Old Testament Laws
Dateline: February 23, 2000
Let's turn our attention now to that group of any society which is perhaps its most defenseless: children. A society can often be judged by how it treats its children. Unfortunately, the laws supposedly handed down by this "god" to the ancient Hebrews were not always very 'kid-friendly".
Folly is bound up in the heart of a boy, but the rod of discipline drives it far away. (Prov. 22:15)
Do not withhold discipline from your children; if you beat them with a rod, they will not die. If you beat them with the rod, you will save their lives from Sheol. (Prov. 23:13-14)
Although corporal punishment was certainly the norm at the time, it is instructive to notice the claim you won't kill your kids by beating them but will instead save them from "Sheol."
It also appears to have been the standard to punish children for the "iniquities" of the parents. Observe:
Those born of an illicit union shall not be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. (Deut. 23:2)
Thus a person who, through no fault of their own, was born of out of wedlock (or of a "forbidden marriage," possibly indicating a half-breed - the original meaning is unclear) is denied admittance to the temple for religious services. Even worse, this prohibition is perpetuated through 10 generations, even if all those interening children are born of legitimate unions. This is just an extreme example of the standard which was set in Numbers 14:18, where it is declared that this god would be "visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children to the third and the fourth generation."
It is also an expression of the idea that physical abuse is actually a positive thing, as stated in Proverbs 20:30 "Blows that wound cleanse away evil; beatings make clean the innermost parts." Such ideas would eventually make it easier for Christian theologians to support the physical abuse and torture of whichever heretics or rebels the political and religious leaders happened to dislike at the time.
One of the worst things any child could do, apparently, was be disobedient, as we see in this infamous passage:
If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard." Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid. (Deut. 21:18-21)
Disobedience is clearly labeled as a crime of "evil", and something which must be purged from the tribal group for its own good. At the time, life was hard and tribal groups could be besieged on all sides by enemies. Obedience was certainly necessary to help promote survival. Yet this again is a human response to a human concern - what god worthy of any respect would command the death of rebellious children?