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Got Milk? Lactation and Purification among Covenanters

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image of Horizons in Biblical Theology

Abstract This paper examines texts in 4Q266.6.ii in the Dead Sea Scrolls that regulated impurities attributed to parturient women living among the Covenanters. It contrasts how the regulations of 4Q266 differed from those in Leviticus 12. The thesis of the paper is that the Covenanters regarded new mothers as impure, but excluded and protected newborns from the impurities of their mothers. In particular, the paper will examine the possibility that a lactating mother was required to hire a wet-nurse to feed her infant during the first seven days of life if the baby were male or fourteen days of life if the baby were female, lest the mother’s impurity from childbirth render the infant impure. Once the 7-14 days of impurity passed, new mothers were no longer impure to the touch and could therefore resume care for their infants. They were however still impure with regard to the sancta, or holy things, including the sanctuary. This paper will use texts outside of the Qumran community to interpret possible explanations for the Covenanters’ understanding of the impurity of parturient women and the purity of their newborns. These texts will include: Mishnah, Talmud, Soranus’ Gynecology, Galen’s Method of Medicine, Tertullian’s De Carne Christi, Protevangelium Jacobi, and Cyrene Cathartic Law.

Affiliations: 1: Boston University


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