One day we won’t have to keep them so close, but until then: Hang on tight - Part Two
Animals were a real danger to children in ancient times. This is especially the case here in the Holy Land. When one studies just the poisonous snakes that live here, you get this picture of great danger. I have seen situations here in the country where poisonous life threatening vipers (from a number of species) have been found living in homes and killing these snakes is not an uncommon event, especially in more rural areas. This is particularly the case in older houses in rural areas. Snakes come into these houses in search of food and people get bit by them in the process.
I note at least eight species of poisonous snakes here in Israel. See Google for pictures using the Latin names.
1. Desert/black cobra - Walterinnesia aegyptia - See Job 20:14-16; Deut. 32:33; Psalm 58:5-7
2. Mt. Hermon/Bornmueller's viper - Vipera bornmueller
3. Palestinian viper - Vipera palestinae - Proverbs 23:32; Isaiah 11: 8; 14:29; 59:5; Jer. 8:17.
4. Greater horned viper – Cerastes cerastes – Deut. 8:15; Number 21:6.
5. Lesser horned viper – Ceraster vipera – Same as above.
6. Burton’s carpet viper – Eschis colorata – Isaiah 30:6; 59:5; Job 20:16
7. Field’s horned viper – Psuedocerastes fieldi – Genesis 49:17.
8. En Gedi Mole Viper – Atractaspis engaddensis – Same as 4 & 5 above.
Some of these snakes are very small (six inches long and they are deadly poisonous). In fact, for example, I have gone of field visits studying ancient terrace (see picture below of an example of this) farms in the southern Jerusalem area and our teacher always took a snake bite kit. Poisonous snakes can be serious business here in the Holy Land.
Note a small warning from Lonely Planet about the Holy Land:
Do not walk barefoot or stick your hand into holes or cracks. Half of those bitten by venomous snakes are not actually injected with poison (envenomed). If bitten by a snake, do not panic. Immobilise the bitten limb with a splint (eg a stick) and apply a bandage over the site with firm pressure, similar to a bandage over a sprain. Do not apply a tourniquet, or cut or suck the bite. Get the victim to medical help as soon as possible so that antivenin can be given if necessary.
Now, this is not meant to frighten anyone because the country is not crawling with poisonous snakes, but in fact, they do exist and one needs to be careful. This is practical advice as far as not sticking your hand into holes and the like, but here we get back that passage from Isaiah under discussion.
“The nursing child (יונק - yonek) shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child (גמול – gamul) shall put his hand on the adder's den.”
Now, we generally speaking do not find snakes for the most part in the city. They are found more in their natural environment, which are not concrete houses and populated areas. Some snakes are found in populated areas, but in ancient times, many people lived in smaller towns and villages and the lifestyle here in Israel was dominated by agriculture.
Israel is blessed with one of the most fertile and productive agricultural lands anywhere on earth. The whole rhythm of life was oriented around the seasons of agriculture. We know this as fact because we have found via archaeology ancient calendars which point to the importance of agriculture.
One of the most important of these is the Gezer Calendar - (to see just Google) and here is a translation of what it says.
Two months gathering-----[September–October]Two months planting-------[November–December]
Two months late sowing---[January–February]
One month cutting flax-----[March]
One month reaping barley--[April]
One month reaping and measuring (grain)-[May]
Two months pruning--------[June–July]
One month summer fruit"--[August]
The first two months are for gathering and in this case we are here talking about the olive harvest. In ancient times (and still today), the olive harvest (to make olive oil mostly) took (takes) place in September or October depending on the fall rains.
This is followed by two months planting of cereal grains (wheat and barley). Wheat takes longer to grow and is planted first.
Then you have your cycles of harvesting these grain crops followed by pruning and then your summer fruits, which in Israel meant grapes to be made into wine.
This calendar comes from the 10th century BC so it is one of the oldest representative specimens of an ancient calendar in this region and it links life to a decided agricultural orientation.
Now, in an agricultural environment, snakes and other animals are much more a part of the landscape and one had to be very careful with little children.
The summer harvests were times of great joy and festivity. We have archaeological evidence of wine presses and vats where wine grapes were put in and people would get in and stomp on the grapes to make the grape juice to be made into wine. Grape juice was also cooked to make the substance which is described often in the Bible as honey - dvash, דבש but was eaten with bread or used as a sweetener and is still in use today. The following has some very nice photos and comments about habits of people who lived here only 150 years ago, but follow ancient patterns of life in some ways.
This was a time when people looked to enjoy nature and relax a little bit from harder work, but this was not a time for the parents (particularly mothers) to let little children under the age of 3 or 4 to go wondering around sticking their hands in the snake holes in the area.
Mothers and fathers were quite cognizant of these dangers in the ancient Israeli landscape. This is why in this text we see a picture of “no worries” and no care about little children getting snake bit and dying. The “age to come” or the millennial age has this care free aspect of fearlessness as a part of its promise. There has been a fundamental change in life from one of fear and constant care over little ones to a total sense of peace and relaxation with no fear even of poisonous snakes.
So, now that we have positioned this text within the ancient landscape, we have to ask the question. If we know about the presence of ancient animals and to know that there was this fear present with families (particularly with the mother’s who were the main daily caregivers to small children) over the daily safety of their children, does the Bible show us how mothers in particularly may have mitigated these risks? More research is needed on this issue, but let me suggest the following.
In ancient times, small children like those described in Isaiah, who are toddlers and even still nursing (women in ancient times in Israel normally nursed their children at least two years) were kept quite close to their mothers and this involved carrying them around. Note the few following texts. The context is poetic, but there is also practical teaching here if we can just see it. It clearly has a motherhood theme in mind.
“Before she was in labor
she gave birth;
before her pain came upon her
she delivered a son.
Who has heard such a thing?
Who has seen such things?
Shall a land be born in one day?
Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?
For as soon as Zion was in labor
she brought forth her children.
Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?”
says the LORD;
“shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?”
says your God.
“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,
all you who love her;
rejoice with her in joy,
all you who mourn over her;
that you may nurse and be satisfied
from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
from her glorious abundance.”
For thus says the LORD:
“Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river,
and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip,
and bounced upon her knees.
As one whom his mother comforts,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66:7-13 ESV)
Thus says the Lord GOD:
“Behold, I will lift up my hand to the nations,
and raise my signal to the peoples;
and they shall bring your sons in their arms,
and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.
The Rev. Horatio Hackett in his excellent book where he visited the Near East in the 1860’s with the view to developing a better understanding of Scripture showed this based on a first hand testimony (see above) of what he saw.
I’ve talked a little bit more about this in my book as a key element of understanding how ancient terms which described children’s various ages also relate in fact in some cases to the close proximity they kept with their mothers. Note this quote:
“This period is followed by another term mentioned by Edersheim. These years are times of particular closeness to their mothers, even clinging to her. He described it like this: “After that the fond eye of the Hebrew parent seems to watch the child as it is clinging to its mother -- as it were ranging itself by her -- whence the fifth designation, ‘taph.’41 The use of this word is further defined when we look at some of the verbs that are related to this noun. We find that the reason that Edersheim referred to this term as showing a child “clinging to its mother” or “ranging itself by her” is because the verbal uses of this noun refer to the English word “swaddled.” This term refers to the ancient custom of women wearing swaddling bands. These were exterior garments that were band-like in construction and were a handbreadths or so thick and were used to carry children by their mothers. This verb is used in a beautiful description of God’s right hand “spanning” the heavens.42 This word “spanned” means swaddled. It shows that God cares for the heavens in the same way that a mother with child cares for it and brings it close to her with her right hand. We even find that the earth in ancient times had a “swaddling band” around it.43 This was a circular band like ring similar to that found around other planets.44 We also have the Bible referring to “swaddling clothes” which were garments that were used on very young children who were yet to be trained in normal bodily functions. These garments were used to wrap the child around their body and could easily be removed quickly to facilitate a child who needed to relieve him or herself.
These garments were wrapped close to the body in a circular fashion.45 In using this word “taph” it gives the strong impression that Hebrew mothers were intensely close to their children and their children stayed very close to their mothers throughout the time prior to the age of six years. This idea is beautifully taught in an extremely touching verse found in the book of Isaiah that describes the birth of a whole nation in one day who will be “carried upon her sides, and be dandled upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you.”46 This is just more evidence that women in ancient times carried their young children and swaddling bands were a part of this process.
In closing this discussion about the word “taph,” we find this phrase used 42 times in the Hebrew Bible and it universally refers to “little children.”47 This period refers to young children who are between the ages of four to six years. After age six, then began a process of either continued closeness to the mother for girls or separation from the mother for boys and beginning a new life spending most of their time with their fathers. “ (Martin, Thy Rod and Thy Staff, They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controversy, pgs.26-27)
Please visit http://parentingfreedom.com/samuelmartin.pdf to download my book for free.
Please visit http://parentingfreedom.com/samuelmartin.pdf to download my book for free.
What the Bible seems to indicate very strongly is that women carried their small children around quite a lot for protection purposes and when we look at this text in Isaiah that we are here discussing, we can start to understand perhaps why this was a necessity.
There is so much more to say on this and so much more research that needs to be done.
In a future post, I am going to discuss the issue of family purity and how this may have impacted the family dynamics of space, touching, physical contact, closeness, and children.
38 Genesis 21:8
39 Psalm 131
41 Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Life, pg. 104; See also Esther 3:13, The ‘taph’ and the
women in one day; Jeremiah 40:7; Ezekiel 9:6
42 Isaiah 48:13
43 This “swaddling-band” was disturbed in the time of Noah and caused the Flood.
44 Job 38:9
45 See Luke 2:7 and 2:12
46 Isaiah 66:12-13
47 Wigram's Englishmans Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance (WEHCC), pg. 484