Ever wondered about daily life in Biblical times? How did they dress, what did they eat, what were their houses like? How did they keep yeast alive, rats out of the house or stay cool in sweltering heat? You’re in the right place!
This holiday is the start of the ‘High Holy Days’ for the Jewish people. It is a celebration of Adam and Eve, and a time to plan for the new year based on lessons learned from the past. This holiday starts a 10 day phase of repentance closing with ‘Yom Kippur’ which is through the evenings of Oct 3 & 4. This allotted time is referred to as the ‘Days of Awe’ when many will attempt to right wrongs towards those who had been insulted from the year before. It is thought that God records names in books to decide who will live, die, enjoy a nice life or vise versa. This is done on Rosh Hashanah and finalized at Yom Kippur. What people have done (repented, prayed, good deeds) through this time period could change the outcome. Based on the depth of commitment many will take off work and avoid technology. This is the most valued Jewish celebration where they are expected to fast for 25 hours starting at the sunset the day before Yom Kippur and ending by nightfall the day of. During this time most will done white as a reflection of being clean.
Fall is a beautiful time of year and a wonderful transition of seasons with vast amounts of colorful changes. It marks the beginning of many gatherings and celebrations with family and friends. The nation of Israel was commanded by God to partake in specific feast days in order to honor Him and commemorate certain events in their history. Several of these feast days take place during the autumn season, and the remainder are celebrated in the spring.
The most important celebrations from the Old Testament listed in order are: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles or ‘Ingathering’). Along with that, Israel kept the Sabbath weekly and had a feast for every New Moon.
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These events did many things for the people of Israel. It gave the people a chance to come together and enjoy a common link. It was an act of honor to remember and show others the story of God’s help through the exodus and sojourn. It was a way of teaching many lessons learned from doing wrong, judging and forgiving. It was an act of thanks towards God and showed trust in him as opposed to relying on material value. It also gave a promise for the future in greater things to come. The festivals were so influential that it is no wonder the biggest feasts were all somehow mentioned in the New Testament. Keeping in mind that over celebrating or tainting the holidays attracted God’s displeasure and foreboding from the prophets. (Isa 1:13-14)
Feast of Passover (Pesach) and Unleavened Bread (Mazzot)
The barley-harvest festival eventually combined the dedication of the Exodus, when the Hebrews were freed from Egypt. It started out as a celebration inside the home where a perfect lamb was killed and then eaten. Then it’s blood was put on the tops of the doors with a branch of hyssop. (Exodus 12:1-13, 21-28, 43-49; John 19:29) This was done on the 14th of Nisan/Abib (‘Day of Preparation’). The Passover meal was done right after the sun went down which was the start of the 15th day according to the Jewish calendar.
The Unleavened Bread feasts lasted 7 days and can be linked to the Exodus as well because the Hebrews were not allowed time to let the bread rise when they were departing Egypt (Exodus 12:14-20; 13:3-10). Putting both events together turned it into a huge event where many traveled to the Jerusalem Temple in order to offer a sacrificial lamb (Leviticus 23:4-14; Num 9:2-5; 28:16-25; Deut 16:1-8).
In today’s Judaism all of the ‘Song of Songs’ is spoken inside the synagogue at the time of Pesach.
Feast of Weeks (Pentecost or Shavuot)
The original ‘Wheat-Harvest’ celebration was at some point scheduled to occur 7 weeks (50 days for the Hebrews) after the Passover (Leviticus 23:15-21; Numbers 28:26; Deuteronomy 16:9-12; 34:22). Eventually, it evolved into a dedication towards the gift of the Torah on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-20).
Today’s Judaism read the Book of Ruth at the time of the Feast of Shavuot.
Firstfruits This occurred at the start of the harvest and symbolized Israel’s thankfulness towards and reliance on God. (Leviticus 23:9-14). Firstfruits can mean two things resit gasir (‘beginning of harvest’) or bikkuim. Resit can translate into ‘first’ such as ‘the first to appear’ or ‘best’. Bikkurim makes it clearer from its definition ‘firstfruits to appear’ similar to bekor or ‘firstborn’. Firstfruits is mentioned in Leviticus 23:9-14 along with the Feast of Unleavened bread and was primarily about the barley harvest. However, there was an offering of firstfruits linked with the Feast of Weeks (Numbers 28:26-31) focusing on the wheat harvest. It appears that the Israelites took the ‘firstfruits’ of the harvest to the Lord and different occasions throughout the growing seasons, and that there was a specific firstfruits celebration each year linked with the Passover, 7 weeks prior to Pentecost (Lev 23:15). This festival was a declaration of trust and gratitude for all he had done for them in freeing them from Egypt and providing them with food.
The Feast of Weeks (Pentecost)
Seven weeks after Passover (Lev 23:15; Deut 16:9) Pentecost was celebrated. This was at the end of the grain harvest. Similar to firstfruits it occurred right after the Sabbath. Deuteronomy 16:10 asks participants to give an offering according to the amount of harvest they had gathered that season with Leviticus 23:17-20 and Numbers 28:27-30 listing directions for priests who were directed to offer in the name of the nations.
The Pentecost was highly regarded as the day that the ‘Spirit was poured out on the church’. It started around the Book of Joel when there was a disastrous locust infestation that devastated Israel. Each kind of farming, even the grapes, olives, wheat, barley, figs, pomegranates, and apples were consumed. (Joe 1:7-12) The livestock had nothing to eat, and the extent of the damage was highlighted by drought (1:19-20). Despite this, Joel called everyone together to repent and pray (2:12-17) then foretold of a recovery (2:21-27). He then announced that the Spirit would be ‘pour out’ over everyone despite gender, age or social standing (Joel 2:28-32). He combined the analogy of farming and material prosperity to ‘spiritual restoration’.
The Feast of Trumpets
There was a law for the first day of the seventh month (Tishri) to be a holiday and holy gathering for sacrifice (Lev 23:23-25; Num 29:1-6). Numbers 29:1 calls it ‘a day of trumpet blast’ which is why it is referred to as The Feast of Trumpets. Even though every new moon was celebrated with the Israelites, the new moon of the seventh month was particularly accentuated. It is theorized that the Feast of Trumpets was a type of New Years Day, and Autumn might have been the start of the New Year.
This was a very somber day to be respected and focused on ‘atoning for the sin of the people’. It is written about in depth in Leviticus 16 and punctuates the point of the holiday ‘The Lord spoke to Moses ‘after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the Lord’’(Lev 16:1). It was held on the tenth day of the seventh month. Those who took God lightly were punished such as Aaron’s son were. A priest performed a ceremonial sacrifice as an offering of atonement for his people and even though it is not well known how the sacrifices were done; it is apparent that such acts left a strong feeling of following God’s commandments or facing his anger. Read more about this holiday in this article: Rosh Hashanah.
Feast of Booths (Tabernacles of Ingathering)
This occurred in Tishri 15, 5 days following the Day of Atonement which might have been the middle of October. It is referred to in Leviticus 23:33-43 and Deut 16:13-15. The most account of how the week transpired is found n Numbers 29:12-40. For a weak the people of Israel gave gifts to the Lord and stayed in huts created from palm fronds and leafy trees. The reasoning being doing so was in remembrance of their travels before coming to Canaan. (Lev 23:43) The sacrifices offered to the Lord during this time were vast: 71 bulls, 15 rams, 105 lambs, and 8 goats; where they were entirely burnt with fire and no man was allowed to eat of the meat. This accentuated the lesson that everything from the ‘promised land’ was given to them by God and that they should become prideful or ungrateful.
The Frequent Holidays: The Sabbath
This day occurred every 7th day in honor of the creation (Exod 20:11) and the Exodus (Deut 5:15). This was a very special time and something to not be forgotten or overlooked. (Num 15:32-36). With time it would evolve into a subject of disagreement from the Jewish leaders against Jesus (Matt 12:1-14; John 9:16). However, the Sabbath was the foundation of significant religious progression inside the New Testament (John 5:16-30; Heb 3:7-4:11).
The Feast of the New Moon
On the first day of every new moon there is a celebration with trumpets and a dedicated sacrifice (Num 10:10; 28:11-15). Since it is a frequent day of worship it is frequently brought up in conjunction with the Sabbath (2 Kings 4:23; Amos 8:5).
click here for a list of fun ideas to keep fall Christian centered.
As a woman in ancient Israel, it was her duty to prepare the meals. Bread was such a common part of their diet that it was often referred to as food in general. Thus milling and preparing the wheat or flour was also a major responsibility. Each house made their own, and it took possibly 2-3 hours of hard labor every day to make enough to feed a family with five. The first recorded milling was done with a pestle and mortar (stone quern). This usually left tiny bits of grit inside the flour. On occasion, the dough was made with the flour from legumes (Ezekiel 4:9). In The Mishna (Hallah 2:2) talks about dough formed with fruit juice in place of water. The sugar from the juice worked with the flour and water to add leavening and made it taste sweeter. The Israelites at times included fennel and cumin in the dough, then dipped it in vinegar, olive or sesame oil for more taste (Ruth 2:14).
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After the flour was ready, it was combined with water and kneaded inside a large trough. With dough made out of wheat flour, starter (seor) was added. The starter was made by setting aside a tiny amount of dough from the last batch to soak up the yeasts in the air and contribute to leavening the current dough. That is where the sourdough flavor comes from. This can be referred to as wild yeast. Here is a link that has more information on how to catch it.
Once the dough was made, it was cooked in different ways: At first it was put right on the hot stones of a cooking fire or in a griddle or pan formed from clay or iron (Leviticus 7:9). During the time of the First Temple, there were 2 ways the oven was used for baking bread: the ‘jar oven’ and the ‘pit oven’. The jar-oven was a huge clay pot that was smaller at the opening in the top; a fire was started on the inside to get it hot, and the dough was put against the outer part to cook. The pit-oven was a pottery lined hole in the ground that was heated with a fire that was put aside, and the dough was baked on top of the hot clay. Others started a ‘convex dome’ that began as earthenware and afterward metal, above the pit-oven and baking the flatbreads on top of the dome instead of on the clay covered in ash; which was most likely the machabat referred to in the Bible. It is usually interpreted to mean “griddle”.
Persians brought about a clay oven known as ‘tanur’ (much like the Native American word ‘tandoor’), that had an opening in the bottom for heat. Then the dough was put there to be cooked in the inside wall of the top section from the fire of the oven and ashes when the fire had gone out. This was used until the Yemenite Jews cooked bread in today’s day. Remnants of the ovens and pieces of cooking trays have been discovered in many places.
The Romans came up with a stove referred to as a ‘furn’ (Talmudic Aramaic – ‘purni’). This was a big wood-burning oven lined with stone and the baking pan was placed on the bottom to cook. This was a key upgrade in baking and made it possible to form thicker loaves of bread.
The ancient Egyptians had several pests to deal with during their life. It is easy to gather that much from the scriptural account of Moses and the 10 plagues. Just to name a few, there were frogs, lice, flies, and locusts in addition to snakes, mosquitoes and rodents.
The mice and rats were very destructive and always spread diseases. They found ways into the Egyptians essential grain stores and fouled their contents. Partial walls from houses made of unfired mud bricks were chewed through and patches have been discovered where they had tried to block the rat holes with rocks.
The Egyptians hunted the rodents using cats and ferrets. There is also some suggestion that they were captured in traps made out of clay. They even spread around fat from cats in bags or bundles or burned deer feces as a repellant. They were largely superstitious and kept amulets in the shape of a protective God, or in the form of the pest they wanted to ward away. Such as the locust amulets that have been found in tombs.
The most efficient way to keep an area rodent free was to simply keep it clean and have a cat. Although the Egyptians were not fond of the rodents they acknowledged them as part of creation, loved by their heavenly creator:
“Who creates that on which the mosquito lives,
worms and flies likewise,
who looks after the mice in their holes
and keeps alive the beetles in every timber.”
Romans and Greeks
Apparently they were noted as quite clean and dealt with rodents with dogs and cats; which is why there are dogs today that have been specifically bred to chasing rodents or small animals. The ‘barbarians’ in Great Britain mostly just put up with them. Staying alive was a greater priority than such trivial problems. About the 1700s rat poison was developing but didn’t spread for years to come.