Part of the challenge of teaching the Bible to children and teens is that it contains the stories of people who lived in cultures very different from our own. They had different technology, household items, clothing, food, music, languages and customs. The average child from today being told a Bible story about David, for example, might hear something like…”So David was out in the fields tending sheep, playing his lyre and practicing his slinging.”
As adults, we know what all of those things are and how they are important in later stories about David. Children, however, probably have no idea what is involved in tending sheep and may not have even seen a sheep in real life. They also don’t know what a lyre is or slinging. So what they hear from that original sentence is ”So David was out in the fields blah, blah, blah.” And that’s assuming they even know what a field is! Of course their brains aren’t satisfied with the ”blahs” in the sentence so they begin to try and figure out what those mystery words meant.
Meanwhile, you are three paragraphs further into the story….three paragraphs they haven’t heard because they are still trying to figure out the first sentence you said. Of course, once they realize you are so far ahead of them in the story, many will give up entirely and begin thinking of things totally unrelated to what you are trying to teach them.
Taking the time to explore some of these cultures with your kids fills in a lot of the “blahs” for them, making the Bible much easier to understand. Plus it is a lot of fun! Thankfully, there are a lot of resources both online and offline to help you and your kids explore the various cultures of the Bible. To start though, you need to know some of the cultures you may want to explore. We have left out some of the more obscure ones in our list of cultures to explore with your kids. (Note that the list contains the terms under which you are most likely to find resources.) Arabia, Assyrians, Amorites, Babylon, Crete, Cyprus, Edom, Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece or Greek Empire, Hittites, Persia, Israel, Roman Empire, Jebusites, Kush, Lebanon, Macedonia, Malta, Medes, Mesopotamia, Samaria, Sheba (Yemen), Syria and Philistines. It is important to add the word ”ancient” when searching for any culture that has a modern equivalent, so you only get the information regarding the time periods covered in the Bible.
There are some great general resources that often cover more than one culture.
- Museums. If you live near a museum with actual artifacts, that is a great way for them to see some of the items ”in real life”. Those memories often ”stick” better than looking at photos, although photos are preferable to nothing at all. This link has a great list of the museums in every state that contain artifacts related to cultures in the Bible. https://www.bibleplaces.com/us-museums-artifacts-biblical-world/
- Online museum collections. Educators favorites are the Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org), the British Museum (britishmuseum.org) and the Louvre (louvre.fr/en). Search the collections to find not only artifacts, but artwork related to the Bible.
- Lonely Curator videos. The Museum of the Bible has short 3-5 minute videos their curators made during the pandemic when the museum was closed. They cover a variety of topics. Some are better than others, but several have interesting information. (Like did you know that from the time you start making the dough for unleavened bread until the time it comes out of the oven has to be less than 18 minutes or it is considered leavened? Flour and water eventually create a leavening of their own even without yeast and evidently that process begins at the 18 minute mark!)
- Recipes. Google ”ancient recipes of ________” to find authentic recipes. Some sites are better than others so fair warning about any content on these websites beyond the actual recipes. I found a website ancientrecipes.org that seems to have recipes from several cultures in the Bible.
- Clothing. It is difficult to find a lot of high quality websites with clothing from ancient cultures, but google ”clothing in ancient _________” to find what is available.
- Music. YouTube has videos of music from several ancient cultures featuring some instruments that are unfamiliar to us today. Search for ”music from ancient _______” to see what’s available.
When using unfamiliar websites, be careful to screen before allowing your children to use them without you. At times, they may contain information that is unbiblical, spurious or just too confusing for children to sift through. Have fun with it. Use a Bible story as a springboard for your exploration or explore a culture and then find all of the stories in the Bible related to it. Exploring these cultures will make your kids’ Bible reading comprehension much better, plus it is a fun way to explore God’s Word together.