From Triage to Trauma: Stories of Children Healed and Harmed in Monastic Texts

Document Type

Conference Presentation


Religious Studies

Conference Title

American Research Center in Egypt Annual Meeting


Oakland, CA

Conference Dates

April 23-25, 2010

Date of Presentation



Monastic texts from early Christian Egypt demonstrate a remarkable ambivalence toward children. On the one hand, monks are frequently the miracle workers and holy people to whom the laity bring their children to be healed or exorcised. Children’s bodies, in fact, seem especially susceptible to demonic possession. On the other hand, the texts also contain narratives of child sacrifice and violence against children, often modeled after the biblical narrative of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac or Jesus’ sacrifice as God’s son. In addition, medieval images of Jephthah sacrificing his daughter (Judges) survive at the monasteries of St. Antony and St. Catherine. This paper will explore these parallel streams of thought about children in Egyptian asceticism. Children in the Roman world were viewed as containing society’s future potential, symbolic of the family’s and culture’s legacy and inheritance. Accounts of healing of children and violence against children by monks express ambivalence inherent in the very ascetic movement, ambivalence about the ascetics’ relationships with and responsibilities to the wider society.

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