Childbirth and Children in the Bible

A summary on the bearing and raising of children, and children’s lives, in the Bible and ancient Middle East. 

A reader who was preparing a Bible study asked me for some information on children in the Bible. Life in Bible times was centered around the family, and children were a vital part. Our 21st century debates in the West about whether to marry and whether to have children were unthinkable for most people in antiquity. For the vast majority of people, marriage was expected and even required. There were good reasons for this:

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Calendars of the Ancient Near East

Access ancient Jewish, Babylonian, Assyrian, and Roman calendars to better understand the Bible

The two primary parameters that shape human thinking, regardless of culture, antiquity, or language, are space and time…spacetime for the physicists among us. It is difficult to understand any communication without a common understanding of these parameters. Such simple phrases as “See you tomorrow” require both parties to have a similar understanding of “tomorrow”.

The Bible records over 4,000 of history, from the earliest human settlements from Mesopotamia to Arabia to the cosmopolitan Roman Empire. It thus covers dozens of cultures, nations, and tribes, each with their own understanding of space and time. The Quran doesn’t do this, and neither do the Vedas, the Tripitaka, or any Sutra. The Bible stands alone – no other book is like it.

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Timeline of Events in the Iron Age

What happened in the Iron Age? Which empires rose and fell? How do these events interact with Bible events? Look here for answers. 

This morning in Sunday School I was describing the background of the feast of Belshazzar in Daniel 5. In order to fully understand what this story, and what all Bible stories mean, we must understand the social, political, and cultural context. However it was hard for many in my class to remember and properly order each event so that they could grasp the full meaning of the passage. As a result, I promised to write and post a timeline of people and events that pertain to the eight centuries before Christ.

Keep in mind that these dates, specifically the dates of the reigns of kings, are approximate. Ancient chroniclers reckoned events by when they occurred in a sovereign’s reign (cf. Isaiah 6:1).

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Timekeeping in the Ancient Mediterranean and Near East

Students of antiquity stumble over important questions. To accept any ancient work such as the Bible as a valid historical document we must understand the basics of daily life in the Bible. It is unfortunate, or exciting depending upon your point of view, that the Bible encompasses over 2,000 years, thousands of square miles and dozens of cultures. Simple questions abound such as “what time of day was Jesus crucified?” While this article will not provide a definitive answer, it will shed light on the question.

Israel

Time was divided into days, weeks, months and years during the Israelite monarchy. During and after the Babylonian exile the Jews adopted the Babylonian system of dividing the daylight period into hours.

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The Sanhedrin

No study of the New Testament is complete without a study of the government of Palestine in the first century AD, and no study of the government of Palestine in that period is complete without a study of the Sanhedrin. The term Sanhedrin is derived from the Greek phrase for “gathering place” and is not found in Jewish history prior to the periods of Greek domination under Alexander, the Ptolemies and the Seleucids.

History

Though the term came late in Biblical history, the idea of a Hebrew or Jewish ruling council came early. In the time of the Exodus (around 1400 BC), God told Moses to bring together 70 elders of Israel to receive His spirit and lead the people (Numbers 11:16). During the reign of Jehoshaphat in Judah, the king assembled priests and heads of families to discern and convey the judgment of the Lord and to handle controversies (2 Chronicles 19:8).  After the exile (during the Persian period), Ezra (5:5, 6:7, 10:8) and Nehemiah (2:16, 5:7, 7:5) made extensive use of ruling councils to legislate and judge.

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The Land of Milk and Honey – Agriculture in Ancient Israel

In Exodus 33:3 God promised to take the Hebrews, recently freed from slavery in Egypt, to a “land flowing with milk and honey.” During my trip to Israel in March of 1995 when I approached Jerusalem, I was a little skeptical of the “milk and honey” description. Much of the land is dry and hilly, and it was warm even that early in the year. Israel more resembled where I grew up, arid Southern Calfornia, than the watered paradise I had envisaged. After many years and much study, I have come to realize that Israel truly was “a land flowing with milk and honey”, especially compared to the Arabian Desert and Egypt (beyond the Nile).

Even more important, it is impossible to understand much of the Bible without understanding the agriculture that it describes. Unlike modern industrial and information societies, in which food is so plentiful that only a small minority are involved in its production, Ancient Israel was agricultural. So was every nation around them. Every aspect of their lives, economies, religion, pleasure, and even war revolved around the cycles of nature in a way that few of us can understand.

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Fathers of the Church – Leaders in Early Post-Apostolic Christianity

I was cleaning out some boxes in the basement when I happened upon several books my grandmother had owned. They were dirty, with bindings breaking down and covers coming off. The pages had yellowed and become wrinkled and stiff with time and atmospheric moisture. Some of the texts were covered by a thin layer dust. Clearly these books had not been read for a long time. Little wonder that it should be so, because the publication dates on some were nearly 100 years old, and when I looked further inside one of them I struggled with some of the words, expressions and illustrations. Closing the book that I had opened, I placed it softly back in the box, and closed it. Someday I may open the box again and spend the time needed to study these texts and gather the needles in the haystack. Until then, whatever insight I expect to gain from these books will be lost to me because I have other “more important” things to do.

Studying the Church fathers can be very similar to opening a box full of old books. Augustine, Polycarp and Justin Martyr seem far away, out of date and unreachable to the modern Christian. Their experience with animals and gladiators in the arena seems more geared for Hollywood than it does Mainstream America. Nonetheless, the church fathers were real people in real situations and their lives, writing and experience are as relevant today as they were nearly two millennia ago.

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