, 2018.

34 5.15–19, quoted in Parsons, 153. Parsons comments:

In a culture where the physiognomic consciousness pervaded, “well made” ankles and feet are a sign of a “robust character”; conversely, the lame man’s weak ankles would have been viewed as an outward physical sign of his inner weak moral character, his malakos, his “soft,” “timid,” “cowardly,” or “effeminate” nature. This weakness is confirmed by his passivity in the narrative: he “is carried”; he is “laid daily at the gate”; “Peter took him by the right hand” and “raised him up.”

35 Mikeal C. Parsons, “His Feet and Ankles Were Made Strong: Signs of Character in the Man Lame from Birth,” in Disability Studies and Biblical Literature, eds. Candida R. Moss and Jeremy Schipper (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 154. (Parson cites the translation found in Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol 1.)

36 “A man’s clothes, and the way he laughs, and his gait, reveal his character” Ecclesiasticus 19:20–30, quoted in Abrams, 109.

37 Cason writes:

Philo reinterprets Moses’ claim of impaired speech as an indication of his modesty. The writer of 4 Maccabees metaphorically repairs the crumbled bodies of its martyrs by casting them as representational athletes of virtue. Repentance eradicates disablement in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. The Testament of Job provides its hero with a magical prosthesis that restores his body to its previous condition.

See Thomas Cason, “Four Narratival Strategies for Repairing Disabled Masculinity in the Second Temple Tradition,” Biblical Interpretation, Volume 23, Issue 4-5 (Boston: Brill: 2015), 601–622. http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/10.1163/15685152-02345p07.

38 Parsons, 154.

39 Richard S. Ascough and Mary Ann McColl, “Jesus and the Disabled: Old Stories, New Approaches,” Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling, Volume 63, Issue 3–4. First published online: September 1, 2009, https://doi.org/10.1177/154230500906300312, 1. Available online at https://www.academia.edu/5608299/Jesus_and_the_Disabled_Old_Stories_New_Approaches_2009_with_Mary_Ann_McColl.

40 David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder, “‘Jesus Thrown Everything Off Balance’: Disability and Redemption in Biblical Literature,” in Disability Studies and Biblical Literature, eds. Candida R. Moss and Jeremy Schipper (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 178.

41 Carter, 130.

42 Carter, 130. He explains:

Rudolf Bultmann, for instance, subsumes these characters [with disabilities] under the theme of christological revelation: “the signs reveal Jesus’ glory” and create a crisis of decision for those who witness them. Specific scenes are often read in similar invisibilizing ways. The child close to death disappears behind questions of the role of faith and its relationship with signs (4:46–54), the paralyzed man is overshadowed by Sabbath and Christological matters (Jesus’ identity, origin, mission, and relationship with God, 5:1–47), the man born blind (chapter 9) becomes invisible behind discussions of his progress to christological insight.

43 Carter, 130. Some commentators disagree with Carter that John 5:14 depicts Jesus endorsing physiognomic reasoning (especially in light of his apparent rejection of this view in 9:2–3); see Robert Kysar, John, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament, eds. Roy A. Harrrisville, Jack Dean Kingsbury, and Gerhard A. Krodel (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986), 78; and Gerard Sloyan, John, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, eds. James L. Mays, Patrick D. Miller, and Paul J. Achtemeier (Atlanta: John Knox, 1988). Lizorkin-Eyzenberg and Thompson suggest that the Pool at Bethesda was associated with the Asclepius cult and therefore the man’s sin was that of idolatry. See Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, The Jewish Gospel of John: Discovering Jesus, King of All Israel (Tel Aviv: Jewish Studies for Christians, 2015); and Robin Thompson. “Healing at the Pool of Bethesda: A Challenge to Asclepius?” Bulletin for Biblical Research 27, no. 1 (2017): 65–84. Accessed December 17, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/bullbiblrese.27.1.0065.

44 Mark 10:51; Luke 18:41. John 5:6 also records Yeshua asking a man about healing, although there the question is less open-ended and also utilizes language that some might consider ableist (e.g. “Would you like to be made whole?”).

45 The unseating of ableist assumptions about the felt needs of individuals with disabilities is also illustrated by this account from well-known Christian author and disability advocate Joni Eareckson Tada:

It happens to me all the time. I’m at a conference somewhere and invariably a brother or sister in Christ, well meaning, will approach and ask if they could please pray for me. . . . I’d never be one to refuse intercession on my behalf. But occasionally those prayers are not for safety or strength; these people want me to be miraculously healed by Jesus. These dear Christians, bless their hearts, would love to see me rise up out of my wheelchair, get back use of my hands. . . . Recently someone approached [my friend Linda Cybul who uses a wheelchair] and asked, “May I pray for your healing, Linda?” She thought for a moment and said, “Sure, but may I tell you my number one healing request? I really need prayer for my selfishness; would you pray away my doubts and fears? And please pray that I won’t be crippled by any bitterness or resentments.” Bingo! My sentiments exactly.

See Joni Eareckson Tada, “A Deeper Kind of Healing,” Radio, Joni and Friends, last modified October 26, 2017, http://www.joniandfriends.org/radio/4-minute/deeper-kind-healing1/.

46 Parsons, 151ff.

47 Parsons, 158.

48 “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing.” (Isa 35:5–6a TLV)

49 Parsons, 158.

50 Parsons, 158–159.

51 Mitchell and Snyder, 174.

52 “You know it was because of a physical ailment that I proclaimed the Good News to you the first time; and though my physical condition was a trial to you, you did not hate or reject me. No, you welcomed me as a messenger of God—or even as Messiah Yeshua.” (Gal 4:13–14, TLV)

53 Albl, 156–157.

54 “So that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me—a messenger of satan to torment me, so I would not exalt myself” (2 Cor 12:7b TLV).

55 G. H. Twelftree, “Healing, Illness,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, eds. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1993), 379.

56 Albl, 154.

57 “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his presence in person is weak and his speech of no account’” (2 Cor 10:10 TLV).

58 Albl, 153–154. Albl writes:

The act of spitting carried a wide range of cultural meaning in ancient Jewish and Hellenistic societies. One major sense was an apotropaic one: spitting as a means of keeping a disability away from oneself (see examples in Wilkinson: 218). Thus the first-century Roman writer Pliny says, “We spit on epileptics in a fit, that is, we throw back infection (contagia). In a similar way we ward off witchcraft and bad luck which follows meeting a person lame in the right leg” (Nat. 28.7, Jones). The playwright Plautus describes epilepsy as morbus qui insputatur (“the disease that is spat upon”; Capt. 3.4, 550, Nixon). The custom was doubtless connected with the belief that saliva had healing qualities (e.g., Mark 7:33; 8:23; John 9:3; Wilkinson: 117).

Adela Yarbro Collins also supports this interpretation, rebutting what she sees as the strongest objection (e.g. Paul could not possibly have accomplished what he did if he were an epileptic), by citing “good evidence . . . that Julius Caesar was epileptic.” See Adela Yarbro Collins, “Paul’s Disability: The Thorn in His Flesh,” in Disability Studies and Biblical Literature, eds. Candida R. Moss and Jeremy Schipper (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 165ff.

59 Albl, 149.

60 Abrams, 76–78.

61 Brignel.

62 Laes, 13.

63 Sarah E. Becker, “Awaking to Mutual, Reciprocal Need in Plague and Epidemic Disease: The Origins of Early Christian Health Care,” The Linacre Quarterly (October 2020), https://doi.org/10.1177/0024363920962958.

64 Amos Yong, The Bible, Disability, and the Church: A New Vision of the People of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011); Critical Reflections on Stanley Hauerwas’ Theology of Disability: Disabling Society, Enabling Theology, ed. John W. Swinton (London: Routledge, 2005); Nancy L. Eisland, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994); Justin Hancock, The Julian Way: A Theology of Fullness for All God’s People (Eugene: Cascade, 2018). For comparable reflections by Jewish thinkers, see Jewish Perspectives on Theology and the Human Experience of Disability, eds. Rabbi Judith Z. Abrams and William C. Gaventa (Binghamton: Hayworth Pastoral Press, 2006).

65 Joanne Silberner, “Nearly 1 in 7 People on Earth Is Disabled, Survey Finds,” Shots: Health News from NPR, June 9, 2011, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2011/06/09/137084239/nearly-1-in-7-people-on-earth-are-disabled-survey-finds.

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