by Michael Aubrecht
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With baseball season just getting underway, I thought it might be interesting to take a look back at similar games played during Biblical times.
For centuries, man has studied the lifestyle and culture of those alive during the time of Jesus. Surprisingly, few have included documentation into the recreational activities that these people enjoyed. Over the years, many archeologists have found valuable artifacts proving that the children and young adults of that time enjoyed several different types of "sports". After all, they were people just like us. They enjoyed the competitive spirit and fellowship of participating in contests that tested the physical and mental abilities of one another. In fact, many different types of primitive toys and games including balls, game boards, dolls, animal carvings, rattles, tops, and marbles have been found in archeological digs conducted in the ancient lands. In addition, many carvings have been discovered over the years depicting characters engaged in athletic activities. And while most are familiar with the history of Roman Gladiators and Greek Olympians, few are aware of the "everyday games" played by the "everyday people" of Biblical times.
More than just exercise, sports can be an activity that promotes physical and spiritual strengthening of oneself both on and off the field of play. Perhaps the early Christians engaged in similar recreational activities for similar reasons.
Christianity in sports provides the perfect medium for a maintaining both a healthy body AND mind. Some organizations have even published "Sports Devotional Bibles" to help both athletes and coaches pursue their competitive desires in a way that favors God. The basic idea of sportsmanship is not a new concept as what is the act of being a "good sport", but being committed to The Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." (Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount) Many people today believe that both social and spiritual lessons can be found while playing games and it is these benefits that have spawned my own curiosity into the Biblical origins of sport (more specifically, the game of baseball).
Abner Doubleday, a Captain in the U.S. Army, has often been credited with inventing the game of baseball in 1839 at Cooperstown, New York, now the location of the baseball's Hall of Fame. Doubleday's contribution, at least the game as we know it, has been traced back to the Civil War, when soldiers from both sides played a simplified version in camp to relieve the everyday stress and depression of their fight. Since then, the sport itself has been traced back to several older games that were sometimes called "base" or "rounders" and some believe that the original set of rules (credited to Doubleday) was actually published in 1845 and used by several amateur teams playing in New York. Although controversy still exists to this day about Doubleday's status as the creator of baseball, a 1907 commission, investigating all sides of the issue, gave official credit to him and him alone.
Despite a disputed history over its founder, baseball is still considered by many to be the most romantic of all modern sports. Charles A. Peverelly wrote in 1866, "The game of baseball has now become beyond question the leading feature of the outdoor sports of the United States ... It is a game which is peculiarly suited to the American temperament and disposition; ... in short, the pastime suits the people, and the people suit the pastime." Over the years, the game has spread throughout the world becoming the National Pastime of many nations and today; most of the Major League's best players come from foreign lands.
Perhaps the simplest of all games, baseball only requires two basic components, a ball and a "bat". With that said, it is a fair theory (in my opinion) to believe that people have been hitting balls with sticks and running around bases for thousands of years.
In my quest for answers, I decided to research some of the history and social studies of Biblical times to see if in fact, any game even slightly similar to baseball existed. After a great deal of searching, I was able to locate several Biblical Archeology studies that supported my own theory in regards to ancient sports and recreation. These included primitive versions of soccer, cricket, field hockey and a "baseball-like" game known as "Round Ball". It has been determined that several different cultures in the ancient world played this sport due to carvings that have been found depicting people throwing, catching and hitting cylindrical objects around a group of circles (or bases).
According to the rules, the strategy of "Round Ball" was simple: Players (of 3 or more) were allowed to stand or run anywhere outside a large circle. The ball was then bounced through an inner circle, or 'strike zone', and then passed back out beyond the outer circle. If the ball was not caught and hit the ground, the thrower received a point. If the players in position caught or retrieved the ball, no point was given and he/she was allowed to return to the circle for their turn. The player with the ball was also allowed to run around the circle in an attempt to catch his/her opponents out of position. The first player to reach 21 points won the game. There was also a more challenging version that integrated the use of "wickets" inside of the inner circle that forced the players to bounce the ball through them and out the other side.
Although it's not the baseball that we have come to know in today's world, "Round Ball" and its other variants prove that even people in Biblical times enjoyed the same benefits of playing games with one another for both fellowship and fun!
So the next time you find yourself playing (or watching others compete) on a baseball diamond, remember "Round Ball" and the fact that some things never really change...
We still pray... and we still play!
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Good research - thanks for the insight.