“Childhood” is an ancient word in English, not a young one. The Oxford English Dictionary takes as its earliest example for “cildhad” an English gloss inserted during the tenth century between the lines of the Lindisfarne Gospels. The meaning expressed there appears consistent with the most literal strand of our contemporary usage: this passage from the Gospel of Mark (“soð he cuoeð from cildhad”; 9:21) employs childhood as a temporal marker: a father explains to Jesus that his son had been wracked by fits since the earliest years of his life. The miraculous cure Jesus performs stands as a test of belief and a compelling instance of the power of prayer. The gathered crowd, the disciples, and generations of interpreters since have voiced many questions about this scene and what it means, but no one questions the meaning of childhood. This apparent clarity—the confident unanimity over the implications and significance …

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