18 children (ages 2-14) travel from a small American town in 1995 to the year 1312 BCE in ancient Egypt. They stay with Jewish slaves in their village (the structure is more serfs than slaves) for 9 days, then everyone takes off for the Exodus. Over the next 3 months or so, the group travels some and mostly camps at Mount Sinai.

The children’s leader, age 12, is the only one who believed the time travel could happen, but even she thought they’d be there a few hours, not stuck for months. While the other children were all told where they were going, they thought it was a game. So they have few supplies, mostly knapsacks, canteens/water bottles, sunscreen, and some snacks. Everyone has a hat and good walking shoes.

Every child has at least one Jewish grandparent, but none were raised with much (or any) Jewish culture or religion. Some of the children researched the trip ahead of time, most didn’t. Another 12 year old is a super-involved Boy Scout who brought things like a Swiss army knife, matches, compass, etc. Three others (ages 7-8) are also boy/girl scouts. Three 9-10 years olds are self-proclaimed geeks who love science and science fiction. Others have a variety of skills including classical dance, music, cooking, etc.

The Jewish (and some non-Jewish) slaves, the Hebrews, are all ages and have a variety of skills. No formal schooling, few academics. Most adults are (or were) laborers—primarily farming and brickmaking—and most of the children work in those places too. Everyone has skills in at least some of the tasks that maintain their village, including basic building/repair, cooking, brewing, weaving/sewing, gardening, and animal husbandry. Some have advanced training in things like metalwork, ceramics, shoemaking, and other crafts. As they start their journey, they will pick up mineworkers (and gem experts) as well as slaves with specialty training in the palace.

The children and the Hebrews will learn much from each other. My story focuses on what they learn about faith, spirituality, culture, and their own personal journeys. The children can also tell the Hebrews a bit about their future (“Jews will survive” and “Heck yes, you can totally cross this sea”), but nothing too specific. My question is about the technology exchange, which I will use to flesh out the story. I assume the Hebrews will have more to teach the children. In part because a lot of them are experienced adults but also because they are living in that time and place. So much of the technology of the children’s world is pretty useless in ancient Egypt (“I have a watch and can tell you the exact time”…So?).

Some notes:

  • For the purposes of this question, assume that the Exodus is real and more or less as described in the Torah and various Rabbinic commentaries. Assume the level of tech and culture is as multiple history writings describe it for peasantry in this time period (which still leaves a lot open to interpretation).
  • The children will leave well before the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). But they are friends with the 12 year old boy who will become the master builder.
  • Use a broad definition of “technology” and be sure not to focus only on traditionally male knowledge. Baking bread and brewing beer is technology as much as forging hammers.
  • Stuff that isn't really a technology, that is just cultural, is very welcome. Music, singing, and dancing all play a part in my story. Also jewelry.
  • Assume a handwaving "universal translator" so language is not an issue.

What practical things can the modern(ish) kids teach their Ancient Hebrew hosts?

closed as primarily opinion-based by user535733, JohnWDailey, nzaman, bilbo_pingouin, elemtilas Dec 8 at 21:46

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    "18 children (ages 2-14)" What can a two year old teach anyone except "I'm a hungry snot who just made #2 in my pants"? – RonJohn Dec 7 at 21:17
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    "Three others (ages 7-8) are also boy/girl scouts." Those are cub scouts who's meetings are led by a mother. – RonJohn Dec 7 at 21:19
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    "Three 9-10 years olds are self-proclaimed geeks who love science and science fiction." IOW, they're know-it-all snots. – RonJohn Dec 7 at 21:20
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    Are you handwaving the language barrier? B/c I doubt modern Hebrew would be of use, and even Jesus-time Aramaic would be 3000 years ahead of its time – Bald Bear Dec 7 at 21:24
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    "But do you have any opinions about my question?" Yes, and they're poor. :( – RonJohn Dec 7 at 21:28

Really? Very little.

First of all the language barrier. The kids would need to spend at least a couple of years with enlightened patient Egyptian mentors before they could speak Egyptian well enough to communicate advanced concepts. If the kids know Hebrew, it could help since they could learn the dialect of the Israelites more easily.

Ancient peoples were not stupid, and their engineers probably knew more math than American pre-teens could ever hope to learn.

It seems like the kids will be spending their time with the Israelites, not the Egyptians.

If the kids are going to survive, they'll have to fall in with a Jewish family and then they'll be kids. No one is going to listen to them. They're going to be told what to do by the family's adults. At 12, the leader girl will most likely have a marriage arranged for her.

Also consider the psychological shock secular Jewish American kids would suffer from witnessing the events of the Exodus. They would see the presence of God. They would see the Pillar of Fire. They would see the death and suffering of the plagues God loosed upon Egypt. Those poor kids would be traumatized for the rest of their lives.

I shudder to think of what would happen to unattended unprotected kids in ancient Egypt. They would probably be kidnapped and sold into slavery in the first five minutes, and people would rob them of their 20th century possessions.

As for what these kids could teach ancient Egyptians or Hebrews, I guess they could draw a picture of a saddle with stirrups.

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    That "if they survive" is the strongest point. Add that at those time a 12 years old was already ready to be a man (or a woman), with already years of physical work on its shoulders. – L.Dutch Dec 8 at 7:07
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    I completely agree. Modern kids would be woefully unprepared for the physical exertion of the Exodus. Even the Israelites themselves were scared and discouraged during the Exodus. I really think the OP should focus more on a moral exchange between the kids and the Israelite kids, comparing and contrasting the values of the two ways of life. Modern kids wouldn't be able to teach Israelite kids anything technological. Even if they did, the Israelite kids are going to spend the next 40 years wandering in the desert. – TheLeopard Dec 8 at 7:19

Math

Most of what a kid of that age would know would be of little practical use to people of this time period. One notable exception to this would be the ability to do math, if this is something that they could teach it would revolutionize their society. Especially the concepts of place value and zero.

  • Might they have had the zero? "Ancient Egyptian numerals were base 10. They used hieroglyphs for the digits and were not positional. By 1770 BC, the Egyptians had a symbol for zero in accounting texts. The symbol nfr, meaning beautiful, was also used to indicate the base level in drawings of tombs and pyramids and distances were measured relative to the base line as being above or below this line." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/0 – Cyn Dec 7 at 23:05
  • Yes and in fact they were escaping from the Egyptians so the chances are they'd already learned accounting and how to form right-angles etc. Zero isn't that important to a wandering tribe who are having trouble finding food. All they have to do is count sheep. – chasly from UK Dec 7 at 23:21
  • They don't have problems finding food (they eat manna and quail) or water. After the first year, they spend a large amount of time building the tabernacle, which requires a fair bit of math (skills they already possess). The "wandering" came after this and that doesn't mean they didn't know where they were or where they were going, they just weren't allowed to enter Canaan yet (the Bible has reasons for that and historically this was possibly when Egypt ran Canaan as a colony then they stopped. We can piggyback the Exodus on to this history and say that the Hebrews were waiting for this). – Cyn Dec 8 at 17:25
  • Mathematical language, writting and graphic representation. Fractions, porcentage... – Tomás Dec 8 at 17:46
  • Egyptians mathematics was highly developed - they had fractions. – Trish Dec 8 at 20:16

IMHO, one major contribution could be Hygiene, Food Safety, and Basic Medicine (like cleaning and bandaging the wounds). Old Testament literally has rules like: "do not eat animals unless they are freshly killed", and "wash your hands after burying a dead person". If you need a God to enforce that, there were obviously issues, and Scouts can definitely help.

Manly Technology: look up history of technology in Ancient Greece, Rome and Early middle ages, then think about which innovation these kids could know about, and explain to locals. I can only come up with horse collar, saddle and stirrups, and maybe the plow that turns the earth over. Waterwheel, windmill, some basics of sailboats might be within a capacity of a child. I doubt your kids know enough to contribute to metalworking.

I am pretty sure a 12 year old can understand and explain phalanx, but they would need to establish some reputation before they can give military advice.

Religion. Look up what ancient Jews did to people they considered to be heretics.

Cultural exchange: Reaction will be "Cute but whatever".

Please nobody under 7. They will be a burden. Taking care of a 2 year old is literally a full time job for an adult.

Edit : are there cell phones in your world? B/c in ours, we have solar chargers for them, and apps that download survival guides or a copy of relevant Wikipedia articles. Now that well turn your kids into highly respected priests

  • I have a 2 year old, a 5 year old, and everyone else is at least 7. Yes, the younger ones are a burden, and I show that. OTOH, there are tons of other young kids already there. From newborns on up. – Cyn Dec 7 at 21:45
  • There might be a couple horses but they mostly use oxen for hauling carts and the like. There were horses in the place and time, but not for the slaves. The children arrive on a sailboat (via time travel) but it won't be useful in that location or where they are heading. Boats are common in the Nile Delta but not so much for this specific group as they perform their jobs. – Cyn Dec 7 at 21:48
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    @Bald Bear - These people are wandering around in the Wilderness. They are not going to be planting seeds - they're escaping from the Egyptians. The kids could use their compass if (a) they knew where they were and (b) they knew where to go. Maybe if they brought a map with them showing water courses that would be useful. Especially if they knew a shortcut to the Red Sea. Except would they know that it may not have been the Red Sea but the Sea of Reeds where the crossing was supposed to happen? In that case they would send the tribe in the wrong direction with possible disastrous results. – chasly from UK Dec 7 at 22:47
  • @BaldBear The kids come from 1995. No cell phones. No electronics at all. While some have things like portable Game Boys, they didn't take them on the boat where they could get wet. That's my story. No electronics with them. – Cyn Dec 8 at 6:29
  • Electronics: Except one or two characters might have a wrist watch. I had a digital and waterproof one in 1995 that lasted for multiple years on one battery. – Cyn Dec 8 at 15:56

When modern-day adult explorers visit isolated tribes and try to fit in they are pretty much useless. Okay so the tribespeople are impressed by the intricate technology but more as ornamentation than for use. They just laugh at the visitor's ineptness at finding or preparing food.

With the kids, the most important people will appropriate the items. Anything electronic will stop working when the battery runs out.

To survive, the kids will have to learn quickly how to do everyday tasks. How to fit in with the customs. How not to get in the way. They are way outnumbered and in that society age means wisdom.

The Swiss army knife will be of great interest but no-one will be remotely able to duplicate the technology. Similarly with the compass. The matches will soon run out. The sunscreen will be of no interest to people who are used to the conditions. Maybe it will be used as skin-cream until it runs out.

Telling the future may be of interest. It depends how the children arrived. Did they just appear miraculously in the middle of an encampment? If so then it is likely that they will be considered messengers from God. In that case their prophesies will be valued and presumably their other utterances. However they won't be able to return back into the clouds or do any fancy miracles so their influence may soon wear off. They could just as well be considered to be demons. The boys will have to be circumcised if they aren't already or they may just be presumed to be non-Jews despite their protestations of Jewish grand-parents. That alone might be enough to think of them as demons from a rival god or simply good slave material.

  • Circumcision is not required until the first Passover, a week and a half after they arrive. Since the kids are American from 1995, I am assuming all the boys are circumcised and leaving it at that. It's a kid's book, there's only so much detail I want to go into. – Cyn Dec 7 at 22:16
  • I don't want to write the whole book in the comments but I'll say that the kids are "summoned" in a manner of speaking and are expected. They are treated well but not any better than the Hebrews' own kids. Meaning they have to work. – Cyn Dec 7 at 22:17
  • Have they learned Aramaic and Classical Hebrew before they arrive? Admittedly children pick languages up quickly but 3 months is a pretty short time to do that, especially for the older ones. – chasly from UK Dec 7 at 22:22
  • No. See my other comment above. I'm handwaving in a "universal translator." – Cyn Dec 7 at 22:22
  • Aramaic is not spoken in this time period. It comes much much later. The Ancient Hebrew is called Canaanite (by us anyway). – Cyn Dec 7 at 22:24

(Answering my own question)

Knapsacks.

Even into the last century, a lot of bags to pack one's belongings have required one or both hands to carry. Stuff might get wrapped in a cloth then carried with a stick over the shoulder. Or "bound up on their backs" as the Exodus story says.

Some of the kids brought small backpacks. While the Hebrews can't duplicate nylon straps and fabric, they can make strong woven wool straps and they had cloth made from wool, linen, or even cotton.

The idea of creating a bag that one could carry with 1) both hands/arms free and 2) evenly balanced on both shoulders, which creates less strain on the back, should be quite welcome.

Knots.

Rope existed in ancient Egypt and so did knots. But a lot of the fancier ones were made for use on sailboats or for other specialized places that the Hebrews probably didn't need to know. But suddenly they have to leave their home and travel into the desert. Some different knots to help them safely pack their things on oxen and donkeys or into carts, without spilling, would be very helpful. Not to mention knots that release quickly.

The boy and girl scouts among the children practice knots for fun. They get badges for the skill. Some of these knots may prove very useful on this journey and may be ones the Hebrews don't already know.

Charm Bracelets.

Ancient Egyptians loved their jewelry. All different kinds. On both men and women. While the nobility of course had fancier stuff, even peasants wore jewelry. Jewelry figures heavily into the Exodus story. The Hebrews left with piles of gold jewelry, gems, and more, given to them by their neighbors. The Golden Calf was made from this jewelry (from the men...the women refused). The gems were used for the Tabernacle.

Charm bracelets are a modern invention beloved by some girls in Western culture. These are bracelets with many links. You then acquire small trinkets that represent certain things, and attach them to the links. In modern times, a girl who loved music might have a note charm. One who loved horses might have a horse charm.

I could see this becoming a small fad among Hebrew children, probably the girls. I'm not sure if I want to use it in the story, but it is plausible. The Hebrews had soft metals, tools, and the skills to do this.

Fry Bread.

They've got bread dough. They've got oil (olive oil was available then, as well as rendered animal fat and milk fat). Some of the kids have fry bread as part of their cultural tradition and all of them have probably eaten it due to living in the southwest.

There are dozens of other possible foods that can be made with the Hebrews' ingredients and equipment that the Hebrews wouldn't have thought of making.

True alphabet (consistently assign letters to both consonants and vowels on an equal basis). Geography, astronomy (a very dangerous set of beliefs). Anatomy. They might know partially or contribute with the idea of gunpowder, crossbow, alcohol, steel, tempered steel, the canon, gliders, balloons, printed money, glass, telescope, clockwork, vaccine, pasteurization. Basically they could have the knowledge to bring technology to the level of the 18th century if the conditions make it possible. The question is ¿what would the Pharaoh want?

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    Upvoted because you made me go look up when the Hebrew alphabet came into play. It appears that a version of it may have already been in place, though it's possible it didn't really start until a couple centuries later, in Canaan. Vowel markers seemed to come about around the same time as the letters. Vowels as separate letters (aside from the long o and the ew that are already letters, sort of as they share it with V) aren't super necessary since the Hebrew language uses vowels grammatically more than to distinguish words, though there's that too. – Cyn Dec 8 at 18:21
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    For the other stuff, we can always say that the real reason the Jews took 40 years to go the last couple of miles into Canaan was so they had time to forget all the high tech stuff those time travelers taught them. :-) – Cyn Dec 8 at 18:25

I think Bald Bear's suggestion about hygiene and food safety is a good one.

Unfortunately the only real contribution I can think of would be difficult to convey on the trip. Plows with sharpened edges are actually a relatively modern (in comparison to their era) innovation, and would drastically improve their farming technology. But (a) I'm not sure how to suggest that on the trip, and (b) if they did learn it, it'd drastically change the history of Middle Eastern agriculture wouldn't it?

  • It's the 3rd millennium before the common era. What metal do you think was available at that time to make ploughs, in what quantity and at what price? Quotations please. – AlexP Dec 8 at 18:27
  • It's late in the 2nd millennium before the CE. Otherwise I agree with @AlexP. – Cyn Dec 8 at 19:10
  • @Cyn: To explain my "3rd millennium" BCE: I'm a Romanian, and most Romanians are Orthodox Christians, so for me the Creation took place on 1 September 5509 BCE (see Byzantine calendar). The Exodus is traditionally dated in the year 2666 since the Creation, so that would be 2666 − 5508 = 2842 BCE. Only too late did I consider that Western Europe places the Creation in 4004 BCE. – AlexP Dec 9 at 0:08
  • Interesting, thanks for the explanation, @AlexP. Us Jews say we are now in year 5779. Most Jews do not consider creation (however you wish to define it) as being literally 5779 years ago, but that's how things are dated. We traditionally date the Exodus as beginning in 2448 (1312 BCE). Western European Christians seem to use the date 1450 BCE. We don't know what really happened (was there one mass migration or several smaller ones? was there a migration of one group (Levites perhaps)? Is it entirely mythological?) so of course it's impossible to date. We can only guess on the intention. – Cyn Dec 9 at 5:57

Nothing

The children will not be able to communicate with either the Egyptians or the Israelite people in a meaningful way before they succumb to heat and the society excluding them, as neither of them speaks any common language with the children: Ancient Hebrew and Ancient Egyptian are not taught in school, nor in a temple in any way.

Even waving the language barrier, Egyptian and Israelite people were very hierarchic. Children had to play, learn a job and listen. They were not allowed to teach, and if they did, they were beaten. 3000 ago was a time when discipline upon children was enforced with beatings. These kids are horribly unprepared for physical discipline. That only stopped about 200 years ago! So they would be beaten a lot.

Then the Exodus might happen... and these kids will die from starvation and extortion. They are not prepared in the slightest from working the fields, they are physically not prepared for marching 40 or more miles through the desert. They will be among those first ones that die in Exodus. And the worst part: the Old Testament will not even mention them.

Research

An essay drawing from several authoritative research works can be found on http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/people/childhood.htm

Some more information, coming to similar conclusions can be found in S.R. Arnott, Autonomy, Standing, and Children's Rights. In William Mitchell Law Review 2007, Vol.33 Iss.3, p.807-825, in particular, p.809-811.

  • Hi Trish, I like your approach because it's different. I think the kids would look beautiful to the hebrews and they would like to treat them diffently. They might think they are noble foreigners. Some of the 14niners would be seen as adults already. The fact that they speak a different language would make them wonder where they come from and what exchanges they could have for mutual benefit. – Tomás Dec 8 at 23:03
  • 1) It's not 3000 BCE, it's 1312 BCE, huge difference. 2) You are guessing about the role of children and etc and I'm not seeing any evidence. – Cyn Dec 9 at 5:59
  • @Cyn for children, little changed between 3000 BC and 3000 years ago. I added you some research, just for you. – Trish Dec 9 at 10:37
  • @Trish thank you for the link. It appears to be someone's school project or maybe an adult research project that pulls together a bunch of info on children in Egypt over a very long period of time. While it's helpful in some ways & has some nice citations, it's not a serious historical writing. It mixes up not just all the centuries but also the different parts of Egypt & the different classes and ethnic groups within Egypt. – Cyn Dec 10 at 4:11
  • Mostly, the link does not support your conclusions. The only talk of beating was for schoolboys who didn't learn their lessons well. While I don't agree with that tactic, it's one used by many cultures, including in America in the mid to late 19thC. These schoolchildren (according to the link) came from upper classes or families of scribes, etc. They would not have been slaves/serfs. There is nothing in the link about children (anywhere) being beaten regularly & it certainly will not be part of my story. – Cyn Dec 10 at 4:18

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