Tertullian and the Unborn Child: Christian and Pagan Attitudes in Historical Perspective, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Tertullian and the Unborn Child

Christian and Pagan Attitudes in Historical Perspective, 1st Edition

By Julian Barr


194 pages

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pub: 2017-02-23
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Tertullian of Carthage was the earliest Christian writer to argue against abortion at length, and the first surviving Latin author to consider the unborn child in detail. This book is the first comprehensive analysis of Tertullian’s attitude towards the foetus and embryo. Examining Tertullian’s works in light of Roman literary and social history, Julian Barr proposes that Tertullian's comments on the unborn should be read as rhetoric ancillary to his primary arguments. Tertullian’s engagement in the art of rhetoric also explains his tendency towards self-contradiction. He argued that human existence began at conception in some treatises and not in others. Tertullian’s references to the unborn hence should not be plucked out of context, lest they be misread. Tertullian borrowed, modified, and discarded theories of ensoulment according to their usefulness for individual treatises. So long as a single work was internally consistent, Tertullian was satisfied. He elaborated upon previous Christian traditions and selectively borrowed from ancient embryological theory to prove specific theological and moral points. Tertullian was more influenced by Roman custom than he would perhaps have admitted, since the contrast between pagan and Christian attitudes on abortion was more rhetorical than real.

Table of Contents



Chapter 1: Rhetoric and the Unborn

Chapter 2: The Christian Context

Chapter 3: Tertullian’s Understanding of Prenatal Biology

Chapter 4: The Pagan Context




About the Author

Julian Barr is a research fellow at the University of Queensland, where he completed his PhD in classics. He tutors ancient history and classical languages. His research interests include early Christianity, ancient medicine, and the Roman family.

About the Series

Medicine and the Body in Antiquity

Medicine and the Body in Antiquity is a series which fosters interdisciplinary research that broadens our understanding of past beliefs about the body and its care. The intention of the series is to use evidence drawn from diverse sources (textual, archaeological, epigraphic) in an interpretative manner to gain insights into the medical practices and beliefs of the ancient Mediterranean. The series approaches medical history from a broad thematic perspective that allows for collaboration between specialists from a wide range of disciplines outside ancient history and archaeology such as art history, religious studies, medicine, the natural sciences and music. The series will also aim to bring research on ancient medicine to the attention of scholars concerned with later periods. Ultimately this series provides a forum for scholars from a wide range of disciplines to explore ideas about the body and medicine beyond the confines of current scholarship.

For further information about contributing to the series please contact Dr Patty Baker at [email protected] 

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Ancient / General