The Haemorrhoissa

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

An academic study of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus garment


Mark 5:24b-34 and the Haemorrhoissa


This story of the woman with the issue of blood (Haemorrhoissa) who was instantly healed by touching (the hem of) Jesus’ garment is found in all three synoptic gospels. [1] Although a modern medical diagnosis is tentative, it is widely accepted that this woman was almost certainly suffering from prolonged menorrhagia namely prolonged menstrual bleeding (Marcus 2000: 357). Amongst the most common causes known today to cause prolonged menorrhagia are uterine fibroids (non-cancerous growth of the uterine wall), endometrial hyperplasia (thickening of the endometrial wall), bleeding disorders such von Willebrand’s disease [2] and blood clotting problems such as platelet function disorder. [3] The latter two of these conditions fall within the aegis of modern haematology and as such, this would constitute a Type 1 resonance between the above scriptures. However if one argues that the woman’s condition was instead due to uterine fibroids or endometrial hyperplasia, the haematological aspect of the cure was nevertheless instantaneous implying that the ‘virtue’ proceeding from Jesus’ garment circumvented in some way the latter stages of blood coagulation. This, of course, could be in addition to healing other underlying conditions (as above).


The woman's life was gradually ebbing away. Her prolonged haemorrhage symbolized this since her blood represented life. Her nephesh or life (as defined in Chapter 4.2.1) was leaking with her blood. Jesus stopped her dying and restored her life. The story of the Haemorrhoissa has a wonderful ending where Jesus tells the woman ‘Go in peace and be healed of your affliction’ (Mark 5:34) thus not only healing her physically but also psychologically and emotionally by removing her unclean status and publicly restoring her to full society again including her life roles/relationships.


This potential resonance has additional interesting implications in terms of gender issues. The Haemorrhoissa was aware that she had a uterine blood flow which rendered her ritually unclean according to the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 15:25-27) almost certainly making her a religious and social outcast considered by society as unclean and untouchable.

In some societies, even normal menstruation is considered as taboo and is perceived as unclean or embarrassing, extending even to the mention of menstruation both in the public domain and in private. Other traditional religions such as Islam also consider menstruation to be ritually unclean. [4] Therefore, it is interesting and perhaps surprising that Jesus did not condemn the Haemorrhoissa for touching the hem of his garment. As a righteous Jew, Jesus would understand a menstruating woman would be considered ritually unclean as stipulated in Leviticus 15:19-30 ‘anyone who touches her will be unclean until evening’ (NIV).

The Haemorrhoissa would almost certainly have been considered as a niddah (Leviticus 15:19) or more correctly as being a zavah (Leviticus 15:1-15; 25-33) according to the Hebrew Bible’s definition; the term niddah refers to normal menstruation where there is a blood emission within a period of seven days. The term zavah refers to prolonged haemorrhage beyond seven days and considered abnormal. The Haemorrhoissa was prohibited, in either case, from a mikveh (ritual bath) and must remain ritually unclean until she stopped bleeding. Prolonged menstrual haemorrhage would almost certainly indicate that the Haemorrhoissa was also infertile.


In modern times, menstruation is an issue where a clear gender division arises in the ways in which men and women might think about, and relate to, blood. Menstrual activism has become a movement committed to the removal of menstrual taboos, which are highly unacceptable to feminists since they allow for mistreatment of women. Had menstrual activism prevailed at the time of the Haemorrhoissa perhaps this unfortunate woman would not have suffered so much rejection for being ritually unclean. The primary argument here is that if menstruation is a normal physiological process, this topic ought not to be shunned. Karen Houppert (1999:99) puts it like this concerning menstrual taboos ‘After a while it becomes psychologically disorienting for women to look out at a world where their reality doesn't exist’. Johnston-Robledo and Chrisler (2011:9-18) have suggested that menstruation can be construed as ‘a stigmatized condition that both reflects and reinforces women’s perceived lower status in relation to men’. Such a theory can be extended to include explanations of negative attitudes concerning women’s bodily functions. Stigmatization of this occurs when menstrual blood is viewed as one of the ‘abominations’ of the body and reflects ‘a gendered identity among women, which leads to consequences for women's psychological and sexual well-being’ which can lead to a further adverse effect on a woman’s psychological and sexual health. Menstrual activists have adopted various strategies to counteract menstrual taboos including speaking against the use of shame in advertising feminine hygiene products (Quint 2012) and publishing books such as My Little Red Book (Nalebuff 2009).

[1] Versions of this narrative are also found in Matthew 9:19-22and Luke 8:42-48. [2] The usual cause of von Willebrand disease is an inherited defect in the gene that controls von Willebrand factor, a protein that plays a key role in the blood-clotting process. [3] Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menorrhagia/basics/causes/con-20021959 [Accessed 6th June 2016]. [4] In Judaism, contact with a menstruation woman by touching her, touching an object she had sat or lain on, or having intercourse with her also makes a person ritually unclean. In Islam, a menstruating woman is exempted from prayer and certain other religious obligations like fasting.

The powerful faith aspects of the woman touching the hem of Jesus' garment are dealt with below in 'Faith Cameos' Part 1.






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