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 To accept any ancient work such as the Bible as a valid historical document we must understand the basics of daily life in the Bible.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.

Continue reading “Timekeeping in the Ancient Mediterranean and Near East”

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.

Continue reading “The Sanhedrin”

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.

Continue reading “The Land of Milk and Honey – Agriculture in Ancient Israel”

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.

Continue reading “Fathers of the Church – Leaders in Early Post-Apostolic Christianity”