In Deu. 20:13-14, it is written,

13 And when the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword, 14 but the women and the little ones, the livestock, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourselves. And you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the Lord your God has given you. (ESV)

יג וּנְתָנָ֛הּ יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ בְּיָדֶ֑ךָ וְהִכִּיתָ֥ אֶת־כָּל־זְכוּרָ֖הּ לְפִי־חָֽרֶב׃ יד רַ֣ק הַ֠נָּשִׁים וְהַטַּ֨ף וְהַבְּהֵמָ֜ה וְכֹל֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִהְיֶ֥ה בָעִ֛יר כָּל־שְׁלָלָ֖הּ תָּבֹ֣ז לָ֑ךְ וְאָֽכַלְתָּ֙ אֶת־שְׁלַ֣ל אֹיְבֶ֔יךָ אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָתַ֛ן יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לָֽךְ׃ (WLC)

My question concerns the Hebrew word הַטַּף (há-ṭáp̄) translated as "little ones" (ESV). When were these not considered "little ones" anymore? Did it have to do with age or multiple factors such as mental maturity as well?


2 Answers 2


The Hebrew term here is טַף (ṭaf), a noun always used as a collective.

The hint of a specific age limit for this group comes from Numbers 14:29-31. Here Yahweh tells the people that those over the age of twenty will die in the wilderness and not enter the promised land, a punishment for their complaints and disobedience.

Your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell... (vv. 23-30a, ESV)

In contrast (v. 31):

But your little ones (ṭappĕkem), who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected.

This provides an upper age of those who might be considered among the ṭaf. The age of twenty also comes up in Exodus 30:14 as those who should be numbered in the census. In Deuteronomy 1:39, this same group who will enter the promised land is said to "today have no knowledge of good or evil". The point of this distinction, then, is accountability for one's actions. According to rabbinic tradition (apparently drawing from these texts), the age of accountability was twenty.1

1. Moshe Weinfeld, Deuteronomy 1–11 (The Anchor Yale Bible; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), 151.

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    Perhaps also of relevance/interest - Leviticus 27 divides people into 4 ages groups: 0-5; 5-20; 20-60; 60+.
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 3:20

The Hebrew word "טַף" is translated to Aramaic as "טפלא" (taphla) which also means "dependent", "needing the care of others". Young children obviously qualify for this, but also the sick, elderly, etc. In the context of war, it means that only the war men should be killed, while the weak and dependent population should be kept alive.

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