Exposure of infant girls in ancient Athens

When a baby was born in Attica (in the home, and sometimes with a midwife in attendance), the father decided whether to raise or expose it. He doubtless evaluated the newborn’s health as well as the financial impact of raising another child. Most sons were raised, because male heirs were the normal means of perpetuating the lineage, and it was of great importance that families not die out. … Parents placed less value on girls, who lacked earning power and whose children would belong to a different family. Though the eldest child was normally raised regardless of its sex, some historians have conjectured that as many as 20 percent of newborn Athenian girls were abandoned in places like the local garbage dump. Slave dealers collected a few of the exposed infants and turned them over to wet nurses to be raised and sold as slaves. Most exposed infants, however, died, and exposure quickly became infanticide.

Sarah B. Pomeroy, Ancient Greece: A Political, Social and Cultural History, pg. 255

Women, slaves, and the image of God

Christianity seems to have been especially successful among women. It was often through the wives that it penetrated the upper classes of society in the first instance. Christians believed in the equality of men and women before God, and found in the New Testament commands that husbands should treat their wives with such consideration and love as Christ manifested for his church. Christian teaching about the sanctity of marriage offered a powerful safeguard to married women. The Christian sex ethic differed from the conventional standards of pagan society in that it regarded unchastity in a husband as no less serious a breach of loyalty and trust than unfaithfulness in a wife. The apostle’s doctrine that in Christ there is neither male nor female (Gal. iii, 28) was not taken to mean a programme of political emancipation, which in antiquity would have been unthinkable. The social role of women remained that of the home-maker and wife. At the same time, Christianity cut across ordinary social patterns more deeply than any other religion, and encouraged the notion of the responsibility of individual moral choice in a way that was quite exceptional.

Christianity did not give political emancipation to either women or slaves, but it did much to elevate their domestic status by its doctrine that all men are created in God’s image and all alike redeemed in Christ; and they must therefore be treated with sovereign respect. (Henry Chadwick, The Early Church, pp. 58-9)

Jews, the Septuagint, and Byzantine Bible fragments from Egypt

From PsyOrg.com:

New research has uncovered a forgotten chapter in the history of the Bible, offering a rare glimpse of Byzantine Jewish life and culture.

The study by Cambridge University researchers suggests that, contrary to long-accepted views, Jews continued to use a Greek version of the Bible in synagogues for centuries longer than previously thought. In some places, the practice continued almost until living memory.

The key to the new discovery lay in manuscripts, some of them mere fragments, discovered in an old synagogue in Egypt and brought to Cambridge at the end of the 19th century. The so-called Cairo Genizah manuscripts have been housed ever since in Cambridge University Library.

Now, a fully searchable online corpus has gathered these manuscripts together, making the texts and analysis of them available to other scholars for the first time.

“The translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE is said to be one of the most lasting achievements of the Jewish civilization – without it, Christianity might not have spread as quickly and as successfully as it did,” explained Nicholas de Lange, Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies in the Faculties of Divinity and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, who led the three-year study to re-evaluate the story of the Greek Bible fragments.

“It was thought that the Jews, for some reason, gave up using Greek translations and chose to use the original Hebrew for public reading in synagogue and for private study, until modern times when pressure to use the vernacular led to its introduction in many synagogues.”

Close study of the Cairo Genizah fragments by Professor de Lange led to the discovery that some contained passages from the Bible in Greek written in Hebrew letters. Others contained parts of a lost Greek translation made by a convert to Judaism named Akylas in the 2nd century CE. Remarkably, the fragments date from 1,000 years after the original translation into Greek, showing use of the Greek text was still alive in Greek-speaking synagogues in the Byzantine Empire and elsewhere.

Manuscripts in other libraries confirmed the evidence of the Cambridge fragments, and added many new details. It became clear that a variety of Greek translations were in use among Jews in the Middle Ages.

Not only does the new research offer us a rare glimpse of Byzantine Jewish life and culture, but it also illustrates the cross-fertilisation between Jewish and Christian biblical scholars in the Middle Ages. “This is a very exciting discovery for me because it confirms a hunch I had when studying Genizah fragments 30 years ago,” said Professor de Lange.

The online resource enables comparison of each word of the Hebrew text, the Greek translation – knows as the Septuagint after the 70 Jewish scholars said to have translated it – and the fragments of Akylas’ and other Jewish translations from antiquity.

The resource was created following collaboration between research teams at Cambridge University, including Dr Cameron Boyd-Taylor and Dr Julia Krivoruchko, and King’s College London. “This ambitious piece of collaborative digital scholarship required challenging technical difficulties to be solved,” explained Paul Spence, who led the team at the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King’s. “It draws together a wide variety of materials under a standards-based framework which provides multiple entry points into the material.”

Novus Ordo Missae disaster

[The] intention of Pope Paul VI with regard to what is commonly called the Mass, was to reform the Catholic liturgy in such a way that it should almost coincide with the Protestant liturgy… there was with Pope Paul VI an ecumenical intention to remove, or at least to correct, or at least to relax, what was too Catholic in the traditional sense, in the Mass and, I repeat, to get the Catholic Mass closer to the Calvinist mass… (Jean Guitton on Dec. 19, 1993 in Apropos (17))

Evangelizing the western diaspora

The newest issue (January/February 2011, Vol 37 No 1) of Biblical Archaeology Review arrived at my house today. Within is a very interesting article by Doron Mendels entitled “Why Paul Went West.” Without giving away too much about the article itself, I would like to offer a couple of my own thoughts on the subject.

Within the article, Mendels discusses and offers supporting evidence for his thesis that the Jewish Diaspora was in fact two diasporas, an eastern diaspora in Mesopotamia, Syria, and Egypt, and a western diaspora, in Asia Minor, southern Europe, and North Africa. According to Mendels, the eastern diaspora, primarily Aramaic-speaking, developed and possessed the institutions, rituals, etc. that would eventually come to define rabbinical/orthodox Judaism, such as the Talmud, the rabbinical hierarchy, and more elaborate rituals. The western diaspora, however, consisted primarily of Greek and Latin speakers and lacked the oral traditions, hierarchical religious authorities, and religious ritualism of their eastern brethren. As a result, St. Paul and the other early Christian missionaries primarily evangelized among the Jews of the western diaspora. Although I think that Mendels is correct in all of this and he certainly offers some excellent evidence to support his position, I don’t think that he carries his own thoughts through to completion. He ends his article with the assertion that eventually, near the end of the Early Middle Ages, knowledge of the Hebrew language increased among Jews in the West and, consequently, they absorbed the traditions of the eastern Jews and Judaism itself was once again united.

I do not believe that this was the case, however, for a great many, probably even a majority of western Jews. On the contrary, basing my opinion especially upon the evidence that Rodney Stark presents in his abundantly-named The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal, Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, which I unfortunately do not have handy to cite right now, I think that it is far more likely that the missionary efforts of St. Paul and other Christian evangelists among the Jews of the western diaspora were far more effective than is commonly assumed. In fact, I believe that it is a very credible possibility that a majority of Hellenized Jews, which group made up the western diaspora, converted to Christianity by the fifth century. Christianity filled the gaping void in the Judaism of the western diaspora: the New Testament writings and traditions acted in the same manner as the Talmud, compensating for the lack of an interpretative context for the Torah; the trifold Christian religious hierarchy of bishops-priests-deacons filled the gap of religious authority; and the Christian rituals revolving around the sacraments met the need for religious rituals which the western diaspora lacked. In sum, the Hellenized Judaism of the ancient world didn’t disappear; it was assumed into Christianity.

I recommend checking out both Doron Mendels’ article and Rodney Stark’s book; both are great reads and both are excellent challenges to the common view of early Judaism, early Christianity, and the dynamics surrounding their relationship with each other, which, though outdated, unfortunately remains the popular view. A change in our understanding of these subjects is way past due.