Archive for February, 2011


Archaeology 2: Hezekiah’s Tunnel

February 20, 2011

Discovery of the tunnel built by King Hezekiah to provide water to Jerusalem in time of siege (2 Kings 22:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:30), was confirmed by an accompanying inscription which dates to the reign of Hezekiah.[1]

Minimalist scholars[2] John Rogerson and Philip Davies claimed that the inscription does not date to the reign of Hezekiah, but to the Hasmonean era (less than two centuries before the birth of Christ), a claim used to cast doubt on the date of the tunnel itself, and to argue that it was not built by Hezekiah.

Although acknowledging that their view is contradicted by the unanimous consent of palaeographers, [3] Rogerson and Davies claim that palaeography is insufficiently precise to differentiate between 8th century and 2nd century texts.[4] [5]

Ronald Hendel (a professional epigrapher specializing in Semitic languages), has responded strongly to the following claims made by Rogerson and Davies, demonstrating that they are in error. [6] [7] [8] [9]

Frank Cross, (Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages at Harvard University), observed that Rogerson and Davies were unqualified to make judgments on the text.[10] Professional epigraphist P. Kyle McCarter Jr made a similar statement.[11]

André Lemaire (specializing in First Temple period Old Hebrew inscriptions), objected that Rogerson and Davies appeal to outdated scholarship. [12] Esther Eshel (renowned epigraphist), rejected the claim that palaeography was too imprecise to date the inscription reliably. [13]

Professor of Biblical Hebrew and Northwest Semitic epigraphy at Harvard University Jo Hackett made the same argument. [14] Avi Hurvitz (professor of Bible and Hebrew linguistics), observed that the claims of Rogerson and Davies had been rejected by the leading epigraphists,[15] and disproved their linguistic arguments.[16] [17] [18]

Leading palaeographer Ada Yardeni dismissed the claim that the inscription shows evidence of a Hasmonean dating.[19]

[1] ‘Discovered by some boys at play in 1880, the Siloam Inscription commemorates the dramatic meeting of two teams of tunnelers, digging from opposite directions, during the construction of the tunnel in the reign of Hezekiah. The text, written in paleo-Hebrew, offers an unusual contrast to the Biblical account (2 Kings 22:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:30). Like most ancient commemorative texts, the Biblical account gives the royal perspective, whereas the Siloam Inscription features the style and content of a man who witnessed and participated’, Parker, ‘Jerusalem’s Underground Water Systems Siloam Inscription Memorializes Engineering Achievement’, Biblical Archaeology Review (20.04.), 2004.

[2] The ‘minimalist’ view is that archaeology provides little or no support for the Biblical history, the ‘maximalist’ view is that archaeology overwhelmingly supports the Biblical history, and the moderate view is that archaeology substantially supports the Biblical history but that not all of it can be supported directly from archaeology.

[3]They acknowledge that specialists in palaeography unanimously date the inscription to the last quarter of the eighth century BCE, but they maintain that the palaeographers are mistaken, apparently deluded by circular reasoning and professional hubris. This is a remarkable claim and deserves some consideration.’, Hendel, ‘The Date of the Siloam Inscription: A Rejoinder to Rogerson and Davies’, The Biblical Archaeologist (59.4.233), December 1996).

[4]Rogerson and Davies’ chief contention is that palaeographic analysis of ancient Hebrew inscriptions is extremely imprecise. In the case of the Siloam Inscription, they write: “the fact is this: it is frequently not possible to prove on paleographical evidence alone whether a text in paleo-Hebrew dates from, say, the eighth-seventh centuries or is Hasmonean or later”  (1996:146, italics in original).’, ibid., p. 233.

[5] ‘The inconclusiveness of the paleography is crucial to their larger argument that the Siloam Tunnel dates to the Hasmonean era.’, ibid., p. 233.

[6] ‘A review of the relevant evidence, however, shows that Rogerson and Davies’ paleographic arguments are deeply flawed. It is in fact quite easy to tell that the script of the Siloam Inscription belongs to the eighth-seventh century sequence and not to the paleo-Hebrew sequence of the Hasmonean era and later.’, ibid., p. 233.

[7] He rejects the clam that some of the letters in the text have no parallels in Iron Age inscriptions, casting doubt on the idea that they were written during the Iron Age; ‘The problem with this statement is that there are plenty of parallels to these four letters in Hebrew inscriptions from the late Iron Age, a number of which are datable by their archaeological context’, ibid., pp. 233-235.

[8] He rejects the claim that the script of the Siloam Inscription is closest to 4QpaleoExodm, one of the Dead Sea Scroll texts, dating to the first century; ‘In addition to the differences in zwaw, yod, kap, and qop, there are noticeable differences in dalet, lamed, mem, ‘ayin, and pe. Several other letters have more subtle differences in length, proportion, or stance. The reason for these differences in script is easy to ascertain: the letters in 4QpaleoExodm belong to a different (and later) stage in the historical development of Hebrew script than the letters in the Siloam Inscription. The paleo-Hebrew scripts of the Hasmonean era and later have undergone noticeable development in comparison to the scripts of the eighth-seventh century BCE.’, ibid., pp. 235-236, ‘I have gathered five instances of this sequence from inscriptions from the eighth-seventh century 3CE and one instance from 4QpaleoExodm (see chart on facing page). It is quite easy to see that the 4Q script is the odd one out and clearly differs from the eighth-seventh century BCE scripts. In contrast, the Siloam Inscription clearly belongs in the company of the other eighth-seventh century BCE inscriptions.’, ibid., p. 236.

[9] He rejects the claim that some linguistic features of the text are incongruous with an Iron Age date; ‘It is worth noting that Rogerson and Davies’ linguistic comments on Siloam inscriptions are also unwarranted. They state that “some of the linguistic features of the Siloam Inscription become problematic if it is early” (1996:146). These features are the apparent internal matres in lilwd and int’s.’ and the pronominal suffix of til, (where one would expect a final he). These forms are easily comprehended by the following observations. 1) lblwd and niiw’s may be consonantal spellings with the dipthong Iwl (so Cross and Freedman 1952:50-51), or they may be early examples of internal matres in the Siloam inscription, as found sporadically in other eighth century BCE inscriptions (Royal Steward, some Ihlk seals, etc.; see Sarfatti 1982:58-63).’, ibid., p. 236.

[10] ‘The list of significant features differentiating Old Hebrew from paleo-Hebrew can be extended to most, if not all, letters of the alphabet. To identify them requires an eye and memory for form, gifts that make the paleographer. Without such gifts, a scholar is in the same straits as the tone-deaf musician who wishes to conduct an orchestra.’, Cross, ‘Because They Can’t See a Difference, They Assert No One Can’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997.

[11]No epigraphist trained in the scripts of these periods would confuse second-century B.C.E. paleo-Hebrew with sixth-century B.C.E. Hebrew, much less with eighth-century B.C.E. Hebrew.’, McCarter Jr, ‘No Trained Epigraphist Would Confuse the Two’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997.

[12] ‘Because all Hebrew epigraphers now date the Siloam Inscription to the eighth century B.C.E., Rogerson and Davies are obliged to go back nearly a century for authority.† Of course, this earlier generation of scholars could not have been aware of the numerous Hebrew inscriptions from the First Temple period discovered since then.’, Lemaire, ‘Are We Prepared to Raze the Edifice?’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997.

[13] ‘These examples, as well as many others, show that paleography stands on a strong and stable foundation. Today paleography can date documents to within half a century. It is true that paleography alone can only tell us that the Siloam Inscription may have been written at the end of the eighth century or in the seventh century B.C.E.,† but paleography can tell us with certainty that the inscription was not written in the second century B.C.E., as Rogerson and Davies “strongly suggest.”.’, Eshel, ‘Some Paleographic Success Stories’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997.

[14] ‘Rogerson and Davies’s argument assumes that paleographers (neither Rogerson nor Davies is known as a paleographer) cannot tell the difference between pre-Exilic Old Hebrew and post-Exilic archaizing paleo-Hebrew. But they are wrong—very wrong. The science of paleography—the dating of scripts by the shape, form, stance, stroke order, and direction, as well as by other telltale diagnostic indications—can now date these scripts within a century and sometimes even closer. Contrary to Rogerson and Davies, paleographers can distinguish between pre-Exilic Old Hebrew and post-Exilic paleo-Hebrew. Rogerson and Davies admit, in fact, that the Siloam Inscription’s waw, yod, kap and qop do not fit well into a second-century B.C.E. script chart, and this should have been enough to tip them off to the problem with their argument.’, Hackett, ‘Spelling Differences and Letter Shapes Are Telltale Signs’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997.

[15] ‘I am not surprised that some of the leading paleographical authorities in our field have so severely criticized the effort of Rogerson and Davies to place the Siloam Inscription in the Hasmonean period.’, Hurvitz, ‘Philology Recapitulates Paleography’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997.

[16]The Hebrew of the Siloam Inscription is worlds apart from the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Hebrew of the apocryphal book known as Ben Sira (also known as Ecclesiasticus or “The Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sira”). To anyone versed in Hebrew linguistics, the Siloam Inscription clearly does fall under the heading of classical Hebrew, as manifested in classical Biblical literature.† It is true that the linguistic tools at our disposal cannot tell us whether the Siloam Inscription specifically reflects the time of Hezekiah’s rule (727–698 B.C.E.). On the basis of both the Biblical and post-Biblical evidence, however, we can conclude that—linguistically—the inscription must be dated to the classical phase of ancient Hebrew, that is, to the pre-Exilic period (before 586 B.C.E.).’, ibid.

[17] ‘Secondly, they argue that “the Chronicler’s Hebrew can mean that Hezekiah closed off the pool formed by the spring” (italics added). This is, indeed, a surprising suggestion. It cannot be admitted in a serious philological discussion. It is simply not what the Hebrew text says. To use Rogerson and Davies’s own wording, this suggestion is at best a “paraphrastic translation.” Worse, their suggestion violates a basic methodological ground-rule of any philological analysis: that the outcome of that analysis should not be inferred from—let alone dictated by—considerations lying outside the domain of philology.’, ibid.

[18] ‘In sum, it is the Biblical and inscriptional evidence adduced by Rogerson and Davies in support of their claim that undermines it. I would strongly suggest, therefore, that if they insist on their theory regarding the late dating of the Siloam tunnel, they should drop the linguistic argumentation from their discussion—which for them is unfamiliar territory.’, ibid.

[19] ‘If the Siloam Inscription were inscribed in the Hasmonean period, its script would reveal a late stage of evolution (like the paleo-Hebrew scrolls) or artificial archaized characteristics (like the Hasmonean coins). It displays neither.’, Yardeni, ‘They Would Change the Dates of Clearly Stratified Inscriptions—Impossible!’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997.


Archaeology 1: The Tell Dan Stele

February 19, 2011

The Tel Dan Stele is a piece of stone found in northern Israel [1] with an inscription referring to the ‘House of David’. It is a significant find, providing evidence that the nation of Israel existed as early as the 10th century, and that it was ruled over by king David, referred to in the Bible as the second king of Israel. [2] [3]

Several challenges have been made to the authenticity and translation of the Stele. [4] Philip Davies and Thomas Thompson are two scholars who have argued that the translation ‘House of David’ is incorrect. Professional archaeologists and epigraphers object to these reinterpretations, noting that they are suggested by Biblical scholars who have no formal qualifications in the relevant fields.

Philip Davies (an archaeological ‘minimalist’[5] who declares king David to be the literary invention of Jewish scribes in the Persian era), has claimed that the text, when properly translated, does not refer to the House of David. [6] [7] Since the Stele was not found in its original position (it was reused as building material in another location), [8] Davies has suggested it is actually a forgery. Secular archaeologist William Dever has completely dismissed this as impossible.[9]

Archaeologist and expert Assyriologist Kenneth Kitchen has exposed the errors of Thompson’s claims,[10] and the claims of Davies have been disproved by Anson Raineyd,[11] who commented ‘Davies and his “deconstructionists” can safely be ignored by everyone seriously interested in Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern studies’. [12]

Dever has noted that the majority of leading epigraphers believe the inscription to be a genuine reference to the House of David.[13] Even some of those who hold a minimalist view of the Bible and archaeology have conceded that the evidence for the authenticity of the inscription is overwhelming.

After reviewing a range of objections to the Stele’s authenticity, Niels Lemche concluded that the Stele should be accepted as genuine unless significant evidence to the contrary is found. [14] [15] Similarly, Lester Grabbe has acknowledged that the general scholarly consensus regards the Stele to be a genuine reference to the House of David. [16]

[1] The stele is broken; the first major piece was found in 1993, the second in 1994.

[2] ‘The new stela from Tel Dan was greeted with considerable enthusiasm, particularly as a tonic against denials that there had been an Israelite state in the tenth century B.C.E. Until the stela’s discovery, the formation of a state in Israel could not be dated later than the mid-ninth century B.C.E., because Assyrian epigraphs of the 850s and 840s B.C.E. and the roughly contemporary Mesha stela mentioned kings of Israel, some (Ahab, Omri, Jehu, and, later, Joash) by name.’, Halpern, ‘The Stela from Dan: Epigraphic and Historical Considerations’, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (296.63), November 1994.

[3] ‘To William Dever and many other scholars, this inscription provides clear evidence that David was indeed a historical figure and not merely a mythical leader invented by later Biblical authors to give Israel a heroic past, as the Biblical minimalists maintain.’ Shanks, ‘Queries & Comments’, Biblical Archaeology Review (22.04), 2006.

[4] ‘Since the initial publication a small but vocal minority has objected to this interpretation, arguing that it was based on a “fundamentalist” reading of the inscription in light of the biblical text.’, Schniedewind, ‘Tel Dan Stela: New Light on Aramaic and Jehu’s Revolt’, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (302.75), 1996.

[5] The ‘minimalist’ view is that archaeology provides little or no support for the Biblical history, the ‘maximalist’ view is that archaeology overwhelmingly supports the Biblical history, and the moderate view is that archaeology substantially supports the Biblical history but that not all of the history can be supported directly from archaeology.

[6] Davies, ‘‘House of David’ Built on Sand: The Sins of the Biblical Maximizers’ Biblical Archaeology Review (20.4), 1994.

[7] ‘Davies was faced with a decision—either he could admit that King David wasn’t invented by Persian-period scribes, or he could attempt to explain away the reference to “the House of David” as unrelated to the King David of the Bible. He chose the latter. This does not come as a surprise.’, Freedman & Geoghegan “House of David” Is There!’, Biblical Archaeology Review (21.2), 1995.

[8]‘The archaeological evidence is relatively straightforward: the fragment was incorporated in an inner gate structure that was destroyed in the mid-eighth century B.C.E. presumably in the 730s by Tiglath-Pileser III (Biran and Naveh 1993: 81-86). This means that the monument with which it originated was dismantled and broken up before the construction of the gate. Assuming that the inner gate stood for some time before its destruction, the construction of the gate structure would provide a stratigraphic date no later than the first half of the eighth century and no earlier than the midninth century. The excavator relates that “the level beneath” the fragment contained no pottery later than the mid-ninth century (Biran and Naveh 1993:

86). That is, the gate of the level in which the fragment was reused originates after a mid-ninthcentury “level.” The stela itself was earlier than the gate.’, Halpern, ‘The Stela from Dan: Epigraphic and Historical Considerations’, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (296.68), 1994.

[9]I was there (Tel Dan) shortly after it was found. I’ve known Biran for 40 years. The woman who found it, Gila Cook, I hired at Hebrew Union College. I have handled the inscription. I know what I’m talking about. Theres no way (the Tel Dan Stele is inauthentic). All of this was covered by debris until he (A. Biran) started digging. True, it was found in secondary use. Nobody ever argued that it was in primary position. It was re-used in the wall. But there is no way in the world anybody could have dug down there, found that wall five years before Biran came along and planted it. Its impossible.’, Dever, in Shanks (ed.), ‘Face to Face: Biblical Minimalists Meet Their Challengers’, Biblical Archaeological Review (23.04), 1997.

[10] ‘(i) The name “David” may be unusual, but is not unparalleled. Long centuries before, it was borne by a West Semitic chief carpenter in about 1730 B.C. on an Egyptian stela formerly in the collection at Rio de Janeiro. (ii) Dwd is neither the name (which Thompson admits) nor an epithet of a deity. Others are beloved of deities (for which references are legion!), but male deities are not beloved of others, human or divine (only goddesses are beloved of their divine husbands in Egypt). (iii) Mesha’s stela is ninth, not eighth, century. (iv) On Mesha’s stela dwd(h) is not a divine epithet of YHWH or anyone else.’ ‘(v) Contrary to TLT, “House of X” does mean a dynastic founder, all over the Near East, in the first half of the first millennium B.C.; it was an Aramean usage that passed into Assyrian nomenclature, and examples are common. (vi) Again, the expression, in part of its usage, is like the British “House of Windsor”, etc. Such usages were not peculiar to Aram, Assyria, and Judah either: in Egypt, the official title given to the Twelfth Dynasty (Turin Canon) was “Kings of the House (lit. ‘Residence’) of Ithet-Tawy” = ‘the Dynasty of Ithet-Tawy”. And the Thirteenth Dynasty was duly entitled “Kings who came after the [House of] King Sehetepibre” (founder of the Twelfth Dynasty). (vii) The charge of forgery is a baseless slur against the Dan expedition, without a particle of foundation in fact.’, Kitchen, ‘On The Reliability Of The Old Testament’, pp. 452-453 (2003).

[11] Rainey (Professor Emeritus of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and Semitic Linguistics at Tel Aviv University and expert in Semitic), ‘In response to Philip R. Davies’s brief article a few observations are in order. Davies represents what he and a circle of colleagues call the “deconstructionist” approach to Biblical traditions. The present instance can serve as a useful example of why Davies and his deconstructionists can safely be ignored by everyone seriously interested in Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern studies. Regarding the recently excavated Dan inscription, Davies makes a great quibble about the absence of the word divider between the components BYT (House) and DWD (David). Joseph Naveh and Avraham Birana did not explain the inscription in detail, perhaps because they took for granted that readers would know that a word divider between two components in such a construction is often omitted, especially if the combination is a well-established proper name. A well-known example of such a proper name composed of two components, is BL‘M.BRB‘R (Baalam, son of Beor) in line 4 of “Combination I” of the inscription from Deir ‘Alla. There is a word divider, a dot, between BL‘M (Balaam) and BRB‘R (son of Beor), but no word divider between BR (son [of]) and B‘R (Beor). The patronymic of the prophet Baalam consists of two vocables, BR (son [of]) and B‘R (Beor). These vocables are in the Semitic syntactical relationship known as “construct.” The first is closely attached to the second, which takes the accent for both. The House of David was certainly such a proper political and geographic name in the mid-ninth century B.C.E. André Lemaire’s recent discovery that the same name (BYTDWD) appears in the Mesha stela further confirms the reading in the Tel Dan inscription. The same situation pertains to BYTDWD (House of David) in the text from Dan. The first component is BYT (house), here in the “construct” form meaning “house of.” The main accent is on DWD (David), the second component. The combination was obviously recognized by the scribe of the Dan inscription as an important proper name. There is no reason whatever to doubt the correctness of the reading House of David.’, ‘The House of David and the House of the Reconstructionists’, Biblical Archaological Review (20.06), 1994.

[12] Ibid.

[13] ‘On the “positivist” side of the controversy, regarding the authenticity of the inscription, we now have published opinions by most of the world’s leading epigraphers (none of whom is a “biblicist” in Thompson’s sense): the inscription means exactly what it says.’ Dever, ‘What Did The Biblical Authors Know, And When Did They Know It?’, pp. 128-129 (2004).

[14] ‘Even if my observations about the almost uncanny prominence of the terms ‘King of Israel’ and ‘House of David’ are not accepted, I have to admit that the arguments in favour of seeing the Tel Dan fragments as fake need to be much more forceful—certainly stronger than I have been able to show in this survey—if they are to prove beyond doubt that the inscription is the work of a forger.’, Lemche, ‘House of David’: The Tel Dan Inscription(s)’, in Thompson & Jayyusi (eds.), ‘Jerusalem in Ancient History and Tradition’, p. 66 (2003).

[15] ‘At the end of the day, is the Tel Dan inscription important for the study of the history of Israel in Antiquity? Of course is important—if it is genuine. And, until the opposite has been proven, we have to reckon it to be genuine.’, ibid., p. 66.

[16] ‘The Tel Dan inscription generated a good deal of debate and a flurry of articles when it first appeared, but it is now widely regarded (a) as genuine and (b) as referring to the Davidic dynasty and the Aramaic kingdom of Damascus.’, Grabbe, ‘Reflections on the Discussion’, in Grabbe (ed.), ‘Ahab Agonistes: The Rise and Fall of the Omri Dynasty’, p. 333 (2007).


Sexualized media & sex education

February 8, 2011

Christians have objected for decades to the sexualized imagery of secular media, [1] [2] [3] [4] citing Biblical principles [5] [6] and arguing that such content is damaging, [7] especially to young people. [8] Though such objections are derided by popular opinion as ‘old fashioned’, numerous professional studies confirm they are factually based. [9] [10]

Children are highly affected by sexual content on TV,[11] resulting in a range of negative outcomes.[12] [13] [14] [15] Girls are highly vulnerable;[16] [17] [18] [19] [20] objectification of girls is related to many destructive behaviours.[21]

Reliance on abstinence advice alone is unrealistic, as this can be, and often is, displaced by over sexualised media content. Comprehensive sex education in which the benefits of abstinence are emphasized[22] [23] and appropriate information on contraception is provided, reduces both the age of sexual initiation, and teen pregnancy rates.[24] [25]

[1] ‘Papers that cater for the evil in men and women should be shunned by all who are concerned for clean and healthy thinking and living.’, Carter, ‘Sunday Reading’, The Christadelphian (90.1072.309), 1953.

[2] ‘Worse even than the violence and the ridicule of all the kindly virtues is the preoccupation with sex. The reviewer says it is enough to glance through half a dozen “comics” to see that they are “thinly disguised pornography”.’, Sargent, ‘The Social Sign: “Horror Comics”’, The Christadelphian (92.1090.144), 1955.

[3] ‘Our eyes, ears, and minds are assaulted by magazine, poster, radio and television advertisements which set out to stimulate the wrong kind of emotions by making sex, drink and the different ways of having “a good time” seem attractive and proper.’, Marshall, ‘The New Life 6: A Dangerous World’, The Christadelphian (105.1250.350), 1968.

[4] ‘—the increased problem of drugs taken by the young, the addiction of both young and old alike to the T.V. set, and the new morality—which I am sure should be called the “old immorality”—where sex is pushed at every opportunity by every conceivable method’, Billington, ‘Life in the Arctic’, The Christadelphian (108.1284.249), 1971.

[5] ‘Or is there an altogether too easy tendency to lustful thoughts? Then let the conning of certain modern magazines be utterly banned, and let the modern sex-ridden novel—one of the curses of this generation—be wisely consigned to the dustbin. “If thine eye cause thee to stumble, pluck it out.”’, Whittaker, ‘Sunday Morning: No. 924 Temptation’, The Christadelphian (93.1109.402), 1956.

[6]The way of Cain is still very much with us. It glorifies man, it boastfully glorifies debased sex, brutality and violence in print, on screen and in reality.’, Eyre, ‘The Way of Cain’, The Christadelphian (103.1221.101), 1966.

[7] ‘In attempting a definition, the committee says that “pornography tends to see sexual practices as divorced from any tender considerations for one’s partner . . . (It) exploits and dehumanises sex so that human beings are treated as things and women in particular as sex objects”. There is plenty of evidence that it sometimes does harm.’, Nichols, ‘Signs of the Times: The Longford Report’, The Christadelphian (109.1301.512), 1972.

[8] ‘He continued: “What is true is that from this age onwards the adolescent is subjected to a barrage from every medium of communication and entertainment of stimuli which leads to a premature and excessive awareness and preoccupation with sex.”’, Sargent, ‘A Wholesome Voice’, The Christadelphian (100.1193.512), 1963.

[9] ‘There is increasing evidence that youth exposure to sexual content on television shapes sexual attitudes and behavior in a manner that may influence reproductive health outcomes.’, Chandra et al., ‘Does Watching Sex on Television Predict Teen Pregnancy? Findings From a National Longitudinal Survey of Youth’, Pediatrics (122.4.1047), 2008.

[10]‘Several studies 16,111,112,114,121,134 have demonstrated clearly that sexual content is pervasive in TV programming, movies, music videos, and magazines; however, much less is known about sexual content on the radio (including remarks by disc jockeys) and the sexual content of video and computer games.’, Escobar-Chaves, et al., ‘Impact of the Media on Adolescent Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors’, Pediatrics (116.1.320), 2005.

[11] ‘”I was surprised at how much 18- to 20-year-olds are still affected by media’s messages about sex” Ward says. “When we first started our research, we assumed that 15-year-olds who largely hadn’t started dating yet would have much of their reality shaped by the media. They don’t know the difference sometimes [between media reality and real life] and don’t have the maturity to make informed choices about sex. But 18- to 20-year-olds are at the pinnacle, so to speak, when it comes to dating and relationships. They’re older, more mature, less naive. And they’re still affected.”’, Stewart, ‘Sex-Saturated Culture Sends Message to Kids’, Insight on the News (May 22, 2000).

[12]This is the first study to demonstrate a prospective link between exposure to sexual content on television and the experience of a pregnancy before the age of 20. Limiting adolescent exposure to the sexual content on television and balancing portrayals of sex in the media with information about possible negative consequences might reduce the risk of teen pregnancy. Parents may be able to mitigate the influence of this sexual content by viewing with their children and discussing these depictions of sex.’, Chandra et al., ‘Does Watching Sex on Television Predict Teen Pregnancy? Findings From a National Longitudinal Survey of Youth’, Pediatrics (122.4.1047), 2008..

[13] ‘Adolescents in the United States are engaging in sexual activity at early ages and with multiple partners. The mass media have been shown to affect a broad range of adolescent health-related attitudes and behaviors including violence, eating disorders, and tobacco and alcohol use. One largely unexplored factor that may contribute to adolescents’ sexual activity is their exposure to mass media.’, Escobar-Chaves, et al., ‘Impact of the Media on Adolescent Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors’, Pediatrics (116.1.303), 2005.

[14] ‘Using the sexual-media–diet measure, these researchers report that among adolescents, heavier exposure to sexual content is associated with increased sexual activity and intentions to become sexually active’, ibid., p. 320.

[15]Our results indicate that frequent exposure to sexual content on television predicts early pregnancy, even after accounting for the influence of a variety of other known correlates of each.’, Chandra et al., ‘Does Watching Sex on Television Predict Teen Pregnancy? Findings From a National Longitudinal Survey of Youth’, Pediatrics (122.4.1052), 2008.

[16] ‘Narrative accounts of court-involved girls lives uncovered three social forces that combined to contribute to high rates of system involvement. I have discussed two: the emotional factor of familes’ not protecting their girl children or meeting young women’s needs and the economic factor of material need. In this section I dissect the cultural factor of an increased sexualization of young women caused by the global, burgeoning, multi-billion-dollar youth-sex-beauty industrial complex.’, Schaffner, ‘Girls in Trouble with the Law’, p. 98 (2006).

[17] ‘I mean oversexualized in the sense that young women are viewed primarily as sex objects by many male adults in their worlds, view their own place in the world as mostly providing sexual titillation for males, and see sex as their best – or only – resource for problem solving.’, ibid., p. 99.

[18] ‘Young women, bombarded with the cultural imperative to be sexy, reproduce the message as if they had thought of it themselves, thus falling into a dialectical, reflexive loop.’, ibid., p. 102

[19] ‘Journalists, child advocacy organizations, parents, and psychologists have become alarmed, arguing that the sexualization of girls is a broad and increasing problem and is harmful to girls (Bloom, 2004;“Buying Into Sexy,” 2005; Dalton, 2005; Lamb & Brown, 2006; Levin, 2005; Levy, 2005a; Linn, 2004; Pollet & Hurwitz, 2004; Schor, 2004).’, American Psychological Association,Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, ‘Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls.Washington’, (2007).

[20] ‘This includes both short- and long-term effects of viewing or buying into a sexualizing objectifying image, how these effects influence girls’ development, self-esteem, friendships, and intimate relationships, ideas about femininity, body image, physical, mental, and sexual health, sexual satisfaction, desire for plastic surgery, risk factors for early pregnancy, abortion, and sexually transmitted infections, attitudes toward women, other girls, boys, and men, as well as educational aspirations and future career success.’, ibid., p. 43.

[21]Numerous studies have shown a connection between stereotypical attitudes about women’s sexuality and aggressive sexual behavior. Several have shown that women and men exposed to sexually objectifying images from mainstream media were significantly more accepting of rape myths, sexual harassment, sex role stereotypes, interpersonal violence, and adversarial sexual beliefs about relationships.’, Bailey, ‘Consequences Of the Sexualization of Girls: American Psychological Association Report Part IV’, From Now On: The Newsletter of the Montgomery County Chapter of the National Organization for Women (2007).

[22] ‘APHA further recognizes that abstinence from sexual intercourse is an important behavioral strategy for preventing HIV, STIs, and unintended pregnancy.’, American Public Health Association, ‘Testimony of the American Public Health Association “Domestic Abstinence-Only Programs: Assessing the Evidence” House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’, (April 23, 2008).

[23] ‘The Society of Adolescent Medicine summarized its expert review of sexuality education with the following: Abstinence from sexual intercourse represents a healthy choice for teenagers, as teenagers face considerable risk to their reproductive health from unintended pregnancies and STIs including infection with HIV. Remaining abstinent, at least through high school, is strongly supported by parents and even by adolescents themselves. However, few Americans remain abstinent until marriage, many do not or cannot marry, and most initiate sexual intercourse and other sexual behaviors as adolescents. Abstinence as a behavioral goal is not the same as abstinence-only education programs.’, Blythe, ‘Testimony before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’, p. 7 (April 23, 2008).

[24] ‘By contrast, credible research clearly demonstrates that some comprehensive sex education, or “abstinence-plus,” programs can achieve positive behavioral changes among young people and reduce STIs, and that these programs do not encourage young people to initiate sexual activity earlier or have more sexual partners.’, Collins, et al., ‘Abstinence only vs. comprehensive sex education: What are the arguments? What is the evidence?’, p. 2 (March 2002).

[25] ‘Comprehensive sex education, which emphasizes the benefits of abstinence while also teaching about contraception and disease-prevention methods, has been proven to reduce rates of teen pregnancy and STD infection.’, Starkman & Rajani, ‘The Case for Comprehensive Sex Education’, AIDS Patient Care and STDs (16.7.313),  July 1, 2002.


Social effects of divorce

February 7, 2011

Conservative Christians have traditionally been known for their opposition to divorce. Various Biblical statements discourage divorce,[1][2] and reinforce the value of marriage,[3] [4] a value which is well recognized by professional studies.[5] [6] [7]

Many studies have demonstrated the long term negative effects of divorce on the individuals involved [8] [9] [10] [11] and on society.[12] [13]

Single parenting is a strong and reliable predictor of poor life outcomes for children,[14] [15] even when a single mother remarries.[16]

Fatherless families are strongly associated with negative life outcomes. [17] [18] [19] Outcomes for children with two parents are consistently better.[20] [21]

The common belief that cohabitation before marriage provides a more reliable basis for future marriage stability than non-cohabitation,[22] has consistently been proved false;[23] the opposite is in fact the case.[24] [25]

[1] Matthew 19:8 Jesus said to them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of your hard hearts, but from the beginning it was not this way. 9 Now I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”

[2] 1 Corinthians 7:12 To the rest I say – I, not the Lord – if a brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is happy to live with him, he should not divorce her.13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is happy to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified because of the wife, and the unbelieving wife because of her husband. Otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. 15 But if the unbeliever wants a divorce, let it take place. In these circumstances the brother or sister is not bound. God has called you in peace.

[3] Proverbs 5:18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in your young wife –

[4] Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her 26 to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, 27 so that he may present the church to himself as glorious – not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In the same way husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one has ever hated his own body but he feeds it and takes care of it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 for we are members of his body. 31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great – but I am actually speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless, each one of you must also love his own wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

[5] ‘Compared with unmarried people, married men and women tend to have lower mortality, less risky behavior, more monitoring of health, more compliance with medical regimens, higher sexual frequency, more satisfaction with their sexual lives, more savings, and higher wages (1–3). The differences between married and unmarried people may reflect a causal effect of marriage or a selection effect. Healthier people may be more likely than others to find mates and marry. Research has suggested that the benefits of marriage may be partially due to a selection effect and partially due to true benefits to be gained from being married as opposed to being unmarried (3,4). A lower mortality risk among the married has been shown to persist even after health in early adulthood was controlled, suggesting that at least part of the benefit of being married is not the result of selection (4).’, National Center for Health Statistics/Center for Disease Control, ‘Public Affairs, Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the United States’, Series Report 23, Number 22, p. 3 (2002).

[6] ‘The weight of evidence indicates that the traditional family based upon a married father and mother is still the best environment for raising children, and it forms the soundest basis for the wider society.’, O’Neill, ‘Experiments in Living: The Fatherless Family’, p. 14 (2002).

[7] ‘Marriage is associated with a variety of positive outcomes, and dissolution of marriage is associated with negative outcomesfor men, women, and their children’, National Center for Health Statistics/Center for Disease Control, ‘Public Affairs, Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the United States’, Series Report 23, Number 22, p. 3 (2002).

[8]The paper shows that divorce has a longlasting, negative impact on wellbeing and the effects appear to persist into later life for both men and women. However, the negative effects of divorce on wellbeing are largely confined to those who do not re-partner and remain single. An important difference between men and women is that for women who are divorced and single, negative effects of divorce are found for general health, vitality and mental health, while for men, there appear to be no effects of divorce on these health measures.’, Gray et al., ‘Divorce and the wellbeing of older Australians’, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Research paper No. 46, p. ix (2010).

[9] ‘When satisfaction with different aspects of life (home, financial situation, feeling of safety, etc.) are examined, divorced single men reported being less satisfied than married and never divorced men in relation to the home in which they live, their financial situation, feeling part of their local community, and the neighbourhood in which they live., ibid., p. 11.

[10] ‘An implication of the results of this report is that older Australians who have been divorced and are single in older age will have lower incomes and fewer assets than they would have had if they had remained married. Older divorced single Australians are much more likely to experience material hardships and report having a lower level of prosperity than the married and never-divorced.’, de Vaus, et al., ‘The consequences of divorce for financial living standards in later life’, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Research paper No. 38, p. 21 (2007).

[11]Compared to married individuals, divorced persons exhibit lower levels of psychological well-being, more health problems, greater risk of mortality, more social isolation, less satisfying sex lives, more negative life events, greater levels of depression and alcohol use, and lower levels of happiness and self-acceptance (5).’, NCHS/CDC Public Affairs, Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the United States’, Series Report 23, Number 22, pp. 3-4 (2002).

[12] ‘The negative effects of divorce on wellbeing are likely to have negative economic consequences for society as a whole, particularly in relation to the health consequences for women, which are likely to increase the demand for publicly funded or subsidised health services. It is clear that the costs to government of divorce last for two or more decades.’, Gray et al., ‘Divorce and the wellbeing of older Australians’, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Research paper No. 46, p. ix (2010).

[13] ‘However, many scholars and policy makers who study crime have identified family breakdown as one among a cluster of disadvantages which are associated with criminal activity and with chronic reoffending.’, O’Neill, ‘Experiments in Living: The Fatherless Family’, p.11 (2002).

[14] ‘Adverse outcomes accrue to children of divorce and children raised in single-parent families.’, NCHS/CDC Public Affairs, Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the United States’, Series Report 23, Number 22, p. 4 (2002).

[15] ‘Single-parent families have lower levels of parental involvement in school activities and lower student achievement, compared to two-parent families (10). Children raised in single-parent families are more likely to drop out of high school, have lower grades and attendance while in school, and are less likely to attend and graduate from college than children raised in two-parent families (11). They are more likely to be out of school and unemployed and are also more likely to become single parents themselves, than children raised in two-parent families (11).’, ibid, p. 4.

[16] ‘Even when the mother does remarry, studies suggest that children in stepfamilies have similar risks of adverse outcomes as children in single-parent families: both groups of children do worse than children living with two biological parents in terms of academic achievement, depression, and behavior problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, premarital sexual intercourse, and being arrested (9).’, ibid., p. 4.

[17] ‘It has long been recognised that children growing up in lone-mother households are more likely to have emotional, academic, and financial problems and are more likely to engage in behaviour associated with social exclusion, such as offending, teenage pregnancy, alcohol and drug abuse or worklessness.’, O’Neill, ‘Experiments in Living: The Fatherless Family’, p. 6 (2002).

[18] ‘Analysis of 35 cases of fatal abuse which were the subject of public inquiries between 1968 and 1987 showed a risk for children living with their mother and an unrelated man which was over 70 times higher than it would have been for a child with two married biological parents.’, ibid., p. 8.

[19] ‘In focus group discussions, young people in prisons spoke frequently about disruption in their family lives and about their fathers’ absence.’, ibid., p. 8.

[20] ‘Studies have found that, compared to children in two-parent families, children of divorce score lower on measures of self-concept, social competence, conduct, psychological adjustment and long-term health (5).’, ibid., p. 4.

[21] ‘A major longitudinal study of 1,400 American families found that 20%–25% of children of divorce showed lasting signs of depression, impulsivity (risk-taking), irresponsibility, or antisocial behaviour compared with 10% of children in intact two-parent families.’, O’Neill, ‘Experiments in Living: The Fatherless Family’, p. 7 (2002).

[22] ‘The popular belief that cohabitation is an effective strategy in a high-divorce society rests on the common-sense notion that getting to know one another before marrying should improve the quality and stability of marriage.’, Hall & Zhao, ‘Cohabitaiton and Divorce in Canada: Testing the Selectivity Hypothesis’, Journal of Marriage and the Family (57.421), 1995.

[23] ‘However, in this instance, it is looking more and more as if common sense is a poor guide. Major empirical studies have failed to discover a positive link between premarital cohabitation and marital quality or stability.’, ibid., pp. 421-422.

[24] ‘Bentler and Newcomb (1978) found no difference in marital satisfaction between cohabitors and noncohabitors, and more recent studies have suggested that living common-law is actually related to lower quality marriages (Booth & Johnson, 1988; DeMaris & Leslie, 1984). Perhaps most compelling are the findings from several recent articles that document a strong negative association between cohabiting and marital stability. These studies indicating that living together before marriage substantially increases the chances of divorce for a couple (Balakrishnan, Rao, Lapierrre-Adamcyk, & Krotki, 1987; Bennett, Blanc, & Bloom, 1988; DeMaris & Rao, 1992; Teachman & Polonko, 1990).’, ibid., p. 422.

[25] ‘Among the findings in the report: unmarried cohabitations overall are less stable than marriages.’, National Center for Health Statistics, ‘New Report Sheds Light on Trends and Patterns in Marriage, Divorce, and Cohabitation’, July 24, 2002.


Social effects of media

February 6, 2011

Conservative Christians have been known for their historic opposition to TV in general, and to violent media in particular, on the basis of Biblical statements identified as relevant to the subject.[1] [2] [3] Numerous studies confirm that such opposition is well founded.

Typical media content has been identified as having a negative impact on the behavior of impressionable minors,[4] [5] with a particularly strong correlation between violent media and violent behavior.[6] [7] [8] [9] [10]

Studies indicate evidence for TV’s negative influence, even unrelated to actual content.[11] [12]

Numerous studies demonstrate that the actual medium of TV itself has a negative impact, regardless of the content being viewed,[13] vindicating cautions about the negative impact of TV viewing on children’s physical development which are over 40 years old.[14] [15]

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to limit their children’s exposure to TV significantly, and to encourage traditional forms of play,[16] strikingly similar to what conservative Christian parents have recommended for literally decades.

Studies have indicated the same dangers for computer use. [17] Violent content has been identified as a specific concern,[18] [19] [20] while there is little to demonstrate that home computer use contributes significantly to positive academic performance.[21]

[1] Psalm 119: 37 Turn my eyes away from what is worthless! Revive me with your word!

[2] Proverbs 4: 23 Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it are the sources of life. 24 Remove perverse speech from your mouth; keep devious talk far from your lips.

[3] Philippians 4: 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.

[4] ‘During this period of heightened concerns about attractiveness and sensitivity to cultural norms, children are bombarded with media messages that often promote, although usually indirectly, high-risk behavior. Studies of smoking and alcohol use in youth suggest that media do affect behavior (Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992; Oei & Baldwin, 1992). Smoking, alcohol consumption, sex, and violence are prominent in television and even in computer games and comic books. Media messages related to children’s developing sexuality usually promote rather than discourage sexual activity.’, Stipek, de la Sota, & Weishaupt, ‘Life Lessons: An Embedded Classroom Approach to Preventing High-Risk Behaviours among Preadolescents’, The Elementary School Journal (99.5.435), 1999.

[5] ‘The importance of media is evident in findings that young adolescents who develop eating disorders are relatively more exposed to media (especially reading magazines and watching television soap operas; Harrison, 1997; Harrison & Cantor, 1997; Tiggemann & Pickering, 1996).’, ibid., p. 435.

[6] ‘Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center’s Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) Research Center have shown that watching violent programs can cause parts of your brain that suppress aggressive behaviors to become less active.’, Craig, ‘This is your brain on violent media’, Columbia University Medical Center, December 2007.

[7] ‘A secondary finding was that after repeated viewings of violence, an area of the brain associated with planning behaviors became more active. This lends further support to the idea that exposure to violence diminishes the brain’s ability to inhibit behavior-related processing.’, ibid.

[8] ‘Considering our regression analyses (i.e., step 2a in Table 2), it can be seen that violent media exposure does relate meaningfully and significantly to engagement in violence and aggression even after controlling the substantial effects of sex and age.’, Boxer et al., ‘The Role of Violent Media Preference in Cumulative Developmental Risk for Violence and General Aggression’, J Youth Adolescence (38.425), 2009.

[9] ‘Furthermore, even for those lowest in other risk factors, a preference for violent media was predictive of violent behavior and general aggression. This finding is consistent with earlier research showing that even low-aggressive individuals are affected by media violence (Eron et al. 1972).’, ibid., p. 425.

[10] ‘Even if we consider only those studies that have most thoroughly met the standards of critics, (3) the pattern of results still supports the conclusion that television violence leads to increased aggression. As a result, there is widespread agreement among credible authorities that television violence does increase children’s aggression and fears. Reports supporting the conclusion have been circulated by the United States Surgeon General, (4) the Royal Commission on Violence in the Communications Industry, (5) the American National Institute of Mental Health, (6) UNESCO, (7) the American Psychological Association, (8) the CRTC, (9) and the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Communications and Culture. (10)’, Josephson, ‘Television Violence: A Review of the Effects on Children of Different Ages’, report for the Department of Canadian Heritage, February 1995.

[11] ‘Early television exposure is associated with attentional problems at age 7. Efforts to limit television viewing in early childhood may be warranted, and additional research is needed.’, Christakis et al., ‘A. Early Television Exposure and Subsequent Attentional Problems in Children’, Pediatrics (113.4.708), 2004.

[12]‘We found that early exposure to television was associated with subsequent attentional problems. This finding was present even while controlling for a number of potential confounding factors, including prenatal substance use and gestational age, measures of maternal psychopathology, and socioeconomic status. The magnitude of the risk associated with television viewing, expressed in our analysis in terms of hours per day of television viewed, is clinically significant when one considers the full range of hours of television viewed in our sample (0–16). A 1-SD increase in the number of hours of television watched at age 1 is associated with a 28% increase in the probability of having attentional problems at age 7. This result is robust and stable over time—a similar effect size is obtained for the number of hours of television watched at age 3. To our knowledge, ours is the first study to test the hypothesis of very early television viewing on subsequent inattention using a nationally representative longitudinal sample.’, ibid., p. 710; the study noted a number of caveats, such as the need for further study and the fact that a direct causal link was not established, though the correlation is clinically significant.

[13]‘In 1980, Boys Town published an exhaustive review of nearly 3,000 studies of television’s impact on children conducted over the previous 25 years, concluding that television can exert a powerful influence independent of the particular content portrayed on the screen. The simple availability of television was associated with delayed development in a child’s verbal skills and in the amount of effort applied to academic tasks.’, Wartella & Jennings, ‘Children and Computers: New Technology. Old Concerns’, The Future of Children (10.2.34), 2000.

[14] ‘Excessive viewing may encourage passivity and may limit play experiences with other children or alone.’, Appell, ‘Television Viewing and the Preschool Child’,  Marriage And Family Living, (25.3.315), 1963.

[15]These are principally unintended, noncontent, or unnoticed effects of television. For example, the child who spends four hours a day between the ages of three and eighteen watching television, as millions do, has spent some 22,000 hours in passive inactivity as opposed to exercising (to develop his physical fitness), or relating to his parents (to prevent a “generation gap”) and so on. What he watches doesn’t alter these effects materially.’, Skornia, ‘What TV Is Doing to America: Some Unexpected Consequences’, Journal of Aesthetic Education (3.3.29-30), 1969.

[16] ‘To minimize the increased risk of obesity, as well as several other harmful effects of extensive media exposure, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to limit children’s time spent with computers, video games, and other media to perhaps no more than one to two hours a day, and to emphasize alternative activities such as imaginative play and sports.’, Shields & Behrman, ‘Children and Computer Technology: Analysis and Recommendations’, The Future of Children, (10.2.6), 2000.

[17] ‘Excessive, unmonitored use of computers, especially when combined with use of other screen technologies, such as television, can place children at risk for harmful effects on their physical, social, and psychological development. Children need physical activity, social interaction, and the love and guidance of caring adults to be healthy, happy, and productive.14 Too much time in front of a screen can deprive children of time for organized sports and other social activities that are beneficial to child development.15 In addition, children may be exposed to violent, sexual, or commercial content beyond their years, with long-term negative effects.16 To ensure healthy and appropriate use of computers both at school and at home, children’s computer time must be limited and their exposure to different types of content must be supervised.’, Shields & Behrman, ‘Children and Computer Technology: Analysis and Recommendations’, The Future of Children, (10.2.6), 2000.

[18] ‘In addition, however, just as research has documented that watching violent films and television programming can lead to increased hostility and aggression in children,36 some research also suggests an association between playing violent computer games and increased aggression. 37 Although the causal direction of the association is unclear, the critical variable linked to subsequent aggressive behavior appears to be the child’s preference for playing such games.’, ibid., p. 8.

[19] ‘Of most concern are the findings that playing violent computer games may increase aggressiveness and desensitize a child to suffering, and that the use of computers may blur a child’s ability to distinguish real life from simulation.’, Subrahmanyam et al., ‘The Impact of Home Computer Use on Children’s Activities and Development’, The Future of Children (10.2.123), 2000.

[20]The strongest evidence examining how home computer use affects children builds on the studies of television concerning physical effects and violent content. The evidence on physical effects links the sedentary nature of computer use to an increased risk of obesity. Children should limit their time with media and should be taught to use computers safely to avoid the types of eye, back, and wrist injuries that have plagued adult computer users. In addition, the evidence on violent content links exposure to violent computer games to increased aggressive behavior.’, ibid., p. 139.

[21] ‘While use of a home computer is widely assumed to have a positive impact on children’s learning, little research exists to confirm this assumption. The limited evidence available suggests that home computer use is linked to slightly better academic performance, but these studies failed to control for other factors. Thus, it is difficult to know whether a child’s academic performance reflects use of a home computer or a greater level of family income and education-factors that are highly correlated with both home computer ownership and better academic performance.’, Shields & Behrman, ‘Children and Computer Technology: Analysis and Recommendations’, The Future of Children, (10.2.9), 2000.


Early Christian resistance to witch hunts

February 4, 2011

Between 40,000 and 60,000 people died in the witch hunts of the Early Modern period[1]. Three developments in Christian doctrine contributed: 1) a return to belief in witches, 2) changes in the doctrine of Satan, 3) the identification of witchcraft as heresy.

Belief in witches was widespread in medieval Europe,[2] and the secular legal codes of Europe punished witchcraft as a crime.[3] The Church’s influence reversed this, [4] [5] ending witch hunts.[6]

Mainstream medieval Christian teaching denied the existence of witches and witchcraft, as mere pagan superstition. [7] [8] Examples include an Irish synod in 800, [9] Agobard of Lyons, [10] Hrabanus Maurus,[11] the Canon Episcopi edited by Regino of Prüm,[12] the Council of Anse, Buchard of Worms, John of Salisbury,[13] Pope Gregory VII, [14] and Serapion of Vladimire. [15] The traditional charges and punishments were likewise condemned.[16] [17]

Christian influence failed to eradicate traditional beliefs,[18] and later developments in the doctrine of Satan proved influential in reversing the previous dismissal of witches and witchcraft as superstition. These beliefs became included in a comprehensive doctrine of Satan,[19] [20] [21] but it was not until maleficium was identified with heresy that religious trials for witchcraft could start.[22]

Doctrinal change was completed in the fifteenth century, [23] and new trials started.[24] [25] [26] Their promotion by Henricus Institoris met resistance in some areas,[27] and his ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ was less influential than previous scholars once believed.[28] [29]

[1] Fifteenth to eighteenth century.

[2] ‘One of the most persistent features of European world views, as we shall see, was the presence of humans who used magic to help or hurt their neighbours.’, Thurston, ‘Witch, Wicce, Mother Goose: The Rise and Fall of the Witch Hunts in Europe and North America’, p. 15 (2001).

[3]The earliest law codes issued by the northern invaders of the Roman Empire specify penalties for women who were believed to go abroad at night and destroy men by magic.’, Hutton, ‘The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles’, p. 257 (1993).

[4]Then these clauses were revoked, often explicitly at the insistence of churchmen. The Lombard code of 643 may serve as an example: ‘Let nobody presume to kill a foreign serving maid or female slave as a witch, for it [destruction by magic] is not possible, nor ought to be believed by Christian minds. In 789 Charlemagne imposed Christianity upon the people of Saxony, and proclaimed to them: ‘If anyone, deceived by the Devil, shall believe, as is customary among pagans, that any man or woman is a night-witch, and eats men, and on that account burn that person to death . . . he shall be executed.’12 Thus it might be argued that the spread of Christianity initially resulted in an improvement in the treatment of both religious dissenters and alleged witches.”, ibid., p. 257.

[5] ‘Likewise, the Lombard King Rothari (c. 606-52) decreed in 643 that Christians must not believe that women devour a human being from inside (ut mulier hominem vivum instrinsecus possit comedere), and therefore supposed witches (strigae) must not be killed, particularly not convicted in court.’, Behringer, ‘Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History’, p. 30 (2004).

[6] ‘Indeed, in those parts of western Europe which were the home of, or taken over by, Germanic tribes, it seems that the Church ended a tradition of hunting and killing witches.’, Hutton, ‘The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles”, p. 257 (1993).

[7]Certainly the early Church cannot be held responsible for the mass burnings of heretics which commenced seven centuries after its installation in power, or the great witch hunt which began eleven centuries later. During that long interval, Christendom itself changed.’, ibid., p. 257.

[8]Clearly, there was an increase in sceptical voices during the Carolingian period, even if we take into account an increase in surviving sources.’, Behringer, ‘Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History’, p. 31 (2004).

[9]Likewise, an Irish synod at around 800 condemned the belief in witches, and in particular those who slandered people for being lamias (que interpretatur striga).’, ibid., pp. 30-31.

[10]A Crown witness of ‘Carolingian scepticism’, Archbishop Agobard of Lyon (769-840), reports witch panics during the reign of Charlemagne. In his sermon on hailstorms he reports frequent lynchings of supposed weather magicians (tempestarii), as well as of sorcerers, who were made responsible for a terrible livestock mortality in 810. According to Agobard, the common people in their fury over crop failure had developed the extravagant idea that foreigners were secretly coming with airships to strip their fields of crops, and transmit it to Magonia. These anxieties resulted in severe aggression, and on one occasion around 816, Agobard could hardly prevent a crowd from killing three foreign men and women, perceived as Magonian people. As their supposed homeland’s name suggests, the crop failure was associated with magic. The bishop emphasized that thunderstorms were caused exclusively by natural or divine agencies.’, ibid., pp. 54-55.

[11] ‘Hrabanus Maurus, Abbot of Fulda, wrote several attacks, including ‘On the magical arts’, much of which was derived from Isidore of Seville, on those who believed that magicians and sorcerers could accomplish anything that depended on their power alone.’, Jolly, Raudverre, & Peters, ‘Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: the Middle Ages’, p. 201 (2002).

[12] ‘One of the most important ecclesiastical documents of the Middle Ages was the Canon Episcopi, ca. 900, which defined witchcraft as Devil-worship, but declared it to be nothing more than a foolish idea.’, Guiley, ‘The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft, and Wicca’, p. 50 (2008).

[13] ‘Witchcraft beliefs however were not always endorsed by the upper levels of society. They were condemned as superstitious by the Council of Anse in 990 and by Buchard of Worms a few years after, as when John of Salisbury dismissed them as the imaginings of ‘a few poor men and ignorant women, with no real faith in God.’, Moore, ‘The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Authority and Deviance in Western Europe 950-1250 ‘, p. 133 (2007).

[14] ‘In 1080 Harold of Denmark (r. 1076-80) was admonished not to hold old women and Christian priests responsible for storms and diseases, or to slaughter them in the cruellest manner. Like Agobard before him, Pope Gregory VII (r. 1073-85) declared in his letter to the Danish king that these catastrophes were caused by God alone, that they were God’s punishment for human sins, and that the killing of the innocent would only increase His fury.”, ibid., p. 55.

[15] ‘Witches were executed at Novgorod in 1227, and after a severe famine in the years 1271-4 Bishop Serapion of Vladimire asked in a sermon: ‘you believe in witchcraft and burn innocent people and bring down murder upon earth and the city… Out of what books or writings do you learn that famine in earth is brought about by witchcraft?‘, ibid., p. 56.

[16] ‘A capitulary of Charlemagne (747-814) for the Saxons in 787 imposed the death penalty on those who, like pagans, believed that a man or woman could be a striga, one who devours humans, and burned them.”, ibid., p. 30.

[17] ‘A decree of King Coloman of Hungary (c. 1074-116, r. 1095-1116) against the belief in the existence of strigae (De strigis vero que non sunt, ne ulla questio fiat) suggests that they were thought to be human beings with demonic affiliation: witches.’, ibid., p 32.

[18] Study after study has shown how, all over Europe, ordinary people regularly appealed not to their own consciences, or to the conscience of the Church, but to local practitioners skilled in healing, divination, and astrology for help with their everyday problems. They did this frequently in cases of suspected maleficium, but any kind of misfortune, anticipated or experienced, could justify a visit to the ‘cunning’ man or woman.’, Clark, ‘Thinking With Demons: the Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe’, p. 457 (1999).

[19]Early Christian theologians attributed to the Devil responsibility for persecution, heresy, witchcraft, sin, natural disasters, human calamities, and whatever else went wrong. One tragic consequence of this was a tendency to demonize people accused of wrongs. At the instance of ecclesiastical leaders, the state burned heretics and witches, burning symbolizing the fate deserved by the demonic.’, Hinson, ‘Historical and Theological Perspectives on Satan’, Review and Expositor (89.4.475), (Fall 1992).

[20] ‘Trevor-Roper has said that it was necessary for belief in the Kingdom of Satan to die before the witch theory could be discredited.’, Larner, ‘Crime of Witchcraft In Early Modern Europe’, in Oldridge, ‘The Witchcraft Reader’, p. 211 (2002).

[21]Christian theology underwent a major shift of attitude only during the thirteenth century. In his Summa contra Gentiles, Thomas Aquinas (1255-74) not only confirmed Augustine’s semiotic theory, according to which spells, amulets or magical rituals indicated a secret pact with demons, but gave the impression that sorcerers, through the support of the devil, could physically commit their crimes.’, Behringer, ‘Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History’, pp. 35-36 (2004).

[22] ‘Sorcery was, however, still subject to secular law and secular courts, since the main indictment was maleficium. Subsequent inquisitors like Nicolas Eymeric (c. 1320-99), inquisitor of Aragon, in his Directorium Inquisitorum of 1376 equated sorcerers with heretics because both were supposed to adore the devil. Sorcery, or witchcraft, was thus redefined as a spiritual crime, subject primarily to ecclesiastical courts, and the Inquisition in particular.’, ibid., p. 36.

[23] ‘We are reasonably confident today that the ‘classical’ doctrine of witchcraft crystallized during the middle third of the fifteenth century’, ibid., pp. 18-19.

[24]By the end of the fifteenth century, scattered trials for witchcraft by both secular and ecclesiastical courts occurred in many places from the Pyrenees, where the Spanish Inquisition had become involved, to the North Sea.’, ibid., p. 19.

[25] ‘In Switzerland, the rustic ‘forest cantons’ of the original Confederation apparently remained unaffected by witch trials until after 1560.’, Behringer, ‘Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History’, p. 19 (2004).

[26] ‘the first known witch-hunt in the kingdom of France began in the northern Pyrenees in the spring of 1562’, ibid., p. 21.

[27] ‘Germany was emphatically not the centre of this activity; Institoris encountered enormous hostility in the Austrian Alps, and absolutely no evidence exists that the publication of his Malleus started any chain of trials anywhere in the Empire.’, ibid., p. 19.

[28]In its own day it was never accorded the unquestioned authority that modern scholars have sometimes given it. Theologians and jurists respected it as one among many informative books; its particular savage misogyny and its obsession with impotence were never fully accepted.’, Monter, ‘The Sociology of Jura Witchcraft’, in ‘The Witchcraft Reader’, p. 116 (2002)

[29] ‘The effect that the book had on witch-hunting is difficult to determine. It did not open the door ‘to almost indiscriminate prosecutions’ 50 or even bring about an immediate increase in the number of trials. In fact its publication in Italy was followed by a noticeable reduction in witchcraft cases.’, Levack, ‘The Witch-Hunt In Early Modern Europe’, p. 55 (2nd edition 1995).


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