We will look at a couple of short articles on archaeology, the Bible and children. Too often when modern peope read biblical accounts they tend to read their own views or modern culture into the different accounts referring to children. That is not the correct way to read anything about the Bible or the ancient past.
the first article- Did the Ancient Israelites Think Children Were People?- brings this research question. The author starts off with the following point
When the class session on the 10 plagues in Exodus came around, an interesting discussion ensued among the students about the plague of the firstborn and whether or not the Israelite deity was morally justified in killing Egyptian babies.
The key words are in bold. The biblical account says the firstborn. It does not say babies. That is the first mistake made by that author and her students. The firstborn could have been at any age. They could have been elderly, middle ages, young adults, teenagers and so on. The second mistake they make is to stand in judgment of God. Who are they to say if God is justified or not? Most of those people probably are still in their sins and think they know more than God does.
Why, we then have to ask, would the Israelites have imagined their deity Yahweh slaughtering children for sins the children themselves had not committed? If they thought children could be killed for the transgressions of others, did they even think children were persons with any type of rights?
Their assumption that those punished were babies leads that class and its instructor to the faulty conclusions stated in that quote. Most likely, God was punishing those children for the sins the Egyptian firstborn had committed in their lives and failed to repent of them. Were the children punished for the transgression sof others? That is hard to say as that teacher and class produced no evidence that was taking place. Of course, when plaques hit, both the innocent and guilty are affected. That is a fact of life.
We are sure that the many victims of the Black Plague did nothing to warrant their demise from that disease. The last line of that quote shows the infusion of modern thinking into past records. Rights have nothing to do with a person’s identity as a human. The fact that they were born human gives them that identity not any so-called rights.
Rights are also not biblical and have no part in defining how the ancient Israelites thought of children.
What do I mean by “persons” exactly? A person, in my usage and that of many anthropologists, is a human being accorded status and recognition in their society. A person is an individual who is seen as having value—not economic value like a sheep or a llama, but social value, value in relationships with others.
None of those elements need rights to support them. Also, you can see how far off the secular word is in its thinking. A human is a human whether they are given value, status, or not.
Personhood is an abstract concept. One might say it is too abstract to be useful. But discussions of personhood arise generally only in the most pressing situations—when we are discussing what we can do to human beings and their bodies.
Actually it is not. A human being is a person no matter how someone defines that term. Both identifications start at conception and continue thorugh life until the person dies.
And this narrative is not alone among texts in the Hebrew Bible in leading readers to call into question whether or not the Israelites saw children as persons. We even read in the storied 10 Commandments: “I, Yahweh, your god, am a jealous god, punishing children for the iniquity of parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Exodus 20:5 in English versification; Deuteronomy 5:9). Either the Israelites who wrote this did not see children as persons, or their conception of personhood was a collective one that allowed children to be punished for the sins of parents.
It is clear that the author does not understand what is being said in the Bible. Declaring that certain punishment will take place does not remove the identity of children. It is just telling people what will happen when they sin. Distorting scripture to make a thesis point or answer a research question is not an intelligent thing to do. It misrepresents the Bible and misleads people.
We could answer this question more easily if we could speak and interact with real Israelites. Since we can’t do this and since the Israelites revealed their views of personhood indirectly rather than through philosophical treatises on the subject, we are left having to read through the lines. At best, the Israelites held a view of personhood that allowed for collective punishment and saw children as low-level subordinates subject to the wishes and whims of parents—usually fathers. At worst, they were not seen as persons
This is the danger that comes when a person cherry picks verses to handle their discussion. it leaves out the myriad of biblical verses that show that the Israelites thought and treated children like real people. We skipped a section on child sacrifice as that is a topic for another day. They come to wrong conclusions about the people of the past. They only look for those verses that will support their thesis and not head for the truth.
We do not see philosophical treaties as direct sources. They also do not give us direct insights into the thinking of ancient people. But that comment does tell us a lot about the author and her bias. That bias undermines and ruins her point. There is more to that article to discuss but we want to move on to the second one. you can read the first one here: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/bible-interpretation/ancient-israel-children-personhood/?mqsc=E3998904&utm_source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=BHDDaily%20Newsletter&utm_campaign=ZE8AOVZ70
What Does the Bible Say About Children—and What Does Archaeology Say?
Unfortunately, children are underrepresented in the archaeological record and ancient texts, including the Bible. It is difficult to discern which artifacts belonged to children. In fact, the best context for identifying children’s artifacts is burials. When children and infants are buried with particular materials, we can infer that these materials were associated with children and were usually intended to assist them in the afterlife.
Burials do not say much about how a person thought. They may say something about the individual families or the regional culture but very little about the deceased, including children. it is impossible to say if the chid requested those items to be buried with them or if their parent sinluded them because they did not want their child to be alone or defenseless in the after life.
It is also misleading to say that children are underrepresented in ancient texts or the bible. Those are adult activities and adult written. They deal with, for the most part, adult things. The lack of children’s drawings, writings and other remains indicate that only the children’s parents took an active interest in what their children did. There is no reason for anyone to preserve children’s works outside of the family for posterity.
Legal documents are the best textual source for learning about the lives of ancient children; these include “wet-nurse contracts, adoptions, inheritance, debt-slave sales, and slave sales.” We have a large amount of ancient adoption records from the site of Nuzi in northeastern Iraq. For adopted boys, the major concern was inheritance; for adopted girls, it was marriage prospects.
Again, these show nothing much about the lives of children. They do show how the adults in their lives were governed. What is sad is that the article cherry picks what it will focus on when it comes to children. Again, this second article veers off topic towards child sacrifice. The article is weak as it ignores all the ancient children games and other artifacts archaeologists have uncovered over the decades.
If the author wants to focus on the lives of children, then it should actually focus on the lives of children. It should not talk about child sarifice as that is an adult decision,not a child’s one. We will address one point on child sacrifice:
Second, the discovery of infant cemeteries (called tophets) at Carthage and other Punic sites suggests that child sacrifice did occur in the ancient Near East. Not all scholars agree with this interpretation, but many think these tophets are proof of the practice.
What are the parents supposed to do when their child dies? Leave them to rot? Of course there will be child cemeteries but that does not mean child sacrifice was practiced. Modern scholars keep reading into the evidence what they want to see or they take the words of the enemies of a given people over rational thought.