Updated: Mar 11
So you want to be a first-century woman living in Israel! You need to make sure you fit in when you get there, right? I hope you're learning your ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and a good smattering of Greek, as well as brushing up on your basic geography—you don't want to be confusing your Bethany and your Bethlehem's now, do you? Of course, a big part of fitting in is how easily you assimilate into the culture. I'm going to lead you through First Century Womanhood 101, where you will be primed for assimilation into your new lifestyle.
If you are not planning any time-traveling expeditions, I hope that you will find this information helpful for your Bible studies, novel writing, or simply to satisfy your curiosity!
In this series, we are going to take a look at life as a woman in the time of Jesus. We will be examining your womanly role in the community, what to wear, how to worship, your expectations for education, how to shop and care for your new home, basic cookery, managing your servants and slaves, what handicraft skills you should be learning, how to keep your family's honor, important rules for purity, how to get married and divorced, and what to expect in childbirth. We will also look at how conversion to Christianity affects your daily life.
While our focus will be on the Jewish lifestyle, we will sometimes include Greek and Roman womanhood, especially the differences in-between. You will hear me use the word 'Gentile', which is any culture besides Jewish.
Upon your arrival to first-century Israel, which is politically divided between multiple rulers, you can also expect to experience tension between Jewish people and the outsiders who have infiltrated the Promised Land with their pagan cultures.
I myself am a Gentile and a Christian, but I am captivated by the roots of my faith, the rich and ancient culture of the Israelites, also known in Hebrews and Jews.
All cultures are in flux, changing as the years pass. It also varies within its own borders of time and location. The Jewish culture we see today, even Orthodox, is not the same that you will experience as a first-century woman. We will do our best to find the authentic first-century practices rather than looking to the twenty-first century for our guidance. That way you are never embarrassed in your new lifestyle!
The primary resources we will be using for examining First-Century Womanhood are:
A) the Bible. The Jewish women of the first-century use the Old Testament scriptures as their guide, as well as the traditions that have been passed down by the elders that interpreted how to live according to the Bible's teachings. If a woman is in doubt, she can consult her rabbi for the best way to stay in line with scriptures.
B) the writings of Josephus. Josephus was a Jewish historian born in the generation following Christ. His writings are some of the best-preserved from this historical era, and he wrote a lot! He took it upon himself to rewrite Jewish history, called 'Jewish Antiquities', for a Gentile audience. This history leads the reader from the creation of the world through portions of the Old Testament and into the turbulent time between the Old and New Testaments. It continues through the reign of the last Herodian king, Agrippa. He also wrote extensively about the Jewish war, including his own personal experiences. We can see tidbits of historical references to how women were regarded and how they acted in his writings.
C) Backgrounds of Early Christianity by Everett Ferguson. This book serves as an introduction to the Roman, Greek, and Jewish political, social, religious, and philosophical backgrounds of our target historical era.
D) The New Testament World, Insights from Cultural Anthropology by Bruce J. Malina, which looks at why the people acted the way the did, based on their perceptions of the world and people around them.
E) Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels, edited by Barry J. Beitzel, which looks at the geography of the world of Jesus to give clarity to the teachings of Jesus, but also gives insight into the culture of the first-century world.
As I wish for you to succeed in your adventures or studies, I will keep coming back and adding relevant information or updating posts with new research. The last thing I want is for one of my readers to arrive in the ancient world unprepared. Make sure you subscribe so you never miss a new lesson!
Next up is Discovering Women at Work in the Bible where I will dig into the many roles a woman might be expected to fill in the ancient world.
What are you most looking forward to reading about when it comes to what it was like to be a woman in the days of Jesus? Let me know in the comments!