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When Children Became People: The Birth of Childhood in Early Christianity Paperback – March 31, 2005
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About the Author
O. M. Bakke is Associate Professor of Church History at the School of Mission and Theology, Stavanger, Norway. He has authored several scholarly articles on early Christianity.
Brian McNeil has been translator of many books on the history of Christianity and biblical studies. Among his credits are two Fortress Press titles by Hans-Josef Klauck, The Religious Context of Early Christianity (2003) and Magic and Paganism in Early Christianity (2003).
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Top customer reviews
Bakke's "When Children Became People" points our that the ancients viewed children from a much different perspective than we do. There was "a negative assessment of children and childhood found in antiquity" (p 19) to the point that "Pliny...does not attmpt to conceal his contempt and lack of esteem for this phase in human life" (p 19). Abortion and exposure of infants was common.
Violence against children was tolerated, expecially for the vast numbers of slave children. And slave children were frequently abused sexually as well. Indeed, as "The Economics of Prostitution in Rome" pointed out, many Romans with young slaves hired them out to brothels. Boys were kept at the brothels until their beards sprouted. Girls until their looks faded.
So, when did the current western prespective on children begin? Bakke argues, and argues very persuasively, than it began with Christianity.
Christians thought all people had souls. This had enormous impact upon the way children were treated. The Didache (written between 50-120 AD)says, "Do not murder a child by abortion, nor kill it at birth". Bakke notes how "the author speaks of the fetus as a 'child'" at a time when the other ancients were referring to children as that 'thing'.
It was a revolution, with consequences to our day. Christians viewed children as complete and valuable human beings from the time of their conception. In the wake of Christianity was "a great reduction in the number of children (especially boys) who were involved in sexual acts with adult men (p 284). Because Christians felt that the way their brought up their child could affect nothing less than that child's eternal salvation Christians had a "greater involvement in upbringing than was generally the case in pagan families" (p 285).
Consider this book a must read.
I highly recommend this text if someone is intersted in deeply exploring how the church saw children in this time period. The reading is slow and intellectual allowing the reader to absorb all of the valuable material found in this text.
This would make an excellent text book for any professors of Christian history and/or theology of childhood classes at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Hopefully Bakke has opened the floodgates on research into theology of childhood that will continue to grow in its academic responses.