many children must be produced so that some will live. Even under the best of circumstances, in the wealthiest families, many children died tragically young, and Christians in the first centuries were not among those elites who could afford the best care and food.7
Both contraception and abortion were practised in the Graeco-Roman world, though not with much understanding or efficacy, and, as one can imagine, carried high mortality. The safer way to limit family size was the abandonment of newborns, a practice for which ancient Rome is well known.8 At least some abandoned babies were picked up by others and raised, usually as slaves, but in what numbers we have no way of knowing. Certainly the common assumption was that these children died. Even ancient authors presumed that the majority of such abandoned children were girls. Yet Hermas identifies himself at the beginning of his work as a threptos, one who had been so rescued and raised in slavery. All surviving evidence indicates a preference for male rather than female slaves even for domestic service.9
With abortion and abandonment, we come to a distinct parting of the ways between Christians and general Graeco-Roman practice. Abortion was not without its Roman critics (e.g. Cic. Clu. 2.32; Ov. Am. 2.13-14; Juv. Sat. 6.592600). Graeco-Roman writers thought the Jews unusual because they did not abandon unwanted babies (Tac. Hist. 5.5; Diod. Sic. 40.3). Jews themselves also claimed, like Christians after them, that this set them apart (Philo, Spec. 3.108-15; Josephus, Ap. 2.202; Pseudo-Phocylides 184-5).
Christian writers, even the very ones who want to argue that Christians are just like everyone else, stop at this point and insist that in this way Christians are entirely different. The Didache, a collection of teachings and procedures probably compiled at the turn of the first century in Syria, lists among forbidden practices the killing of a child that is in the womb or already born. It also forbids 'corruption of children', a sure reference to the pederasty common among elites (2.2; 5.5; parallel texts in Ep. Barn. 19.5; 20.2). The author of the Epistle to Diognetus, too, while claiming the presence of Christians everywhere doing what others do, says that they marry and have children like everyone else, but he draws the line at this difference: they do not throw their children away (5.6). Likewise, Tertullian in his characteristically aggressive rhetoric
7 Debate about the social status of Christians in the first generations is ongoing. Cf.pt 11, ch. 7, above. For new attempts to create a stratified model, see Meggitt, Paul, poverty and survival; Friesen, 'Poverty in Pauline studies', and responses: Barclay, 'Poverty in Pauline studies', and Oakes, 'Constructing poverty scales'.
8 Cf.Eyben, 'Family planning in Graeco-Roman antiquity'; on the history of abandonment, Boswell, Kindness of strangers, 53-179.
9 Harris, 'Roman slave trade', 119-20; Madden, 'Slavery in the Roman empire', 3-5.
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