Shawn Flynn – Children in Ancient Israel

Episode:  In this episode, we discuss the Mesopotamian texts about matters of children to deity relations, families roles, abandonment, child death, and more for the sake of understanding some of the texts of the Hebrew Bible. There exists a clear set of practices in the ancient Near East that show the value of children outside of their utility, which creates the question: Did Israelites feel the same? If so, do these shared presumptions about children explain biblical texts that cover the same social geographies?

Guest: Shawn Flynn is an Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible the Academic Dean at St. Joseph’s College (University of Alberta). He is the author of two books: Yhwh Is King: The Development of Divine Kingship in Ancient Israel, Brill 2013 and the book we’re discussing in this episode, Children in Ancient Israel: The Hebrew Bible and Mesopotamia in Comparative Perspective (OUP, 2018). Dr. Flynn studied English Literature at Univ. of Northern British Columbia, Biblical Studies at Trinity Western University, and began doctoral work at Trinity College Dublin, completing a PhD at the University of Toronto in the department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations.

The Book: (from the publisher’s website) Flynn contributes to the emerging field of childhood studies in the Hebrew Bible by isolating stages of a child’s life, and through a comparative perspective, studies the place of children in the domestic cult and their relationship to the deity in that cult. The study gathers data relevant to different stages of a child’s life from a plethora of Mesopotamian materials (prayers, myths, medical texts, rituals), and uses that data as an interpretive lens for Israelite texts about children at similar stages such as: pre-born children, the birth stage, breast feeding, adoption, slavery, children’s death and burial rituals, childhood delinquency. This analysis presses the questions of value and violence, the importance of the domestic cult for expressing the child’s value beyond economic value, and how children were valued in cultures with high infant mortality rates. From the earliest stages to the moments when children die, and to the children’s responsibilities in the domestic cult later in life, this study demonstrates that a child is uniquely wrapped up in the domestic cult, and in particular, is connected with the deity. The domestic-cultic value of children forms the much broader understanding of children in the ancient world, through which other more problematic representations can be tested. Throughout the study, it becomes apparent that children’s value in the domestic cult is an intentional catalyst for the social promotion of YHWHism.

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