This text explores the genesis, development, and religious significance of a literary and iconographic motif, involving a gang of urchins, usually male, who mock or assault a holy or eccentric person, typically an adult. Originating in the biblical tale of Elisha's mockery (2 Kings 2.23-24), this motif recurs in literature, hagiography, and art, from antiquity up to our own time, strikingly defying the conventional Judeo Christian and Romantic image of the child as a symbol of innocence.
ERIC ZIOLKOWSKI is Professor of Religion at Lafayette College. He is author of The Santification of Don Quixote: From Hildago to Priest and editor of A Museum of Faiths: Histories and Legacies of the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions. In 1997 he was elected as a Life Fellow in the Society of the Arts, Religion and Contemporary Culture.