Comparative and historical methods of reading ancient texts are an ongoing key contribution to illuminating children in the Bible. The nineteenth-century archaeological discoveries in the ancient Near East propelled biblical studies into a new, critical reality. But there has always been a tension between arguing that the Hebrew Bible is the same as its cultural context, or arguing for its difference. Understanding ancient children must also contend with this tension. Current approaches to the study of the ancient Near East offer more of a balance, fully describing the ancient Near East and offering a broad cultural matrix as a reading lens to understand biblical texts. Here we explore a few examples of difference and sameness in the Hebrew Bible’s representation of children, to ask whether the Hebrew Bible is simply echoing its cultural matrix, or making some key point in contrast to a commonly held idea about children. Through the process we learn the importance of a comparative analysis when scholars make claims about children in biblical texts.
While recognized as important contributors to the household, children remain a small part of ancient Near Eastern archaeology. If one goal of archaeology is to study at a micro/macro level theories of cultural dynamics, then that record remains incomplete, even flawed, without the inclusion of children. Children should not be simply an alternative focus of research, but need to be an integral part of all archaeologies. This study identifies a new theoretical lens, childist archaeology, and then applies this lens to the investigation of children in ancient Israel. Through a case study focused on double-holed discs, or “buttons,” the study concludes that play should be understood as an integral part of skill transmission and the enculturation of children into society. To test the viability of the conclusions, the case study employs experimental archaeology wherein a group of children undertake the task of creating a spinning toy made of ceramics.
This chapter explores the theme of biblical children and method by examining the narrative relationship between children and Jesus’ disciples in the Gospel of Mark using Derridean poststructural deconstruction. Playing on the relationship between pais (child, slave) and paizō (to play, jest, mock), the essay shows how Mark playfully weaves two groups, adult male insiders (disciples) and children, typically expressed in Derridean hierarchical form as adult disciples over children, through his parable of the sower matrix. Doing so, Mark inverts them. With one contrasting exception, from Jairus’ daughter forward, children increasingly reveal the kingdom of God like seed cast in good soil, while the disciples’ ability to do so withers like seed in rocky soil. Mark’s presentation of children seems to toy with, even mock, the disciples, privileging children over them, perhaps fitting of Markan irony elsewhere.
However, this essay argues two points that undermine Mark’s characterizations. First, the slave girl of the high priest is a child in Mark. Second, her characterization challenges the typical binary hierarchy of adults over children as well as Mark’s inversion where children are privileged over the adult disciples. She exhibits traces of Mark’s positive and negative child exemplars. She is a threshold child.
In addition to archaeological and historical (i.e., textual) sources, art historical (or, iconographic) sources also contribute to the study of children in the ancient Near East. This essay proposes a method for identifying children and age groups in ancient Near Eastern iconography, introduces select methods for studying iconographic depictions of children, and demonstrates the value of using iconography to study children by focusing on the depiction of children in the Lachish Reliefs. Although filtered through the cultural lens of the artists and sculptors who composed iconographic images, ancient Near Eastern iconography provides a lens to understand the realities of children, the ways in which children were perceived, and the ways in which depictions of children were often used to contribute to state propaganda—in the case of the Lachish Reliefs, Assyrian propaganda. Although children were not the primary subject of interest in ancient Near Eastern art, they should not be ignored.
This final chapter presents the new field of Childist Criticism. It places the new criticism within the interpretive past, drawing ties to the mother field of feminist criticism and then moving forward. In doing so, it situates each of the previous chapters in the current volume firmly within the new field vis-à-vis the four pillars, or interpretive avenues, that provide the basis for engaging in Childist Criticism: 1) giving children agency and a voice, 2) filling in the gaps, 3) changing the focus from adult-centric to child-centric, and 4) exploring the interplay between children’s value and vulnerability in their society. Whether one chooses to use one or all four of the interpretive avenues, this new method allows scholars of both Jewish studies and biblical studies to learn from ancient biblical children.
Childist interpreters have much in common with and much to learn from their feminist foremothers in biblical studies. This chapter explores some of the commonalities between these two fields, as well as naming a few ways that they are in tension. The commonalities include the question of women and children’s visibility and agency, their vulnerability to violence, and the possible results of scholarship focused on ancient women and children. Working with the heavenly vision of the Woman Clothed with the Sun in Revelation 12, the chapter examines these themes in conversation with feminist scholarship on John’s Apocalypse.
This article applies social scientific methodologies to the stories of Elijah and Elisha raising children from the dead (1 Kgs 17:17–24; 2 Kgs 4:11–37). First, the study explores sociological and anthropological approaches to the text and their value for biblical studies. It then uses these methodologies to explore why children and not adults feature as the objects of the prophets’ salvific power in the only two narratives of intentional revivification in the Hebrew Bible. Anthropological studies, notably of the Tungu of Siberia, reveal that Elijah and Elisha act like shamans in their efforts to revive the son of the widow of Zarephath and the son of the Shunammite woman. Following sociological methods, two interviews with modern healers further illumine spiritual dimensions of work with children. In the end, this discussion reveals aspects of children’s lives that make them prime candidates for success, as well as challenging candidates to work with, when undertaking the ultimate act of healing.