Abstract

The Emergence of Childhood: A Criteria from Antiquity

Meir Bar-Ilan

This paper, in the realm of Social History, analyzes the question: was there, and "how much" if there was, the concept of 'childhood' in Antiquity (among the Jewish people).

At the beginning an abstract of Niel Postman's hypothesis is presented, concerning the emergence and disappearance of 'childhood' in modern times, and its dependence on the educational system as well as the media. Postman's thesis is criticised in principal, and later on there is a discussion about 'childhood' in Jewish History in Antiquity, in Biblical and Post-Biblical eras, that is among the Jews in the Land of Israel during a millenium and more.

In answer to the question whether there was 'childhood' in a given society, it is suggested that the rules of the society be viewed as a reflection of the status of 'childhood'. It is argued that the greater the the number of these rules, the more significant the 'childhood' is. This argument is demonstrated in the differences one can find in the rules concerning children in the later period in comparison with the former Biblical period when these rules were not in existence.

These rules relate to several cases such as: selling a daughter, making a whore of one's daughter, killing the rebellious son, how a child can (or can't) negotiate in business, the rule that obliges a father to nourish his child, the child in school and the child as an observant Jew.

The comparison of one legal issue (at a time) in the same society but in different periods shows how 'childhood' began to flourish in the days of the Mishna and Talmud (1-4 centuries c.e.), and this is suggested as a methodological tool for 'childhood' in other societies.

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last updated: June 3, 1996