The Soul and Abortion in Ancient Greek Culture and Jewish Law

UNCA Author/Contributor (non-UNCA co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Alyssa Horrocks, Student (Creator)
University of North Carolina Asheville (UNCA )
Web Site:
C. Jacob Butera

Abstract: In Classical Greece and following centuries, the uncertainty of when a soul entered the body of a fetus, termed ensoulment, was closely connected to abortion. The Greeks created no laws concerning abortion, so the personal opinion of philosophers and physicians outlined the social acceptability of abortion based on ensoulment. This discussion of social acceptability references Pythagorean, Aristotelian, and Platonic beliefs as well as medical textsto establish the disjointed nature of the Greek perspective. In a culture contemporary with the Greeks, Judaism, abortion was agreed upon as wrong and punishable by law. Ensoulment dictated the severity of Jewish law and gave the fetus rights that the Greeks did not. Using ensoulment as a link for comparing the unified Jewish legalperspective of abortion with the varying Greek cultural opinions, the Greek inability to define the personhood of a fetus can be established. Founded on the comparison of contemporary Greek and Jewish cultures, this paper will argue that the Greeks perceived the fetus as a living thing, but not as a human being.

Additional Information

UNC Asheville - Journal of Undergraduate Research
Language: English
Date: 2014
ensoulment, abortion, Jewish law, ancient Greece

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