History: Infanticide

May 27, 2010

Ancient Rome Had Beautiful Buildings But Also Had Some Pretty Nasty Practices

In the world that Jesus stepped into, infanticide was normal practice. One historian noted that, “Boys were disposed of when they were deformed; girls when they were inconvenient. The result was a society – not just in Italy but in the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa – in which males outnumbered females by 30 percent or more.”

Around the time that Christ was born one father, away on business, wrote the following macabre letter to his pregnant wife.

“I am still in Alexandria. … I beg and plead with you to take care of our little child, and as soon as we receive wages, I will send them to you. In the meantime, if (good fortune to you!) you give birth, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, abandon it.”

Christians on the other hand had a quite different attitude.  The Christians cherished all children (male and female) and infanticide was excluded from the earliest days. The Didache, an early Christian document (100 AD) reflects the general attitude of Christianity when it said, “do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant. ” As Christianity grew, the practice of infanticide was increasingly criticized. Soon after the Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in 320 AD, several laws were put in place to counteract child murder. Fifty years later, infanticide was declared a capital offense.

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