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Book and Media Reviews
December 23 2009

Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity

JAMA. 2009;302(24):2710-2711. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1923

Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity is a succinct, thoughtful, well-written, and carefully argued assessment of Christian involvement with medical matters in the first 5 centuries of the common era. But it is more: Ferngren gently invites readers to consider to what extent medicine as it is currently known is a direct descendent of a Christian synthesis. He pursues 2 main inquiries. The first is primarily sociological and considers whether early Christians were distinct in their use of existing (Greek) medicine or their acceptance of associated natural philosophies of pathology and disease causation. Ferngren believes that they were not, though whether they participated or were accepted as Christians is less clear. The second inquiry considers the views, and, to a lesser degree, actions of prominent Christian writers and leaders. The last 2 chapters treat the emergence of a unique Christian concept of philanthropy and its instantiation, particularly in the later Roman empire and in Byzantium, in novel institutions—hospitals and institutions of welfare—that served a broader public but that were conceived and managed by various lay and ecclesial Christian groups.