Jesus’ miracles of healing in the Gospels are often taken as evidence that the historical Jesus himself was a healer. Studies have accordingly been undertaken into ancient healing practices. The associations between ‘medicine’ and ‘charms’, the physical and the supernatural, is well-documented. We have books about Jesus titled “Jesus the Healer” and “Jesus the Magician”. (I like much that I find in these, by the way.)
Presumably the gospel stories of Jesus’ miracles of healing are thought to be based on traditions that Jesus really was a healer of some kind. Crossan, for example, argues from anthropology and the social nature of illness that Jesus’ acts of healing “worked” because he brought, for example, the outcast leper, into a communal fellowship.
But what if we take the miracles of healings in the Gospel of Mark just as they are written. Let’s not presume they are exaggerations of historical deeds.
Let’s instead read them “just as they are” and see how they might compare other “just as they are” narratives and look at the literary and ideological traditions in which they are written.
I believe that when we do that we will find another source for the miracle stories that really leaves no room for any “historical tradition”.
Thomas L. Thompson has said somewhere in a similar context that when we attempt to historicize or rationalize the miraculous in the Bible, all we end up doing is destroying the original stories. Not all that different from Douglas Adams quip that if you take apart a cat to see how it works, all you end up with is a non-working cat.
A consideration of the wider context offers a quick and obvious answer to the question of the author’s inspiration for the miraculous healings of Jesus.
First, a few examples of what we are talking about here:
Mark 1:30-31 — But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever, and anon they tell him of her. And he came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her
Mark 1:42 — And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed.
Mark 2:11-12 — I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house. And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all
Mark 3:5 — he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.
None of these sound anything like a witch doctor or shaman healing processes. But there is another very obvious set of analogies.
Not all, but much, of the first two following sections is derived from my current reading of The Liberated Gospel: A Comparison of the Gospel of Mark and Greek Tragedy by Gilbert G. Bilezikian.