1 Samuel 1 – Some Background

In the rare occurrence that the reading I do throughout the day has some bearing the lectionary reading, I like to share that.  Today’s lectionary reading was verses 24-28 of 1 Samuel 1 (the responsive reading was from chapter 2).  In the reading, Hannah has dedicated her son, Samuel, to the Lord and she hands him over in verse 28.

1 Samuel 1.24-28

In those days,
Hannah brought Samuel with her,
along with a three-year-old bull,
an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine,
and presented him at the temple of the LORD in Shiloh.
After the boy’s father had sacrificed the young bull,
Hannah, his mother, approached Eli and said:
“Pardon, my lord!
As you live, my lord,
I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the LORD.
I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request.
Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD;
as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD.” She left Samuel there.

Meyers on Child Birth

Today I was reading from Carol Meyer’s Households and Holiness: The Religious Culture of Israelite Women.  I came across a passage that pertains to just how difficult it might have been for a woman to have given up her son, especially after having been barren.  I cite the passage in full:

The formation of ritual behaviors in relation to reproduction is a function of the critical place of birth processes in the life cycle and of the life-or-death risks involved at each stage.  Giving birth means danger to the life of the mother and of the infant.  In biblical antiquity, as many as one in two children failed to live to adulthood; and the average life span of women was significantly shorter than that of men, in part because of the risks of dying in childbirth.  Furthermore, the alternative-not having children-meant jeopardizing the viability of the family and even the community.  For any premodern agrarian people such as the Israelites, the production of offspring is essential for maintaining the household’s food supply and thus its survival, and also for providing care for again adults.  In such as context, infertility, childbirth complications resulting in the death of the mother or child, difficulty in lactation, and high infant mortality rates are constant threats to the durability of the family household.

In today’s narrative, considering all that was at stake in childbirth the end of verse 28 represents quite a feat: “She left Samuel there.”

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