Cumberland Times-News

August 18, 2012

Let’s look at life in first-century Palestine

Bob Doyle, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— As a result of Frostburg State getting a new planetarium (to open in 2014), I am writing scripts for a number of new programs.

The new facility will be called the Multi-media Learning Center (MLC); it will have a 40 foot wide dome with tilted seats, facing in one direction. The central projection facility will allow us to have full dome programs.

The new programs will be mostly multidisciplinary, integrating history and an accurate representation of the night sky up to 10,000 years into the past.

Our first program of this type will be “Great Events and Skies of the First Century.” In this program, the great events will be the life of Jesus, the peak of the Roman Empire and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE.

This program will feature an outline of the key events, the accompanying night skies then and dramatic reactions of the people of those times to these events. We will turn the MLC into a time chamber, transporting our audience 2,000 years back in time.

Later programs of this genre will be based on the American Civil War, the American Revolutionary War and World War II.

What was it like to live in Roman-occupied Palestine in the first century?

Author Scott Korb considers a number of different sources (Roman and Jewish historians, archeology and the New Testament) to arrive at some likely views about how the Jews lived, their relationship to the Romans, and their faith views (including the break-away Christians). Korb’s book is “Life In Year One,” published in 2010 by Riverhead Books with ISBN 978-1-59448-899-3.

It’s important to realize how the rulers of Palestine interacted with the Romans.

Herod was appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate in 40 BCE; with the aid of Roman forces, Herod took Jerusalem as his capital three years later with a ruthless slaughter of the previous ruling family and all the people in the city.

While Herod had a magnificent temple built in Jerusalem, he also built a temple to a Roman god elsewhere in Judea. Herod’s palatial seaport was Caesarea Maritima, named after Caesar.

After Herod’s death in 4 BCE, his kingdom was split among his sons. In 6 CE, Judea became part of the Roman Empire and a Roman Procurator was appointed.

About 35 years after Christ’s crucifixion, tension between the Jews and Romans led to the start of a four year war, in which the temple was destroyed and more Jews lost their lives than Americans in our Civil War.

It’s estimated that only 3 per cent of Judeans in the first century were literate. Those who lived in small villages (like Nazareth) would scarcely have any contact with Romans.

The villagers did most of their trade by barter rather than coins. Only half of Palestinians survived infancy. About 70 per cent of the average person’s calories were from bread. The cleanliness of Palestinians would depend on where they lived.

Inland villagers would not likely be able to use much water for cleaning while those who lived near water could have an occasional bath. The Galileans were regarded as peasants by those who lived in Judea.

The Samarians who lived in between Galilee and Judea were despised by both groups. An average Jew would go to the Jerusalem Temple three times a year: the grain harvest, Passover and Pentecost.

While most Palestinians spoke Aramaic, the most common language used in crowds was “Koine,” a corrupted form of Greek. Jesus likely spoke to crowds in this language.

SKY SIGHTS THIS WEEK: Tomorrow a very slender crescent moon may be seen very low in the western dusk. By Tuesday, the crescent moon will appear just below the bright star Spica.

Above Spica is the planet Saturn. To the left of the Spica — Saturn pair is the planet Mars. By this Friday, the evening moon will appear half full. This is the best moon shape to see the moon’s craters and mountain ranges with binoculars held steadily.

  Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at rdoyle@frostburg.edu . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.