Monday, July 01, 2013

Stark, Infanticide, and Loving One's Neighbor

Note:  I preached Sunday on Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).  In the applications, I drew from Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Early Christianity to illustrate how early Christians followed the teaching of Jesus on loving their neighbors by rejecting infanticide.

“Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:36-37).

Christians took care of the weakest and most vulnerable.  This included the fact that they would not practice abortion and infanticide.  They saw this as an integral part of loving one’s neighbor.

Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity (Harper One, 1996) is insightful on this subject.  He notes in particular how in the pre-Christian world infanticide was common among pagans:  “Seneca regarded the drowning of children at birth as both reasonable and commonplace” (this and other quotes below from p. 118).  The Roman historian Tacitus condemned the “Jewish” teaching that it was sinful to kill an unwanted child as but another of their “sinister and revolting” practices.

He notes that it was common for pagans to expose unwanted children out of doors where anyone who wanted could take the child and rear it or, if unwanted, the child would fall victim to the elements or to animals and birds.  This practice was justified by society including its leading philosophers:

Both Plato and Aristotle recommended infanticide as legitimate state policy.  The Twelve Tables—the earliest known legal code, written about 450 B. C. E.—permitted a father to expose any female infant and any deformed or weak male infant.

Stark describes a recent archaeological excavation in the ancient city of Ashkelon in which the researchers reported making “a gruesome discovery in the sewer that ran under the bathhouse…the sewer had been clogged with refuse sometime in the sixth century A. D.  When we excavated and dry-sieved the desiccated sewage, we found [the] bones … of nearly 100 little babies apparently murdered and thrown into the sewer.”

It is assumed that nearly all those little bodies were girls.

It was the Christian view of the sanctity of life but also their view of loving their weakest and most defenseless neighbors that led them to reject pagan practices and to influence the cultures in which they lived, likewise, to see such practices as vile and reprehensible.

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