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Growing Up in Ancient Israel

Growing Up in Ancient Israel: Children in Material Culture and Biblical Texts

Kristine Henriksen Garroway
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  • Book Info
    Growing Up in Ancient Israel
    Book Description:

    The first expansive reference examining the texts and material culture related to children in ancient Israel

    Growing Up in Ancient Israel uses a child-centered methodology to investigate the world of children in ancient Israel. Where sources from ancient Israel are lacking, the book turns to cross-cultural materials from the ancient Near East as well as archaeological, anthropological, and ethnographic sources. Acknowledging that childhood is both biologically determined and culturally constructed, the book explores conception, birth, infancy, dangers in childhood, the growing child, dress, play, and death. To bridge the gap between the ancient world and today's world, Kristine Henriksen Garroway introduces examples from contemporary society to illustrate how the Hebrew Bible compares with a Western understanding of children and childhood.


    • More than fifty-five illustrations illuminating the world of the ancient Israelite child
    • An extensive investigation of parental reactions to the high rate of infant mortality and the deaths of infants and children
    • An examination of what the gendering and enculturation process involved for an Israelite child

    eISBN: 978-0-88414-296-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  2. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    “Where are the children?” This question has been asked now for over twenty-five years by archaeologists who have recognized that where there are men and women, there should also be children. But this question has only recently entered the arena of biblical and ancient near eastern scholarship. Previously, children were included as part of discussions about families, households, and women. This picture is slowly changing with published studies increasingly focused on children. Such works challenge the long-held assumption that exploring the lives of children is fruitless because there are very few texts about them and even less material culture indicating...

  3. 1 What to Expect When You’re (Not) Expecting
    (pp. 27-48)

    The Israelites understood that sex was a key component in creating children. While there was not a specific word for sex, there were plenty of euphemisms for it: Adam “knew” his wife eve (Gen 4:1), Abram “went in” to Hagar (Gen 16:4), Isaac “took” Rebekah (Gen 24:6), and David “lay with/slept” with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:4–5). Yet the physical action was not understood as the sole reason a woman became pregnant. For the Israelites, one of God’s facets was fertility.¹ Similar to the Mesopotamian belief in the goddesses Inanna or Ishtar, or the Ugaritic and Canaanite belief in El...

  4. 2 How to Birth a Baby
    (pp. 49-78)

    A baby’s entrance into the world was met with great joy. it was also a time of great danger, and a successful birth depended upon many factors. As will be seen, it was necessary not only to create the correct environment for the birthing room but to have the proper people in attendance and equipment on hand. As the previous chapter discussed, not much is known about the actual birth process in ancient Israel. Therefore, this chapter will rely upon the surrounding regions and ethnographic data to offer insights into what occurred just prior to, during, and right after the...

  5. 3 The Newborn: Postpartum Rituals and Practices
    (pp. 79-110)

    Once the baby was born, the parents had a new life to protect, nurture, and care for. The magicoreligious ways parents did this are covered in the following chapter. This chapter explores more mundane things such as what to name a child, how to transport her, and ways to feed her. While such topics might be quotidian, they too carry undertones of the ever-present need to protect the valued, helpless infant whenever possible.

    William shakespeare penned the words, “What’s in a name?,” opining that names do not matter; the individual matters (Romeo and Juliet 2.2.47–48). While this might be...

  6. 4 Inside Out: How to Ward off Evil from Belly through Birth
    (pp. 111-136)

    Many mothers experience a desire to protect their children from the moment they find out they are pregnant. This urge spikes once the child is born and lasts through the nursing period. Research has demonstrated a link between the spike in this protective urge and the peptide corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH).¹ While women in the ancient world would have had the same physiological urge to protect their child, other factors also contributed to this desire. Since there was no end of possible maladies, mothers took precautionary steps to guard the child. Some of the objects and fears described in the first...

  7. 5 Gendering, Engendering, and Educating the Growing Child
    (pp. 137-172)

    Being a part of a society means knowing what actions are proper and expected. Children learn these actions through the process of enculturation and socialization. Passing on culture to the next generation has important implications for the continuity of a society. To study the transfer of culture to the child requires first understanding the world in which the child lives.¹ This world consists of the way a child relates to his environment and the people, adults and other children, with whom he interacts.² Manipulation of material culture also plays a part in socialization and in engendering the child.³ Sometimes a...

  8. 6 Dressing Up
    (pp. 173-196)

    Playing dress up is a fun pastime for many children. In putting on clothing that belongs to another person or profession, a child enters a world of make-believe. While it is unlikely that ancient Israelite children dressed up as princesses or policemen, their clothes did say something about who they were and the status they held. Yet even dressed in regular clothing, through play, a child could pretend to be someone or something else. The next two chapters explore the categories of physical appearance and leisure activities associated with playing, two elements that comprised what an Israelite child might have...

  9. 7 Playtime
    (pp. 197-222)

    The desire to play and interact playfully cuts across cultures. Pretend play in particular has been established as a human universal, making play an important part of a child’s life experience and a worthy, if not sometimes elusive subject of investigation.¹ Pretend play happens at all ages via objects, storytelling, or symbolic and imaginative play.

    Caregivers in the West use repetitive games such as peek-a-boo, songs, and facial expressions to teach the infant. A cross-cultural examination of play among toddlers found that children begin imitative play between twelve to fifteen months of age. Boys play with objects, while girls are...

  10. 8 Till Death Do Us Part
    (pp. 223-266)

    Isaiah 11:8 envisions a time when “A suckling shall play over a viper’s hole, and a weaned one pass his hand over an adder’s den.”¹ This stanza is situated in a description of an idyllic future, an eschatological prophecy (Isa 11:1–12:10) of a world at peace. Isaiah 11:6–9 describes this peace through harmony in nature. Practically speaking, this verse reflects on the daily dangers faced by infants and children. Chapter 4 discusses potential dangers and the ways parents protected their children. This chapter faces the reality that death happened and investigates some of the reasons behind infant and...

  11. 9 Concluding Remarks
    (pp. 267-276)

    “Children are the future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” These words, sung by whitney houston, could well be mistaken for a phrase from deuteronomy or proverbs. Just as we understand children as the future, so too did the ancient israelites. Children were a valued part of society. The well-known stories of sarah, rachel, and hannah exemplify how important children were to the israelite family. Names such as “YHWH has heard” (shemaiah), “happy” (Asher), and “Gift of God” (Nathaniel) personify the ancient israelite desire for children. Yet, for a portion of society deemed so important, children are...