Discovering Women at Work in the Bible

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

Welcome to First Century Womanhood 101, our primer to integrating yourself into the first century! If you missed our introduction to this class, please go back so that you can orientate yourself in our focus, our resources, and our goal: to prepare you for living as a first-century woman. If time-travel is not in your itinerary, I hope you will learn something new and feel a little closer to our sisters in the Bible! Our focus throughout this series is ancient Jewish culture, but we will also be looking a little at Greek and Roman women of the same era.


Occupations and Roles for Women in the Time of Jesus


The first step to creating your first-century persona will be choosing what role you will fill as a woman—or more accurately, what your societal rank and family will probably choose for you. The family system here is tightly knit, with sons apprenticing under their fathers or older male relatives. As a woman in this environment, you will help the family create income by participating in the family business or by supplementing the household income with your side business.


Some of these careers I share below are appropriate for a woman to run on her own. In other occupations, your daily tasks will vary from your male relations in the same trade. Either way, in a world where the taxman is always waiting with his hand out, you will be expected to carry your weight.


Remember: the goal of your career is never to get rich but rather to maintain the level of status to which you were born. Besides supporting your family, you need to make enough income to cover the taxes, to give to the poor, and to donate to the temple.


If you have chosen to become a first-century woman because you seek a simpler life, you may find it, but you will also find yourself working harder than ever before.


Let's take a closer look at some of the occupations you may be expected to fill in your new life. I have included scriptures to help you find these roles in the pages of the Bible.


Baker


Bread is one of the essential elements of life. As a baker, you will create both leavened and unleavened loaves. You will leaven bread by adding some of a previous batch to the new dough where the yeast will spread. Alternatively, you can create yeast by fermenting grape juice to create yeast and add it to the dough.


You may have to grind your own grain, usually wheat or barley, but also millet or spelt. Barley is more affordable than wheat, so it is the bread of the masses. If you grind by hand, count on hours of hard labor every day, perhaps up to three hours to create enough flour to feed a family of five. On the upside, you can look forward to some seriously toned arms! A commercial baker will generally have a donkey to turn a large mill to do the work for you.


Besides basic bread, you might add oils, spices, or date honey to create sweetened cakes. Pastries and other sweet treats are popular for holidays and feasts.


The oven you use for baking your creations might vary. The Romans introduced stone-lined ovens, but you may also use several small clay ovens or griddles at a time. (Leviticus 7:9, 26:26; 1 Samuel 8:13; Ezekiel 4:9)


Cook


In most households, mothers and daughters will cook for their families. The wealthy might hire you to do their cooking for them, in which case you will need to be proficient in the preparation of various meats like beef, lamb, goat, venison, fish, and fowl. You will also need to be able to craft tasty side dishes and stews out of chickpeas, lentils, beans, fresh greens, herbs, and fruit. As a cook in a Jewish household, you must follow all purity requirements for the selection and storage of food, and know what to do if anything in your kitchen is touched by a pest like a rodent, rabbit, or fly. (Leviticus 11; 1 Samuel 8:13)



Farm Laborer


Farm life never ceases and there is always something more to do! Depending on your location, you might help plant, weed, and harvest grain crops or tend to olive, fig, pomegranate, or date trees. Herbs and fresh greens are usually grown in smaller gardens, as well as chickpeas, lentils, and beans. Vineyards require special car