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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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are so natural to man, especially in the period of childhood, that no nation has been or can be entirely without them. I. Accordingly, a few traces are found in the early Hebrew history of at least private and childish diversions. The heat of the climate in Syria would indispose the mature to more bodily exertion than the duties of life imposed, while the gravity which is characteristic of the Oriental character might seem compromised by anything so light as sports. Dignified ease, therefore, corresponds with the idea which we form of Oriental recreation. The father of the family sits at the door of his tent, or reclines on the house-top, or appears at the city gate, and there tranquilly enjoys repose, broken by conversation, under the light and amid the warmth of the bright and breezy heavens, in the cool of the retiring day, or before the sun has assumed his burning ardors (Deuteronomy 16:14; Lamentations 5:14). Of the three classes into which games may be arranged, juvenile, manly, and public, the first two alone belong to the Hebrew life; the latter, as noticed in the Bible, being either foreign introductions into Palestine, or the customs of other countries.

1. With regard to juvenile games, the notices are very few. It must not, however, be inferred from this that the Hebrew children were without the amusements adapted to their age. The toys and sports of childhood claim a remote antiquity; and if the children of the ancient Egyptians had their dolls of ingenious construction, and played at ball (Wilkinson, Anc. Egypt. abridgm. 1:197), and if the children of the Romans amused themselves much as those of the present day (Horace, 2 Sat. 3:247), we may imagine the Hebrew children doing the same, as they played in the streets of Jerusalem (Zechariah 8:5; comp. Jeremiah 30:19). The only recorded sports, however, are keeping tame birds (Job 41:5; compare Catull. 2, 1), and imitating the proceedings of marriages or funeral (Matthew 11:16). Commenting on Zechariah 12:3, Jerome mentions an amusement of the young which is seen practiced in more than one part of the north of England. "It is customary," he says, "in the cities of Palestine, and has been so from ancient times, to place up and down large stones to serve for exercise for the young, who, according in each case to their degree of strength, lift these stones, some as high as their knees, others to their middle, others above their heads, the hands being: kept horizontal and joined under the stone. A similar mode of exercise prevailed in ancient Egypt (Wilkinson, 1:207). (See CHILDREN).


Music, song, and dancing were recreations reserved mostly for the young or for festive occasions. From Lamentatiions 5:16, "the crown is fallen from our head" (see the entire passage on the subject of games), it might be inferred that, as among the Greeks and Latins, chaplets of flowers were sometimes worn during festivity. To the amusements just mentioned frequent allusions are fomund in holy writ, among which may be givens Psalms 30:11; Jeremiah 31:13; Luke 15:25. In Isaiah 30:29, a passage is found which serves to show how much of festivity and mirth- was mingled with religious observances; the journey on festival occasions up to Jerusalem was enlivened by music, if not by dancing. Some of the chief objects aimed at in the Greek and other games were gained among the Hebrews by their three great national festivals the Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. At the recurrence of these festivals the nation was brought together in honor of the true God; and in times of religious feeling these great meetings were looked forward to and were celebrated with perhaps not less joy, though joy of a somewhat different kind, from that with which the Greeks looked forward to and celebrated their Olympic, Isthmian, and Nemean games. The public games of the Hebrews seem to have been exclusively connected with military sports and exercises, and even of these the notices are few and brief. It was probably in this way that the Jewish youth were instructed in the use of the bow and of the sling (1 Samuel 20:20; 1 Samuel 20:30-35; Judges 20:16; 1 Chronicles 12:2). Allusion to what would seem to have been a kind of wardaesce, such as we read of in different countries, seems to be made in 2 Samuel 2:14, where Abner proposes that the young cen should arise and "play" before the two armies. The Hebrew שָׁחִק (shchak), for "play," is frequently used for dancing (2 Samuel 6:21; Jeremiah 31:4); and Abner seems here to refer to a sport of this kind not now to be used as as imusement, but turned into stern reality. This may indicate the practice among the ancient Israelites of games somewhat similar to the jousts and tournaments of the Middle Ages. On the subject of dancing, see Michaelis, Mosaische Recht, article 197. No trace is found in Hebrew antiquity of any of the ordinary games of skill or hazard which are so numerous in the Western world. Dice are mentioned by the Talmudists (Mishna, Sanhedr. 3:3; Shabb. 23:2), probably introduced from Egypt (Wilkinson, 2:424); and, if we assume that the Hebrews imitated, as not improbably they did, other amusements of their neighbors, we might add such games as odd and even, mora (the micare digitus of the Romans), draughts, hoops, catching balls, etc. (Wilkinson, 1:188). If it be objected that such trifling amusements were inconsistent with the gravity of the Hebrews, it may be remarked that the amusements of the Arabians at the present day are equally trifling, such as blind man's buff, hiding the ring, etc. (Wellsted's Arabia, 1:160). (See SPORT).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Games'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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