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Sunday, 24 November 2013

The daily life in Israel in the time of Christ, based on the testimonies of the New Testament

Translated from the original by Costas Balomenos

n Israel, the inhabitants were mainly engaged in agricultural work, in animal husbandry and fishing, those who lived on the coast. The working hours were not specific and defined and often the needs imposed a hard and continuous work throughout the daytime and sometimes at night. In this case is characteristic the response of Peter to Jesus when he motivates them to throw their nets to catch fishes: «Master, we have labored all night without anything to catch ...» Luke 5:5. The shepherds because of the heatwave that prevailed on the day were touring their flocks in the grassland during the evening hours when it had cooled...

They divided the 24 hours into two 12-hour, the nocturne and the daily: «Jesus answered, they are not twelve the hours of the day? ...» John 11:9. Each of the two 12-hour, divide it into 4 three-hour. The three-hour nocturnal in Roman military terminology called “prison of the night”, because during these “prisons”, the Roman soldiers performed the service of the guard. This division was extended in everyday life of ordinary citizens. Characteristic example of this terminology is the evangelical narrative of the miracle of Jesus walking upon the stormy sea: «In the fourth prison of the night, is coming toward them walking up in the sea ...» Mark 6:48. For a better understanding of the division of the hours of the night and their current correlation, we publish the following table, which lists the Roman military designation, the everyday folk name and today's pairing:

Roman military denomination
Daily popular denomination
In current hours
1st prison of the night
Obse or obsian
6 – 9 p.m.
2nd prison of the night
9 – 12 p.m.
3rd  prison of the night
Alectorophonia (=cockcrow) or incubating
12 – 3 a.m.
4th prison of the night
3 – 6 a.m.

Alectorophonia = Alector (Αλέκτωρ in Greek, namely cock) + phonia (φωνή in Greek, namely voice), which means the crowing of the cock.


Representative sample from the Gospels, which refers to all three-hour of nocturnal 12-hour - based on daily popular name - is this from the Gospel of Mark, στο σημείο εκείνο, where Christ refers to his second glorious comeback and the need of alertness from the believer, since it can happen at any moment and time:
«Be vigilant. Because it does not know when the master of the house is coming, obse (οψέ in Greek) or midnight, or alektorophonia or morning, lest to come suddenly and find you sleeping» Mark 13:35 - 36.
Now, about the three-hours of the daily 12 hour are signposted as follows:

First hour
6 - 9a.m.
Second hour
9 - 12a.m.
Sixth hour
12 - 3p.m.
Ninth hour
3 - 6p.m.


In two three hour period of the daily 12 hours is mentioned the evangelist Matthew, at the narration of the crucifixion of Jesus, when the darkness begins - though it was day - to cover the land: «From the sixth hour became darkness throughout the land until the ninth hour» Matthew 27:45.
The inhabitants of Palestine lived in houses simply, made either of plinths uncooked”, i.e. from mud, which simply was left in the sun to dry, either by wooden cubits, which oftentimes they did not had fasten very well. The houses of the popular classes had one floor and it was low, so the thieves could easily rip apart. Usually consisted of one large room with small windows, but there were some houses that had more rooms, which, however, in all cases were small.
The roof was rested on wooden crosswise beams. Above them were putting branches and stubbles, covering with a thick layer of mud. For this reason the friends of the paralytic were able easily remove part of the roof and download with ropes his bed where was lying, to bring him in front of Jesus, who as we know - admiring their faith - he healed him: «But because they did not find any way to bring him into the house, because of the crowd, uploaded on the roof and they took him down between the tiles, with its small bed in the middle front Jesus» Luke 5:19. There was also a staircase at the back of the house to be able to go up on the roof.
But the wealthier classes resided in two and three storey houses, which also could have upper floors or soffits.  In such an upper storey concentrated Christ with his disciples to celebrate the Last Supper: «And he will show you a large upper storey paved, ready, there prepare us» Mark 14:15. The beds (κρεβάτια in Greek), which were called “κράββατοι” (cravatoi), upon which slept was completely simple and it could be easily transported. We see this in the treatment of paralytic by Christ in the Pool of Bethesda, when ordering him to get up, to get his bed and walk, «Jesus tells him Stand up, lifted up your bed  and walked» John 5:8.
Their homes were illuminated - moreover they had not the luxury of the electricity - with oil lamps. For any movement, during the night, were forced to do, except for oil lamps were using lanterns and candles. Judas and the guard accompanying him, uses lanterns and candles, when he goes to perform the humiliating act of betrayal of his teacher: «So Judas took guard and servants from the archpriests and the Pharisees and came there with lanterns and torches and weapons» John 18:3.
The attire was simple and analogous to the financial capacity of each. However, the most common attire was as follows: They wore the chiton as garment in contact to the skin, over which they put the himation, which was a spacious and elongated garment. In theBeatitudes”, Christ was referring to these two garments: “And to the one who wants to go to court and to get your chiton, let to him and the himation.” Matthew 5:40. Was completing their attire wearing and the last garment, which was called overcoat or chlamys.
The soldiers who they tortured Christ, shortly before his Crucifixion, except the crown of thorns that wore on his head, they dressed him and with a chlamys: «And having undressed him, wore to him a red chlamys ...» Matthew 27:28. The name cloak” (επενδύτης in Greek) for the same garment we find in so touching scene of Peter, who dived into the sea - you see it had preceded the denial of the Lord by his part - by the boat that was fishing with other disciples, for going to encounter at land, the resurrected Lord who awaited them: «When Simon Peter listened that it is the Lord, he tied the cloak, because she was naked and was thrown into the sea». John 21:7.
When were traveling and they was not aware the weather conditions that would meet, they were taking “for good and evil” and an extra garment, which was a kind of sack, called felonis or phenol for protection from rain and dust. Was namely a kind of the current waterproof. The "waterproof" what he had forgotten in Troy, the apostle Paul is requesting from Timothy to bring, when he will go to the meeting: «The felonin, whom I left at Troas, near of Carpos, when you come bring him with books, above all the membranes» 2 Timothy 4:13. Phenol or felonin was calling also a kind of sack from parchment or leather, into which - in their travels - they placed their books.
The shoes who they wore, was also simply. It was the known sandals, which were soles, retained by the leg with thongs. The angel orders to Peter to wear his sandals when he frees him from prison, where the king Herod Agrippa Α’ had him closed: «And the angel said to him: Gird and wore your sandals» Acts of the Apostles 12:8. It is worth noting at this point and the following fact. Shoes were wearing only the free people. The slaves, apart from other torments they suffered, they were forced to circulate barefoot. It is characteristic the mandate that gives the father to slaves, when the prodigal son returns to the paternal hearth: «But the father said to his slaves, Doff the wetsuit the first and clothe him and give him a ring for his finger and shoes on his feet”» Luke 15:22.
I wonder, the women's clothing was similar to men? It is difficult to say, because words himation and chiton implemented both in the female and in the male dressing. But must be be different, because the Old Testament Law expressly forbade in men to wear women's clothes and the women to wear men's clothes and after - according to the oral tradition of the Talmud - whoever did was suspect for homosexuality: «The woman shall not wear man's clothing, nor a man the woman's clothes. Anyone who does these things abhorred him the Lord, your God». Deuteronomy 22.5.
Probably the one that stood apart the womenswear was the quality of the fabrics, which would be more delicate and wider to the shape. Must also the Hellenistic fashion had exert influence in the dressing of women by adopting the pleated - without sleeves - gown, which was so fashionable in Alexandria and the himation that they wrapped it with a lot of grace around the body and they brought the one end on the head. Indeed, the richer women of Judea maintained wardrobes with a variety of garments, at least as Jacob - the brother of God - allows us to conclude in his Catholic letter, which heralds the punishment of the rich: «The wealth has rotted you and your garments are eaten by the moth» Jacob 5:2. Also they wore many jewels of gold and silver, not only the women but also the men. The Apostle Paul recommends to the good Christians women to guard against gold jewelery, pearls, precious gems: «Also the women to adorn themselves in modest attire, with decency and prudence, not with knitting hair or gold or pearls or jewels luxurious dresses, but with that befits in women who profess reverence for God, namely with works well» 1 Timothy 2:9 -10.
In Palestine, in the times of Christ, Jews in their dealings were using dozens of kinds of coins because after their return from captivity in Babylon, they had never ceased, except for a short period at the time of the Maccabees, to live under foreign occupation. So in everyday transactions they used hellenistic, roman and other coins, for which - for some of them - the New Testament makes reference. The most famous and popular currency, not only in Judea but also in all countries of the Roman Empire was the imperial silver denarius, also known as kensos (κνσος in Greek). The Romans especially demanded from Jews, the direct tax, "cephalic", to be paid on Roman coins that had over them the image of the current Emperor "Caesar" of Rome. That is why Christ, when asked if you must or not to pay taxes to Caesar, asks the Pharisees and Herodian to show him a denarius: «Because Jesus understood the cunning told them “why tease me, hypocrites? Show me your currency of kensos. These brought him a denarius. And says “Who is this image and inscription?" They say "Caesar's". Then says to them Give therefore to Caesar what is due to Caesar and to God what is due to God”». Matthew 22:18 - 21.
Other Roman coins was the sesterce (sestertius in Latin), a copper coin of small purchasing value, which according to the words of Christ (Matthew 10:29) you can buy only two sparrows. The kodrantes (quadrans in Latin) was a currency even less worth than sesterce, about ¼ of this, which that had to give even this to free yourself, if you were a prisoner, as pointed out by Jesus (Matthew 5:26) in the “Sermon on the Mount”. Apart from the roman coins were using and several greek. Firstly, the drachma for which Jesus said (Luke 15:8 - 10), the parable of the “lost drachma”, in which, the woman who lost her, when finds her, invites the neighbors to celebrate it.
Another Greek currency was the two-drachma coin, which Jews were paying as tax for the maintenance of the Temple of Jerusalem: «When I arrived in Capernaum, came to Peter those who levy the didrachms, and they said, your Teacher not pays the didrachms?”» Matthew 17:24 - 25. The tetradrachm, was also a Greek currency which - at the suggestion of Jesus - Peter finds it in a miraculous way: «But, not to scandalize them, go to the sea, throw the hook and take the first fish, who will go up. Opened his mouth and you will find a stater (tetradrachm)...»  Matthew 17:27. The stater or tetradrachm was the ancient Jewish shekel (in Greek σίκλος=ciclos or argyrion). The root of the word shekel reminds counting or weighing, because the old habit in Israel was - instead of counting the coins - to weigh them for ascertain whether it is genuine or not. Such thirty silver coins (argyria in Greek) Judas took to betray Christ.

Tetradrachm or shekel of  Tyre (year 1 BC / 1 AD)
The currency - most likely - of thirty pieces of silver of Judas.

Greek but also Phoenician was the currency of mna (in greek μν, in latin mina), equaling 100 drachmas. The famous parable of the 10 mnai that gives a master to his servants (Luke 19:11 - 27), is a classic depiction of the Second Coming of the Lord. The mna, as a Phoenician currency, had been accepted throughout the East Mediterranean. The talanton was another Greek coin of great value, which equated to 60 mnai. With another parable (Matthew 25:14 - 30), the parable of the talants, similar to that of mnas, Jesus is implying his glorious Second Coming. Admittedly, it must be borne in mind that most of these coins, especially the expensive, was not in daily use, as today each other, despite circulate in daily transactions our banknotes of 500, 200 or even the 100 € or $.
The Romans had permitted to the Jews to cut in their laboratories - but only for transactions within the limits of Palestine - a small coin of brass, the lepton (like 1 cent), who used it by women in the bazaar. The widow had thrown two such lepta (like 2 cents) in the vault of the Temple as a donation, an act who was commended by Christ so and remained in history as the “dilepton (=two cents) of the widow”. The Temple had its own currency the “holy ciclos” because they considered as “contamination” if were entering pagan coins with depictions gods or rulers at the checkout of the Temple. The money-changers, whom Christ stalked with the whip (John 2:14 - 16) and overthrew their benches, they made ​​this work, i.e. they were changing the current coins of state with holy ciclos”.
The Jews due the conservatism which distinguished them, and of their close relationship with religion even in the slightest manifestation of their life, not engaged particularly with entertainment. But some of them, especially in the region of Galilee, where abounded the pagan element is probably be watched some performances - mainly comic - in theaters or stages, were held footraces, wrestling, etc.
For their daily needs were using the Greek or Hebrew script, more precisely a dialect of Aramaic and were writing up on shells, plates, while the texts which were large (e.g. letters) on papyrus or parchment.

1. G. Galitis: History of New Testament times.
2. Daniel Rops: Everyday life in Palestine in the time of Jesus.
3. Religious textbook of Class B’, High School 2001 and 2007.
4. Bible of the Greek Bible Society, Annex measures, weights, coins.
5. New Testament, Apostolic Diakonia of the Church of Greece.

Writer Christos Pal

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