Spoiled Children: A Problem Persistent Throughout the Ages

At some time or another, we all have come in contact with a spoiled child. The problem of a spoiled child, however, is not a 21st century difficulty. Evidence from papyri from Oxyrhynchus indicates that children were spoiled even in the Graeco-Roman world. The following letter, which dates in the second or third century CE, was written by a son to his father. Evidently, the father did something of which the son did not approve. That is, the father went to Alexandria and did not take his son:

“Theon to his father Theon, greeting (sic). It was a fine thing of you not to take me with you to the city! If you won’t take me with you to Alexandria I won’t write you a letter or speak to you or say goodbye to you; and if you go to Alexandria I won’t take your hand nor ever greet you again. That is what will happen if you won’t take me. Mother said to Archelaus, ‘It quite upsets him to be left behind.’ It was good of you to send me presents . . . on the 12th, the day you sailed. Send me a lyre, I implore you. If you don’t, I won’t eat, I won’t drink; there now!” (P.Oxy 1.119; translation from Grenfield and Hunt, p. 186).

Photo taken from http://www.christianunschooling.com/does-unschooling-spoil-the-child/

It seems that Theon son of Theon was very perturbed with his father’s decision to leave without him, which was something not only stressed by Theon son of Theon, but also by his mother’s comment to Archelaus (whoever he was). However, all of the disappoint and malice that Theon son of Theon felt toward his father would dissipate if Theon’s father, Theon brought his son a musical instrument, i.e., a lyre. This is the definition of a spoiled brat.

This letter and the attitude of Theon son of Theon is evidence for the appearance of Haustafeln (English; household codes) in some letters of the NT that discuss the behavior of children, e.g., Ephesians, Colossians.

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