Monday, February 6, 2017

How to Make Roman Columns

Several years back for Vacation Bible School our church took our children on a trip through the 1st Century city of Rome where we learned about Paul and the Underground Church." In the process we created a lot of Greco-Roman Décor, and found a lot of inspiration both from groups who had done this program and the similarly decorated Athens Holy Land Adventure.

I wanted to pass on the great ideas we learned about for others who might be doing the same programs, a piece of Greek or Roman theater, or a wedding or party with this theme. You will find some creative and inexpensive decorating ideas below.

3 Dimensional Columns

Columns are essential to Greco-Roman décor, and three dimensional columns are, I think, the most stunning way to go.

Where to Buy 3D Columns
We invested in two large 12' cardboard columns (pictured above) and have used them over and over for different Holy Land VBS (not just Rome, but for Pharoah's palace in Egypt, and the Synagogue in Nazareth and Galilee).  Large columns like these can make for a very dramatic effect.  You can find similar ones at Stumps Party Supply.  For shorter columns you can find a nice selection at Oriental Traders for a good price, but be warned to leave lots of time for delivery (shorter columns are also not difficult to make, which of course is even cheaper...see below for various methods).  If you do not have a good place to store columns for use in future years, you may want to consider renting columns from a local wedding/event service.

How to Make 3D Columns
There are several ways to make columns (most much cheaper than buying, and some more realistic than typical party columns).

Use Poster Board and Pizza Boxes
This one seems super simple and inexpensive! A pizza place might be willing to donate some clean, unused boxes (especially if you also bought lunch for volunteers there)!  You could use corregated cardboard for a ribbed texture and a little more support  (our columns for our intro picture were made like this, with foam "crests" in stead of pizza boxes. 

Use Building Tubes, Pots, and Plaster
Decorative Faux-Stone Column - Shorter but very realistic. I've seem people use plastic pots with molded edges for some very decorative molding...same idea though.

Use Building Tubes, Pool Noodles, and Foam Board
DIY Network shows you how to make faux stone columns...very realistic looking.  Pool noodles are a more pricey material, but if you can buy them out of season (at the end of summer, early fall clearance sales) they cost less.

Very Realistic, Structural Method With Tall Building Tubes
The blog Tootsie Time shows how she made permanent columns for her home. They are beautiful.

"Warren" Method

Kate Taylor Warren and her husband shared the following method they came up with to make columns like you see above.

Inside each column is a 90" heavy cardboard carpet tube. Each has a 2-3 foot wooden fence post fit snugly inside and screwed to a 20" board as a horizontal base. The part of the column you see is five sheets of under-wallpaper insulation cut in lengths that circle around to make a 20" diameter cylinder. A construction stapler was used to staple them to the carpet tube in the back.

The material they use,  found in a DIY store where wallpaper is sold, consists of a very thin layer of polystyrene bonded to a layer of heavy brown paper. It pops out easily to hold its shape when circled and stapled, and is easy to paint. Kate Warren and her husband are in England, so I'm not sure whether the same material is available here in the States, but it would be worth checking into.

They measured the "stripes" on the individual sheets and marked them so they could be painted before assembly on the carpet tube. This was an easier and safer way to paint--no climbing ladders and trying to get straight lines painted.

The columns are set on squares of stryofoam (called polystyrene in the UK). The cornice is not resting on the columns but is suspended from the ceiling. Otherwise it would be rather unstable.

TIP:  How to Create Depth

If you are making a colonnade on a stage you can create depth and and add an illusion of a larger scene by starting with taller columns and then using descending smaller columns, set at an angle like the picture on the right...continuing the colonnade with a backdrop with painted columns at the back.

(The picture at right is by cdevries, who writes a number of wonderful Squidoo lenses on theater design. It was from a section on 3 More Ways to Improve Your Theater Set about creating depth. Used with permission.)

Outdoor Columns

You can use sheets of corrugated plastic either to make freestanding columns, or to wrap around posts and other features.   While pricey, this method has the benefit of being weather resistant, so is great for outdoor features.  You can find this type of sheeting at most hardware stores.

You can see one of these types of columns in the background of picture to the right. Thanks to Rebecca Edwards for this picture.

Flat Paper Colums

Picture by Mindy Love Harper

Flat paper columns are simple and inexpensive. You can draw them on butcher paper or posterboard (for thicker, more reusable affect) or order pre-made ones online.

I love how Trinity Presbyterian Church of McKinney, Texas used simple paper columns and a roof to frame the doorway to "Paul's House." While it takes a little drawing skill, it doesn't look unreasonably hard, and yet is very effective in transforming this from just another room to a house in Athens.

And, if you prefer to avoid drawing/painting it yourself, here are several paper column options I found online (click pictures to find on Amazon)...

Semi-3D Columns

For a semi-three dimensional look try one of the techniques below.

Foam Board Columns

We carved foam board with a hot knife and I believe painted the indentations grey to make these columns. Then we put them up in front of some pretty party paper to cover up a wall sculpture you see peeking out of the top there. I believe the paper we used was flat, but the only paper with the same design I was able to find now online was this corrugated version (which is probably more expensive than what we used, but would offer more stability).

Cardboard Column "House"

Photo by Michelle Robeson La Flamme

This structure was made out of a VERY LARGE box. It has plaster on it which gives it the column texture.  I like that a person could actually get IN this columned house.

See More Rome VBS Posts

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Saturday, November 5, 2016

Egyptian Writing

There's something interesting that you won't find in most kids books on Egypt ...that there were TWO types of writing used in in Egypt.


Hieroglyphics is the type of writing you probably associate with Egypt...the type that looks like picture writing. This was the type of writing you'ld find carved into temple walls and monuments.   BUT, it was not the only type of writing being used in Egypt at this time....and not even the most common type.

Hieratic Writing

Picture by Nic McPhee - From British Museum - Adapted Under Creative Commons

The common Egyptian used a shorthand form of writing called hieratics.   It derived from hieroglyphics but was used alongside it (it didn't replace hieroglyphics).    While the monument carvers still used hieroglyphics, merchants and traders and everyone else was using hieratics to write their grocery lists and love notes. 

The priests and scribes would often use both hieroglyphics and hieratic in important documents and religious texts, like you can see in the example above (hieratics make up the main body of thetext on the bottom, but hieroglyphs are used on the top of the picture).  They would usually write these documents on papyrus, a type of woven paper, or sometimes on animal skins--both of which were time consuming to make and therefor expensive.   But the common people, the laborers and farmers and traders, if they could write wrote their hieratic notes on flat limestone rocks, and broken bits of pottery, which were cheap and readily available. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Ancient Egyptian Foods

Below are all types of food that the ancient Egyptians had that I could dig up.   While they had a wide variety of foods available, they couldn't use them all at once because some things would only be available in certain seasons (you can find more info on seasonality here).  I am trying to limit this to the foods that would have been available in Egypt in Joseph and Mosus, but when consulting various sources I don't always have that information.

NOTE ABOUT DATES:  We don't have definite dates for when Joseph and Moses lived, but since the story of Moses mentions chariots, which were not in Egypt until they were taken over by the Hyksos (in the 2nd Intermediate Period between the Middle and New Kingdom), we can limit it to AFTER the Middle Kingdom.  Joseph could have been, at earliest, Late Middle Kingdom.   The Hyksos introduced new foods so it's possible Mosus experienced a few different foods than Joseph did...but it's hard to say

FOR VBS VOLUNTEERS:  I've  included some things for historical interest that would not be feasible to use during VBS (don’t worry, I’m not suggesting serving wine or beer, or trying to hunt down papyrus root, which besides being hard to find is now endangered). The numbers refer to sources, which you can find at the bottom of the page if you would like to learn more about a particular food found in ancient Egypt.


Egyptian Bread (made like Egyptians made it)
Three Ancient Egyptian Recipes: Ta'amia (Bean Cakes), Ma'moul (Pastries)

Tigernut Sweets   (Includes Walnuts - introduced in Greco-Roman Times)
Tigernut Sweets  (Includes Walnuts - introduced in Greco-Roman Times)
Tigernut Sweets With Actual Tigernuts (sold now as a health food in some stores)

Egyptian Palace Cake

Watermelon Seed Recipe
I read that Egyptians originally cultivated watermelons for their seeds, not to eat the flesh--an indication that early on they weren’t sweet like today, though around the time of Joseph it seems they may have cultivated a more palatable, if not totally sweet, variety.  While we don’t know for certain how they ate the seeds, I found this simple recipe which seems like something they might have done (it’s a middle Eastern recipe with ingredients they had then).  You could de-seed watermelon to serve during snack during the first half of the week, and then use the seeds the last half to make this.  (Another version here doesn't mention drying seeds as long)


  • Bread (a main staple of the Egyptian Diet)
- made from emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum) and six-row barley (Hordeum vulgare subsp. Hexastichum) (1)
- Bread was made from flour ground on grinding stones and mixed with water that was then kneaded and left to rise. The dough could be shaped in a flat loaf or baked in ceramic molds. (1)

  • Milk (from sheep, goat and cow)
  • Water
  • Beer (a main staple of diet)
  • Wine (mostly from grapes, but also from pomegranate, grapes, and other fruit)
  • Juices

MEAT (1)
  • Cattle
  • Chicken - used after Persian times, uncertain before that
  • Duck
  • Fish - primary source of meat for most Egyptians (included Nile perch, catfish, and mullets)
  • Geese
  • Goats
  • Pigs
  • Sheep
  • Wild animals were hunted, mainly from the desert, and included wild cattle, addax, antelope, hartebeest, gazelle, ibex, Barbary sheep, oryx, and ostriches.  Wild birds were also hunted.  Hippo and crocodile hunted mainly because they were dangerous. "In pharaonic times many of these desert fauna were hunted for sport by royalty and nobles; hunting dogs similar to the greyhound were used for this." (1)

  • Eggs
  • Cheeses
  • Yogurt
  • Butter (clarified, resembling oil...probably because of the heat).

  • Carob (Introduced in Middle Kingdom, used as a sweetener)
  • Celery - Introduced during the 18th Dynasty (early New Kingdom), eaten raw, and used to flavor stews. (9)
  • Cucumber (introduced in New Kingdom) (9)
  • Chickpeas (introduced in New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty) (9)
  • Cress (seeds used as flavoring, so possible that plant used like lettuce as well)(9)
  • Garlic
  • Fava Beans
  • Lima Beans
  • Leek
  • Lentils
  • Lettuce - Its leaves were eaten whole, dipped in oil and salt (4)
  • Lotus Tuber (Arum colocasia)
  • Mallow (4)
  • Onions
  • Peas
  • Papyrus Tuber -”...they pull up from the fens the papyrus which grows every  year, and the upper parts of it they cut off and turn to other uses,  but that which is left below for about a cubit in length they eat or  sell: and those who desire to have the papyrus at its very best bake it  in an oven heated red-hot, and then eat it.”  Herodotus, Histories II, 2.92  (4) -
  • Raddish - white/pink (introduced in Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty)(9)
  • Tigernut (a root crop, not actually a nut - sometimes sold now as a health food ) (3)

  • Carob Trees - More common in new kingdom (1)
  • Dates and Date Palm
- Imported plant...not sure when imported. (1)
- Plentiful after hand pollination was practiced...not sure when that was
  • Dom Palm (native plant with brown fruit) (1)
  • Figs (common fig and sycomore fig)
  • Grapes and Raisins
  • Olives (rare) -there’s evidence of olives, though olive trees don't grow well in the southern part of the country - olive oil was a luxury item so probably olives were too.    (1)
  • Persea
  • Pomegranate - more common in New Kingdom, though still a luxury item (9)
  • Watermelon (2)  - probably was not as sweet as watermelon today.
  • Black Mulberry (introduced in New Kingdom)
  • Wild Zizyphus berries
  • Apricot (imported, only used by wealthy) 
  • Sesame
  • Almonds (New Kingdom on, rare, imported from Persia and Armenia) (5)
  • Watermelon Seeds
  • Lotus Seeds
  • Celery Seeds (introduced in early New Kingdom,  incorporated in sauces for grilled fish) (9)
  • Various other seeds

  • Anise (added to bread, flavored pork)(9)
  • Coriander (available from the New Kingdom onward, added to bread, seasoned fish) 
  • Cress Seeds
  • Cumin (available from the New Kingdom onward, flavored bread, fish)(9)
  • Dill (available from the New Kingdom onward) (9)
  • Fennel
  • Fenugreek - was used as a spice and possibly after the seeds were removed the stems provided fodder for livestock.
  • Garlic
  • Majoram (9) 
  • Mustar (possibly as early as Middle Kingdom) (9)
  • Parsley (9)
  • Rosemary (9)
  • Thyme (9)
  • Salt

  • Honey -produced in ceramic hives (1)
  • Olive Oil - an imported item common after the Hyksos (9)
  • Seed and Nut Oils
  • Celery Seed Oil (used as a food preservative in New Kingdom)(9)
  • Other Oils
  • Vinegar (8)


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Temple Mound Sifting Project

A fascinating video about the Temple Mound Sifting Project, with many pictures of archaeological finds and pictures and videos of the Temple Mound in Jerusalem.  (Note:  Contains call for donations at the end).

Monday, June 13, 2016

History Round-Up

These aren't necessarily new articles and resources, but new to me, and interesting! 


Egyptian Tour - Daily Life
A blog post with LOTS of pictures and a focus on daily life in Egypt.

Pharoah in Canaan
This article is about an exhibit that explores the cross-cultural exchange that took place between Egypt and Canaan during the second millennium BC.  Has a mention of the Biblical story of the Joseph, and lots of pictures.

Oldest/Longest Ancient Egyptian Leather Manuscript Found
Interesting tidbit about use of leather vs. Papyrus:  Parchment was used for important religious texts and for documents that had to travel, because it the short term it was more sturdy than papyrus.  But, over time it actually broke down quicker than papyrus.

Youngest Mummified Fetus Discovered
This is interesting because it says a lot about how Egyptians viewed the unborn.  The baby was probably from a miscarriage.

Amazing Mummies of King Tut's Grandparents

Redating the Exodus and Conquest (Free Book PDF)

Egyptian Boat Burial Discovered

Oldest Depiction of Ancient Egyptian Demons Found
"The ancient Egyptian world of belief was inhabited by a huge number of entities with super powers. They could play both malevolent or benevolent roles, as threats, maladies and dangers, or as protectors, helpers and defenders."

Art and Power in Ancient Egypt

Nilometer Discovered from 3rd Century BC
This instrument measured the Nile's rise and fall and was used for Taxes


Photo of the Week - Judean Desert

Daily Life in the Time of the Judges 

Ancient Sticy Notes Shift Secular Scholars Closer to Evangelicals on Bible's Age



Why No Truely Ancient Bible Writings Have Been Found
This article talks a lot about the history of writing in general, as it goes into deatail about the materials used by ancient writers including (but not limited) to Isreal, Egypt, Phonicia and how these hold up over time.

Free Books/Articles from
Well, I'm sure these have been there for a while, but I just discovered it:  a whole page full of e-books on Biblical history and archaeology free when you sign up for their newsletter.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Egypt VBS Decor - Marketplace

I thought I would share how we decorated our marketplace and "family homes" for Egypt VBS in 2010 and in 2016.  We did not do all the marketplace crafts--I'm just including the official crafts for now (we did several alternatives as well...and I'm going to do separate posts for these). 

The Scribe Shop (Hieroglyphics)

Reed mats just add something to table decor.  I've seen unlined bamboo mats like these for $1 at the Dollar Store or Walmart.  Party stores may have these too.

The Food Market

The food itself is most of the decor for this shop.
A few modern bowls don't detract too much if 
combined with some baskets. 

Brickmaking Shop

This was my shop during the marketplace.  I have more pictures and marketplace tips for brickmaking here.

The Basketry Shop

Click on either of the pictures above to 
see them larger.

In 2016 we tried out a Basketry shop.  This would be the 6th time we had done a Holy Land themed VBS, and so we had collected a lot of baskets (and I believe the shop keeper brought some from home too).  So, we were able to make a pretty spectacular basket display around the edges of our basket making shop.

In the back, the stone is just part of our church.  We used a cheap bamboo fence we got several years back at a party story to cover the window.  Sheets we collected from hotels for costumes when we did Rome covered the sides.  It really set a wonderful atmosphere.  

Animal Market

Our Animal market took NO decoration.  The lovely people who brought the animals from a local farm just let them graze freely in our church's grassy yard.  The kids ran around with baby goats (kids playing with kids...and both seeming to have a blast).  It was vastly different from having them in a cage for kids to visit.    There were some chickens in a cage...and the donkey was supervised more for the kids safety, but in general it was more natural than your typical petting zoo.  Both the animals and kids seemed more relaxed.  We did NOT have this during our regular marketplace, but replaced one day's games with "visiting herders."   We brought the kids in small groups so as to better supervise . 

Other Shops
We did several other alternative shops as well (not from Group's material) .  I'll be blogging about these at some point.