Manners And Customs Of Bible Lands.

Manners And Customs OF Bible Lands

The Bible is a collection of religious books or scriptures revered by Christians, Jews, Samaritans, and other faiths.

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Manners And Customs Of Bible Lands.

A home in Bible times was principally a place of shelter where people slept at night, but in the daytime, the people spent their time working outdoors. Those who lived in tents were also nomadic; hence, their home was where they attended to the basics of eating and sleeping—but their work was largely done outside, tending to their flocks. Wealthy people who owned larger homes used their homes more, which also included entertaining (Acts 1:13; 12:12; 20:8).


While not many people lived in caves in biblical times, some did. Caves were useful dwelling places: they were strong, ready-built homes; they afforded protection from wind and inclement weather. There were numerous caves throughout the land of Israel, including Bethlehem and Nazareth; in fact, it is likely that Jesus was born in a cave. After die Lord destroyed Sodom, Lot lived in a cave because he was afraid to live in Zoar (Gen. 19:30).

Caves also afforded refuge. The kings who fled from Joshua hid in a cave (Josh. 10:18); in fleeing from Saul, David escaped to the cave at Adullam (1 Sam. 22:1). King Saul himself stayed in a cave while pursuing David (1 Sam. 24:1-7). At Mt. Carmel five, hundred prophets hid in a cave because of Jezebel (1 Kings 18:4, 13). Elijah lived in a cave while fleeing from Jezebel(1 Kings 19:9, 13; cf. Heb. 11:38). In the tribulation people including world leaders will hide in caves, fearful of God’s judgment (Rev. 6:15).

The Edomites had built an entire civilization in a community of caves at Petra. They were proud of their impenetrable location (Obad. 3). Even to this day, some people live in caves. On the outskirts of Jerusalem laundry hangs outside of caves, a visible reminder of people living in the caves. . ‘.


Manners And Customs OF Bible Lands.

People living in tents date back to the earliest beginnings of the Old Testament. Tents in-biblical days were not square, nor did they have steep-pitched roofs; rather, they were rectangular, having several compartments and were a little higher in the centre compartment. An average-sized, biblical tent was approximately ten feet by fifteen feet.

Originally made of animal skins, later tents were made of woven goat hair, black in colour (cf. Song of Sol. 1:5). The goat hair cloth was woven in sections several feet wide, sewn together and held in place by poles. When the goat hair became wet, it shrank; hence, it was waterproof when it rained. On warm, sunny days the sides of my tent could be lifted for light and ventilation. The goat hair was. thick, providing warmth and protection in winter weather.

Tents had at least two compartments, separated by a sheet hanging from the centre pole. Women and children occupied one compartment while the men occupied the other compartment, which was also used for hospitality. In a three-compartment tent, the central compartment would be used for entertaining. Only the male head of the home was allowed beyond the hospitality compartment. It was unusual for Sisera, a visitor, to enter the tent of Jael (judg.4:18). Sometimes women and maids had their own tents (Geni31:33).


People in biblical, times had a different concept of a house than modem people living in the Western world Since most of the work was done outside, die, the house was merely a shelter and a place to sleep. Homes were built of clay bricks that had. been dried in die sun. Snakes also enjoyed the warmth of die sun-baked bricks and would- sometimes settle in die cracks to die [dismay of someone leaning against the wall (Amos 5:19)! Unlike Western, sloped roofs. Eastern roofs were flat. The roof itself was supported by beams and covered with thatched reeds and a clay coating (cf. Mark 2:3—5). The house faced into an open courtyard, with a fence (for protection) surrounding both the house and the courtyard. If a house had two rooms, die rooms were detached with, a covered courtyard between Diem and an open courtyard extending beyond the two rooms. Animals would be kept within the courtyard, and a well or cistern providing water supply was also within the courtyard (2 Sam. 17:18-19).

An outside stairway alongside the house led to the roof which was used for many purposes. Grain and fruit were dried on the roof, it was also a suitable place for meditation and prayer, offering solitude and a cool breeze. (cf. Acts 10:9).

Doors were made of sycamore, about six feet high. Doors were opened at sunup as a sign of hospitality and closed at sundown for security (cf. Rev. 3:8,20).

An oil lamp was lit and placed on a stone shelf projecting from the wall to light die entire room

(Matt. 5:15). The lamp was lit and shone all night; only die poorest people would not light a lamp, at night.

Like tent dwellers, people living in a one-room home bundled their bedding in the morning. In the evening the bedrolls were spread out on the dying floor width the family sleeping in a row, the father at one end, the mother at the other end, and the children in between. For this reason, to get up at night meant that the entire household would be awakened (cf. Luke 11:5-7).


Larger houses were built in a U shape, opening into a courtyard where animals were kept. When a” patriarch’s son married, the father would add a room to an arm of die U, extending die home. The married son and his family would become pan of his father’s household. That is the imagery Jesus painted for believers in John 14:2.

Wealthy people would sometimes build an “upper room” on the roof, accessible by an outside stairway (cf..2 Kings 4:10; Mark 14:15; cf. Acts 1:13). An upper room could be large sufficient to host a big gathering (Acts 1:13-14; 12:12-17). People living in a large home would also have servants. Rhoda, a servant girl, responded to Peter’s knock at the door, entering the courtyard of John Mark’s home (Acts 12:13).

Manners And Customs OF Bible Lands.

Manners And Customs OF Bible Lands.


The marketplace was important in Eastern culture; it served not only as a place for transacting business but also as a social gathering place. Children played in the marketplace (Matt. 11:16); unemployed labourers sought work there (Matt. 20:3). Religious leaders congregated in the marketplace to receive people’s accolades (Luke 11:43; 20:46). Because it was a place for social gatherings, Paul went to the marketplace in Athens and proclaimed the gospel (Acts 17:17). Sometimes official offices were near the marketplace, and legal matters were transacted there. In Philippi, Paul and Silas were dragged before the authorities in the marketplace (Acts 16:19).


Manners And Customs OF Bible Lands.

In biblical times people worked hard for the basic necessities of life. Bread and water were the two staple commodities. To bake bread, women ground the grain with a stone mill. Although the grinding could be done by one woman, usually two women sat facing, each other (Matt. 24:41). Two stone cylinders, approximately eighteen inches in diameter were set on a cloth, one stone placed on top of the other, with a large hole surrounding the wooden pivot fastened to the bottom scone. A wooden handle was attached to the top stone which was rotated on the bottom stone. Grain was poured through the hole around the pivot, and as the top stone was turned, the grain was crushed and came out of the bottom as flour. Larger mills were turned by donkeys (cf. Mark

9:42); sometimes slaves were used to turn the larger mills, as Samson was used (Judg. 16:21).

Women were strong because of the hard work of grinding grain. •

Unleavened Bread. Eaten in conjunction with their religious feasts, unleavened bread was flat, one-eighth to one-fourth-inch thick (Exod. 12:15; Matt. 26:23,26; John’13:26).

Leavened Bread- The dough had leaven added to it. A pinch of leaven was always saved from one piece of dough for subsequent baking (cf. Matt.13:33; Gal. 5:9). These loaves were larger, similar to the Western loaf of bread, but round.

Bread made of barley was eaten by poor people, whole wheat bread was a better quality Qudg.7:13; Rev. 6:6).Smaller Cakes. These small biscuits were eaten for lunch by an individual. These were the cakes Jesus used to feed the multitude (John 6:9).

Baking. Flour was mixed; with…water and salt; and in the case of leavened bread, the dough sat overnight until the leaven permeated the entire dough. In primitive baking, the dough was simply placed on heated, flat steles (1 Kings 19:6).

Various kinds of ovens were also used. The flat bottom of an inverted placed over a fire was sometimes used for baking. Another was a circular metal sheet placed at stones about nine inches above the ground.


Since much of the Bible’s land are desert, water was an important and precious commodity. Wells were dug with communities congregating around a water source (Gen. 24:10—11; 26:15, 18-22; 29:2-10). The wells supplied the people mars & Customs of Bible Times

as well as the flocks of sheep and herds of camels with water.

Because of the heat, water was normally carried from, the well in die evening when it was cooler. The well also became a place of congregating and visiting. Hence, the Samaritan woman came to the well at noon—during die heat—to avoid facing other women because of her reputation (John 4:6-7).


Milk was a valuable food product and readily available from cows, goats, sheep, and camels (Gen. 32:15; Deut. 32:14; Prov. 27:27). Milk that thickened and soured became curds (yoghurt), an important staple for the shepherd who took the warm milk out into the field in die morning; by the time he ate his lunch, it was curds (Isa. 7:15)! Jael gave Sisera a drink of buttermilk, which had naturally churned in an animal’s skin (Judg. 4:19; 5:25). This drink is still a staple in Bedouin homes.

Butter and cheese were also valuable byproducts of milk (Prov. 30:33; 2 Sam. 17:29). Butter was made by pouring milk into an animal’s skin and shaking it until it aimed to butter.


The meat was rarely eaten; most people couldn’t afford it; and, because of a lack of refrigeration, it could not be kept indefinitely. Once an animal had been slaughtered, die entire animal had to be eaten immediately. Further, a cow provided milk and was also used for ploughing. Sheep provided both milk and wool. But when a cow or sheep was killed, the value of the animal in other provisions was also lost; hence, meat was only eaten on special occasions.


Because of die Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea, fish were common and abundant. In preparation for eating, fish were boiled or roasted over coals (John 21:9-13). The people also learned how to salt die fish so they could be dried and kept for a period of time. The two fish that the young boy gave to Jesus were two tidbits, probably preserved fish (John 6:9).


Ducks, geese, quail, partridges, and pigeons were eaten, normally roasted. Although chickens are not specifically mentioned as food, they were nonetheless in existence (Matt. 26:74-75). They were a common food in neighbouring countries; hence, it is likely they were eaten in Israel as well. Wild birds were captured by trapping them in a net (Amos 3:5).


Vegetables were common; these most frequently eaten were beans and lentils (Ezek. 4:9). Lentils were a cereal made into a soup or stew (Gen. 25:34). Leeks (similar to onions), onions, and garlic were Egyptian staples (Num. 11:5). Cucumbers, melons, and gourds were also staples (Num.1:5; Isa. 1:3; Jon. 4:6-10; 2 Kings 4:39). At Mahanaim, David’s friends brought him, among other things, beans to eat (2 Sam. 17:23).


Olives were one of the most valuable fruits. When crushed, they were used as oil in place of butter or fat (Lev. 2:5) for cooking (1 Kings 17:12). They were also eaten as a principal food. Additionally, olives served as body medicine and fuel.

Fresh grapes were also eaten as a fruit staple with bread. The land of Israel had an abundance of grapes (Num. 13:23). They produced wine, which—diluted from four or five parts to one, became a normal beverage (Matt. 9:17; 21:33; John 2:1-11) and was particularly useful because of impure water (1 Tim. 5:23). Grapes were also dried, producing raisins (1 Sam. 25:18).

Figs were readily eaten and also baked into cakes (1 Sam’. 25:18; 1 Chron. 12:40; cf. Matt. 21:19). A sour fruit, pomegranates were used in place of lemons (cf. Deut. 8:8; Song of Sol. 4:13; 6:11; 7:12). The wine was spiced with pomegranate juice (Song of Sol. 8:2).


Middle Eastern people favoured spicy food. Black cumin and coriander are substituted for pepper. Mint and anise were also popular spices. These spices were particularly used in stews.


Since mere was no sugar, honey was the common sweetener. Bees built hives in rock crevices and trees: Moses found honey in a rock (Deut. 32:13; cf. ?s. 81:16); Samson scraped the honey from a lion’s carcass (Judg. 14:8-9); Jonathan found a honeycomb on the ground (1 Sam. 14:27); John the Baptist ate wild honey (Matt. 3:4). It is likely that Jews colonized bees in hives to produce honey.


Salt was important for both flavouring food (job 6:6) and for preserving food. Salt was also used in sacrificial offerings (Lev. 2:13) and in a meal, symbolizing an everlasting covenant (Num. 18:19). When salt lost its flavour, it was thrown

out and mingled with dung to cause its decomposition (Matt. 5:13).


Hand Washing

Since people ate with their hands, cleanliness was important. But ritual handwashing (Exod. 30:17-21) became obligatory for ordinary eating at mealtime. The Pharisees developed an elaborate ritual in what constituted hand washing to the extent that an entire tractate called “Hands” in die Mishnah is given to explaining proper handwashing. Proper handwashing, when hands were dirty, was in two sessions under running water. In die first effusion die arms extended upward whereby the water ran down toward the wrist (hands were’ only considered washed if die water extended at least to die wrists); in the second effusion the arms were held down and the water ran off the fingertips. In wealthy homes the servant would pour dead water for the guests (cf. John. 13:4—5; 2 Kings 3:11).


In an ordinary home, the people would sit cross-legged on a mat (which served as a table), dipping into a common, bowl (cf. 2 Kings 4:38—41). Common people did not own chairs and a table as is customary in the West, although sometimes a low table—just over a foot high—was used. The Fiat pieces of bread were “‘used to dip into the common food •bowl and make a sop. The bread pancakes were helpful in scooping up liquids (Ruth 2:14; Matt. 26:23).

At banquets guests reclined around a table on a couch, resting on their left arm and using their right hand for eating (Luke 7:36-50).

The banquet or feast was a symbol of dining in the Messiah’s kingdom (Matt. 8:11; Luke 14:15; 16:22). “Abraham’s bosom” denotes reclining next to Abraham in the Messiah’s kingdom (Luke 16:22, NASB).


Prayer, reflecting thanksgiving, was offered }

before meals (1 Sam. 9:13; Matt. 14:19; 15:36;

26:26; John 6:11). When Jesus “blessed” the

food, it means He. gave’ thanks for it

(Matt. 14:19, NASB). The Mishnah prescribes :

the prayer of thanks concerning bread: “Blessed are you, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth” (Berakhot 6:1).



Both. Old arid New Testaments vividly reflect hospitality as a sacred duty. Hotels and restaurants were not common in biblical days, “hence travellers were dependent on others for hospitality. Offering a stranger a meal was more than providing food for him; it was a commitment to the stranger’s safety and well-being. But a major reason for showing hospitality was the belief that visitors had been sent by God. Abraham reflected this sense of hospitality by providing a lavish meal for his heavenly visitors (Gen.18:1-8). Lot went to wrongful lengths to protect his angelic visitors when he offered his daughters to the debased men at Sodom (Gen.19:1-11). In a time of warfare. Jael betrayed her appearance of hospitality when she killed Sisera after offering him lodging (Judg. 4:17-21). The New Testament also admonishes believers to practice hospitality (Rom. 12:13).


There were several kinds of greetings in biblical times. One form was verbal, “Rejoice,” “Hello,” or “Greetings!” (Gk. chain) (Matt. 26:49; 28:9), or “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). When Jesus sent them ‘ on their mission., the seventy bestowed the same greeting upon the household. This was more than a casual hello; it was a benediction, invoking God’s blessing upon the household, particularly if they were God’s own (Luke 10:5; cf. John 14:27).

There was also the customary kiss of greeting upon entering a home—grasping die person on the shoulders, drawing him near, and kissing, him on the right cheek and then on die left (Luke 7:45). Samuel kissed Saul” when he anointed him (1 Sam.’10:1). Paul admonished believers to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom. 16:16). In Christian circles the kiss took.. on new meaning: it became a symbol of Christian’ love for one another; it was “a kiss of love” (1 Pet. 5:14; cf. I Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1Thess. 5:26).

Arab women and children kiss the beards of Their husbands and fathers, who respond by kissing the forehead.

As a sign of affection, near relatives of both, sexes would kiss one another (Gen. 29:11; Song of Sol. 8:1; cf. Gen. 27:27; 33:4; 45:15; Exod. 4:27; Luke 15:20).

When an honoured guest appeared, people would bow in honour of the special visitor. Abraham bowed down in die presence of his divine guests (Gen. 18:2), as did Lot (Gen. 19:1). In purchasing the cave of Machpelah as a tomb for Sarah. Abraham bowed before the people (Gen.23:12). This practise is still common in Oriental culture today. When Cornelius prostrated himself before Peter, the apostle rejected the gesture, reminding him, “Stand up…. 1 am only a man being myself (Acts 10:26).

Washing the Feet

In biblical times it was customary to remove one’s sandals upon entering a house. This was essential since the people would sit cross-legged on a rug, with their feet beneath the person; the sandals would soil both the cloches and the rug. Hence, when Moses approached the burning bush, the Lord instructed him to remove his sandals from his feet since otherwise he would defile the holy ground where he was standing (Exod.3:5).

Upon entering a home it was customary for a servant to wash the visitor’5 feet, essential because of the dusty streets. The servant would pour water over the feet into a basin and wipe the feet with a towel. Jesus assumed, the position of a servant when He washed the proud disciples’ feet, giving them a vital lesson in life and service (John 13:1-15).


In entertaining, the guest was received into the central compartment of the tent which was the reception area. For example, when Abraham hosted his divine visitors in the reception compartment. Sarah was listening in the women’s compartment (Gen. 18:9—10). Men would dine with the male visitor and also sleep with him in this compartment; it was considered ill-mannered to allow the visitor to sleep alone. In a single-room cottage, the visitor would dine in the same room where everyone also slept. Sometimes a village had a public guess room where

only male visitors were accommodated. If a family was travelling, they would wait at a public well or the city gate until someone invited them to stay in their home (Gen. 24:13-14; Judg. 19:15). In a larger house, a separate room was provided for the guest (2 Kings 4:10).



There were two invitations to the banquet, one well in advance of the event and another the day of the banquet—each by a special messenger. Jesus illustrated the banquet invitation in the parable of the marriage feast (Matt. 22:1-13). The second invitation went to “those who had been invited,” but they seemed the invitation (Matt. 22:3). This was a most serious breach of etiquette, and the host would not take this lightly (Matt. 22:7-13).

The Arrangement At The Table

Banquets were reserved for special occasions of celebration—a wedding (Matt. 22:2), and the visit of special guests (Gen. 18:1-3). The return of s son (Luke 15:22-24). During early Old Testament times, people ate formal meals while sitting cross-legged on a mat; later, during the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. People sat at a table on chairs or on couches. 3ui in New Testament times the guests reclined on a triclinium couch for three around a low U-shaped table. The guests would Be on their left side, with their heads toward the table and their legs away from the table, supporting themselves on their left arm while using the right hand for eating. In that way, a servant could wash the guests’ feet (Luke 7:36-38). In this position, the guests reclined facing, the back of the person beside. Hence. John was reclining on Jesus’ right side described as “reclining on Jesus’ bosom” (John 13:23, NASB). A servant would serve food and wait on the guests. In homes, the place of honour was on the raised platform, while others reclined at the lower level. The host reclined at the junction of the two U arms with places of honour at his right and his left. The chief place of honour was at the host’s left.


The banquet was lavish. Musicians were frequently present, playing their musical instruments (cf, Amos 6:5). The wine was served (Amos 6:6). The choicest lambs from the flock were roasted and eaten (1 Sam. 9:24), along with cheeses, vegetables, dates, honey, and figs. Dancing was also provided for entertainment (dancing was individual) (Mark 6:22). A cloth was hung from the house throughout the preliminary three-course meal, signalling chat the invited guests were welcome. Sometimes poor people from the street were invited to the banquet (Matt. 22:9).

During the banquet, the host would dip a piece of flat, pancake-type bread (torn from a large “sheet” of bread) into the common bowl of lamb, herbs, and spices and make a “sop- and give it to the guest (cf. John 13:26). The Passover haroseth was a sauce of raisins, dates, and sour wine, sometimes a side dish used by three of our people (Mark 14:20).

Guests ate with their fingers; spoons were used only for soup. There were no forks- There is a saying in the Middle Ease, “Why should a man use a fork when he has so many fingers?


The tunic was an undergarment made of leather, goat hair, wool, linen, or cotton and worn next to the skin. It had no sleeves, and a man’s tunic reached his knees while a woman’s runic reached her ankles.


The robe was similar to die runic except that it was longer and had sleeves. Some were fancy (Gen. 37:3). Some also had long, pointed sleeves that nearly reached the ground.


The cloak was an overcoat, it was a looser, longer garment, without sleeves. The cloak also served as a shepherd’s and peasant’s bedding and blanket at night. Therefore, if a cloak was given as insurance against a loan, it had to be returned by evening (Exod. 22:26-27). Paul likely requested his cloak because it was cold and damp in the Roman dungeon (2 Tim. T:13).


Sashes are still commonly sold in the marketplace in Jerusalem today. In biblical times the girdle or sash was made of leather, six inches wide. 3nd tied around the waist (2 Kings 1:8: Matt. 3:4). More expensive ones were a hand-breadth in width and mace of cotton or even silk (Jer. 13:1). Travel was expedited by tying the robe around the body (the “loins,” meaning die waist) with the girdle, making walking or running easier (Exod. 12:11; 1 Kings 15:16).


Although the Levitical priests “wore turbans in their ministry (Exod. 28:4, 40; Ezek.. 24:17), Israelites generally did not wear turbans or head coverings, apart from a cloth, wrapped around die head.


Sandals were made of leather (sometimes wood) and tied to the feet with thongs. They were removed before entering a home or a sacred site (Exod. 3:5; josh. 5:15). Slaves removed the sandals and washed die feet of those in wealthy homes or people of respect (Matt. 3:11, NASB). Poor people and also those in mourning walked barefoot (2 Sam. 15:30). Prophet’s frequency reflected a message in walking barefoot (Isa. 20:2; Ezek. 24:17, 23).

Men And Women Distinction.

The Mosaic Law commanded that women’s clothing was to be distinct from men’s clothing (Deut. 22:5); however, die distinction was more in detail – rather than in kind. While women wore tunics and robes like men, women’s clothing was more elaborate; their tunics were longer and their clothing fancier.

Hebrew women had greater freedom in 3ible times than Arab women have today. The Egyptians saw Sarah’s face (Gen. 12:14); Eli saw Hannah’s mouth moving in prayer (1 Sam. 1:12). Older women were less likely to be veiled than younger women.


The veil was distinctive for women in biblical times and is, in fact, worn by Arab women to this day. (When this writer attempted to take a picture of an Arab woman in a. Jerusalem market, she veiled her..face.) When a man approached a woman in public, she would cover her face with a veil (Gen. 24:64-65). Women wore several kinds of veils. One, like a shawl or wrap, covered die face and also die upper part of the body. This was the type of shawl with which Rebekah veiled herself in Isaac’s presence (Gen. 24:65). Tamar veiled herself with a shawl when Judah approached (Gen. 38:14, 19). Solomon’s bride complained. the guardsmen took her shawl (“veil,” Kjv) away from her (Song of Sol. 5:7, NASB).’When the woman’s face was not veiled, the shawl could be thrown over her shoulder.

In normal housekeeping activities, the women were unveiled, but in public, they were normally veiled. Yet it is apparent that Hebrew women had more freedom than women in Arab communities today. Sarah was unveiled, enabling the Egyptians to recognize her beauty (Gen. 12:14); Abraham’s servant saw Rebekah unveiled at the well (Gen. 24:15-16). Young women, especially those engaged to be married, were veiled in public; married women were not always veiled in public.


In contrast to modern families which constitute father, mother, and children, biblical families extended to Grandchildren and servants as well as aunts, uncles, and cousins. They were extended families. In this patriarchal- system the father was the head of die home. It was, in fact, a miniature kingdom with the father ruling the family clan. The authority and honour accorded the father is evident in the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exod. 20:12). The father’s authority was absolute; he could even initiate the death, penalty against a rebellious son (Deut. 21:18-21).


Normally, the eldest son assumed the headship of the family clan upon the death of the father. Isaac received the blessing and patriarchal inheritance from Abraham since he was the son of promise, born to Sarah (Gen. 21:1-7; 25:5, 11). Because Esau despised his birthright, Jacob received the blessing and the rights that normally fell to the eldest son (Gen. 25:23; 27:1-29).


Position in Culture

Women were subordinate to men in biblical times. They prepared the meals; Abraham instructed Sarah to prepare the meal for their visitors (Gen. 18:6). In socializing, women were separated from the men. Sarah was not permitted to join the men in discussion; rather, she listened from the women’s compartment in the lent (Gen. 18:9-10).

Women worked physically, grinding the grain(Matt. 24:41) and putting up the tents; hence, Jael was familiar with a hammer and tent peg easily able to drive it through Sisera’s head (Judg. 4:17-21)! Women also baked the bread (Lev. 26:26; Jer. 7:18), made the clouds and washed them. They carried water (Gen. “24:11; 1 Sam. 9:11; John 4:7), hence, it was unusual to see a man carrying a jar of water (Luke 22:10). Women, watered die camels (Gen. 24:19); they worked in die fields, harvesting the grain (Ruth 2:2). In Arab culture today it is so common for women to do the fieldwork. On driving through the West Bank in Israel visitors may see women working in the fields.

In public banquets, the women ate separately from the men (Esther 1:9). They did not assume positions of public office. When Isaiah declares, ‘women rule over them” he is chiding die nation for inept male leadership (Isa. 3:12). A journeyman would ride while the women walked. In public women would walk behind the men. On their flight from Sodom, Lot’s wife walked behind him (Gen. 19:26, NASB).


Wives and mothers were respected in Israelite culture (Prov. 31:26). Isaac loved Rebekah (Gen. 24:67), and Jacob loved Rachel—so much so that he was willing to work for her for seven years (Gen. 29:18)! Paul instructed husbands to love and cherish their wives in die same way that Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25, 29).


Blessing of God.

Children were viewed as a blessing and gift from God (Ps. 113:9; 127:3) and pictured as arrows in a quiver. The roan whose quiver was full of arrows was truly blessed (Ps. 127:4-5)1. The wife of one who was blessed by God would have many children, pictured as olive plants around a table (Ps. 128:3). Hence, it was a calamity if a wife were childless (1 Sam. 1:5—8). But when the wife became pregnant, it was a sign that God had removed the reproach and was blessing the home (Luke 1:25).

Significance of Male Children Each home was a kingdom of its own with the father as die head in that patriarchal system. When die father died, the oldest son became heir and ruler of the family clan. The male descendants perpetuated the family clan hence, there was a preference for male children. When a young man married, he brought his wife to his father’s house, and the children born to them permeated the family lineage. Hence, when daughters were born into a household, they worked in the home during their early years. but when they married, they left die parental home for their husband’s home. Additionally, every Hebrew mother rejoiced at the birth of a son, hoping the son would be the promised Messiah (Num. 24:17; Gen. 49:10).

Birth of a Child

Midwives attended the birth of a child (Gen. 35:17; 38:28; Exod. 1:15-19). A birth stool was also used, with the mother crouching on the birth stool or on a pair of stones in giving birth (Exod. 1:16).

As soon as a child was born, the navel cord was cut, and the midwife rubbed the new child with salt (Ezek. 16:4). Salting the newborn, not only-helped firm the skin but was also an antiseptic. Then the baby was washed, rubbed with oil, and wrapped tightly in strips of cloth, four to five inches wide, for seven days. With the arms bound tightly at the side, the child was unable to move. Hebrews believed that the child’s limbs would grow straight and strong by being wrapped tightly.’ After the clothes were removed, the child was again washed and rubbed with oil and wrapped with clothes for another seven days. This was repeated until the fortieth day. Mary similarly wrapped Jesus in “swaddling clothes” (Luke 2:7).


On the eighth day after birth, Hebrew boys were circumcised (Lev. 12:3)—usually by the father (Gen. 17:23), but sometimes by a fellow Hebrew. Naming the child coincided with circumcision (Luke 1:59). Circumcision had great significance to the Hebrew people. It was a sign that they were in a special covenant relationship with die Lord (Gen. 17:10—11). Those that were not circumcised were cut off from the people because they had broken God’s covenant (Gen. 17:14). Any male who became a Hebrew proselyte had to be circumcised to come under the umbrella of God’s covenant with Israel.

Upon die birth of a male child, my mother was considered unclean for seven days, and after the circumcision of the boy on the eighth day, the mother remained at home for thirty-three days for her purification (Lev, 12:1-4). When a female child was born, die mother was unclean for fourteen days, followed by sixty-six days of purification (Lev: 12:5). The uncleanness is related to the dying mother’s bleeding. Following the time of purification, the mother went to die Temple to offer a lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering (Lev. 12:6). Following this, the mother was considered clean.

Naming a Child

Names were important and had significant meaning since the name expressed the nature of the person. The mother frequently named the child (Gen. 29:32-30:24), but so did the father (Gen. 16:15; Exod. 2:22). Sometimes the circumstances of the birth factored into the name. When Rebekah gave birth to twins, the first son born was red and hairy, so he was named Esau, meaning “hairy” (Gen. 25:25). His descendants, were the Edomites, meaning “red.” The second son born to Rebekah grasped Esau’s heel, so he was called Jacob, actually meaning “may He [God] protect,” but the similarity of sound led to the meaning of “one who takes by die heel” or “supplants” (Gen. 25:26). As she was dying, Rachel named her son 3en-oni, meaning “son of my sorrow,” but his father Jacob called him Benjamin, which can mean “son of my right hand” (Gen. 35:18). Nabal, whose name means “fool,” fulfilled the meaning of his name when he foolishly opposed David (1 Sam. 25).

Frequently given names incorporated the name of God, particularly the name of Yahweh Jehovah]. Jehoahaz means “Jehovah has laid hold of1 (2 Kings 10:35). (They didn’t always live up to their names.) Joash means “Jehovah has given” (2 Kings 11:2); Johanan means “Jehovah is favourable” (Ezra 10:28); Jehoiachin means “Jehovah -will establish” (2 Kings 24:8). Jeremiah, the major prophet, means “Jehovah will lift up” (Jer. 1:1). Ezekiel means “God will strengthen,” suggesting die courage God would give Ezekiel in ministering to his depraved culture (Ezek. 1:3).


In ancient. Israel slavery was frequently the result of victory in warfare when people were captured and taken as slaves (Num. 31:26-28; Deut. 21:10). But there were other reasons slavery existed. A person could become a slave as a result of indebtedness to another (Exod. 21:2); this could involve entire families (2 Kings 4:1; Matt. 18:25). By working for his master, die slave would pay off his debt. In another scenario, when a thief was caught and could not make restitution (which sometimes required a fivefold repayment), he was sold as a slave (Exod. 22:3). If a slave received a wife from his master and they had children, when the slave was freed, the wife and children remained the property of the master (Exod. 21:4).

The Mosaic Law provided strict rules concerning slaves to protect them; particularly, they were protected from oppressive masters (Deut. 23:15—16). An Israelite who became enslaved to another Israelite was not to be oppressed but treated as a hired hand (Lev. 25:39-40). In the seventh year the slave was to be set free (Exod. 21:2; Deut. 15:12-18).

Slaves were sometimes so well treated chat they enjoyed serving in die master’s home. Slaves who became loyal to their masters could choose to remain with their masters. When the appointed time of their release occurred and the slave chose to remain, the master would bring the slave to die doorway of the house and pierce his ear with an awl (Exod. 21:5—6). Then the slave belonged to the master permanently. Sometimes slaves exercised considerable authority. Abraham entrusted the choice of a wife for his son Isaac to his slave'(Gen. 24).

In the Roman Empire slavery was prominent, with fully half of the estimated population of sixty million being slaves. While Israelites were benevolent to their slaves, slavery in the Roman Empire was quite different. Under Roman rule, people became slaves because- of Roman conquests and the captive slaves were frequently treated harshly. Sometimes, however, educated people became slaves, resulting in their becoming teachers or tutors of their masters’ children. While slaves had protection under the Mosaic Law, under Roman rule they had none. The master had the power of life and death over his slave. A slave that stole could be branded on his face, designating him as a thief. The master could have his slave crucified at will. Similarly, when caught, a runaway slave could be branded or put to death. The slave was at the mercy of his master.


There is a common misconception that the Old Testament allowed for polygamy. The Bible records what people did, but it did not sanction everything people did. The fact is, most people in biblical times were monogamous, not polygamous. Sometimes die wealthy and prominent took multiple wives for themselves, the classic example being Solomon who had seven-hundred wives arid three hundred concubines (1 Kings 11:3). Polygamy began with Lamech who took two wives for himself (Gen. 4:19) and continued even with men like Abraham who took Hagar as a handmaid when Sarah didn’t bear any children (Gen. 16:1—16). Jacob, the father of Israel, had two wives and two handmaids (Gen. 29-30), and King David “took more concubines and wives” (2 Sam. 5:13).

But polygamy was wrong and forbidden by Scripture. Kings were warned not to multiply their wives (Deut. 17:17). The foundation of monogamy lies in God’s original commandment binding husband and “wife together in a “one flesh” arrangement that multiple marriages or mates destroy (Gen. 2:23—24).


In biblical times the father selected the bride for his sons. Abraham sent his servant to Haran to find a wife for his son Isaac (Gen. 24:1-4). He refused to allow his son to have a Canaanite wife; rather, “he sought a bride for Isaac that was from Abraham’s original home (Gen. 24:4). The bride became a part of her husband’s family, hence, it was important that she would fit into her husband’s culture. That was a primary reason the father selected the bride for his son. When Esau married a Hittite woman, the couple made life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. 26:35).

The marriage occurred at a young age in biblical times. Eventually, die rabbis established twelve as the minimum age for marriage for girls. thirteen for boys.

Despite the parents’ arranging the marriage, love existed. Isaac loved Rebekah (Gen. 24:67); and even before they were married, Jacob loved Rachel (Gen. 29:18). Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David and “the thing was agreeable to him” (1 Sam. 18:20, NASB).


Certain restrictions in marriage existed. Hebrews were prohibited from marrying near relatives. A man was prohibited from marrying his mother, sister, granddaughter (or daughter), aunt, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, or stepdaughter, among others (Lev. 18:6-18).

Hebrews were also prohibited from marrying outside the Hebrew faith. Marriage with Canaanites and other foreigners was forbidden for the obvious reason that these pagans would lead their spouses away from devotion to the Lord (Deut. 7:3-4). Samson’s parents were upset when he requested his parents to get him a Philistine wife (Judg. 14:2-3). However, if a Gentile converted to the Hebrew faith, marriage was permissible (Ruth 1:4, 16).


In arranging a marriage, the bridegroom’s family paid a price (Heb. mohar ) for the bride (cf. Gen. 34:12; Exod. 22:16). This may have been for several reasons. Children were viewed as workers; and since the bride would leave her father’s home to live with her husband’s family, the bride’s father was losing a worker. A further reason may have been to ensure the bride would be cared for should she be widowed. The bridal price was determined by the social standing of the families. Gifts given at the wedding were distinct from the mohar. In the parable of the lost coin, the coins (Gk. drachmas ) likely represented the woman’s dowry—which was also her life’s savings (Luke 15:8).


When the marriage had been arranged, the couple entered the betrothal period, usually lasting a year and much more binding than an engagement of today. During that year the man prepared the home for his bride. The betrothal was established in one of two ways: (1) a pledge in the presence of witnesses together with a sum of money, or (2) a written statement and a ceremony with a concluding benediction such as “‘Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the world, who has sanctified us by His commandments, and enjoined us about incest, and forbidden the betrothal, but allowed us those wedded by Chuppah and betrothal. Blessed are You who sanctifies Israel by Chuppah and betrothal.” Before Israel’s Exile, the betrothal was ratified by a verbal promise (Ezek. 16:3); after the Exile the bride and groom’s parents signed a covenant binding the couple together. In New Testament times the parents of the bride and groom met, along with others as witnesses, while the groom gave the bride a gold ring or other valuable item, And to the bride, he spoke this promise: “See by this ring you are set .apart for me, according to the Law of Moses and of Israel.”

The serious nature of the betrothal is evident. If a man had sexual relations with a woman betrothed to another man, they were both subject to the death penalty (Deut. 22:23-24). Had she not been betrothed, the man would have paid fifty shekels to the woman’s father as a dowry, and she would have become his wife (Deut. 22:2S-29).


The wedding was largely a social event during which a blessing was pronounced on the bride: “May you, our sister, become thousands of ten ‘ thousands, and may your descendants possess the gate of those who hate them” (Gen. 24:60, NASB). The blessing reflected the concept of God’s blessing, namely, a large family and victory over one’s enemies. The marriage itself was secured by the formalizing of a marriage contract.

The parable of the ten virgins is rich with an explanation of the Jewish wedding (Matt. 25:1-13). The wedding ceremony began with the bridegroom bringing home the bride from her parents’ house to his parental home. The bridegroom, accompanied by his friends and amid singing and music, led a procession through the streets of the town to die bride’s home (cf. Jer. 16:9). Along the way, friends who were ready and waiting with their lamps lit would join in the procession (Matt. 25:7-10). Veiled and dressed in beautifully embroidered clothes and adorned with jewels, the bride, accompanied by her attendants joined die bridegroom for the procession to his father’s house (Ps. 45:13-15). Isaiah 61:10 describes the bridegroom decked out with a garland and the bride adorned with jewels. The bride’s beauty would be forever remembered. The bride and groom were considered king and queen for the week. Sometimes the groom even wore a gold crown.

Wedding Feast.

Once at the home the bridal couple sat under a canopy (Song of Sol. 2:4) amid the festivities of games and dancing which lasted an entire week—sometimes longer). Guests praised die newly married couple; love for the couple graced the festival. Sumptuous meals and wine-filled the home or banquet hall (John 2:1-11). Ample provision for an elaborate feast was essential; failure could bring a lawsuit (John 2:3). The bridal couple wore their wedding clothes throughout the week; guests also wore their finery—which was sometimes supplied by wealthy families (Matt. 22:12).

On die first night, when the marriage was to be consummated, the father escorted his daughter to the bridal chamber (Gen. 29:21-23; cf. Judg. 15:1). The bride’s parents retained the blood-stained bed sheet to prove their daughter’s virginity at the marriage in case the husband attempted any recourse by charging that his bride was not a virgin (Deut. 22:13-21; cf. v. 15).

Since marriages fail because of the sinfulness of human beings, the Old Testament allowed for divorce and prescribed certain procedures both for the protection of the woman and also to prevent chaos in Jewish culture (Deut. 24:1-4). When a man divorced a woman, he gave her a certificate of divorce (v. 3), which gave her a ‘ measure of lawful protection whereby die husband could not make further claims on her. Specifically, if die woman remarried and her second husband divorced her or died, the first husband was prohibited from again taking her as his wife (v. 4). The intent was to prevent divorce from becoming too easy; otherwise, divorce could become a legal way of committing adultery. A man might divorce his wife and marry another, only to conclude that he really favoured his first wife. This law would prevent him from, returning to his first wife.

A further question relates to the reason for divorce. A man could divorce his wife if he finds no favour in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her” (v. 1, NASB). What was the indecency? By New Testament times there were strongly divergent views concerning the indecency chat permitted divorce. In fact, the Pharisees sought to make it a point of contention with Jesus, inviting Him to take sides between the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai. The school of Shammai took a strict position, stating that the indecency was adultery, the only permissible reason for divorce. The school of Hillel took a liberal view, suggesting that a man could divorce his wife for virtually any cause: if she was found in public with her head uncovered, if she spoke to other men, if she burned the bread she was baking, if she was quarrelsome, if she failed to bear a child within ten years, if she was disrespectful of his parents, or if he found a more attractive woman!


In the Old Testament God promised health to the Israelites if they kept His commandments (EKOQ. 15:26). Many of the commandments in the Mosaic Law were designed 10 give the Israelites health—the commandment to rest one day of the week (Exod. 20:8-11); the commandments concerning moral cleanliness (Lev” 18) as well as the dietary laws (Lev. 11), separation from diseases like leprosy (Lev. 13-14) and many others. Sin is ultimately the cause of sickness and death because of the fall of the human race (Gen. 3:19). Ac times God judged the people with sickness because of their sin (Deut. 23:60—61). Undoubtedly, for this reason, the disciples thought the man who was blind from birth was blind because of sin (John 9:1-2). Jesus refuted their false notion.


Medicine in the Old Testament Medicine was largely unknown in the Old Testament, and people did not normally consult physicians. It was believed that obedience to God’s commandments would result in health; sickness was a sign of rebellion against God’s laws. Hence, when Asa sought the help of physicians when he suffered from diseased feet, it was considered a rebellion against God (2 Chron. 16:12).

Eventually, beliefs concerning sickness changed. The thesis of the Book of Job is that sickness is not because of sin (even though Job’s three “friends” thought it was; cf. Job 42:7-S). Isaiah the prophet is not the physician) instructed Hezekiah to apply a poultice of figs to heal the boil (2 Kings 20:7). In referring to Israel’s sin, Isaiah compared it to a sick body that needed healing (Isa. 1:6). Isaiah reflected knowledge of basic medicine by mentioning healing wounds with oil and closing (“pressed”) and cleansing the wounds, followed by bandaging. Midwifery was also common in the Old Testament (Gen. 35:16-19; Exod. 1:15-21). The use of quarantine was effective in limiting the spread of sickness to a mother and newborn child (Lev. 12:1-4). The root of the_ mandrake was thought to aid conception (Gen. 30:9-24).

Medicine in the New Testament

Many debilitating diseases are mentioned in the New Testament, Among the most common were blindness, deaf and mute, leprosy, palsy, paralysis, lameness, and many others. (More examples are recorded of Jesus healing the blind than any-other sickness.) Through contact with other nations, Israel practised medicine in New Testament times; physicians were common and numerous (Matt. 9:12; Mark 5:26: Luke 4:23; 5:31; 8:43). Luke, a travelling companion of Paul, was a physician (Col. 4:14). While the physicians practised medicine according to the Greek and Roman methods, medical ineffectiveness is apparent as the pages of tire New Testament are replete with sick people. Interestingly, concerning the woman with the haemorrhage, Mark stated that she “had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse” (Mark 5:26. NASB)—not commendable for physicians! But on the same incident, Luke merely commenced she “could not be healed by anyone” (Luke 8:43. MA53). Luke was not about to disparage his profession!


While the concept of life after death is not as clear in the Old Testament as in the New, it is wrong to say that Old Testament people did not believe in life after death or that the Old Testament does not teach eternal life. The recurring phrase “he was garnered co his people” (Gen. 25:8) suggests both lives after death and reunion with loved ones (cf. Gen. 35:29; 49:29, 33). However, the Old Testament does not provide a detailed picture of life after death and heaven as does the New Testament.

The harsh reality of death was symbolized by loud wailing and lamentation. When all the firstborns of Egypt died, “there was a great cry in Egypt” (Exod. 12:30, NASB). Wailing notified others that a death had occurred and reflected their great grief at the death of a loved one. Micah described the lament as that of a jackal and the mourning as that of an ostrich (Mic. 1:8).

The sorrow and grief over the loss of a loved one were dramatic and expressive. Walking and weeping, King David lamented, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom., my son, my son!” (2 Sam. 18:33, NAS3). David’s grief is evident in the repetition of “Absalom, my son.” In this ancient culture professional mourners were hired to lament the deceased and to extol his greatness. Jeremiah called for the “mourning women” and “‘wailing women” to incite people to mourn (Jer. 9:17-18, MASS). These women would follow the funeral bier, shrieking their lament.

There were other symbols of mourning. Tearing one’s clothes and putting on a sackcloth were also signs of mourning (Gen. 37:34-35). The death of Ezekiel’s wife served as an illustration of the death of the nation; but because it portrayed the nation’s sin, Ezekiel was instructed not to mourn his wife’s death nor to follow the normal mourning procedures (Ezek. 24:16-17). From this it is evident chat in mourning a Hebrew would uncover his head or even shave his head and throw dust on it (josh. 7:6; 1 Sam. 4:12); he would go barefoot (2 Sam. 15:30; Isa. 20:2) and cover the lower pan of his face (Lev. 13:45; 2 Sam. 15:30; Jer. 14:3). Hebrews would also show their sympathy to the sorrowing by bringing food to the surviving (Ezek. 24:17; Jer. 16:7; Hos. 9:4). Mourners also beat their breasts to express their grief (Luke 23:48).

Because of the vague understanding concerning the afterlife in the Old Testament, the continuance of the family name was important. Life continued in the family clan. God promised Abraham many descendants who would live on in the land God had given the patriarch (Gen. 13:16; 15:18).

Even the Old Testament, however, teaches continuance after death. Daniel promised, “‘Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting, life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2, NASB).

Mourning involved not only wailing but also music—which sometimes led to disorder (Matt. ‘3:23). In New Testament times it was prescribed chat even the poorest families should provide at least one wailing woman and two flute players. It resulted in a showy, noisy event, filled with commotion (cf. Matt. 9:23; Mark 5:38).


Failure to bury a corpse properly by leaving it lying above ground was a great insult and misfortune, suggesting the deceased would not find rest (cf. Jer. 16:6).

Because of the hot climate of the Middle East, which caused the bodies to decompose quickly, burial normally took place within twenty-four hours of the death (Deut. 21:23).

The Hebrews cared for the body in death. Retaining the body in death was symbolic of the hope of resurrection. Hence, Joseph instructed his brothers to carry his bones from Egypt back to the land of Israel (Gen. 50:25). After he died, they cared for Joseph’s body by embalming it and placing it in a coffin (Gen. 50:26). When King Saul was slain and his body abused, the people’ of Jabesh Gilead came and reverently took his body and buried it (1 Sam. 31:13). it was considered adding insult to injury to defile the body in death. Similarly, when Jesus’ disciples heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded, they took the body and buried it (Matt. 14:12). The ultimate example of concern for a body in death is seen in the believers’ care for Jesus’ body. Joseph carefully took and wrapped the body in clean clothes and laid it in a comb (Matt. 27:59—60); Nicodemus came to embalm the body” (John 19:39-40) as did the women (Mark 16:1).

Several steps were taken in preparing the body for burial. The body was washed (Acts 9:37), anointed with spices and aromatic oils and wrapped loosely in a linen cloth (Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1; John 19:39). Then the body was wrapped in a circular fashion with strips of bandages, the arms and legs wrapped separately (John 11:44; 19:40). Spices, which were dry, were sprinkled between the linen cloths. The wrapped body was then carried to its burial place on a wooden stretcher, with family and friends following (Luke 7:12; Amos 6:10).

Poorer people buried their dead (Gen. 35:8; 2 Kings 23:6). Villages had graveyards outside the town limits; for this reason, Jesus met the villagers of Nain leaving the town (Luke 7:11-12). Wealthier Jews did not bury their dead but placed them in rock chambers or in family sepulchres or caves Judge. 8:32). Some of these rock chambers can be seen today in Israel. The garden tomb where Jesus may have been buried can be visited today, upon entering the cave, visitors first see a small mourners’ room. Attached to the mourners’ room is a burial room with two ledges of stone opposite each other. The bodies were placed on these stone ledges. In Bethany, visitors to Israel may also see the traditional burial chamber of Lazarus.

When the bodies had decomposed, the bones were removed and placed in stone jars or coffers called ossuaries. These ossuaries could house the bones of several people.


Since Jacob and his family entered Egypt as a family clan but emerged 430 years later as a nation of more than two million, it is interesting to discover the educational standards of the Egyptians. Acts 7:22 says, “Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians” (NASB). Unquestionably, Moses had the finest education available on that day since he was reared in the royal household (Exod. 2:10). Formal Egyptian education began in the third millennium B.C. with vocational training leading to the student’s becoming a priest, a soldier, an engineer, or another vocation.

Since Egyptian life revolved around their religion, Egyptian education began in the temple. Their education emphasized learning skilful writing and hieroglyphics; and to accomplish this, students laboriously copied formal documents and studied writing for their lessons. The Egyptians used wise sayings which die students also copied.

Additionally, the Egyptians studied music and dancing (in the temple), geometry, astronomy, chemistry, arithmetic, architecture, and other disciplines. Egyptians also studied foreign languages such as Canaanite—which Moses may have learned in Egypt. As a prince, Moses was also personally tutored by a court official. In that capacity, he would also have learned archery and horseback riding.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine what impact Egyptian education had on the Israelites—perhaps not too much since the Israelites separated themselves from the Egyptians.


In their early years, children were taught by their mothers. King Lemuel was taught by his mother (Prov. 31:IV, Timothy was taught the Old Testament Scriptures by both his mother and his grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). Beginning as early as five and perhaps even three years of age, boys were instructed by their fathers until the age of twelve. Mothers taught their daughters domestic duties which included preparing food according to the dietary laws. The mother ore-pared the daughter to be a good wife and mother. Fathers, in addition to providing religious instruction in the home, taught their sons a trade (frequently agriculture). In wealthy families, tutors were hired to instruct the children. (2 Kings 10:1).

At age twelve, the son had completed his instruction in the Law. He became a “son of the covenant.” In a ritual the father fastened the phylacteries on the arm and forehead of his son, indicating the son’s devotion to the Law in mind and heart (Deut. 6:8).

In Hebrew homes, this instruction centred around the Mosaic Law. The primary purpose of education in a Hebrew home was to know the Lord and His Law and to fear and reverence His great name (Deut. 6:7; Prov. 1:7). Hebrew education was not interested in culture and academics but in training in holiness (Lev. 19:2).

The format of teaching was a question-and-answer method (Josh. 4:21-22). This method was designed to promote inquisitive minds concerning God’s mighty acts, with the father detailing God’s great deliverance from Egypt (Deut. 6:20-25). When children saw die Feast of Passover observed, they questioned the meaning of the ritual. This prompted an explanation of God’s mighty power in rescuing the Hebrews from bondage in Egypt (Exod. 12:26;icf. 10:2; 13:14-15). When God brought the Israelites safely through the flooded Jordan and placed the memorial stones in commemoration of the miraculous event, the children questioned the meaning of the memorial stones, prompting an explanation (Josh. 4:6-7).

The Lord instructed the Israelites on how they were to teach their children. They were to teach about God’s mighty acts of deliverance to their children and grandchildren (Deut. 4:9-10); they were to teach the Law with its commandments to the children. Moreover, it was to be continuous, consistent teaching, in the morning and in the evening, formally and informally (Deut. 6:7: 11:19). The object of the instruction was to recognize the mighty acts of God, creating a reverence and fear of God that would result in a child’s desire to obey God’s law implicitly (Deut. 32:46; Prov. 1:7).


As a Place of Instruction

While there is some debate concerning the time the synagogue was founded, it was likely during the Babylonian Exile (605-536 3.C.). Following the destruction of the Temple in 586 B.C., a need arose concerning Israel’s worship system. The synagogue became the answer. Prayer became the substitute for the sacrificial offerings which were no longer possible.

The synagogue then principally became a place of instruction in the Scriptures and prayer. Alfred Edersheim indicates that Hebrew children began instruction in a school in their fifth or sixth year in schoolhouses or in synagogues. The children and teacher either stood; or, as became common in adult teaching later, the children sat on the ground in a semicircle, facing the teacher.

Although most instruction was done in the home, when schools and synagogues developed, children attended formal classes. From the age of five until ten, the Bible was exclusively the children’s textbook; from ages ten to fifteen, they studied the Mishnah, the traditions that developed concerning the interpretation of the Law. After the age of fifteen, the students studied in higher academies of the rabbis.

Children began their study with the Book of Leviticus, followed by a study of the rest of the Pentateuch. From there the children studied the Prophets and finally the Hagiosrapha—the writings which also included the Psalms and Proverbs. School hours were purposefully fixed so the student would not be overworked; in summer hours were shortened.

Sections of the Old Testament were copied, specifically for children. These included the history of Creation to the Flood and Leviticus 1-9 and Numbers 1-10:35. Jesus’ childhood was set in this environment.

As a Place of Worship

Jews built synagogues in towns throughout the land of Israel and throughout the Mediterranean region as places of worship. Since the synagogue was to be the prominent building; in town, it was usually built on the highest point in the town or at the main intersection, frequently with the front doors facing Jerusalem.

In the synagogue was a chest which was called die “ark” (not the ark of the covenant that was undoubtedly destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.) in which the Scripture scrolls were kept. Nearby was a raised platform on which the reader and the prayer leader stood. One or two rows of stone benches ran along with two or three of the synagogue walls. Once these were occupied, the remaining people sat on wooden chairs or on mats in the centre of the synagogue. The “best seats,” where the scribes and Pharisees sat, were prominently located in front of the platform facing the congregation (Matt. 23:6; Mark 12:39; Luke 11:43; 20:46). A lone seat, “Moses’ seat,” was occupied by a distinguished scholar (Matt. 23:2).

A local synagogue was supervised by eiders with a body of at least ten men required to form a congregation. A layman served as “ruler of the synagogue” (Luke 8:41; Acts 18:3. 17). The ruler had oversight of the synagogue in general, maintained order during the service, and appointed the readers. An attendant brought the scrolls to the reader and later replaced them (cf. Luke 4:17. 20). He would also blow the trumpet three times at sunset on Friday evening announcing; the beginning; of the Sabbath; and he was also responsible for flogging criminals who had been condemned (Matt. 10:17; 23:34; Acts 5:40).

A synagogue service followed this pattern:

1. An invitation, to prayer in which the leader exclaimed, ^Bless the Lord who is to be blessed.” The congregation responded, “Blessed be the Lord who is to be blessed forever.” The recitation of the Shema followed (Deut. 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Num. 15:37-41).

2. The prayers followed. One individual who had been chosen prayed. The congregation responded with the word Amen.

3. A reading from the Mosaic Law followed. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers,

and Deuteronomy were divided into 154 parts so the Pentateuch was read in three

and one-half years. At least seven readers took part in each service, each reading no

fewer than three verses. Following the reading of a verse, an interpreter would

give the translation in Aramaic for those who did not know Hebrew.

4. A reading from the prophets followed (Luke 4:16—21), which was also translated into Aramaic. (The Psalms were apparently not read during the synagogue service.)

5. When a capable person was available, he was invited to expound the passage to the congregation (Luke 4:21). If a stranger were present, he was invited to give an exhortation (Acts 13:15).

6. The service concluded with a priest pronouncing the Aaronic benediction of Numbers 6:24-26. The congregation responded, “Amen.”

The above service was held on the Sabbath (Saturday) morning. Other services were held daily in larger towns, while the regular Monday and Thursday services were abbreviated from the above.

The synagogue greatly impacted the Jewish community both in worship and in education, it is also apparent that Christians adapted their form of worship largely from the Jewish synagogue.


Meaning and Origin

The name Pharisees mean “separated” and reflects the Pharisees’ dunking; they considered themselves “the separated ones,” the holy community of Israel. They identified with the common people and held sway over the masses. (Yet the Pharisees despised the Amhaarets, the “common people” who did not know or keep the Law. The Pharisees considered them profane.) To be a Pharisee was to hold to a certain form of interpretation, but that did not mean the Pharisees were educated in the scribal tradition. ‘While scribes were usually Pharisaic in belief, not all Pharisees were scribes; however, the influential leaders in die Pharisaic communities were scribes.

The Pharisees were a closed community of about six thousand. (The population of Jerusalem was about twenty-five thousand at this time; there were about eighteen thousand priests and Levites, and about four thousand Essenes in the land.) One could become a Pharisee only through observation of strict rules, and that only after a month or even a year of probation during which faithfulness to Pharisaism had to be demonstrated. Yet a large number of laymen joined the Pharisaic community, pledging to keep die primary Pharisaic laws of tithing_ and purity. As peasants, merchants, and artisans, these laymen were unlearned.

The new Pharisee was then obligated to keep the Pharisaic laws of purity and tithes (Matt. 15:1-2; 23:25-26; 23:23; Mark 7:1-4; Luke 11:39-42; 18:12). These two points were important to the Pharisees.

Beliefs and Teachings

The Law. The Pharisees were legalistic, having codified the Mosaic Law into 365 prohibitions and 248 positive commands. Adherents to Pharisaism were bound to keep these 613 commandments. Through their elaborate system of laws, the Pharisees placed heavy burdens on the people (Matt. 23:4).

Laws of Purity and Tithing. This was the essence of Pharisaism. They developed elaborate laws on purity. For example, they instructed the way hands were to be washed, how they were to be held if they were dirty, how they were to be rubbed, and finally, if the water did not extend to the wrist, the hands were not considered washed!

In tithing, Pharisees were meticulous—as well as ostentatious. They tithed the tiniest seeds and drew die condemnation of Jesus because they omitted weightier matters (Matt. 23:23). But they loved the public recognition when they paid their times, in the Court of Women in the Temple were thirteen trumpet-shaped offering receptacles mat descended to a specifically designated offering chest. When coins were deposited, a trumpet-like noise sounded as the coin descended through the trumpet-shaped cone to the chest. Jesus denounced this public display of giving (Matt. 6:1-2).

Prayer, Pharisees developed elaborate interpretations and teachings, including fixed times for prayer. A basic trait of the Pharisee was to recite the Shema in the morning and in the evening” Followed by reciting the “Eighteen Benedictions.” They also loved to pray in public places—at street comers or at the entrance of the synagogue to be seen as pious people (Matt. -6:5; Luke 18:9-14).


Pharisees prescribed Monday and Thursday as days of fasting; and to ensure that people observed them fasting, the Pharisees blackened their faces, put ashes on their heads, wore old clothes, and refused to wash or anoint themselves, or trim their beards (Matt. 6:16).

Eternal Life and Punishment. Pharisees believed in life after death. They taught “that all souls are incorruptible; but that the souls of good men are only removed into their bodies,—but that the souls of bad men as subject to eternal punishment” (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 2.8.14). They further taught “that under the earth mere will be rewards-or punishments, according to as they have lived virtuously or viciously in this ‘Life; and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to revive and live again” (Josephus, Antiquities, 18.1.3). They based this belief on Daniel 12:1-2.

The Pharisees developed elaborate details concerning the resurrection; they speculated, for example, about the clothes in which one would rise. Some taught they would rise in precisely the same clothes in which they were buried; another taught that as a grain of wheat was buried naked but rose clothed, so would people. But for me pious, a special resurrection was prepared. The Pharisees taught there were underground cavities in which the bodies of the righteous would roll to Israel and rise in Israel in the resurrection!

Sadducees denied life after death and eternal rewards and punishment in Ha des'(Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 2.8.14). Sadducees believed “that souls die with the bodies” (Josephus Antiquities of the Jews, 18.1.4).

Angels. Pharisees also believed in angels and spirits, developing elaborate teachings by structuring angels into hierarchies as well as ‘personalizing them. Apparently, this teaching’ had Babylonian and Persian origins-. The Sadducees objected to this Pharisaic teaching.

The sovereignty of God and Human Freedom. Pharisees “ascribe all to fate (or providence) and to God, and yet allow, that to act what is right, or the contrary, is principally in the power of men, although fate does co-operate in every action” (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 2.8.14). Pharisees acknowledged God’s sovereignty, but “they do not take away die freedom- from men of acting as they think fit” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.1.3). As a Pharisee, Josephus attempted to cast them in a favourable light; however, Pharisees actually carried the doctrine of God’s sovereignty to fatalism. Contrarily, Sadducees said “that to act what is good, or what is evil, is at men’s own choice” (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 2.8.14).



During New Testament times a new upper class arose—the scribes. While the present-day term suggests a secretary, the ancient scribe was far from being a secretary. The scribe was an interpreter of Mosaic Law, rendering decisions and judging legal cases. In New Testament times he was in authority and social position equivalent to the Old Testament prophet, particularly because he had the “secret teachings of God.”

Background and Class

The origin of the scribes dates back to the time of Ezra who initiated the study and instruction of the law (Neh. 8-10). In the next centuries, the scribes developed die Law, creating interpretations and legally binding statements where the Old Testament was silent. Many of the priestly aristocracies were scribes, as well as numerous ordinary priests. But people from different classes of society also became scribes, including some merchants and artisans, including a carpenter and a tentmaker. The famous Hillel was a scribe. Among the scribes were those of pure Israelite family descent such as Paul (Rom. 11:1; Phil. 3:5), but there were also scribes who descended from proselytes of pagan origin.

Training and Position

Unlike the Pharisees who included any who held to Pharisaic beliefs but did not necessarily have formal training, the scribes committed to intensive training. No one became a scribe without this rigorous training, which lasted several years. Training began early in life; Josephus himself became an interpreter of the Law at age fourteen. When the student had mastered the traditional studies and was able to interpret questions about the Law, he was considered a “non-ordained scholar.” Later—some say at age forty—he was ordained and received into the elite society of the scribes as a fully “ordained scholar.” From that point die scribe made his own decisions; he could judge criminal cases and civil cases. He could be called by die tide “Rabbi” (Matt. 23:7-8).

The scribes developed the traditions from the To rah (the first five books of the Old Testament), and these teachings themselves came to have authority equivalent to the Old Testament Scriptures—and even above the Scriptures. With their knowledge and authority, the scribes had the power to “bind or loose” in judgment (cf.Matt. 16:19; 18:18). As such, they held influential positions in government and education. The scribes served in a judicial capacity as both legislators and judges.

Knowledge and Authority

The scribes became the guardians of the secret knowledge of God. They had restrictions that permitted the discussion of the story of Creation and deep secrets of God (Ezek. 1, 10) only among two scribes—and that in hushed tones, frequently with their heads covered in reverence. Prophetic truth was also denied to the majority of people. The scribes themselves developed great doctrinal treatises that were considered divinely inspired but were withheld from most people.

They also withheld teachings from the people so that the teachings would not be used incorrectly. The scribes believed that since these esoteric teachings were the “secret of God” they could only be communicated orally from teacher to pupil; it was forbidden to write down these teachings. (In the second century, however, these teachings were written down, making them accessible to all people.) For this reason, Jews from all over the world came to sit at the feet of the scribes and receive their teachings. And for this reason, also, the scribes were revered like the Old Testament prophets. In this capacity, they served as jurists who developed the Law, teachers of the Law, and judges of the Law.



Preparing the Soil

Because of the arid climate, the soil became hard after the long, hot summer. For this reason, the farmer had to wait for the “early” rains which came in October and November to soften the soil (Ps. 65:10; Jer. 14:4).

The plough consisted of two beams, fashioned as a T, with part of the crosspiece serving as the handle for the farmer and die other end functioning as a plough. The long piece extended between two oxen or donkeys and was attached to a yoke which was fastened to the necks of the animals.’ Originally the plough was simply a wooden stake, but later the Philistines developed the use of copper which gave them a military advantage over the Hebrews (cf. 1 Sam. 13:19—22). After the Davidic period, Hebrews also had access to iron.

Pairs of oxen or donkeys were used to plough, but Mosaic Law forbade using two different kinds of animals (Deut. 22:10). With a goad, an Ion? stick with a sharp point, die farmer prodded the oxen along. The goad also became a formidable weapon when Shamgar the judge killed six hundred Philistines with it Judg. 3:31).

Because of the hardness of the solicit was difficult for the farmer to penetrate the soil for more. then several inches. For that reason the farmer had to bear down on the plough with his weight to plough a sufficiently deep furrow, if he looked back, he would slacken die plough, and it would not plough a sufficiently deep furrow (Luke 9:62).

Sawing the Seed

Wheat and barley were two major crops grown in Israel (Deut. 8:8; Ruth 2:23; 2 Sam. 17:28). Wheat was considered a more valuable crop and was grown on fertile lands such as the Jezreel Valley, the Jordan Valley, and the Philistine Plain (Ps. 81:16). Barley was considered a poor person’s crop and was grown on poorer soil. The dream about the barley loaf, which Gideon heard, spoke of poverty (Judg. 13).

Sowing and ploughing were generally undertaken together. The seed was brought to the held in a large sack on the back of a donkey. The farmer carried a sack of grain which he refilled from the sack on the donkey. He would scatter the seed with his hand while another man followed him with the plough, burying the seeds to prevent the birds from snatching up the seeds (Matt. 13:4).

It was important that the seed be buried in rich soil that had depth for it to grow and mature. Footpaths sometimes ran through the farmer’s held; when die seed landed on the path, it likely would not germinate because either the birds would eat it or the hardness of the soil would prevent germination (Matt. 13:4). Rocky soil was similarly hazardous for germination (Matt. 13:5). In unclean fields, inhabited by tares which looked like wheat, the germinated plants were indistinguishable at the beginning (cf. Matt. 13:24-30).


The standing stalks were cut just below the heads of the gram with a handheld sickle (Jer. 50:16). Originally die sickle was made of wood or even the jawbone of an animal. Later crude metal sickles were used. The grain was then bound in sheaves, loaded on the back of a donkey, and taken to the hilltop for threshing. The standing stalks became grazing food for sheep. The comers of the fields were not harvested so poor people, who followed the harvesters, might gather die standing grain for themselves (Lev. 23:22; Ruth 2:2-3).


Threshing was done in several ways. A small amount of grain was directed by beating the grain with a curved stick (Ruth 2:17). In fear-of die Midianites, Gideon was using this method to harvest wheat in a winepress Judg. 6:11)1 Larger amount of grain was threshed on a flat surface on a hilltop, where die wind could readily blow die chaff away. The grain was placed on the elevated floor; oxen pulled a can be fastened to two wooden runners studded with pieces of metal or stone across the grain causing it to separate from the chaff. The choked straw became fodder for the cattle. Sometimes the cattle walked over grain, separating it from the chaff. Cattle crushing the grain illustrates a brutal conqueror crushing his enemies (Dan. 7:23).


Since a breeze would usually blow in the evening, that was the time die grain was winnowed (Ruth 3:2). The grain and chaff—now separated by the threshing—were gathered into a large, pile. With a winnowing fork, a five-pronged wooden fork, the farmer threw the grain and chaff into the air against the wind. The heavier grain fell to the ground while dying straw settled nearby and die lighter chaff was driven farther away by the wind. The straw later became food for the cattle, while the chaff was burned. 1Kings 1:34; Ps. 23:5; Luke 7:46). To anoint the feet of a guest was to bestow honour on the guest (Luke 7:46; John 12:3). Corpses were also anointed (Mark 16:1; Luke 23:56; John 19:39). Olives were used for medicinal purposes (Isa. 1:6; Mark 6:13; James 5:14). Olive oil was also used as fuel for lamps (Exod. 25:6; Matt. 25:3—4). Olive oil was even used as a laxative. The cherubim in the inner sanctuary in Solomon’s Temple were carved from olive wood (1 Kings 6:23). The doors entering the sanctuary were olive wood, with ornately carved cherubim, palm trees, and flowers (1 Kings 6:32).

Prophets (1 Kings 19:16), priests (Exod. 30:30; Lev. 8:12), and longs (1 Sam. 10:1; 16:13; 1 Kings 1:34; 19:15-16) were all anointed with olive oil, inducting them into their God-ordained offices. It is evident that olive oil was very valuable for many reasons.

Symbolic Meaning

The olive is frequently used to denote the peaceful conditions in the land; conversely, its absence infers the judgment of God upon the land (Amos 4:9; Mic. 6:15). The olive plant pictured a fruitful family, numerous children like olive plants around the table (Ps. 128:3-4). In contrast, to the wicked, the righteous man is pictured as a fruitful olive tree in the house of God (Ps. 52:8). When Israel was about to enter the Promised Land, the land was described as “a land of olive oil,” suggesting the fruitful productivity of the land (Deut. 8:8).



Fig trees are common in Israel, growing to a height of thirty feet (Num. 13:23; Deut. 8:S). They were valuable for their fruit. The early figs could be eaten a month before the main crop. The normal crop ripened in August and September, while the winter figs stayed on the trees until late fall.

The fruit of a fig tree appeared before the leaves; hence, when there were leaves on a fig tree, it was an indication there was fruit. It would have had some old figs from the previous year, but it would also have had new figs, and though unripe, they were often eaten by hungry travellers. Both the Mishnah and the Talmud suggest the unripe figs were eaten as soon as they assumed a reddish colour. When Christ saw that the fig tree had leaves but no fruit, He cursed it, symbolizing impending judgment on the nation Israel (Matt. 21:18-21). The tree was making an empty profession; by its leaves, it claimed to have fruit, but it had none.

The fig tree also at times symbolized Israel. When Christ came as the nation’s Messiah, the nation made an empty profession, symbolized by the fig tree (Matt. 21:18-21). The fig tree does not always represent Israel In Matthew 24:32, Christ used a simple illustration. When the fig tree puts out leaves (April), summer is near. Similarly, when the signs of the tribulation take place, Christ’s coming is near (Matt. 24:32-33). To suggest the fig tree represents Israel in this parable has led to many false interpretations.


Figs were commonly eaten fresh, but they were also dried on the rooftops, men were eaten throughout the year. Figs were also used to make cakes (1 Sam.’25:18; 30:12; 1 Chron. 12:40). Additionally, figs were used medically; when Hezekiah was sick, he was given a poultice by the shepherd to watch for straying sheep and to restore them to the fold. Humanity is frequently pictured as sinful, straying sheep (Isa. 53:6) with the Lord, the true Shepherd, restoring the sheep (Ps. 23:3; Luke 15:6).

Protecting in the Sheepfold. In the evening the shepherd brought the sheep into the sheepfold, which was a square, stone enclosure. Sometimes the shepherd quickly made a temporary sheepfold out of thorn bushes. A cave also served as a sheepfold, with a partial stone wall built across the entrance.

Guiding Them to Pasture. The shepherd walked ahead of the sheep, leading them, to pasture (cf. John 10:4). The sheep followed the shepherd because they recognized his voice. Even when several flocks of sheep became, intermingled when the shepherd called his sheep and began walking, his sheep followed him; they recognized his voice (John 10:4, 27). In larger flocks dogs would follow the sheep, bringing the straying sheep back to die fold (Job 30:1).


In New Testament times there were numerous cities encircling die Sea of Galilee, prospering from the fishing industry. The Israelites did not major in deep-sea fishing in the Mediterranean, nor did they fish in the Dead Sea, since it contains no fish apart from the mouth where the Jordan empties into the Dead Sea. Fishing was done in a variety of ways.

Line and Hook

Isaiah 19:8, NASB, mentions those who “cast a line into the Nile.” Job rhetorically asked, “Can you draw out Leviathan [a crocodile] with a fishhook?” (41:1, MA5B)—implying that people were fishing with hooks in the Nile River. In die New Testament die fishhook is mentioned only once when used literally. To show that He paid taxes, Jesus instructed Peter to “throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up” (Matt. 17:27, NASB). The fish would have the needed coin in its mouth—sufficient to pay Jesus’ and Peter’s tax. This may have been the popularly called “St. Peter’s fish,” which was large enough to have a coin in its mouth.


The job mentioned two different words for spearfishing: “harpoons” and “fishing spears” (Job 41:7). Although Job mentioned the spear in men’s hunting the crocodile, spearfishing was also common for fishing in shallow water.

Hand Net

The hand net was a circular net with weights on the outside and lines from the outside to an opening in the middle. As the fisherman threw the net flat on the lake, the weights drew the net to the bottom., drawing in me lines from the circumference and trapping the fish inside the net. Peter and Andrew were casting hand nets when Jesus called them (Matt. 4:18).

Drag Net

The dragnet was similar to the modern seine net; it was about eight feet wide and several hundred feet long. It was suspended vertically in the water with weights at one end, drawing the net into the water, and corks at the other end floatation. The net was launched from two boats with the boats forming a circle and drawing die net to shore (Luke 5:4). Numerous fish of all kinds were caught in the net. After use, die nets were washed (Luke 5:2) and mended (Matt. 4:21, NASB).

In Matthew 13:47-50, Jesus used dragnet fishing to illustrate the end of the age.


From the beginning of recorded history, men were hunters. Nimrod was “a mighty hunter before the LORD” (Gem 10:9). Ishmael became an “archer” (Gen. 21:20). The Hebrew text uses two words, first a general word and then a more specific word, “an archer, a bowsman” to describe Ishmael’s prowess as a hunter in the desert. Of Esau the text is more descriptive, identifying Jacob’s brother as a hunter (Gen. 27:3—4). In addition to deer, the gazelle was also hunted for food(Deut. 12:15).

Hunting was a prominent method of providing food for the home. Men not only hunted large animals, like deer but also birds. Quail were plentiful in the desert, providing food for the Israelites as they journeyed to the Promised Land (Exod. 16:13; Num. 11:31-32). Birds were killed by a trap or net or with a bow and arrow.

Hunting was essential not only for food but also to protect the sheep from predatory animals such as lions, leopards, bears, wolves, and hyenas. As a shepherd, David protected the flock from lions and bears (1 Sam. 17:34—36). Hunting was also necessary for self-protection (1 Kings 13:26-28; Amos 5:19).

In pursuing ferocious animals, pits were used. The hunters dug a pit in the ground and covered it with branches and leaves. At times the animal was even “coaxed” toward the pit. Once the animal fell into the pit, it was trapped (cf. Ezek. 19:3-4). Antelope were sometimes captured with a net (Isa. 51:20). Also commonly used in hunting were the bow and arrow as well as slingshots and javelins (Job 41:28-29). Snares were used in capturing birds (Ps. 124:7).

Mosaic Law made provision for hunting as a means of obtaining food (Lev. 17:13), but it also restricted what could be eaten (Lev. 11).


Vineyards were frequently planted on a hill since it wasn’t useful for other forms of agriculture (Ps. 80:8-10; Jer. 31:5)., but vineyards were also planted on the plain. On hillsides, it was necessary to terrace the vineyard. Stones were removed from the land to make the vine more productive. A protective wall was built around the vineyard, and a tower was built in the middle of the vineyard for watchmen to shard the vineyard, against marauding animals and thieves (Song of Sol. 2:15Tjer. 49:9). Foxes were notorious for ruining vineyards in blossom (Song of Sol. 2:15). The watchman lived in a hut in the vineyard during the growing season to protect the crop (Isa. 1:8). A winepress was built in the vineyard in anticipation of the grape harvest (Isa. 5:1-2; Matt. 21:33ff.).

To produce a better harvest grade, the landowner placed stones under the vine, raising it off the ground. (Note: The word translated “take away” in John 15:2, NASB, is the Greek verb area, which may also be translated as “raise up” which seems to be the better translation.) Travellers to Israel will see the vineyards with stones propped under the vines, lifting them four to six inches off the ground.

Pruning was also essential for producing stronger vines and therefore better crops John 15:2). By itself, the vine was unproductive,, but through pruning, fruitless branches would be removed to enhance the harvest of grapes (Isa. 18:5).

The winepress was used for making wine from grapes. Cut out of the rock, the winepress had two levels, an upper and a lower level. Bunches of grapes were placed into the upper-level vat where the workers would tread barefoot on the grapes amid joyful singing (Amos 9:13). The grape harvest, beginning in September, was always a time of joyful celebration (Judg. 9:27).’ When the grapes were crushed, the juice would run from the upper vat to a lower vat where the juice would gather. Some grape juice was made into a syrup frequently called ”honey” in the Bible.

Since the water was often impure, wine was an important beverage. This was the reason for Paul’s instruction to Timothy (1 Tim. 5:23). The wine was a mixture of several pans of water to one part of wine; drinking wine at full strength was considered barbarian. The wine was sometimes used as a disinfectant to clean wounds (Luke 10:34). The wine was also mixed with gall to relieve pain (Matt. 27:34).

Although wine was stored in clay, jars, it was also frequently stored in animal skins. When new wine was poured into a wineskin, the skin would stretch with the fermentation; when- a stretched wineskin was again used to hold new wine, the wineskin would burst because its elasticity was gone (Matt. 9:17).

Fresh grapes were an important food, eaten along with bread (Deut. 23:24). To produce raisins, grapes were also dried in a corner of the vineyard. They were turned over and sprinkled with olive oil to keep them moist.


Physicians are not frequently mentioned in the Bible. In the New Testament, they largely go unnoticed apart from Luke “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14)^ See expanded discussion under “Medicine.”

TANNING, DYEING, AND WEAVING Goatskins were valuable in providing liquid containers. Goats were skinned, with die leg and tail openings sewn up, while the neck opening became the mouth of the “bottle.” Sheepskins and goatskins (the latter was considered superior) were also used for sandals.

Dyeing was a family business, and the formulas were kept secret. The effectiveness of dyeing; was related to the material that was dyed. Wool, the easiest to dye, was dyed in various colours, including white, yellow, and brown. Cotton was also easy to dye; but linen, which was used in die temple, was more difficult (2 Chron. 2:7; cf. Exod. 35:6). Silk and leather were also dyed.

Ancients made a brilliant crimson dye from insects (Isa. 1:18). A more common dye was extracted from the madder plant. The rind of a pomegranate resulted in an indigo dye. The purple dye, extracted from the- molluscs Pur-pura and Murex, symbolized wealth and status (cf. Luke 16:19). Lydia must have been a wealthy businesswoman since she was a ”seller of purple fabrics” (Acts 16:14). Yellow was extracted from the safflower.

Weaving was an important and ancient craft. As early as’ 2000 B.C., weaving was known in Egypt. Canaanites employed this craft even before the Hebrews entered Canaan. Weaving became valuable for the Hebrews both concerning their personal clothing needs as well as for decorating the tabernacle (Exod. 26) and for priests’ clothing (Exod. 28:39).

At first, the horizontal loom was used; Later the upright loom, pegged in the ground, was deemed more useful. Weaving involved the interlacing of threads, the warp, with, other threads, called the weft. The warp threads were stretched taut on the loom with die weft threads threading over and under the warp threads. Wool, cotton, goat hair, and silk were all used in weaving. Through weaving, families produced their own clothing.


Since it was considered improper for a rabbi or scribe to receive remuneration for teaching, it was incumbent on a scribe to learn a trade—especially so since priests in Jesus’ day served in the Temple for only two weeks in the year. Apart from that, they were gainfully engaged in a trade or business.

Paul was trained in the trade of tent-making (Acts 18:1-3). Actually, the word translated tent making-1 (Gk. skenopoios) may mean “tent-maker” or “leather worker.” Leather materials were in demand for a variety of uses: they were used by people travelling such as soldiers, ship passengers, and visitors to the Isthmian Games. Leather was also used for awnings, walkway coverings, a shield from the sun in homes and public buildings, and for coats, flasks, and tents.

Originally tents were made from goatskins; later they were made from goat hair. The leather was produced by skinning the animal, removing [the hair, scraping and applying lime, soaking the skin in water and rubbing with the dog’s dung. The odour was intensely offensive, and the leatherworker had to work outdoors because of it.


Carpentry was prominent in both Egypt and Israel. The Egyptians built many products out of wood: tables, chairs, doors, and coffins. They also built chariots and carriages for travel on land and ships for navigating- on water. Hebrews, too, built many products of wood. Although Hebrew skill in woodworking was limited at the beginning of their history, they received help in construction when David built Jerusalem (1 Chron. 14:1). Later, Israelites developed greater ability in construction so chat Nebuchadnezzar took the skilled Hebrew workers to exile in Babylon.

Carpentry was a trade that demanded both physical strength and skill. A carpenter built everything from houses to smaller objects including ploughs, yokes, wooden locks, chairs, doors, roofs, windows, stools, chests, and latticework in windows. In house building, the carpenter felled trees and shaped them to produce the beams for the roof of the house—an arduous task!

Isaiah mentioned four tools of the carpenter: measuring line, marking tool (primitive pencil), plane (for scraping), and an instrument for making a circle (Isa. 44:13). The carpenter had, an axe to cut trees for construction and shape the wood for building (Isa. 10:15, 34). The axe had an iron head, fastened by thongs to a wooden handle and had a tendency to slip off (Deut 19:5; 2 Kings 6:5). Nails were used (Jer. 10:4) as well as a saw (Isa. 10:15). Some axes ‘ were shaped like a chisel (Jer. 10:3).


Since Israel is a land of rocks and stones, it was natural that homes would be built of stone. Masons and stoneworkers were evident early in, Israel’s history. When the tabernacle was erected, God gave Bezalel the divine ability. cutting and engraving stones (Exod. 35:33). When David established Jerusalem as the capital, Hiram, king of Tyre, sent stonemasons to David (2 Sam, 5:11). Egyptians, too, revealed their unusual ability in stonework in constructing the pyramids, which are to this day monuments to Egypt’s magnificent prowess in building construction. Egyptians transported smaller stones on ships and rafts along the Nile River; on land, they were transported by sledges and rollers.

The stonemason began construction by digging a deep trench and filling it with rock and lime and constructing a modest building on this foundation (Luke 6:48). In advanced construction, a large square cornerstone was placed at each comer where the walls were designed to meet. The cornerstone was designed to give direction to the building. There was also a thinner cornerstone on top of the wails at each corner. The beams rested on these cornerstones. The cornerstone was the most significant stone in the building (1 Cor. 3:11).

To construct a straight wall the mason used a plumb line, a weight attached to a cord, which provided a guide for building a properly perpendicular wall. When” suspended alongside the wall, it revealed whether the wall was straight.


Pottery is ancient—beginning as early as 5000 B.C. Potsherds (fragments of pottery) are valuable in both dating eras and provide information about life in different civilizations.

Visitors to Bethlehem today can see a potter making vessels on a potter’s bench much like

they did in biblical times. The potter’s instrument consisted of two wheels, both lying horizontally. From the centre of the bottom wheel, which was at foot level, an axle extended to the die top wheel. The bottom wheel was turned by foot, simultaneously turning the top wheel. From a workbench nearby the potter took some clay, placed it on the top wheel, and began to turn the wheel with his foot. As the wheel turned around, the die potter shaped the clay into the vessel he desired to make. With his thumb, he fashioned a. hole in the vessel until he could extend his hand into the vessel. The potter sprinkled the clay with water to maintain the proper texture. If the clay vessel was unacceptable to the potter, he simply crushed it with his hand and began again (Jer. 18:4; cf. Rom. 9:20—21). When the pot was finished, he set it aside to dry. After it had dried, “the pot was hand-painted or scratched with a design. Sometimes pieces of clay were attached to a design.

In addition, to die wheels, wooden moulds were also used in making seals (Job 38:14), oil lamps, and ornaments.

After the clay jar had dried, it was fired in a clay oven or kiln. These clay vessels tended to be brittle. Brittle pottery illustrates the total destruction of man’s culture when Messiah returns to rule (Ps. 2:9; Rev. 2:27). But even the broken pieces of clay, called potsherds, were useful, job used a potsherd to scrape his sores (Job 2:8). Potsherds were also used for carrying live coals or water (Isa. 30:14) or other objects, they were also used for writing, called ostraca.

Pottery was valuable and useful for many things. The potter made jars for water (Gen. 24:14), pots for meat (Exod. 16:3), bowls and jars for oil and flour (1 Kings 17:14; Isa. 22:24), cups for drinking (Song of Sol. 7:2), and pitchers for beverages (Jer. 35:5).


Metal craftsmen appeared very early in history. With Tubal-Cain emerged a civilization that made implements of bronze and iron (Gen..4:22). This craft probably ceased with the Flood.


Ironwork surfaced again during the reign of Saul (1050-1010 B.C.), but the Philistines had a monopoly on iron (1 Sam. 13:19—22). They had a military advantage over the Israelites by keeping metallurgy from them, preventing dead Israelites from producing weapons of war. Later, during the days of Isaiah (ca. 740-680 3.C.), blacksmiths and metalworkers were found in Israel. Isaiah described the smiths that fashioned idols at the anvil (Isa. 41:7) and the blacksmith that fashioned tools at his forge (Isa. 44:12). Bellows were also in use to fan die flames (Jer.. 6:29).


The land of Israel was rich in iron and copper (Deut. 8:9). These minerals were especially mined in the desert, the Arabah, between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. During Solomon’s reign, copper mining and smelting took place near Ezion-Geber, the port on the Gulf of Aqaba where metal and other products were produced and exported (1 Kings 9:26—28). The coppersmith extracted the copper from the ore by smelting; then, when the copper was pliable, it was hardened and shaped by cold hammering. By adding a small portion of tin, the copper became harder and stronger and was known as bronze. The metals were melted in a clay pot and then shaped.

Copper and bronze products were for warfare: swords, daggers, spear tips, and arrowheads; for peaceful purposes there’ were axes, chisels, bowls, and ploughshares.


Gold and silver were refined by subjecting the metals to intense heat, which removed the impurities and alloys and left die pure metal (Zech. 13:9; cf. Isa. 48:10). Goldsmiths fashioned idols of both silver and gold: some were gold plated; others were molten gold (Jer. 10:9; 51:17), Gold-plated idols were constructed of wood with nails fastening die gold and silver plating (Isa. 41:7; Jer. 10:3-4). The gold was hammered into sheets or special designs. When Nehemiah returned to the land, goldsmiths helped repair the wall around die city of Jerusalem (Neh. 3:8,31-32). Goldsmiths and jewellers would also have made the numerous articles of jewellery denounced by Isaiah the prophet (Isa. 3:18-23).


The marketplaces were normally near the city gate or along a busy street. (The visitor to old Jerusalem will observe die same customs today as the merchants gather outside and inside die Damascus Gate, the Jaffa Gate, and others.) When caravans arrived in a city, the marketplace would become active in buying and selling.

Bartering was a normal and enjoyable aspect of commerce. The bartering could take considerable time as the seller and the prospective buyer would argue over the price of a product, yet it was a normal part of the business. (Tourist tips to visitors to the Middle East suggest that tourists should



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