“The Poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame”: physical and sensory disability in the Gospels of the New Testament
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 01:08 by Louise Anne Gosbell
The New Testament gospels feature numerous social exchanges between Jesus and people with various physical and sensory disability. Yet, traditional biblical scholarship has considered these exchanges as merely incidental. For many scholars addressing the gospels, people with disability described therein have not been considered agents in their own right but exist only to highlight the actions of Jesus as a miracle worker. The aim of this study is to use disability as a lens through which to explore a number of these passages anew. Although these pericopae have been examined at length by numerous scholars, they have rarely been figured specifically in relation to disability. Using the cultural model of disability as the theoretical basis for this examination, we contend that ancient authors use disability as a means of understanding, organising, and interpreting the experiences of humanity. In much the same way that different cultures have their own unique interpretations and expectations of the body based on gender, ethnicity, or sexuality, so it is also the case with human ability/disability. In this way, every body, whether deemed able-bodied or ‘deviant’, is assigned meaning within the context of its own social, cultural, and religious milieu. This study examines both the Greco-Roman and Jewish background of the gospels prior to assessing the New Testament gospels themselves through three case studies, each addressing different aspects of human ability/disability within the framework of Jesus’ ministry. These investigations highlight the ways in which the gospel writers reinforce and reflect, as well as subvert, culturally-driven constructions of disability in the ancient world. We contend that the use of disability as a tool for reading the New Testament will afford us the opportunity to evaluate the gospel material from a new and illuminating perspective and thus contribute to the growing field of disability and biblical studies.