What Were Weddings Like in Jesus’ Day?

The word family had a wider meaning in both Aramaic and Hebrew than it does in English today. The Hebrew ah and the Aramaic aha could be used to refer to those who were brothers, half-brothers, cousins, and even other near relations. Extended family networks were both insisted upon and essential for survival. To have these ties and be dependent upon them was every Jewish person’s duty.

Marriage – Of course, marriage is the heart of family. The very first order that God gave Adam and Eve was that a man should leave his father and mother cling to his wife, that the two of them should become one flesh, and that they should be fruitful and multiply. Ancient rabbis said that a man really wasn’t a man until he did so. However, especially by the time of Christ, there were some men and women who lived celibate lives so as to be particularly free to serve God, whether by studying the Torah, teaching, or engaging in some great work for God’s people. Paul seems to have been in this category. Jesus praised those who did so in Matthew 19 as did Paul in 1 Corinthians 7.

In the earliest years of Israel there was some tolerance for polygamy even though it was a departure from what God had set forth. Many overlooked it given the urgent need to grow the family of God, the chosen people. Men were often killed in war, leading to an abundance of women who needed husbands. Generally, only wealthier men could afford to have more than one wife. Although the Bible does not explicitly condemn polygamists, it does show that polygamy led to intractable troubles, sometimes between the women but more often between the sons over inheritance rights. By the time of Jesus, polygamy among the Jews had greatly decreased if not altogether vanished; there is simply no mention of it in the New Testament. Jesus summoned each man to love his wife and prohibited other Mosaic leniencies in marriage. He re-proposed God’s original plan of one man and one woman until death.

The call to marriage and engagement – Marriage took place at a very young age for the ancient Jews. Most rabbis proposed age 18 as most appropriate for men, though often a bit younger especially when war was less common. Young women married almost as soon as they were physically ready, generally around age 13 or 14.

In most cases, marriages were arranged by the parents. There were exceptions, however, and arranged marriages were seldom forced on young people who had absolutely no interest in each other. Nevertheless, the view in the ancient world, and even in many places today, was that marriage was more about survival than romantic feelings. Further, it was not merely the individuals who married; the families came together in mutual support. Beauty and romance, while considered pleasant things, were known to be passing; life and survival had to be based on sturdier foundations.

Once a future bride had been chosen for a young man, there followed a one-year period of betrothal. During this time the couple still lived apart while delicate, often-protracted negotiations occurred between the families, especially regarding the dowry. The groom or his family paid the dowry to the father of the bride in recognition of the loss incurred by the bride’s family as a result of her departure as a working member of the household. It was also understood that some money should be set aside for the woman in the event that her husband died prematurely.

Marriage ceremonies – After the period of betrothal was finished and all the agreements had been reached, the wedding could take place. Weddings typically extended over a period of five to seven days. Autumn was the best time for marriage because the harvest was in, the vintage over, minds were free, and hearts were at rest. It was a season when the evenings were cool, and it was comfortable to sit up late at night. Usually the entire village gathered for a wedding.

At the beginning of the wedding celebration, in the evening, the bridegroom, accompanied by his friends, went to fetch his betrothed from her father’s house. He would wear particularly splendid clothing and sometimes even a crown. A procession was formed under the direction of one of the bridegroom’s friends, who acted as the master of ceremonies and remained by his side throughout the rejoicing.

The beautifully dressed bride was carried in a litter and in procession. Along the way people sang traditional wedding songs largely drawn from the Song of Songs in the Bible: Who is this coming up from the wilderness like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and incense made from all the spices of the merchant? (Song of Songs 3:6) When the procession reached the bridegroom’s house, his parents bestowed a traditional blessing, drawn from Scripture and other sources. After the prayers, the evening was passed in games and dancing, and the bridegroom took part in the festivities. The bride, however, withdrew with her bridesmaids and friends to another room.

The next day was the wedding feast and once again there was general rejoicing and a sort of holiday in the village. Toward the end of the day there was a meal at which the men and women were served separately. This was the time for the giving of presents. The bride, dressed in white, was surrounded by her bridesmaids, usually ten of them. She sat under a canopy while traditional songs and blessings were sung and recited. During this time, in the evening, the groom arrived. While the exact ritual words are not known, there seems to have been a dialogue between bride and groom. This is recorded in the Song of Songs. The bride says, Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—for your love is more delightful than wine. Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the young women love you! Take me away with you—let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers (Song 1:2-4). The groom responds, Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me. My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely (Song 2:13-14).

Now that the couple was together, all the other men and women also came together. It would seem that synagogue or other religious leaders imparted blessings to the couple, who were together under the canopy. The words of these blessings and rituals are not definitively known and seem to have varied. After these came the evening feast.

Later that first evening the couple would vanish to consummate the marriage. They did not go on a “honeymoon” but rather remained for the rest of the celebration, which often went on for several more days, sharing in the songs, dancing, and general merriment.

Below is a recording of Palestrina’s composition of Surge, Propera Amica Mea (Arise My Love). There is a wonderful musical onomatopoeia in the opening word, “surge,” as the notes run up the scale. Enjoy!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: What Were Weddings Like in Jesus’ Day?

What Sort of Clothing Did People in Jesus’ Time Wear?

N.B.: I am in the Holy Land at this time. As my travel schedule is heavy, I am republishing some articles about life in Jesus’ day. I hope you will enjoy reading (or re-reading) them as much as I did.

Determining what clothing was worn in Jesus’ day is surprisingly complex. First of all, there are many presumptions we make based on how many dress in the Middle East today. The typical form of clothing there now (the women in veils, and both men and women in long, flowing robes) seems very traditional and ancient to us, so we assume that this is how the people of Jesus’ time dressed. Even if many of the basics are the same, the details are difficult to determine.

This difficulty emerges from two basic problems. First, archeology unearths little evidence of ancient clothes, since they do not last like rocks, pottery, and some bones. Second, the Jews almost never represented human figures in their art, so we have nothing comparable to the Egyptian frescoes, or the artwork found from the ancient Greeks and Romans.

We are left to glean details from scriptural references to clothing and descriptions of what was required and forbidden. Although they do not paint a complete picture, they at least provide us with some rudimentary descriptions.

In everyday life, men and women alike wore garments often referred to as “tunics.” A tunic was a simple, one-piece robe, usually belted at the waist, with a hole for the head and two holes for the arms. People wore both an inner garment and an outer garment, each with a similar shape.

The inner garment resembled a long, loose-fitting T-shirt or a kimono. It was made of linen, cotton, or sometimes soft wool. For penitential reasons some would occasionally wear inner tunics made of sackcloth or camel hair. The earliest of these garments were made without sleeves and reached only to the knees; later the garment often extended to the wrists and ankles. A man wearing only this inner garment was said to be naked (e.g., 1 Samuel 19:24, Isaiah 20:2–4). Nothing at all was worn underneath the inner garment (except by Essene men, who wore a close-fitting loincloth).

The belt (also called a cincture or girdle) was a band of cloth, cord, or leather that could be loosened or tightened. It was worn around the inner and/or outer garment. Its use prevented the flowing robes (often long) from interfering with movement. The biblical expression “to gird up the loins” meant to put on the belt, thus freeing the lower legs to permit work and easy walking. The expression signified that the person was ready for service; it is largely equivalent to the modern expression, “roll up your sleeves.”

The outer tunic, also called a mantle or robe, was worn over the inner tunic. It consisted of a square or oblong strip of cloth with a hole for the head. Sometimes it had sleeves and sometimes was more like a poncho, with the area for the arms cut back. It was worn as a protective covering; people did not go out in public without some sort of outer tunic. Jewish men had tassels (called tzitzit) attached to the corners of their mantles, reminding them of the constant presence of the Lord’s commandments. Because the outer tunic was large and flowing, it was usually drawn in with a belt. The outer belt was often decorated with embroidery or even precious stones.

A bag or purse was often attached to the belt, fastened with a buckle.

While most Jewish men and women wore long (ankle-length) tunics, short (knee-length) tunics were worn by slaves, soldiers, and those engaging in work that required mobility.

The cloak –  In cooler weather, a cloak might be worn on top of these tunics. Cloaks could be designed either with sleeves or without.

Sandals were worn on the feet. They had wooden soles and were fastened with straps of leather. Jews did not wear sandals indoors; they removed them upon entering the house and washed their feet.

In terms of the basics, men and women dressed much alike. However, there were clearly differences because Scripture warns, A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God (Deut 22:5).

For women, the inner garment was largely identical to that for men. However, the outer garment was longer, with enough border fringe to largely cover the feet (Isaiah 47:2; Jeremiah 13:2). The outer garment was cinched with a belt similar to that used by men, but it was ornamented differently (and usually more elaborately). In some regions, women’s outer garments were made of different materials and/or sported different patterns than those worn by men. In addition, a woman might don an apron on top of the outer garment, in order to protect it and to enable her to carry things. The apron was usually attached to the belt and covered the lower half of the body.

The veil – There is debate as to how widespread the wearing of the veil was for Jewish women in Jesus’ day. It is certain that they wore them in the synagogue and the Temple (cf 1 Cor 11:15). It is also quite certain that unmarried women wore them. However, it is less evident that Jewish women wore them all the time, especially at home; some of them didn’t even wear them in public. It would seem that Jewish women in Roman Judea (i.e., the south, around Jerusalem, Jericho, and Bethlehem) wore hairnets, examples of which have been discovered at sites such as Masada.

So perhaps women did not wear a veil at all times as is now the custom in much of the Middle East. Other sources speak of the head covering being typical for both men and women and describe it as a length of cloth around the shoulders that could be pulled over the head and tied at the forehead, falling over the shoulders. Perhaps the veil or head covering was something that was used strategically, such as when one needed protection from the sun or wished to pray.

The Bible first mentions women’s jewelry when Abraham’s servants present earrings and bracelets to Rebecca (Genesis: 24:22). Jeremiah also observed, “Can a maid forget her ornaments?” Isaiah 3:16-23 features a detailed description of the fashionably ornamented woman of the Old Testament. As a general rule, Hebrew women wore bracelets and earrings. Less frequently they might have nose jewels and/or wear a necklace.

Bracelets – Bracelets were usually made of precious materials such as gold and were typically worn around the wrist. However, royal women often wore them above the elbow. Most bracelets were one solid piece and were slipped over the wrist; more rarely two pieces were fastened together and were open and closed at a hinge.

Anklets – Women wore anklets as often as they did bracelets. Anklets were made of much the same material (Isaiah 3:16 – 20). Some anklets were fashioned so as to create a tinkling, musical sound when the woman walked.

Earrings – Among the Jewish people, only women wore earrings (Judges 8:24). They were less common long ago than they are today. Generally, Scripture suggests that they were round or hoop-like. However, the law prohibited all mutilation of the body, so neither ears nor nose could be pierced to hold such ornaments. Thus earrings were clipped on or worn around the ear with a small chain.

Nose Jewels – Although some evidence exists of Jewish women wearing small jewels on or about the nose, there is little evidence that the wearing the nose rings was widespread. The practice was more common farther to the east, mainly among the Assyrians and Persians.

Rings were worn not only on the fingers, but also on the toes.

Cosmetics and perfume – Generally, Jewish women looked at cosmetics (such as painting the eyes) with disdain (Jeremiah 4:30; 23:40). There is some evidence that Jewish women dyed the nails of their fingers and toes with henna.

Perfume – Jewish women used perfume in much the same manner as today. Common sources of perfume in biblical times were frankincense and myrrh, aloes, nard, cinnamon, and saffron.

Hairstyle – Most Jewish women wore their hair long and braided. The Talmud mentions that Jewish women also used combs and hairpins. It would seem that they generally eschewed the more elaborate hairstyles of the Greek and Assyrian women.

What Were Villages Like in Jesus’ Day?

N.B.: I am in the Holy Land at this time. As my travel schedule is heavy, I am republishing some articles about life in Jesus’ day. I hope you will enjoy reading (or re-reading) them as much as I did.

The Jews of Galilee, where Jesus grew up, were essentially a rural people. The great majority lived in the many small towns and villages scattered throughout the countryside. They worked the land, tended their flocks, and plied their trades, seldom venturing more than a day’s journey from home. However, many went to Jerusalem, some as often as every year, to celebrate the Passover. And that was no small journey, up to 70 miles on foot each way!

According to Josephus, a Jewish historian of the time, there were 240 villages scattered throughout Galilee. The average village might be no more than a few acres with a population of a few hundred souls. (Larger villages called towns might cover ten acres or more and were often walled in.)

The world was pretty much limited to their small village and the fields around it. The inhabitants lived in modest one-story houses of stone covered with a kind of stucco.

The houses tended to be clustered around a town square. In the square were some shops, an open air market, and usually a communal well or spring.

Each town had a handful of local craftsman, typically including a potter, a weaver, a carpenter, a blacksmith, and a shoemaker. Most of the men in the village, however, worked in the fields, whether tilling, sowing, pruning, or harvesting. Life was a long, difficult struggle against the elements.

Most families kept a small number of animals such as sheep and goats. These were useful for milk, wool, and eventually leather and food. Most villages also had a shepherd or two tending village flocks on the nearby hillsides.

On many evenings the men gathered in the village synagogue for evening services and Scripture study. During the day the synagogue served as a school for the young men of the village, who learned ancient Hebrew and studied the Scriptures. Most people no longer spoke Hebrew; it was a sacred language used only in the Temple and in the synagogue, similar to Latin for the Catholic Church. Most villagers spoke Aramaic, but they also knew some Greek because it was the native tongue of the pagans around them. The Jews of Galilee spoke with a distinctive accent.

Villages were often in well-protected locations. They were generally built on hilltops rather than in the long sloping valleys. Here they were more easily protected and the best land in the valleys was reserved for agriculture.

The streets were generally quite narrow, more like alleys. The homes that fronted the streets came right up to the edge of the street. The walls of homes tended to be at least ten feet high, with only a few windows at the top. This is because one generally entered a home by walking into an open courtyard off the street. Whereas we tend to have front yards today, homes at this time tended to have courtyards, around which were clustered rooms of varying size depending on the wealth and needs of the owner.

Villages tended to be small because of the needs of each village were associated with pastureland around it. Each village depended on both crops and the livestock that used the surrounding fields and the sloping valley beneath. Further, each village was either built around or near a well or spring.

Each village tended to be self-sustaining in terms of basic needs. Occasionally, people would come from larger towns to provide specialized services, but except for a yearly pilgrimage, most Galileans did not travel far from their village.

Galilean villages were rather distinct from the Greek cities of the Decapolis, which were built in classical Greek style and tended to be much larger and more cosmopolitan. In a certain sense, the villages of Galilee were a world apart from the cities of the Decapolis.

Nazareth was a fairly typical Galilean village. It was laid out on a steep hillside and at the time of Jesus probably had no more than 300 residents. It was so unremarkable that Nathaniel asked “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) Today Nazareth has some 60,000 residents, mostly Arab Muslims, with a smaller number of Arab Christians. Its streets are steep, almost reminiscent of San Francisco.

Here’s a video I put together about the villages of Jesus’ day, with numerous pictures to illustrate:

What Was the Climate Like at the Time of Jesus?

N.B.: I am in the Holy Land at this time. As my travel schedule is heavy, I am republishing some articles about life in Jesus’ day. I hope you will enjoy reading (or re-reading) them as much as I did.

The climate in Palestine, both today and at the time of Jesus, has two distinct seasons. The wet or rainy season runs from the mid-October to the mid-April while the dry season lasts from the mid-June to mid-September. During the dry season rainfall is rare. Although it can get very hot during summer, it often does not feel that way. Cool breezes and low humidity are typical, making the summers quite pleasant, especially in areas directly on the coast or on the higher slopes of the hills. During these months it is almost always sunny and the sky cloudless. Rain rarely falls during the summer because of the dominance of high-pressure zones. This provides challenges for farmers, who have to develop special methods for trapping water during the rainy season. During rainy season, although it does not rain every day, there can be significant rains that cause periodic flooding. While it gets cool in the winter and at higher altitudes (areas near Jerusalem and Bethlehem can even see snow), this is rare and usually limited to brief periods during December and January. Although the Bible refers snow in the area, it is mostly mentioned as occurring in the mountains to the north near Mt. Hermon.

The climate of the Holy Land varies from north to south and from east to west. Because the topography is varied there can be dramatic differences within a few miles. Generally, there is more rain in the eastern part of Palestine and it gets hotter the farther south one travels. The Dead Sea region and the area around Jericho are deep crevasses and pure desert. The mountainous regions have more rain on the west side than on the east side. The hottest days of the year occur during the transition between the two seasons.

The climate of Israel in Jesus’ day may not have been quite as warm and dry as it is today. Several references in Scripture would seem to imply that the land was wetter and more suitable for agriculture, without the need for the significant irrigation that is prevalent in the Middle East today. For example,

And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar (Genesis 13:10).

And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:7,8).

The Bible also describes Solomon’s use of prodigious quantities of lumber to build the Temple and other buildings (circa 1000 B.C.)

Land-use studies throughout the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East show the prevalence of crops and forests, which were well suited to the cooler, wetter climates in the period before 1000 B.C.

Just as is the case today, in Jesus’ time the highly varied topography strongly affected the microclimate from mile to mile.

Lower Galilee (pictured at left), where Jesus lived most of His life, was Israel’s lushest region, known for its sunny, temperate climate and its spring-watered lands. Each spring, the valleys and slopes became an ocean of wildflowers and blossoming trees. Beginning in March, the area was covered by a vast blanket of green. The fertile land was a texture of vineyards and fruit orchards. Grapes, figs, olives, pomegranates, oranges, and other fruits flourished in its pleasant, subtropical climate.

The first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who knew the area well, wrote this about it:

Its nature is wonderful as well as its beauty; its soil is so fruitful that all sorts of trees can grow upon it, and the inhabitants accordingly plant all sorts of trees there; for the temper of the air is so well mixed, that it agrees very well with those several sorts, particularly walnuts, which require the coldest air, flourish there in vast plenty; there are palm trees also, which grow best in hot air; fig trees also and olives grow near them, which yet require an air that is more temperate. One may call this place the ambition of nature, where it forces those plants that are naturally enemies to one another to agree together; it is a happy contention of the seasons, as if every one of them laid claim to this country; for it not only nourishes different sorts of autumnal fruit beyond men’s expectation, but preserves them a great while; it supplies men with the principal fruits, with grapes and figs continually, during ten months of the year and the rest of the fruits as they become ripe together through the whole year (The Jewish War, Book 3, Chapter 10:8).

Around the Sea of Galilee crops were plentiful and fish were abundant. Despite its name, the Sea of Galilee is a fresh water lake, about 13 miles long and 8 miles wide. The typical crops grown in the region in Jesus’ day were grain, olives, and grapes. The drier area to the east of the Sea of Galilee had less vegetation.

via Creative Commons 2.5

An area to the south between Galilee and Samaria is called the Valley of Jezreel (pictured at right) and featured rich soil and moderate rainfall. Judea, south of Samaria, has a gradual change in landscape, but the most notable change is the decrease in rainfall.

Since Jesus’ time the overall area has undergone gradual desertification, a process through which once-fertile land becomes desert (typically due to natural factors such as drought or through inappropriate agriculture). Desertification in the area has become especially noticeable during the last few centuries, although it had been occurring to some degree even before Jesus’ time. This leads to less water, less arable land, warmer days, and cooler nights. The chief human contributors to this gradual change have been wars and poor land management. Deforestation was a major issue during the Jewish-Roman War of 66-70 A.D, but in the past two thousand years there have been many other factors causing environmental damage as well.

It seems a reasonable conclusion that in Jesus’ day, the climate was noticeably more moderate and wet than it is today, with more trees. However, there still are many beautiful regions, especially in Galilee in the north. We ought not to overestimate the difference in climate between the ages; although it would be noticeable to people of His day, it would not astonish them. The decrease in the number of trees would likely be more noticeable to them than the slightly warmer, drier weather.

Israel currently has a program that is attempting to reverse the desertification by planting trees (cedars, the same type used by Solomon!). It has received a huge amount of private financial support. They are, in effect, attempting to partially reforest Israel. The expected result is that the land will hold more water, permitting more land to be available for farming.

What Were Houses Like at the Time of Jesus?

N.B.: I am in the Holy Land at this time. As my travel schedule is heavy, I am republishing some articles about life in Jesus’ day. I hope you will enjoy reading (or re-reading) them as much as I did.

The smallest homes of the very poor might be little better than a square, stone structure, covered with a whitewashed sort of stucco. There would typically be one larger multi-purpose room and a smaller back room for the animals. Some houses in hilly regions were partial cave dwellings, built up against the limestone rock face, perhaps with the front section built on to it. The traditional site at the house of the Annunciation (in Nazareth) seems to have been built this way. However we need not conclude from this that Joseph and Mary were destitute. Many homes employed the hillside strategy that made use of hollowed out caves. Such structures were easy to build and there was a certain natural coolness to them.

Another sort of house, also common among the working poor and typical village-dwellers, was one built around a central open court with small rooms opening on to it (see drawing at upper right). Because the central court had no roof, this kind of building had the advantage of needing only short beams for the roof structures. The open concept retained the coolness by allowing air to move freely throughout. Cooking could also be done in the open central court, when the weather permitted.

If the family had some animals, they were often kept in this part of the house at night.

Families, sometimes including several generations, tended to live under one roof and had little or no privacy.

The roof was of real importance in everyday life. It was flat, with just enough slope to drain off the rainwater. In the relatively arid climate of the eastern Mediterranean, rainwater was precious; therefore, it was carefully collected into cisterns or large containers. The roof of the house was flat and sturdy, enabling people to go up on it. Because roofs were used so often, the Law of Deuteronomy required guard rails to be installed to prevent falling.

The roof areas provided an open second floor. On it, tools could be stored and laundry put out to dry. Scripture also speaks of it as a place to retire and pray. In the evening, when it was cool, people often sat there and talked; they would even sleep there when the weather was good. The climate of the Mediterranean provides an ideal setting for this at most times of the year. Some also placed tents and other coverings on the roof to increase its usefulness during inclement weather.

Except for the roof structures, which included wood timbers, the basic building material in Palestine was stone. Limestone is excellent building material, and as the stones were fashioned into a wall they would be coated with a stucco-like material and smoothed over. Foundations were dug with great care (Jesus said that we should build upon rock rather than sand). The mortar used to bond the stone was made of clay mixed with shells in potsherds.

Wooden trusses were necessary for the structure of the roofs, since they would be used a kind of second floor. Then a firm lattice of straw mats would be added, covered and smoothed with hard clay. Yearly repairs were made just prior to the rainy season.

Most of the inner doors were narrow. Only the door facing the street was wider and had a hinged door that could be secured.

In poorer homes the floor was simply pounded earth. The more affluent might have had pebbles or tiles made of baked clay. Wooden floors were only an option for the affluent.

Only the very wealthy could have water piped to their house. Ordinary people went to the well or spring-fount, or perhaps to a local stream, and collected water with skins, jars, and all manner of pitchers. Some larger towns had conduits or aqueducts that brought water into certain public areas. The washing of clothes was done away from the main house lest water run back in.

There was little need for much heating, except in the cooler months of the year. Most of the houses, therefore, had no fireplace. If it did grow cold, there were charcoal braziers in which small fires would be kindled.

Lighting was not very abundant. Small oil lamps were used. Because much time was spent out-of-doors, interior lights were not an absolute necessity.

Furniture was extremely simple. The most important pieces in the home were chests. There were chests for provisions and chests for clothes. For the poorest families, chests doubled as tables. Because clothing was simple, there was little need for many different sets or changes of clothing, thus there was less need for numerous chests and the sorts of insanely large closets many have today.

Most moderately well off families had a low table at which to recline and eat. People in this region and time reclined on their left elbow and ate with their right hand. It was rare to sit on chairs at higher tables in order to eat.

The kitchen as we know it did not exist. In small houses, cooking was done out back over an open fire or fire pit. Utensils were kept in a chest. In larger houses, the courtyard might be the place of the cooking fire with kitchen items kept in a store room. Only the largest homes had a dedicated area with a fiery oven.

Bedding was rolled out on the floor. The bed as a raised piece of furniture was largely unknown then, except among the very wealthy. Family members stretched out on mats, covering themselves with their own cloaks. Many slept on the roof in warmer months.

Even smaller houses seem to have had a bath of some sort. The ancient Jews were conscientious about cleanliness and viewed it as closely related to holiness and ritual purity. The usual bath (often called a mikveh) was narrow and one stepped down into it. Bathing was for hygiene to be sure, but the Jews also undertook ritual baths. In the Holy House in Nazareth, a mikveh is located in or near the house, adjacent to Joseph’s carpenter shop.

Latrines were more likely outhouses, and were removed from the main dwelling. They may have been shared facilities between several dwellings depending on the size and layout of the town or village. There is a phrase used in the Torah, in which Moses tells the ancient Israelites, “build your latrines outside the camp.” It further states, “When you go to the toilet, take a paddle or a shovel with you and use the toilet and then cover it up.” This suggests that some sort of lime was thrown in after the use of the facility. Other directions about latrines were that they should be in discreet and private locations. Certain archeological sites have disclosed the presence of latrines consisting of a pit dug into the ground and of an enclosed, roofed chamber; basically, an outhouse.

It was a simpler time to be sure, but the homes still provided families with their basic need for shelter.

Here’s a video I put together on this topic with lots more pictures:

What were the Rituals Associated with Death and Burial in Jesus’Day?

The Jewish people took the burial of the dead quite seriously; it was the way a community paid its last respects to the one who died. The Scriptures laid down quite firmly that no dead body was to be left unburied—even that of one’s worst enemy. Perhaps one of the stronger horrors that a Jewish person could imagine was stated in Psalm 78: They have thrown the bodies of thy servants as food for the birds of heaven; wild beast feast on the corpses of the just.

The dead, therefore, had a right to ceremonial care. As soon as a person was dead, his eyes were to be closed, he was to be kissed with love, and his body was to be washed (Genesis 50:1; Acts 9:37). In this washing, the body was anointed with perfumes. Nard was the most usual of these, but myrrh and aloes were also used.

By the time of Christ, the custom was that the body was elaborately wrapped in a shroud and the face was covered with a special cloth called a sudarium. The hands and feet were tied with strips of cloth.

Once this was done, relatives and friends could come to the home to say goodbye to the deceased for the last time. All of this happened in very short order; burial usually followed within eight hours of death. In such a hot climate, burial could not be delayed.

After this brief time during which the living could say their farewells to the deceased, the body was carried in a kind of litter to the grave. There were no professional carriers; the person’s relatives and friends took turns carrying the body as a sign of affection. Women led the procession and it was usually quite a noisy spectacle—even in cases in which the sorrow was not that great (such as in the case of a person who had died after a long illness). All funeral processions were expected to have those who wailed loudly and threw dust in their hair as well as flautists who played doleful music on their instruments. Given these expectations, families often hired professional mourners who assisted in the process.

The Jews never cremated their dead; indeed they had a revulsion for the practice since they believed in the resurrection of the body.

Cemeteries were always to be at least fifty yards outside of any town or village.

Attachment-1(4)The typical tombs of Jesus’ day involved a kind of cave or excavation cut into a rocky cliff. Sometimes larger families or groups of families would use these burial areas together. An opening in the side of a cliff might lead into a crypt of several rooms used by different families. There would be an outer and an inner chamber, or at least a front and back portion to the cave. In the outer chamber the body would be laid out on a kind of bench or shelf cut into the rock. After the final respects were paid, a large round stone was usually rolled into place (via a groove) to cover the tomb.

These large stones would often be whitewashed as a kind of warning to passersby that the area was in fact a gravesite. This was because Jews incurred ritual uncleanliness by coming in close contact with a dead body. Surely this could be endured as an act of charity for a dead relative, but one would not wish to incur it for a stranger. Thus the whitewashed tomb entrances served as a kind of warning to steer clear.

Very poor people, who could not afford a rock-hewn tomb, or foreigners who had no land were buried within vertical shafts in designated fields. In the Gospels there is reference to the purchase of the potter’s field as a place to bury the poor and foreigners who died in Israel (Mat 27:7).

A brief repast would follow and included the ritual drinking of wine and eating of the bread of mourning. For the very closest relatives (such as a wife, son, or daughter) mourning lasted for 30 days. This was observed by the wearing of special clothing, by refraining from wearing phylacteries during prayer, and by not answering greetings in the street.

Attachment-1(5)After about a year, family members would return to the tomb and collect the bones, placing them in a box called an ossuary. They would mark the box with identifying information and place it in the back room of the tomb where the bones of other relatives were also stored. This is the basis of the Jewish expression that the deceased “rested with his ancestors.” It also explains the concerns of the patriarch Joseph: Then Joseph took an oath from the sons of Israel, saying, “God will visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here” (Gen 50:25). And Scripture says that as Moses left Egypt he took the bones of Joseph with him; for Joseph had solemnly sworn the people of Israel, saying, “God will visit you; then you must carry my bones with you from here” (Exodus, 13:19). And Scripture says that after entering the land, The bones of Joseph which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt were buried at Shechem, in the portion of ground which Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money; it became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph (Jos 24:32).

Thus Joseph rested with his ancestors. And so will we, until our bodies shall rise at the Last Trumpet.

Yes, They Ate Locust – A Review of Some Common Foods at the Time of Jesus

071614Generally speaking, the Israelites of the time of Christ were frugal eaters. Frankly, until about 100 years ago, frugality in eating was more imposed than chosen. Food was more scarce and less convenient than it is today. Its availability was seasonal and all the elements needed to be made from scratch; even water needed to be hauled in from wells, etc.

Bread was the essential, basic food. So basic was it that in Hebrew “to eat bread” and “to have a meal” are the same thing. Bread was treated with great respect and many rules existed to preserve that reverence. Any crumbs larger than about the size of an olive were expected to be gathered, never simply discarded. Bread was never to be cut, always broken. The poor ate barley bread, while the rich ate bread of wheat. Flour was made by grinding barley or wheat grains between two millstones.  This was done in the home, almost always by women. Then the dough was made and worked in kneading troughs. To make the heavy barley bread rise, women used very strong millets and barley yeast. The loaves were usually made round, and thus one spoke of “a round of bread,” or simply “a round.” Because bread would quickly become moldy, one would only bake enough for a day or two.

Corn (grain) – Though the Bible mentions corn, it has nothing to do with what we call corn today. Such a crop was unknown in the Middle East. “Corn” in the Bible refers to what we call grain today.

Milk – Cows’ milk was rare, and in any case it was not liked as much as the more common milk of ewe lambs and of goats. Since milk tended to spoil quickly, cheese making was very common.

Honey was the sweetener that was used for most things. Cane sugar was unknown in the Holy Land. The source of honey was bees, which were colonized as they are today. Sap from various trees and the thickened juice of grapes (jelly) were also common sweeteners. So much honey was made in the Holy Land that some of it was exported.

Eggs – As for eggs, very few of them were eaten. The thought of eating eggs was something brought into the Holy Land only from the outside, especially the East. Eggs tended to be food only for the very wealthy. Indeed, the eating of poultry at all seems to have come to Jewish regions only after the exile in Babylon (587 – 500 BC).

Vegetables – The diet of ordinary people included a great many vegetables, beans and lentils foremost on the list. Cucumbers as well were very much esteemed. Onions were very popular.

Meat – There was far less meat consumed than is the case today. Meat was a food of luxury and only the wealthy ate a great deal of it. Poor people never slaughtered an animal for their own eating except when there was a family feast. Generally when such a feast approached an older animal was chosen and fattened up by feeding it grain. Such an animal spent its last months eating well and working little so that its muscles were softer and fattier. Goats and lambs provided the most common meat, but occasionally a calf (i.e., a cow) was slaughtered. The animal was usually roasted. Chickens were scarce while pigeons and turtledoves were cheap. Game was much sought after but generally only the wealthy ate much of it. Deer and gazelle were considered kingly dishes and peacock was reckoned a great delicacy.

Fish – For most common people fish was more important than meat. A typical meal consisted of bread and fish. This is illustrated by the miracle of the loaves and the fishes as well as the meal at the lakeside in Galilee at which Christ prepared fish over a charcoal fire. The Sea of Galilee had great quantities of fish, and fish were also gotten from the Mediterranean Sea. Since fish soon went bad it was often salted. The consumption of fish was so great that some of it had to be imported.

Locust – One of the most surprising forms of food was the locust. (But perhaps it is no stranger than some of the things we eat today such as frog’s legs, snails, and live oysters.) An ancient Jewish document claims that there were 800 different kinds of edible locust. Sometimes they were cooked rapidly in salt water and had a shrimp-like taste and color. Usually the head and legs were removed. Sometimes they were dried in the sun. After being dried, some were ground down to a powder known as locust powder, which tasted rather bitter and was often mixed with flour to make a much-prized bitter biscuit.

Butter (oil) – Butter was rarely used; olive oil was much more common. So abundant were olives and olive oil, that the excess was exported. Many olives were eaten directly, but others had the oil pressed from them using an oil press at home (see left). Olive oil was highly prized and many passages in the Bible hold it up as a symbol of strength and health.

Fruit – Fruit had an important place in the people’s diet. They had many melons and figs along with pomegranates, blackberries, and dates. Since fruit was in abundance, it was often exported as well.

Nuts – Nuts were also in some abundance, especially walnuts, almonds, and pistachios. As is done today, they were often roasted.

As for seasonings and other condiments, the ancient Jews seemed to like their food strongly seasoned. There was salt in abundance from the Dead Sea area and it was used to preserve certain foods. Other common spices were mustard, capers, cumin, rue, saffron, coriander, mint, dill, rosemary, garlic, onions, and shallots. Pepper, however, was scarce and expensive as was cinnamon, both of which came from the Far East.

Salted – Without refrigeration, fish, meat, and some vegetables were preserved by salting or pickling them.

Pork was absolutely forbidden as was rabbit and any meat with blood still in it. Meat had to be carefully drained of all blood, for it was believed that life was in the blood and life belonged to God.

Drinks – People drank water when it was pure, and spring water was strongly preferred to well water. Milk and vinegar diluted with water were also consumed. Juice from pomegranates or dates was a favorite. And a kind of light beer was made from barley and millets.

Wine was a very important staple; it is said that God himself first showed Noah how it was made. Vineyards and grapes were in abundance in ancient Israel. The grapes were occasionally eaten directly but most of them went toward making wine. Psalm 103:15 says that wine is joy to a man’s heart. The book of Proverbs (31:6-7) also prescribes that there should be wine for the afflicted hearts. In Ecclesiastes 31:27 the author wonders what kind of life one could lead without it. Indeed, the vine was a symbol for Israel in the Scriptures. Since wine was considered sacred, it had to be kosher, that is, made only by Jewish hands. Only red wine that was consumed in biblical times; there is not even one mention of white wine. Wine was always spoken of as having the color of blood and thus it was a deep red or purple color. They kept wine either in tall jars or in wineskins (made out of the hides of goats) with wooden stoppers. Wine was filtered before it was consumed. Just as is the case today, there were different qualities of wine: some drier, some sweeter, some considered inferior, some more desirable. They drink wine out of metal goblets or earthenware mugs; although glass was known, it was scarce and expensive

Wine in moderation was considered a great blessing but the ancient Jews were also well aware that excessive wine could be dangerous. Scripture is full of warnings about drunkenness. Nevertheless, wine was often consumed in some quantity because the water was often not pure. When Paul told Timothy to drink some wine to settle his stomach, he was alluding to the fact that water alone tended to cause the stomach to be sore and inflamed and to bring about either diarrhea or constipation. Wine had the medicinal effect of helping kill water-born bacteria (of which the ancients knew nothing) as well as that of cheering the heart.

Food of course was very seasonal in its availability. And thus the diet would be affected by the harvest cycles. Here is a rough timetable.

Mid-September: Plowing time
Mid-October to November: Olive harvest
Mid-November: Grain is planted. Rainy season begins.
February: Flax harvest
Late March: Barley harvest
May: Wheat harvest
Mid-June: Figs
July: Grapes and vintage
August: Dates and late figs