20120504-dead sea scrolls-Temple_Scroll.png
Temple Scroll from the
Dead Sea Scroll
At the time of Christ, Palestine (present-day Israel) was a poorly-run, repressive Roman colony that had been conquered by Pompey in 63 B.C. After the conquest Palestine was run by a Roman-Jewish government under Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.) who enjoyed considerable autonomy and ruled in such a way that both the Romans and local population were reasonably happy despite his sometimes despotic ways.

The rulers after Herod — namely Archelaus, who inherited a third of Herod’s land, including Judea and Jerusalem — were not so good. After 10 years Roman prefects took over Archelaus’s territory. The other portions of Herod’s former lands, including Jesus’s state of Galilee remained under Jewish rule. This arrangement remained until the Roman crackdown after the Jewish revolt and the destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70.

About 2 million of the world’s five million or so Jews at that time lived in the Jerusalem area. The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem were puppets of the Roman government. A handful of merchants, high priests and leaders lived in luxury, while the vast majority of the population lived in poverty. The local government was corrupt; inflation and landlessness were high; and peasants paid huge taxes to absentee landlords and corrupt Jewish priests. Over all Roman rule was not too strict. Most people paid a small tribute and that was all.

Websites and Resources: Virtual Jewish Library ; Judaism101 ; ; Chabad,org ; Bible and Biblical History: ; Biblical Archaeology Society ; Bible History Online Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible ; Jewish History: Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ; Jewish History Timeline Jewish History Resource Center ; Center for Jewish History ; Jewish ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook ; Christianity: BBC on Christianity ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Sacred Texts website

Galilee and Judea in the A.D. First Century

In his book on the Jewish War, Josephus (A.D. 37- after 93) wrote: “1. Now Phoenicia and Syria encompass about the Galilees, which are two, and called the Upper Galilee and the Lower. They are bounded toward the sun-setting, with the borders of the territory belonging to Ptolemais, and by Carmel; which mountain had formerly belonged to the Galileans, but now belonged to the Tyrians; to which mountain adjoins Gaba, which is called the City of Horsemen, because those horsemen that were dismissed by Herod the king dwelt therein; they are bounded on the south with Samaria and Scythopolis, as far as the river Jordan; on the east with Hippeae and Gadaris, and also with Ganlonitis, and the borders of the kingdom of Agrippa; its northern parts are hounded by Tyre, and the country of the Tyrians. As for that Galilee which is called the Lower, it, extends in length from Tiberias to Zabulon, and of the maritime places Ptolemais is its neighbor; its breadth is from the village called Xaloth, which lies in the great plain, as far as Bersabe, from which beginning also is taken the breadth of the Upper Galilee, as far as the village Baca, which divides the land of the Tyrians from it; its length is also from Meloth to Thella, a village near to Jordan. [Source: Flavius Josephus: The Jewish War. III.3, trans. William Whiston, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook,]

“2. These two Galilees, of so great largeness, and encompassed with so many nations of foreigners, have been always able to make a strong resistance on all occasions of war; for the Galileans are inured to war from their infancy, and have been always very numerous; nor hath the country been ever destitute of men of courage, or wanted a numerous set of them; for their soil is universally rich and fruitful, and full of the plantations of trees of all sorts, insomuch that it invites the most slothful to take pains in its cultivation, by its fruitfulness; accordingly, it is all cultivated by its inhabitants, and no part of it lies idle. Moreover, the cities lie here very thick, and the very many villages there are here are every where so full of people, by the richness of their soil, that the very least of them contain above fifteen thousand inhabitants.

“3. In short, if any one will suppose that Galilee is inferior to Perea in magnitude, he will be obliged to prefer it before it in its strength; for this is all capable of cultivation, and is every where fruitful; but for Perea, which is indeed much larger in extent, the greater part of it is desert and rough, and much less disposed for the production of the milder kinds of fruits; yet hath it a moist soil [in other parts], and produces all kinds of fruits, and its plains are planted with trees of all sorts, while yet the olive tree, the vine, and the palm tree are chiefly cultivated there. It is also sufficiently watered with torrents, which issue out of the mountains, and with springs that never fail to run, even when the torrents fail them, as they do in the dog-days. Now the length of Perea is from Macherus to Pella, and its breadth from Philadelphia to Jordan; its northern parts are bounded by Pella, as we have already said, as well as its Western with Jordan; the land of Moab is its southern border, and its eastern limits reach to Arabia, and Silbonitis, and besides to Philadelphene and Gerasa.

Samaria, and Judea in the A.D. First Century

In the Jewish War, Josephus (A.D. 37- after 93) wrote: “4. Now as to the country of Samaria, it lies between Judea and Galilee; it begins at a village that is in the great plain called Ginea, and ends at the Acrabbene toparchy, and is entirely of the same nature with Judea; for both countries are made up of hills and valleys, and are moist enough for agriculture, and are very fruitful. They have abundance of trees, and are full of autumnal fruit, both that which grows wild, and that which is the effect of cultivation. They are not naturally watered by many rivers, but derive their chief moisture from rain-water, of which they have no want; and for those rivers which they have, all their waters are exceeding sweet: by reason also of the excellent grass they have, their cattle yield more milk than do those in other places; and, what is the greatest sign of excellency and of abundance, they each of them are very full of people.

  1. In the limits of Samaria and Judea lies the village Anuath, which is also named Borceos. This is the northern boundary of Judea. The southern parts of Judea, if they be measured lengthways, are bounded by a Village adjoining to the confines of Arabia; the Jews that dwell there call it Jordan. However, its breadth is extended from the river Jordan to Joppa. The city Jerusalem is situated in the very middle; on which account some have, with sagacity enough, called that city the Navel of the country. Nor indeed is Judea destitute of such delights as come from the sea, since its maritime places extend as far as Ptolemais: it was parted into eleven portions, of which the royal city Jerusalem was the supreme, and presided over all the neighboring country, as the head does over the body.

“As to the other cities that were inferior to it, they presided over their several toparchies; Gophna was the second of those cities, and next to that Acrabatta, after them Thamna, and Lydda, and Emmaus, and Pella, and Idumea, and Engaddi, and Herodium, and Jericho; and after them came Jamnia and Joppa, as presiding over the neighboring people; and besides these there was the region of Gamala, and Gaulonitis, and Batanea, and Trachonitis, which are also parts of the kingdom of Agrippa. This [last] country begins at Mount Libanus, and the fountains of Jordan, and reaches breadthways to the lake of Tiberias; and in length is extended from a village called Arpha, as far as Julias. Its inhabitants are a mixture of Jews and Syrians. And thus have I, with all possible brevity, described the country of Judea, and those that lie round about it.

Marriage and Family in Roman-Era Palestine

K. C. Hanson and Douglas E. Oakman wrote in “Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts”: “Most of us have never encountered some of the most common first-century Palestinian social institutions, such as patronage/clientage. First-century social institutions were configured and related in ways different from our own, such as religion as embedded in kinship or politics. Our orientation to values is different from their emphasis on honor and shame. Bridging the cultural gap calls for using more adequate cultural scenarios. This means that we need to draw on social-scientific studies regarding Mediterranean and peasant studies. And these studies need to be set within context of the study of Palestinian history and archaeology, especially the study of first-century Galilee. [Source: “Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts” by K. C. Hanson and Douglas E. Oakman, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008 +++]

“In ancient Mediterranean societies during the first century, kinship was the primary social domain. That is to say, virtually no social relationship, institution, or value-set was untouched by the family and its concerns. Employing Emanuel Todd's model of basic family forms—which uses issues of spouse choice, inheritance patterns, and endogamy/exogamy—it becomes clear that families in first-century Palestine best fit the "endogamous community" type. This contrasts the most prevelant family type in the U.S.: "absolute nuclear" type. +++

Roman wedding symbol

“The first key issue of first-century kinship issues is gender. In this patriarchal society, male and female roles were sharply differentiated, as were there social expectations and dress. Genealogies were ancient lists that articulated a family's or an individual's honor; these can be unilineal (following one descendant per generation) or segmented (following multiple descendants per generation). These genealogies are based on principles of descent: patrilineal (following only male links) matrilineal (following only female links), or cognatic (combining both male and female links to one's ancestors). +++

“The marriage pattern followed throughout the Middle East for centuries has been endogamy—marriage between close relatives (usually paternal cousins, or uncles/nieces). The "gifts" surrounding a marriage in the ancient world included "dowry" (the property a bride's family provides the bride or the couple), "indirect dowry" (property the groom's family provides the bride or couple), and "bridewealth" (the property a groom's family gave to the bride's family).” +++

Book: “Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts” by K. C. Hanson and Douglas E. Oakman, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008

Food in Roman-Era Palestine

According to Food in Roman-Era Palestine was “simple but wholesome. Bread, usually barley bread, was a feature of every meal, and women made it as often as needed. In summer, they probably baked several days' supply at a time, to cut down on the discomfort caused by the heat of their oven. Grain for bread was ground by the women on two grinding stones, the lower one fixed, the upper one rotating. The grain was mixed with water, and then fermented dough, kept for this purpose, was kneaded into the dough, which was left to rise. Then the thin, flat circles of dough were slapped onto the hot stones in the fire, or placed in a bread oven if the family had one. [Source:]

“The main meal was eaten in the evening. It might consist of a lentil stew seasoned with herbs like cumin, black cumin or coriander. It was served with cheese made from sheep or goats' milk, olives, onions and bread. Fruits included fresh figs and melon, as well as dried pomegranates and dates - dried fruits were a staple item in the Middle East. Wine, water and curdled milk, similar to liquid yogurt, accompanied the meal. Sugar? Unheard of, so most people had healthy teeth. Honey was used as a sweetener, but only occasionally and usually by the wealthy. Meat was a rarity, kept for special occasions. Fish was much more common, and the dried fish industry was an important source of wealth for the people around the Sea of Galilee. The town of Magdala, not far from Nazareth, was a center of the dried fish industry.

Roman-style bread

“The ravines in the slopes and the rocky ground were suitable for clusters of trees whose olives were gathered, crusted with large grinding stones, pitted, and pressed for oil. The fields on the slopes could grow various grains - wheat, barley, and millet whose chaff was separated on threshing floors with winnowing. The alluvial soil south of the village was sufficiently fertile for vegetables and legumes. Terraces built and irrigated along the steeper slopes maximized the grain harvest and could also support fig and pomegranate trees. An adequate water source was located at the western edge of the village, now called the Well of the Virgin, and it trickles along the length of the village, giving people the ability to grow their own food in small patches of ground.”

Horticulturalist Elain Soloway collects seeds found at Masada and soaks them in water and plants them in dirt. One seed, from a date palm thought to be around 2,000 years old, sprouted. Pliny the Elder wrote that dates from Judea were the sweetest known but date palms and other crops from that era disappeared as Jewish presence in the region dwindled. [Source: National Geographic]

Biblical-Era Wine

Oren Liebermann wrote in CNN: The Bible is full of references to wine: Noah gets drunk on it after the flood. Jesus turns water into wine. It is praised in Ecclesiastes and reviled in Proverbs. Yet nowhere in Scripture is the type of wine identified — until now. A small but growing number of wineries in Israel and the West Bank are trying to recreate the wine of the Bible, combining ancient grape varietals with modern science to identify and produce the wine consumed thousands of years ago in the Holy Land. “People are very enthusiastic about drinking a wine that King David had on his table, or for the same matter, Jesus or any other biblical figure,” says Eliyashiv Drori, who started a boutique winery near his home in a West Bank settlement. “They all grew here, they all lived here, and they all ate and drank wine here.” [Source: Oren Liebermann, CNN, December 23, 2015]

Drori, a wine researcher at the Samaria Regional R & D Center at Ariel University, examines preserved grapeseeds found in archaeological digs to identify the types of grapes used to make wine. He says there were different varieties of wine in biblical times: red and white, dry and sweet. But he says they likely didn’t make wine from specific grapes, such as modern-day cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

His research has identified 120 varieties of grapes unique to the region, of which about 20 are suitable for making wine. “For me, reconnecting to that is actually reconnecting to our roots, to our history, to the way of life of our ancestors. That’s a big thing for me,” Drori says. Winemaking was strictly limited in the Holy Land for hundreds of years under the Ottoman Empire. The grapes that survived were table grapes, but not all table grapes make good wine.


Capernaum was referred to in the Gospels and described by Josephus. Donald D. Binder wrote in the "Capernaum” website: Josephus “refers to the village in connection with a fertile spring. The Jewish historian reports he spent a night there with a fever during the second year of the Jewish War. [Source: Donald D. Binder, "Capernaum," capernaum /*/

“For centuries, Capernaum has traditionally been identified as a site located on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, about three miles west of the upper Jordan River. In 1838, Edward Robinson correctly identified there the remains of a synagogue that was partly excavated by Charles Wilson between 1865 and 1866. More extensive excavations took place in the early twentieth century, first by Heinrich Kohl and Carl Watzinger (1905) and then by Wendelin von Menden (1906–1915). In 1921, the synagogue was partially restored by Gaudenzio Orfali. In more recent times, Virgilio Corbo and Stanislao Loffreda conducted nineteen seasons at Capernaum between 1968 and 1986, excavating not only the synagogue, but also a nearby church that had long been associated with the house of St. Peter. Donald D. Binder, "Capernaum." /*/

“Most recent excavations have revealed two synagogues, a white limestone synagogue dating from the fourth to fifth centuries CE, and a black basalt synagogue dating from the first half of the first century CE. Only foundation walls, gray marble column fragments and a cobblestone floor remain from the earlier structure, which measured 24.5 by 18.7 meters on the exterior and possessed walls over a meter thick. /*/

“The IV-V CE Limestone Synagogue at Capernaum was built on top of an earlier synagogue that was founded in the first century CE and constructed out of basalt. Only the foundation walls and cobblestone floor remain from this earlier building (see below). (Column drums made out of gray marble have also been discovered in a lower stratum of fill material.) It is thus the basalt synagogue which is referred to in the four Gospels.” /*/


Judaism at the Time of Christ

At the time of Jesus the Jews were divided a number of different often rival sects. The countryside was filled with holy men who spoke in parables and guerilla leaders who claimed they were messiahs. The religious faction that worshiped Jesus was one of many Jewish messiah cults that were active in the Holy Land during the time of Christ. When Jesus began preaching around 28 A.D. "shooting wars" were being fought in Galilee, Judea and Jerusalem. The Dead Sea scrolls have offered many insights into what Palestine (present-day Israel) and Judaism was like in the time of Jesus.

Much of what we know about the Holy Land around the time of Jesus is based on accounts by Flavius Josephus (A.D. 37-100), the pro-Roman Jewish governor of Galilee, in his books "The Jewish War" and "Jewish Antiquities". Josephus was born to an upper-class Jewish family. He became the governor of Galilee at the age of 31 in A.D. 68 and later led a Jewish liberation army against Rome. When he was Rome, he was spared when he told the Roman general Vespasian that he was a Jewish messiah and a future emperor of Rome. When Vespasian did in fact become emperor, Josephesus was give a generous pension and comfortable apartment. He spent the rest of his life writing books that attempted to explain whey the Jews revolted.

Jewish Sects and Aristocracy

Over time the Jews divided into different sects such as the Essenes, an ascetic group that live in the desert; the Pharisees, conservative ritualized group that was perhaps the largest sect; the Zealots, the militants who did their last stand at Masada; Zadokites, the Hellinized group of priests that ruled the Temple; and the Sadducees, a priestly group described by the Jewish historian Josephus.

The different sects had different politics and different religious beliefs and takes on the scriptures. It can argued that the numerous sects were as much of reaction to the Jewish priestly aristocracy as to the Romans.

The priestly class was not very sympathetic to concerns of ordinary Jews. A high ranking rabbi in the Jewish aristocracy referred to Jewish peasants as "unclean animals" who were so worthless and inferior that it was alright to kill them on holy days when the butchering of clean animals is forbidden. Another rabbi said that it was acceptable to "tear a common person to pieces like a fish." Another rabbi, recognizing that the Jewish peasantry was not fond of their the Jewish leaders either, said, "the enmity of the common person towards a scholar is even more intense than that of the heathen toward the Israelites."

Jewish Community Rule

Josephus wrote in The Community Rule: “Then, when he has completed one year within the Community...his property and earnings shall be handed over to the Bursar of the Congregation... They shall eat in common and pray in common... And when the table has been prepared for eating, and the grape drink for drinking, the Priest shall be the first to stretch out his hand to bless the first bread and new wine. [Source:]

“No man shall interrupt a companion before his speech has ended, nor speak before a man of higher rank; each man shall speak in his turn. And in the Assembly of the Congregation no man shall speak without consent of the Congregation. Whoever has interrupted his companion whilst speaking [must do penance] ten days. ...and shall unite, with respect to the Law and possessions, under the authority of the sons of Zadok, the Priests who keep the Covenant... accordance with all that has been revealed to the sons of Zadok...

“The man of lesser rank shall obey the greater in matters of work and money. If he has failed to care for his companion, he shall do penance for three months. Whoever has answered his companion with obstinacy, or has addressed him impatiently...therefore he shall do penance for one year... Whoever has borne malice against his companion unjustly shall do penance for six months/one year; and likewise, whoever has taken revenge in any matter whatever. what is most for the advantage of their soul and body.

“If one of them has lied deliberately in matters of property, he shall be excluded from the Meal of the Congregation... Whoever has deliberately lied shall do penance for six months Whoever has deliberately deceived his companion, he shall do penance for three months. And where the ten are, there shall never lack a man among them who shall study the Law continually, day and night, concerning the right conduct of a man and his companion. And the Congregation shall watch in community for a third of every night of the year, to read the Book and study Law and to pray together.

Every man, born of Israel, who freely pledges himself to join the Council of the Community, shall be examined by the Guardian at the head of the Congregation concerning his understanding and his deeds. If he is fitted to the discipline, he shall admit him into the Covenant... And later, when he comes to stand before the Congregation, they shall deliberate his case... After he has entered the Council of the Community he shall not touch the pure Meal of the Congregation until one full year is completed, and until he has been examined concerning his spirit and deeds; nor shall he have any share of the property of the Congregation. Then, when he has completed one year within the Community... And if it be his enter the company, his property and earnings shall be handed over to the Bursar of the Congregation who shall register it to his account and shall not spend it for the Congregation. He shall not touch the Drink of the Congregation until he has completed a second year among the men of the Community.”

Calendars and Disputes Over the Sabbath and Passover

The Pharisaic Calendar: 1) Month = Full cycle of moon: 29.5 days [in practice: 29 or 30 days] as determined by court on the basis of testimony of witnesses. 2) Year = 12 months [12 x 29.5 = 354 days]. 3) Because holidays are defined by solar agricultural seasons [e.g., Passover must be in "spring"] lunar years must be synchronized to solar, by periodic addition of extra month at end of year [before Passover] , as decreed by court. 4) 24 Priestly courses. 5) Fragment of Calendar Text (Mishmarot list) from Qumran,

Jubilees Calendar [as followed by Book of Jubilees, Enoch, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Community Rule, Damascus Covenant, War Scroll, etc.]: 1) Advocates of this calendar were aware that most Jews were using an "erroneous" reckoning. 2) Jubilees calendar ascribed (in Damascus Covenant) to Teacher of Righteousness. 3) 364 days [7 x 52]. 4) 26 Priestly courses (instead of 24). 5) Months and festivals fall on same day of week every year! 6) Passover begins and ends on Tuesdays (14-21 of first month). 7) The "'omer" is brought on Sunday (26 of first month).

Exegetical roots of dispute: 1) Leviticus 23 [...after description of Passover...]: And you shall count from the morrow after the sabbath , from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering ['omer]; seven full weeks shall they be, counting fifty days to the morrow after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a cereal offering of new grain to the Lord . (Leviticus 23:15-16).... [Description of Pentecost] Pharisees understood "sabbath" as referring to first festival of Passover. Hence count began on 16th day of first month, but not on a specific day of week. Pentecost would fall on sixth day of third month, but not on a specific day of week. Samaritans understood the "sabbath" to be the Saturday within the Passover week. Jubilees calendar understood "sabbath" to refer to first Saturday after Passover (25th of first month). The fifty-day count began on Sunday , the 26th and Pentecost turned out on Sunday, the 15th day of third month.

Additional comments: 1) Septuagint translates Leviticus according to Pharisaic interpretation [sabbath = festival]. 2) Rabbinic sources refer to group called "Boethuseans" (from Judean desert region) who believed that sabbath =Saturday, and tried to confuse the calendar reckonings. Manuscripts can be read as two Hebrew words Beit [House of] Sin . 3) Qumran documents suggest that the founder of the sect (Teacher of Righteousness) fled Jerusalem over calendar question. 4) According to Pharisaic-Rabbinic reckoning, the date of the Pentecost coincides with and commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

Rabbis emphasize that the 'omer should be harvested even on the Sabbath . Staged elaborate ceremony:
[When the sheaf was harvested] on the Sabbath he would say to them: Is today the Sabbath? and they would respond: Yes!
Is today the Sabbath? and they would respond: Yes!
Should I harvest it? And they would respond: Harvest it!
Should I harvest it? And they would respond: Harvest it!
Each item would be repeated three times. Why so much? Because of the Boethusians who used to claim that the harvest of the sheaf was not on the morrow of the festival. (Mishnah Menahot 10:3).

Meal in the House of the Pharisee

Festivals and Pilgrimages

During the three major festivals of the year — Passover, Shavuot and Sukkoth — when Jews were obligated to make visits to The Temple to make animal sacrifices as many as 250,000 visitors poured into Jerusalem.A lamb was sacrificed for Passover. A bull was sacrificed for Yom Kippur. Two doves were sacrificed to celebrate a birth and circumcision. Jews were required to pay half a silver shekel a year in “temple tax." They traditionally made three pilgrimages a year to Jerusalem, ritually washed themselves there before walking down a road to enter the Temple.

Texts from Leviticus 23 on festivals observed in Judea in Greco-Roman times: “These are the feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons. In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD'S passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto th e LORD: seven days ye must eat unleavened bread. In the first day ye shall have an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein... in the seventh day is an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the pr iest: And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. And ye shall offer that day when ye wave the sheaf an he lamb ... And ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, until the selfsame day that ye h ave brought an offering unto your God: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabba ths shall be complete: Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meal offering unto the LORD. Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals ...And ye shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be an holy convocation unto you:...

“Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the LORD seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath. And ye shall take you on the first day the fruits of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. And ye shall keep it a feast unto the LORD seven days in the year. It shall be a statute for ever in your generations: ye shall celebrate it in t he seventh month. Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths: That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD you r God. And Moses declared unto the children of Israel the feasts of the LORD. (Leviticus 23:1-44).

Outline On pilgrimage festivals: 1) Second tithe, 2) purification, 3) purchase of offerings, 4) laying of hands and handing to [priest], 5) Eating of meat [in Jerusalem]. 5) Emotional and religious impact: A) Effects of impurity restrictions[Feeling of having fulfilled the commandment]; B) Forgiveness (cf. Day of Atonement) [Source:]

Passover in Greco-Roman Times

Paula Fredriksen of Boston University told PBS: In Judaism, described in the Bible, there are three pilgrimage festivals. One is in the fall, and two are in the spring. The biggest holiday that would bring in pilgrims from all over the known world is the holiday of Passover. It resonates historically with the liberation of the children of Israel from Egypt. So it has a tone of national liberation. There's a political aspect to the holiday. But also, Jews everywhere, if they chose to, if they were pious, would put aside part of their income. It's sort of like the way Christmas Clubs operate now. You'd put aside tithing money ... and that money or whatever it is from your property that you would put aside was explicitly to be spent having a party in Jerusalem. And you would spend that saving[s] when you went up to celebrate a pilgrimage holiday. [Source: Paula Fredriksen:, William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture, Boston University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci

“People from all over the Empire went to Jerusalem on Passover. It's one of the most populated times in the whole city. And there are certain things that would be required if you wanted to go and be at the Temple. You'd have to eat your Passover lamb in a state of purity, which would require certain things, for example, if you were a woman in a family who were traveling and you happened to get your period,... you couldn't actually go into the Temple area. But your husband would really be the person required to show up in the Temple area, because he would be the one who would have to sacrifice the Pascal lamb that would be the center of the meal that you would have with your family. You'd go up, probably a week beforehand, to make sure that everybody would be in a state of purity. Purity is not an ethical metaphor in first century Judaism. Purity is a state. It's almost like a physical state that has metaphysical consequences. If you are menstruating, for example, or for a man, a common way of contracting impurity would be through ejaculation ... semen transmits impurity. There's nothing morally wrong with you. It just means that while you're in that state, you shouldn't enter a zone of holiness. So pilgrims frequently went a week before Passover actually started so that they could undergo certain rituals of purification, and take part in the slaughter of the lambs for Passover that happens the night before Passover begins. And and then go back with people living in tents or people in outlying villages.

“There's reminiscences of this in the gospel writings. Jesus enters with with the flock of pilgrims going into Jerusalem the week before Passover. That's what the triumphal entry is staged as in the gospel. And he teaches at the Temple in the week before Passover. The reason everybody's there is because everybody, I assume Jesus, too, is undergoing the ritual purification that's required so people can be in the correct state. Not not just morally or religiously, but actually with purity. So that they can eat the Pascal lamb as God mandated it when he spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai.

Pool of Siloam

The Pool of Siloam (about 400 meters southwest from Gihon Spring in Jerusalem ) is where Jesus is said to have miraculously cured a man of blindness. The pool itself was said to contain water so pure it could heal a leper and still holds water carried down to it from Gihon Spring. Located at the bottom of fortress-like walls and reached by 32 steps the long narrow pool is still sometimes used by local women who come to the pool with jugs balanced on their heads much as their forebears did 2500 years ago.

In December 2004, archeologist identified the remains of Siloam Pool in the Arab neighborhood of Siloam. They excavated the 50-meter-long pool, with steps leading to it from all sides, and the channel that brought water from Siloam spring and a section of road that led from the pool to the Jewish temple. The remains were dated using coins and pottery found at the site that placed it in the Jesus era.

In 2019 archaeologists announced that they found a large street ran between the Pool of Siloam and the Temple. Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: The fact that the street connects the pool of Siloam and the Temple is suggestive and can tell us something about its purpose. In the New Testament Jesus sends a man “born blind” that he heals to complete his healing. The story might suggest that in the first century the pool was a mikvah (or ritual bath) that had a kind of cleansing or purifying function. Pilgrims could stop there to bathe before approaching the holiest place in Judaism. The story involving Jesus might suggest that the two locations both served a kind of healing function: those who had been sick would bathe before presenting themselves to priests, who would evaluate their physical (and, thus, spiritual) health. For Pilate, as a Roman, the link between healing and temples would have been obvious because temples to the god of healing, Asclepius, were as much healing centers as they were religious sites. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, October 27, 2019]

The size of the street — approximately 25 feet wide — and the large stone slabs used to pave it suggests that the road had a certain grandeur to it. Joe Uziel and Moran Hagbi, archaeologists at the Israel Antiquities Authority and co-authors of the recently published article “Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem: The Monumental Street from the Siloam Pool to the Temple Mount” argued that if this was a simple walkway joining two points there would be no need for a thoroughfare of such size: “its finely carved stone and ornate 'furnishings' …all indicate that this was a special street.” Taken together all of this evidence points to the importance of the street for those ascending to the Temple Mount. This would mean that during his time as governor Pilate used funds to construct a road that would help Jewish pilgrims reach the Temple Mount.

Graffiti Offers Insights Into Ordinary Roman-Era Jews

Most of what we know about ancient peoples comes from their literature and architectural monuments and most of that was created for the upper classes. It is often hard to gain insights into the everyday lives of ordinary people. One way to do this is via graffiti. In the case of Roman-era Jews this graffiti and street can be found on synagogues, tombs, theaters, and public spaces in Roman-era Israel and elsewhere. Brooklyn College of CUNY professor Karen Stern, does this in her book “In Writing on the Wall: Graffiti and the Forgotten Jews of Antiquity”. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, September 8, 2018]

In a review of the book, Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast, Her explorations found graffiti of numerous kinds: some are just texts (recording the names of the writers); some, she argues, are prayers demanding the attention of those who might pass by the spot; others have imagery of menorahs, obelisks, horses, ships, and even shrouded skeletons. Some of the graffiti is pious and poignant: a graffito from catacomb 20 in Beit Shearim reads “Be of good courage, pious parents! No one is immortal!” Another graffito close by almost flippantly wishes the occupants “Good luck in your resurrection!” Communicative inscriptions like these are found all over the ancient Mediterranean, in Southern Europe, Mesopotamia, and what is now Israel. Graffiti is and was omnipresent.

What’s most startling is how reading the writing on the wall can subvert the vision of Jewish behavior crafted by literary elites. As Stern told The Daily Beast, “On a basic level, graffiti sometimes serve as the only records for the underdogs of ancient history — non-elite people including slaves and women — whose daily lives are more rarely documented in ancient literary sources.“ The caricature of self-isolating Jews is undercut by much of the research here; the mere presence of graffiti in theaters, town halls and hippodromes testifies to the presences of Jews in spaces where they otherwise left no trace.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860, except Map,, Jehovah's Witnesses and table of Jewish groups, Quora groups

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Wikipedia, Live Science, Archaeology magazine, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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