‘The punishment of the devil was apparent in the torment of the human body”: Epilepsy in Ancient Christianity

  • Nicole Kelley


“Full Blown Demon Possession Misdiagnosed as Epileptic Seizure by Unsaved Doctors.” This is the February 2003 headline of an article from the Landover Baptist Church, a mock organization that pokes fun at various aspects of modern Christian belief and practice.1 According to the article, a certain Mr. Langston Kidwell had an epileptic seizure during a church service and “was accidentally bludgeoned to death by Pastor Deacon Fred and 14 Deacons who were trying to beat the demons out of him in uncontrollable Holy Ghost rage of pure Christian love.” A church member who performed the autopsy on Mr. Kidwell explained that

Jesus Christ teaches us in the Holy Bible that all diseases are caused by Satan. Secular doctors are just making up fancy new names for things so they can keep people demon possessed and hooked up to machines by making them think they have some important disease. As far as God is concerned, it’s all demons. And in Grandpa Kidwell’s case, his flailing body and violent fit during Pastors sermon, was like Satan just begging to get whacked over the head and pelted with Bibles.


Epileptic Seizure Healing Power Lunar Explanation Demonic Possession Miracle Story 
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  1. 5.
    See, however, the caveat expressed by Owsei Temkin, The Falling Sickness: A History of Epilepsy from the Greeks to the Beginnings of Modern Neurology (2nd rev. ed.; Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971), 31.Google Scholar
  2. 19.
    Martha L. Rose, The Staff of Oedipus: Transforming Disability in Ancient Greece (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2003), 6.Google Scholar
  3. 20.
    Translation from Francis Adams, The Genuine Works of Hippocrates (Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins Company, 1939), 347–60, here 347 (modified slightly). E. M. Blaiklock, “The Epileptic,” Greece & Rome 14 (1945): 48–63, here 51. See also Temkin, Falling Sickness, 6–7.Google Scholar
  4. 25.
    Cited by R. J. S. Barrett-Lennard, Christian Healing after the New Testament: Some Approaches to Illness in the Second, Third and Fourth Centuries (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1994), 333–34.Google Scholar
  5. 28.
    John M. Duffy, ed. and trans., Stephanus the Philosopher: A Commentary on the Prognosticon of Hippocrates (CMG 11.1.2; Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1983), 56, as cited by Temkin, Hippocrates, 200.Google Scholar

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© Candida R. Moss and Jeremy Schipper 2011

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  • Nicole Kelley

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