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In Mark 5:26, in telling the story of the woman who had been bleeding, Mark mentions:

She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.

This seems to paint doctors in a somewhat negative light to say that she suffered under their care. On the other hand, in the saying in Mark 2:17 Jesus compares himself, if tongue-in-cheek, to a doctor saying that it's not the healthy that need them.

I'm curious about the social standing of doctors in that day. I've heard a number of preachers discuss the social place of tax collectors in the first century, but never physicians. Did they have respect as did the profession maybe a generation ago in our day? Or were they considered more as a scam leaving you still sick and now broke as seems the case with the woman in Mark 5?

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  • Are we sure that physician is even the best translation and that the duties and treatments were similar to what we expect of modern physicians? It might be more along the lines of shaman or a witch doctor type of healer. Jan 27 '16 at 20:10
  • Not quite sure why doctors would be held responsible for the existence of incurable diseases...
    – Lucian
    Aug 17 '17 at 15:45
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This seems to paint doctors in a somewhat negative light to say that she suffered under their care.

That is one reading of the text but it is not the only one. Almost all English translations allow that reading, with the only exception I can find being the Weymouth New Testament:

and had undergone many different treatments under a number of doctors and had spent all she had without receiving benefit but on the contrary growing worse,

On the other hand, all the other English translations also allow the sense explicit in the WNT, namely that her suffering continued under many doctors, so that the phrase emphasises the great expense and duration of effort on the woman's part rather than intentionally drawing attention to any additional (non-financial!) suffering caused directly by the doctors.

Given that other references to doctors in the text are positive I favour understanding Mark 5:26 in this sense. It is no doubt true that some treatments were (and are) the cause of suffering for a patient, but I do not think Mark is deliberately drawing attention to this fact with his phrasing, and there seems to be no contextual reason why he would be even if true.

were they considered more as a scam leaving you still sick and now broke

This can be excluded by Jesus use of analogy in Mark 2:17 that you mention in the question. If the attitude to doctors was primarily negative the analogy would be confusing at best.

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