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July 9, 1973

The Angel of Bethesda

Author Affiliations

American Medical Association Chicago

JAMA. 1973;225(2):181. doi:10.1001/jama.1973.03220290059033

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Cotton Mather (1663-1728), who introduced inoculation into the British colony of Boston (1721), was a Puritan minister. Intellectually precocious, he had a strong interest in medicine and read extensively in medical texts, but chose the ministry as his profession. Yet he maintained a lifelong interest in medicine.

Mather never served an apprenticeship but he had read medicine voraciously and widely, and his own medical book, The Angel of Bethesda, shows an extraordinary acquaintance with the medical teachings of his time. He was deeply religious and all his medical concepts had a religious orientation. A personal god and a personal devil, sin and redemption, colored his medical teachings.

His book was written over a long period, finished in 1724, but never published. Only a few subsequent writers had studied the manuscript. Parts of it—about one fifth—were published by Beall and Shryock in their excellent little book, Cotton Mather. Now for the