The Pharisees, whose origin is probably in the “pious ones” or Hasidim, were a prominent religious group of at least 6,000 members in first century Palestine. After the catastrophe of the Babylonian exile and the growing threat of Hellenism during and after Alexander the Great, the Jews tried to recover what was right about their religion and culture and prevent anything similar from ever happening again. They were dedicated to the Law, including the Torah, the Writings and the Prophets, and they believed that they should focus on three things.
- To know the Law expertly and judge wisely from it
- To make disciples
- To build a fence around the Law.
Continue reading “The Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes”
One of the difficulties in understanding the Bible as a 21st century American Christian is the vast chasm of language, culture, and geography that separates us from people of the Bible times. Even considering only first century Palestine, the differences are enormous. Nonetheless, the better we understand them, the better we will understand Him, and so studying daily life in that era is vital.
New Testament Israel was first and foremost an agricultural society. Lacking good ports, it could not be a maritime power and benefit from high levels of seaborne trade, but being on the Europe-Asia-Africa land bridge, Israel did benefit from overland trade. Lacking natural resources such as iron, gold and precious stones, it could not make large amounts in exports. So the average Jew was a farmer, holding a small plot of land and obeying the timeless rhythms of the seasons and the weather for his daily life. The early Jew rose before the sun, dressed in a simple woolen or linen tunic and leather sandals, and tilled the fields for several hours before returning home for his morning meal of vegetables and bread. His home was no more than a few rooms, with walls of stone and mud and a roof of beams/branches and mud. After eating he returned to the fields, using hand tools and perhaps an ox. Occasionally he went to market to buy the items needed for his farm and family. After his toil, the New Testament Jew would return home to his wife and children for an evening meal, a little teaching of the Scriptures and perhaps singing and dancing, and an early bedtime. The man’s neighbors in the same village, or perhaps even sharing the same courtyard, had similar schedules. Taxes were exorbitant, up to 50% of a farmer’s salary, and the cause of financial destitution in many and brigandry in some.
Continue reading “Daily Life in First Century Israel and the Roman Empire”