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Valuable and Vulnerable

Valuable and Vulnerable: Children in the Hebrew Bible, especially the Elisha Cycle

Julie Faith Parker
  • Book Info
    Valuable and Vulnerable
    Book Description:

    Just as women in the Bible have been overlooked for much of interpretative history, children in the Bible have fascinating and compelling stories that scholars have largely ignored. This groundbreaking book focuses on children in the Hebrew Bible. The author argues that the biblical writers recognized children as different from adults and used these ideas to shape their stories. She provides conceptual and historical frameworks for understanding children and childhood, and examines Hebrew terms related to children and youth. The book introduces a new methodology of childist interpretation and applies it to the Elisha cycle (2 Kings 2-8), which contains forty-nine child characters. Combining literary insights with social-scientific evidence, the author demonstrates that children play critical roles in the world of the text as well as the culture that produced it.

    eISBN: 978-1-930675-86-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    Children are integral to the literature of the Hebrew Bible and the world that gave rise to its stories, yet they have been largely overlooked in biblical scholarship. One pioneering contribution wasThe Jewish Family in Antiquity, edited by Shaye Cohen and published in the Brown Judaic Studies series in 1993. In the introduction, Cohen noted that the evidence for studying the Jewish family in antiquity was abundant, but the research was slim. He rightly observed that this was due to “lack of interest” and added, “the purpose of this volume is to stimulate interest in this underexplored field.”¹ Twenty...

  5. I. Frameworks for Understanding

    • 1 Concepts of Children and Childhood: A Theoretical and Historical Framework
      (pp. 21-40)

      This chapter seeks to lay the groundwork for determining how the writers of the Hebrew Bible thought about children by first acknowledging our own ideas about what it means to be a child. Who is a child? Where does childhood begin? Where does it end? Are children defined by their physical development, social immaturity, intellectual knowledge, sexual inexperience, legal status, financial dependence, rational abilities, familial roles, cultural expectations—or some combination of the above? How do the identifying markers of children change over time and in different cultural contexts?¹ Various factors that many of us take to be incisive indicators...

    • 2 Learning about Children and Youth in the Hebrew Bible through Language: A Contextual and Linguistic Framework
      (pp. 41-76)

      Since the Hebrew Bible does not directly divulge the ancient writers’ views on children or childhood, we need to develop strategies to gain these insights. One helpful approach is to focus attention on words that designate young people. This chapter first asserts that children play an essential role in the Hebrew Bible since they are integral to its world and pervade the text. A brief discussion of linguistic theory then establishes that the vocabulary of a given culture reflects its realities. Next, this chapter examines terms for children and youth to increase awareness of their presence in the text and...

    • 3 Approaching the Elisha Cycle: A Literary and Methodological Framework
      (pp. 77-88)

      This book now progresses from a linguistic to a literary approach as the focus turns to the Elisha cycle (2 Kings 2–8). Knowledge of terms for children and youth brings nuanced understanding to our reading. By examining not only words but their context and usage, we see how the child characters emerge and shape their stories, even when they appear briefly. Through sustained reflection on one set of stories, we can explore children’s roles, challenges, and responsibilities close up. We will observe how child characters act themselves, how other characters interact with them, and how the children influence and...

  6. II. Analyses of Stories—Children and Elisha

    • 4 The Mockers of Bethel (2 Kings 2:23–25)
      (pp. 91-102)

      In the tale of the mockers from Bethel, a group of children come from their town and jeer at Elisha, telling him to go away and calling him “bald.” The prophet looks at these juvenile taunters and curses them in the name of YHWH. Instantly, two female bears come out of the woods and rip apart forty-two of these children. The prophet then continues on his way to Mount Carmel.

      The Elisha cycle is packed with adventure; the day this prophet goes to Bethel may be the most exciting episode. The unpotable waters at Jericho have just been purified by...

    • 5 The Moabite Prince (2 Kings 3:26–27)
      (pp. 103-118)

      Chapter 3 of 2 Kings portrays a scene of battle that culminates in child sacrifice. Upon the death of Israel’s King Ahab, King Mesha of Moab withholds tribute, provoking Israel’s ire. In retaliation, King Jehoram of Israel, King Jehoshaphat of Judah, and the (anonymous) king of Edom muster their troops against the Moabites. As the allied forces advance toward Moab, they lack water and call upon Elisha for help. The prophet predicts a wadi of water and assures them of victory over Moab. Indeed, water does appear, and the Moabites ready themselves for battle. Upon seeing water reflecting the sun,...

    • 6 The Debt-Collateral Children (2 Kings 4:1–7)
      (pp. 119-136)

      After one narrative of children mutilated, followed by another of a child immolated, the Elisha cycle abruptly switches to stories of children who are saved. In 2 Kgs 4:1–7, a mother calls out to Elisha, explaining her predicament: her husband, one of the sons of the prophets, has died, and a creditor is about to take away her two children as slaves. The prophet asks her what he can do for her and what resources she has; she reveals that the only thing left in the house is some oil. Elisha instructs the woman to gather many vessels from...

    • 7 The Shunammite’s Son (2 Kings 4:8–37)
      (pp. 137-156)

      The story of the boy who is promised, born, dies, and is then resuscitated, showcases Elisha as one who can both give and restore life. This involved account weaves together separate scenes that cohere through the presence of the Shunammite woman and her relationship with the prophet. The tale begins with the great woman from Shunem who prevails upon Elisha to eat at her home. She and her husband build guest accommodations for the prophet, who seeks to repay her kindness with a child. The Shunammite woman declines the offer, but nonetheless bears a son as the prophet had predicted....

    • 8 The Israelite Slave Girl (2 Kings 5:1–14)
      (pp. 157-174)

      The slave girl in Naaman’s household is a young child kidnapped from Israel. She serves Naaman’s wife and speaks of a desire for her master’s healing, triggering the subsequent chain of events. After procuring a letter of introduction from the Aramean king, Naaman journeys to Israel laden with riches. The king of Israel misinterprets the missive, thinking he himself should attempt to cure Naaman. Mysteriously, Elisha hears of these proceedings and requests Naaman’s presence. When the commander arrives, Elisha sends out a messenger with instructions for Naaman to wash in the Jordan seven times. Outraged by the presence of a...

    • 9 The Sons of the Starving Mothers (2 Kings 6:24–31)
      (pp. 175-190)

      The two boys in this shocking story become prey for their own mothers. This passage begins with Samaria under a siege that starves the inhabitants. While the king of Israel is walking on the city walls, a woman cries out to him for help. He asks what he can do for her, and mentions the threshing floor or the wine press, implying that neither has any stores left. The woman explains that another mother had suggested that they eat one of their sons one day and then the other son the next day. She recounts that they boiled her son...

    • 10 Epilogue: The Boy Restored to Life (2 Kings 8:1–6)
      (pp. 191-198)

      The boy whose birth the prophet foretold (2 Kgs 4:12–17), and whose death the prophet reversed (2 Kgs 4:32–37), now reappears in a subsequent story. Elisha tells the mother of this revived boy (i.e., the Shunammite) to leave the land because a famine is approaching that will last for seven years. She follows his advice and goes with her family to Philistia, and remains there for the duration. Upon returning home, the woman beseeches the king for her house and her field back. Coincidentally, the king had been asking Gehazi about Elisha’s great deeds. Just as Gehazi is...

  7. Conclusions
    (pp. 199-202)

    Childist biblical interpretation encourages resistant reading of both the Bible and commentaries, replacing the tendency to ignore child char acters with focused attention on them. When I began analyzing the Elisha cycle, the textual material on the children seemed promising but thin. For the most part, biblical scholarship offered little information about the child characters, prompting the development of the demonstrated six-step process. Other scholars might find it productive to exclude the first two steps (Setting, Characters), which tend to be general, and concentrate on the latter four (Reviewing the Plot from a Childist Perspective, Childist Interpretation, Insights about Children,...

  8. Index of Biblical Passages
    (pp. 233-242)
  9. Index of Authors
    (pp. 243-248)
  10. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 249-252)