The Sins of the Fathers: The Law and Theology of Illegitimacy Reconsidered

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For nearly two millennia, Western law visited the sins of fathers and mothers upon their illegitimate children, subjecting them to systematic discrimination and deprivation. The graver the sins of their parents, the further these children fell in social standing and legal protection. While some reformers have sought to better the plight of illegitimate children, only in recent decades has illegitimacy lost its full legal sting. Yet the social, economic, and psychological costs of illegitimacy still remain high even in the liberal, affluent West.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"John Witte has done it again! Sins of the Fathers demonstrates what his readers always expect from him: painstaking historical research, lucid presentation, plus jurisprudential and theological gravitas. But here we see even more: the profound humanity of this man, born of his familial experience, and revealed in the book's moving dedication, which gives us the leitmotif of this exceptional work." —David Novak, J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Professor of Jewish Studies, University of Toronto

"Witte, one of the world's foremost thinkers on law and religion, has now produced this authoritative investigation of the often deeply disturbing history of illegitimacy in the Western world. It is not only grounded in rigorous scholarship and perceptive theology but also offers wise reflections on how civil responsibility, adoption and the institution of marriage might contribute more to the welfare of children today." —David F. Ford, Regius Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge

"This little book is a large achievement. It exemplifies the modern ideal of scholarship – complexly interdisciplinary, masterfully cross-cultural, lavishly learned, startlingly insightful, movingly personal, lucidly argued, and luminously written." —Carl E. Schneider, Chauncey Stillman Professor of Law and Professor of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan.

Adrian Thatcher
"Witte's towering reputation as a historian, and as a legal and theological scholar, is further enhanced by this slim, but accessible and meticulously researched volume."--(Adrian Thatcher, University of Exeter)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521839419
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 4/27/2009
  • Pages: 226
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

John Witte, Jr is Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University. His most recent publications include Law and Protestantism: The Legal Teachings of the Lutheran Reformation (2002), The Reformation of Rights: Law, Religion and Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism (2007), and Christianity and Law: An Introduction (2008) co-edited by Frank S. Alexander.

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Table of Contents

List of illustrations viii

Preface and acknowledgements xi

Introduction: the paradoxes of illegitimacy 1

1 Suffer the innocent children: illegitimacy in early Judaism and Christianity 11

2 Woe to bastards: the classical Roman law of illegitimacy and legitimation 49

3 The wages of sin: sex, marriage, and illegitimacy in medieval canon law 73

4 Heir of no one: the English common law of illegitimacy and its reforms 105

5 The rights of all children: the new law of non-marital childhood in America and beyond 135

Concluding reflections 167

Bibliography 185

Index to biblical sources 204

Subject index 207

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