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J. Keir Howard’s Medicine, Miracle and Myth in the New Testament, reviewed by David Seal

Howard’s diagnosis of the various medical issues that Jesus attends to diminishes the miraculous nature of his healings. An example of Howard’s approach is found in the description of the healing of the lame man recounted in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 2:1-12; Matt 9:1-8; Luke 5:21-32). He claims the lame person suffered from a psychosomatic disorder, thus rendering him unable to walk. According to Howard, Jesus’ forgiveness of the man’s sins removed his feelings of guilt. With this anxiety gone, Jesus’ command to “get up” created an environment charged with emotion thereby allowing the man to walk again. A couple of other examples that Howard labels as psychosomatic disorders are: the man with the speech defect (Mark 7:31-37) and the women with the hemorrhage (Mark 5:25-34; Matt 9:20-22; Luke 8:43-48). While Howard notes that stress related issues can reduce menstrual bleeding, he states there are cases when excessive bleeding could be attributed to psychological factors.

In the narrative of the nobleman’s son (Matt 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10; John 4:46-54), Howard offers interesting commentary. In this account, he believes that no actual healing occurred through any efforts on Jesus’ part. Instead, Jesus merely gave the official “assurance the crisis had past” and informed him that his son would recover (63).

Howard posits that most of the cases Jesus dealt with in the gospels were psychosomatic in nature, as opposed to illnesses of “anatomical pathology” (28). According to Howard, Jesus administers “abreactive techniques,” which were intended to relieve symptoms in individuals who were afflicted with hysterical illnesses (33). Howard rightly calls attention to the fact there are no records of Jesus healing any broken limbs in the gospel traditions (58). In the end, Howard’s approach leads one to speculate if Jesus should be considered a divine psychiatrist rather than a divine physician.

Despite its medical emphasis, the book is easy to read and informative. Is Howard’s analysis convincing? It is certainly plausible in some of his examples. However, it will be up to the reader to make his or her own diagnosis.

Reviewed by David Seal

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Category: In Depth

About the Author: David R. Seal, M.T.S. (Cornerstone University), Th.M. (Calvin Theological Seminary), is currently pursuing at Ph.D. at Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA and is adjunct faculty at Cornerstone University. He is employed at South Church Lansing, Michigan.

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