Keep this church season extraordinary by reflecting on and celebrating the life and teachings of Jesus and challenging ourselves to walk the talk as his disciples.
We may not know every detail about ordinary, everyday life in the first century, but when we combine archeological, biological, and written records with our imagination, a picture forms.
Life was simple and full of daily routines. An average family lived in a one-room, two-level dwelling with living quarters raised above the animal stalls. Extended families often lived together. Towns smelled bad because many poured their sewage into designated sections in the middle of the street. Women dressed simpler than men but had more colorful clothing. Most men had beards, and most women put their long hair in a bun.
News from the world was either posted in town squares or announced by a herald. After dinner, and usually, amidst good friends, the evening was spent in conversation, probably discussing the news. Wine was the drink of choice but much diluted. Wealthy Romans had four meals a day of meat and dairy, but ordinary Jews usually had two meals consisting mostly of bread.
Jesus and those in his community most likely spoke a Galilean dialect of Aramaic, Hebrew, and a rough-hewn Greek in the marketplace. Nazareth was within the Roman Empire, where 1-2% of the population had 50% of the wealth, political, military, and religious leaders. 5-7% were considered rich, and about 15% were middle class, including priests, Pharisees, and fortunate merchants. The Jewish people made up roughly 8% of the Roman empire. Approximately 70% of the population lived within what we would consider poverty as struggling farmers and fishermen or subsistence laborers working for others. Slavery was common, and for the most part, people were either born into it, were a prisoner of war, or sold themselves into slavery to pay off debts. In the Roman world, slaves could own property, earn money, and often save enough to buy their own freedom.
Jesus ministered mainly outside of large pro-Roman cities, but it was much more urban than we imagine because of the many small villages in the region. Roads that were not well-traveled could be quite dangerous. Most of Jesus’ disciples and followers were poor, relying on the support that others offered. Due to the Jewish triple tax, Jews could pay more than half their income in taxes. No wonder they were grumpy about that.
Men were expected to marry: Jews usually by 18, Romans by 25, and Greeks by 30. Women were usually married in their mid-teens. Divorce was common but not as common among Jews. Children had no social voice. Girls were not formally educated unless among the Greco-Roman wealthy. Jewish boys were educated in the Bible, and Greek boys in Homer and rhetoric.
Privacy was rare, and usually, only the wealthy owned books. Jews enjoyed singing and story-telling, Holy days and the once-a-week Sabbath for Jews were a time of joy and celebration.
There is real value in trying to understanding life from a first-century human perspective. For instance,
- as a son, brother, carpenter, and Jew, what do you suppose Jesus did each day?
- How was his day the same, or different, from yours?
- What insights can you draw from the comparison?
Seasons of the Church are just one of the many topics covered in Everything Holy, a monthly offering from the Diocese of West Missouri that hopes to transform seemingly ordinary moments into something more.