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    In Companion to Ancient Israel  . Edited by Susan Niditch. Oxford: Blackwell, forthcoming. EDUCATION AND TRANSMISSION Raymond F. Person, Jr. Ohio Northern University In any society, education and the transmission of culture begins in the family home, where we learn our language from our parents and siblings and our culture through such every day tasks as eating. Ancient Israel was no exception. In fact, because ancient Israel was primarily an agrarian society, this was even more so the case, because formal education was strictly limited. With increasing urbanization and the related specialization, some ancient Israelites earned their living in various trades associated with artisan and craftsman guilds, but even in these settings education was primarily within the family business. Because of this, the vast majority of education and the transmission of culture in ancient Israel was oral, lacking any need of literacy. An elite minority within the temple/palace bureaucracy received a formal education that included reading and writing. However, even their education was primarily oral in nature and the use of texts as a part of their curriculum was primarily as mnemonic aids for the internalization of the culture. Thus, even ancient Israelite scribes—the most literate members of their society—approached the task of reading, writing, and copying texts in ways that differ remarkably from how we, moderns, understand these same activities. As the literate members of their society, scribes would have played an important role in the public education of the people by their recitation by memory and/or their public reading of traditional texts at various events such  Raymond F. Person, Jr. 2 as religious festivals. Thus, even the illiterate, especially those in urban areas, nevertheless may have had some contact with literary texts in their public education at such occasional events. Education in the Family Household In ancient Israel as now the most basic social unit was the family and the task of education and the transmission of culture began in the family. In ancient Israel the family unit was referred to as the bet ab ( b) tb ), most literally the “house of the father.” However, this term does not simply refer to the physical structure, but to all of the humans, animals, plants, and land that together make up the basic socio-economic unit. Thus, the most common translations are the “household of the father” or the “patriarchal household.” However, Carol Meyers has made a good argument based on comparative anthropology of agrarian societies that a better translation is simply the “family household” (Meyers 1997:1-47). That is, although the biblical text often describes the bet ab in patriarchal ways, the social reality behind the text may not have been so patriarchal; rather, as in many other agrarian societies, even those in which gender roles are sharply defined, the bet ab could only function well when the work of both males and females were highly and equally valued. The survival of the household required all family members to contribute significantly to the household’s economy, including having important decision-making authority over the various gendered household tasks. Therefore, an androcentric denigration of work associated with women would have had serious negative consequences for the entire household and was probably not the reality in the typical bet ab  . Like modern Israel, ancient Israel had a remarkable geographical diversity within its borders, so that various ecological niches existed and change from  Raymond F. Person, Jr. 3 one to another could occur rapidly within short distances. Nevertheless, the general agricultural subsistence strategy throughout ancient Israel remained within the “Mediterranean agricultural pattern” that produced the major crops of grain, wine, and oil as well as a variety of legumes, fruits, nuts, herbs, and vegetables and included sheep and goat herding (Meyers 1997:10-11). Because of this tremendous ecological diversity, “virtually every family household experienced a different set of challenges in establishing a productive subsistence strategy” (Meyers 1997:19-20). Thus, the vital connection between the family’s land and the knowledge concerning the best subsistence strategies for that land led to patrilineal and patrilocal traditions of ancient Israel, including levirate marriage (Deut 25:5-6). Because of the close connections between the family and its land, “[t]he identity of any family unit was thus inseparable from its land, which was the material basis of its survival” (Meyers 1997:21). The bet ab   depended on maximizing the labor of the entire family for its survival and this was differentiated to some degree according to both age and gender (Meyers 1997:22-32). Some seasonal tasks, such as the harvesting and storage of the main crops, required all able-bodied members of the household to assist; some ongoing tasks such as tending orchards and vineyards or milking the animals may have been shared. Other tasks were probably differentiated. Most likely the men were primarily responsible for the growing of the field crops, clearing fields, building terraces, constructing homes, and the making and repairing of tools. The women were primarily responsible for childcare, tending the gardens and livestock near the home, textile production, and food preservation and production. The children helped out with many of the light but time-consuming household tasks under the guidance of the women until they reached the age when they could assume their roles with the adults. This  Raymond F. Person, Jr. 4 division of labor along gender lines meant that, on the one hand, the ecological knowledge necessary for growing the field crops was primarily male knowledge and, on the other hand, the technological knowledge of food preparation and textile production was primarily female knowledge. Thus, a patrilineal and patrilocal system strengthened both gendered realms of knowledge in that the male knowledge that was necessarily connected to the household’s specific ecological niche remained on the land and the female knowledge that depended less on geographical factors was transported to the households of their husbands, thereby sharing any newfound strategies with other households. Both of these gendered realms of knowledge were closely interconnected—for example, the male knowledge that produced the grains in the field and the female knowledge that could store and prepare it for food—and both were necessarily valued highly, since the family’s survival depended on them both. The demands of subsistence farming meant that formal education—that is, the children leaving the home to attend a school taught by a professional teacher—was not only unnecessary, but strongly discouraged. The economics of the system simply did not allow for such formal education. Not only would the cost of loosing the children’s labor be devastating to the survival of the household, but the households in the villages would also not be able to afford the luxury of paying a teacher. Thus, the education and transmission of the culture occurred naturally in the context of the daily activities of the household and by extension to the village, the mispahah   ( hxp#m ), especially when the various interrelated households came together for religious celebrations. Furthermore, even within agrarian societies, some degree of specialization probably existed within village life, so that, for example, midwives would have been important health care providers with some specialized skills not found in every household (Meyers 1999:164-65). Because the Hebrew Bible is written by  Raymond F. Person, Jr. 5 urban male elites, such specialists tend to be portrayed in ways that minimize how important women may have been in activities beyond the household. That is, even though some specialists may have been gender-specific—for example, “women singers, dancers, composers, mourners, and even reciters of proverbs or traditional sayings” (Meyers 1999:179)—such gender differentiation does not necessarily suggest a degradation of the value of such women specialists, at least within the village setting. Such specialists and their guilds, no matter how informal and occasional their “professional” gatherings may have been, certainly required at least some type of informal education within these guilds, most likely passing knowledge and skills from one generation to another within the family, while at the same time sharing any new-found knowledge from one practitioner to another. Thus, within the agrarian households and villages of ancient Israel, education would have been an integral part of everyday life. In fact, James Crenshaw insightfully concluded, “Indirectly, the entire adult population contributed to moral training, for parents used communal insights, often formulated in maxims, to persuade their children that the teachings had wider sanctions than that of the individual household” (Crenshaw 279). Thus, societal norms were taught by parents to their children by drawing from the communal insights of the villages and the professional skills were taught within the family and other informal groups within the villages. Although it remained primarily an agrarian society throughout its history, ancient Israel also developed into something of a nation-state. As in other ancient Near Eastern societies, specialization developed further with increasing urbanization and centralization. Therefore, although the majority of the populace received their primary education in the agrarian bet ab  , not all household economies, especially in later periods, were based on subsistence farming, so that some families’ primary source of income came from various
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