Blood, Clothing, and Shadows: Extending Notions of the Person in the Stories of Jairus and the Haemorrhaging Woman (Mark 5:21–43)

In: Biblical Interpretation and African Traditional Religion


With its focus on bodies, illness, and healing, this chapter considers the scholarly discussions concerning the haemorrhaging woman, in particular. It engages the debate surrounding her bleeding: is it primarily a purity (Selvidge 1984, 1990) or a health (D'Angelo 1999) concern? A consideration of the potency and agency of blood in the Ondonga setting provides an example of a purity context. Interestingly, however, the CCBIGs did not return a purity-based interpretation. The body and person were discussed more broadly; the CCBIGs revealed extended notions of the person, including agency of (and access to) the person through their shadow, excreta, bodily fluids, clothing, amulets and adornments, amongst other things. This is used to engage discussions of the 'magical' elements that some scholars perceive in the texts. The chapter suggests that a broader notion of the person might be helpful in seeking to understand what, to some scholarly eyes, might look like 'magical' actions (here, healing through clothing; elsewhere in the New Testament, healing using spit, mud, handkerchiefs, shadows, etc.).

In terms of investigating the persistence of indigenous beliefs and practices, this chapter explores connotations, agency and uses of blood; among the latter, it became clear that autochthonous healing practices were still in use, such as visiting traditional healers (oonganga), the use of blood from cuts (oonsha) made to the eyebrows or upper cheeks to salve eye pain, and adornment with apotropaic beads (omagwe) to resist bewitchment. The body’s contemporary vulnerability to spirits and witchcraft – evidence of which is considerable in ethnographic literature – is demonstrated through (inter alia) reports of strangulation by iiluli (restless spirits) and in perceptions of disability and sickness today. This chapter also explored enduring autochthonous perspectives on the body as but one part of the ‘extended person’, with some believing that the individual was also present in their shadow, clothing, image and imprint.