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Chapter 16 starts off with a few axioms that do not always fit our modern world. 

• “A tongue is better than teeth.”

• “Girls are as sweet honey, a true gift of the gods. If only they could be boys.”

The first comes as Benjamin awakens to a dog licking out his ears. This unnerves him, for in that time period, dogs frequently ran wild in towns and cities, often a nuisance, sometimes a danger. Benjamin bemoans this truth more than once. 

Han-Alphinami mentions the second axiom in honor of his beloved daughter, whose name draws from one of my favorite novels, Frank Herbert’s Dune. The sheik’s sentiments reflect how many societies of the time valued boys, girls, and women. While all children promised free labor and potential income for a growing family, males usually proved stronger and filled more potential work roles in ancient, agricultural-driven cultures. The more boys or young men in a family unit, the more labor that family could generate, which had a direct relationship to its wellbeing. This proved true not just in ancient times, but into the 19th and 20th centuries.

Have you encountered unusual cultural axioms or phrases in your life? How did you respond? How would you answer these?

Benjamin’s description of the family caravan reveals prevalent travel tactics of that age. The size of these groups would depend on expected resources available along the given path – water, foodstuffs, prairie for livestock – and threat assessments from terrain, weather, predators, bandits, or hostile country. Other factors – such as hospitality demands, perceived omens, or fear of distinguishing marks like the one Jonah carried – also could influence how travelers were received, as Benjamin learns.

While journeys in western nations rarely raise these concerns today, at least in regards to crime, travelers in other parts of the world often face such risks. Have you endured these hardships? How did you handle them?

The novel highlights one issue that never fades, as Benjamin discovers on his first venture outside Israel. Meeting your religious needs on the road may raise all sorts of challenges that may not fit your schedules, available resources, or neighboring cultures. How travelers respond offers windows into their hearts.

Have you faced such problems? Do you plan ahead for your worship needs when traveling?

Such quandaries may reveal unexpected answers. While Jonah talks of prayer needs, Han-Alphinami perceives a central truth: “I know you, prophet. You travel now, yet defiance is yet your trade. This trip carves at your heart like maggots on a carcass.”

This scene brings out another ancient truth. While Han-Alphinami’s empowered sons raise vigorous protests to Jonah’s worship plans, they willingly follow the decisions of their father, who as patriarch almost always had the final say. 

Few families today operate this way. Have you experienced such dissension? How do those events make you feel?

While the sheik defends his choice with another axiom – “To let friends choose disaster is to share in their fate” – later actions reveal his true motivation. Did this turn surprise you? Have you endured such a betrayal?

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