Split the Baby. Drink the Poison. Carry the Hot Iron. Swear on the Bible: New at Reason

How courts exploit superstition to uncover hidden truths.

Wallfahrtskirche Frauenberg/Styria, AustriaYou probably remember the story of King Solomon and the baby. Two women come before the monarch claiming to be a child’s mother. Neither has evidence to show. So Solomon proposes the following: He’ll cut the baby in half. Each woman will receive an equal share. This will be equitable, if a bit messy.

On the face of it, the king was either a baby-hating madman or an idiot. Killing an infant and divvying up its corpse hardly seems like a reasonable response to a maternity dispute. But if you know the story, you know what Solomon had in mind: The baby’s true mother would rather sacrifice her child’s custody than her child’s life. She would turn down the king’s proposal, and then he would award the baby, in its entirety, to


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