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The choices that societies make concerning the treatment of children can bring about the greatest of debates and prompt significant political action. Our research teaches us that the question of a how a child should be treated—what value societies place on children—is not only a modern question, but an ancient one.
As historians whose work is related to understanding the texts of the Hebrew Bible and the world it was written in, we trace clues to understand the lives of children over 3,000 years ago. Through data from archaeology, letters, contracts, laws, material culture, ancient stories and religious practices, we study the children in the ancient lands of the Middle East, in the region now encompassing Egypt, Israel and the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey.
Research - Children - Ways - Children - Today
In our recent research we learn how children were both valued and vulnerable—in many ways, similar to children today.
Children experienced violence and vulnerability at the hands of adults. And the same adults wove a child's religious and economic value into society through laws, religious expression and what happens in homes.
People - Region - Focus - Children - Children
For ancient people in the region we study, the focus on children began before children were conceived. Without modern medical practices, women turned to their medical world, and thus magico-religious answers.
Texts from the Hebrew Bible and Mesopotamia relate that when women had trouble conceiving, they might use plants, like the mandrake, known to increase fertility, or prepare fertility aids.
Children - Women - Practices - Child - Scholars
After children were born, women continued turning to magico-religious practices to protect the child. Scholars believe fertility figurines found in archaeological contexts attest to mother's prayers for ample milk supply. Most women would nurse on demand, but breast-feeding contracts tell us that the wealthiest families could afford to employ wet nurses, since even they knew breastfeeding could limit fertility.
Mesopotamian texts contain an intricate series of contracts and...
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