In Matthew, Disability, and Stress: Examining Impaired Characters in the Context of Empire, Jillian D. Engelhardt examines four Matthean healing narratives, focusing on the impaired characters in the scenes. Her reading is informed by both empire studies and social stress theory, a method that explores how the stress inherent in social location can affect psychosomatic health. By examining the Roman imperial context in which common folk lived and worked, she argues that attention to social and somatic circumstances, which may have accompanied or caused the described disabilities/impairments, destabilizes readings of these stories that suggest the encounter with Jesus was straightforwardly good and the healing was permanent. Instead, Engelhardt proposes various new contexts for and offers more nuanced characterizations of the disabled/impaired people in each discussed scene, resulting in ambiguous interpretations that de-center Jesus and challenge able-bodied assumptions about embodiment, disability, and healing.
Jillian D. Engelhardt (PhD., Brite Divinity School) currently works for the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and adjuncts at Texas Christian University.
1. Locating an Impairment-Focused Reading
2. Foundations for Investigation
3. Rome’s Disabling Slave System (Matthew 8:5–13)
4. Demons and Colonization (Matthew 8:28–34)
5. The Labor Market, Poverty, and Impairment (Matthew 12:9–14)
6. Women, Families, and Grief (Matthew 15:21–28)
Centering the impaired bodies of Gospel characters allows Jillian D. Engelhardt to move the focus of the Matthean “miracle” stories away from Jesus and to the somatic-societal circumstances of these characters who are often given minimal textual attention. Her multifaceted hermeneutic that foregrounds stressors exposes the ambiguities of the healing stories whether by removing and/or intensifying and/or introducing new ones. Refusing “spiritualized” readings and attending to the somatic-societal-imperial circumstances of these impaired characters, she rejects optimistically unrealistic readings with the recognition of ambiguities and nuances. This is an important book.
An important and timely contribution, this book invites readers to explore four healing stories in Matthew’s gospel through the lens of social theory with special attention to the experiences of the ones being healed. The book effectively utilizes historical imagination to shift attention from above to below, from Jesus to the ones he heals. Engelhardt’s willingness to name the more problematic aspects of Jesus’s actions in the healing narratives is a welcome addition to disability studies and will leave readers wanting more.
Jillian D. Engelhardt provides a fresh interpretation of healing narratives in Matthew’s Gospels. Drawing upon disability studies and empire studies, while adding the lens of social stress theory creates an insightful reading. Engelhardt emphasizes the stress encountered in the everyday lives of persons living in the Roman Empire, particularly those who were enslaved, demon-possessed, or living with a child who was ill. She argues that when we consider these stressors, and what the result of Jesus’ healing of each person may have been, these healings may not be the “good news” they are usually presented to be.
In this volume, Jillian D. Engelhardt challenges readers of Matthew to consider the question of disability among characters in the Gospel, and the implications of uncritical readings of such characters for readers today. Drawing on disability and empire-critical studies, Engelhardt calls attention to the ways that life could be especially difficult for persons who suffered from various impairments in a Roman Empire marked by systems of enslavement, colonization, and economic exploitation. Measuring such difficulties on a scale of social stress, Engelhardt offers several reading scenarios by which to interpret Matthean healing stories. These scenarios are especially helpful for those wishing to pay attention to potential assumptions about disability among Matthew’s audience, as well as offering avenues for interpretations that do not ignore questions of healing, theology, and somatic experience today.