In ministry, it’s always great when you can have fun with a purpose. What better way for your young Bible students and their families to get to know each other better than hosting a family game night? Only this game night has a twist. You will be playing some of the same games Jesus and the Apostles might have played when they were growing up!
Games and especially board games were just as, if not more, popular in Bible times than they are today. Not surprisingly, the Israelites had adopted board games from the various cultures they had interacted with over the years. Some were similar to many of the games we play today. Fortunately, the actual historical games can be purchased and played today for about the same price as any modern board game.
Possibly the three most popular board games during Bible times were:
- Senet. Senet was a board game that originated in ancient Egypt, but was still popular in the time of Jesus. Although he isn’t mentioned in the Bible, King Tut was buried with four Senet boards! We aren’t 100% sure the rules we have today are exactly the same, but archaeologists have found enough boards and game pieces that those should be fairly accurate (except being made most likely of plastic today). Senet is a game for two players, but the good news is that you can find printable Senet boards online, making it fairly inexpensive to have a Senet tournament. (You will also need five game tokens per player and throwing sticks or dice.)
- Dogs/Hounds and Jackals. Another popular Egyptian game still played in Roman times Hounds and Jackals sets can be purchased or constructed. It is considered a racing game and boards have been found in digs in Israel. It is sometimes referred to as the game of 58 holes, because it has…. 58 holes! The modern rules for this game are also not necessarily exactly the same, but it is played in a fashion reminiscent of backgammon. Sets online can be found for less than $10 each.
- Nine Men’s Morris. This game was popular in Roman times, but no one is quite sure of its origins. Boards have been found in Egypt dating back to the time the Israelites lived there. The rules to this game are known because it has been played continually in Europe since Roman times. Boards can be purchased or created and you will want several because this too is a two person game.
If families are enjoying the games, it might be fun for them to create their own sets to take home. You can also try other popular games in Bible times, like spinning tops, knuckle bones, tossing balls, archery or slinging. For archery, make sure you use kid friendly sets where no one can be injured. For slinging, why not let families use scraps of leather to create slings similar to the one David would have used to kill Goliath. To prevent injuries, use a ping pong or nerf ball and have a target. Be aware that inexperienced slingers may release too early, causing the ball to fly backwards instead of forwards, so make sure everyone is standing far from the slinger.
Have fun with your game night. It’s a great way to learn more about the cultures of Bible times and for young Bible students to relate to children who lived thousands of years ago.