Thursday, March 26, 2020


In the modern west, coming-of-age is generally associated with adolescence. The physiological transition from childhood to adulthood. Sexual maturation, greater emotional independence from parents, developing alternative social relationships with age-mates (friends, boyfriends, girlfriends). Coming-of-age involves the assumption of adult risks and responsibilities, adult moral responsibility, and life-choices. 

The coming-of-age story is a stock genre, going back to the Epic of Gilgamesh (friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu) and the Odyssey (Telemachus). It's a topic of endless novels, short stories, movies, and teen dramas.  

There's distinction between chronological/physiological coming-of-age and moral/psychological/sociological coming-of-age. Some adults suffer from arrested development because they never experienced challenges that forced them to mature morally, emotionally, or socially. 

In his monograph on A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible, Leland Ryken's has an entry under coming-of-age story (p47), where he lists the following examples:

• Jacob fleeing from his ancestral home and going to Haran (Gen 28)

• Joseph sold into slavery (Gen 37)

• David and Goliath(1 Sam 17)

• Daniel going into exile (Dan 1:1-3)

• Esther as a harem girl

One preliminary question this raises is the age of the individuals when they came of age. Roughly what would have been their ages at the time? I asked an OT scholar who gave the following ages or estimates:

Jacob: 76
Joseph: 17 (Gen 37:2)
David: about 20
Daniel: unknown–probably late teens/early 20s???
Esther: unknown–perhaps late teens???

In some cases these are somewhat beyond the chronological range we associate with coming-of-age in the modern west. Most dramatically in the case of Jacob. The larger point is that all of them underwent a maturing experience. In a sense, they were forced to grow up fast, thrust into a situation where they had to make momentous decisions beyond their years inasmuch as that they didn't have the wisdom of seasoned experience. Jacob is something of an anomaly in this group.  

In distinction to chronological coming-of-age, marriage and children or the death of a parent are social and psychological coming-of-age experiences. Other examples include adolescents or even preadolescents who are forced to leave home and make it on their own. Take the dislocations of war. Or forced to assume a parental role if a mother or father dies. They must step into their place to take up the slack, raising younger siblings and helping out the surviving parent. 

Christian conversion is a coming-of-age experience, at whatever age. A maturing experience. 


  1. "In a sense, they were forced to grow up fast, thrust into a situation where they had to make momentous decisions beyond their years in the sense that they didn't have the wisdom of seasoned experience."

    And then we have the case of Saul, who was in the same situation but kept making all the wrong decisions. He seemed to have a strong lack of maturity too, with his paranoia and persecution complex (1 Samuel 22:8)