Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Nazareth in Jesus' Day

Where was Nazareth? Among Bible scholars and archaeologists there is much disagreement on that point. I choose one of the traditional locations, a small area in the middle of modern Nazareth, to focus on when I decided to research what daily life would have been like there. While we don’t know for sure that that particular spot is the same place where Jesus spent his childhood, it is representative of what we know about Nazareth from the Biblical accounts, and much like other small towns in the hills of Galilee.

During the time of Jesus, there’s evidence that this location was a Jewish community with less than 400 people living there. Archaeologists found a stone quarry there, terraced farmland, a wine press, and watch-towers like the ones which Jesus describes in the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers in Matthew 21 and Mark 12. They also found a house with a cistern and stone and chalk vessels that Jews typically used at that period to preserve purity of food. But what wasn’t found there was just as telling. No glass, mosaics, frescoes, paved roads, or imported materials were found in this town from the 1st century, suggesting that this was a simple, rural village at that time. (This is typical of many small towns in Galilee at this time.)

Would you like to learn more about what life was like in Nazareth?  I've written a series which covers various aspects of life in this small town in Galilee, and also collected some historical crafts and activities you can use with your church group, for homeschool, or just do with your family for fun.  Click the links below to read on...

A House In Nazareth

A Meal in Galilee

The Synagogue at Nazareth

Joseph, The Carpenter

Nazareth Pictures

CRAFT IDEAS:  Making Thread, Weaving, and Dying

ACTIVITY:  A Galilean Garden

Nazareth VBS Resources

Biblical History Resources

This series was originally housed on Squidoo, but when they merged with HubPages I decided to move it here because their link policy didn't allow enough links to properly credit my sources.  I've tried to site my sources throughout, on each post, but I want to give a special thanks to See the Holy Land, a company which organizes tours of various Holy Land Sites, for the use of many of the photos in this series (and for the wonderful Biblical timeline shared there, which I wish I had discovered earlier in my research), and to James Emery and Ian W. Scott who made their photos available through Creative Commons on Flickr. And I want to thank all the people who offered help on the Group Forums, and for all the people who answered my questions on Yahoo Groups and Squidoo (which now is a part of HubPages).

The Nazareth Village Website
Archaeology and the Galilean Jesus by Jonathan L. Reed.
Bible Blog: First-Century House Excavated in Nazareth

A House In Nazareth

A house in Nazareth might have been one roomed or have several small rooms opening into a central courtyard. Stairs on the outside of the house led up to the roof, which was used as an outdoor room partly shaded by matting or something like a tent.

Inside, small windows (sometimes covered by lattice or shutters) made for dark rooms. Niches and wooden shelves were used for storage. Most houses had a cistern for water. There would be a wide bench made of mud brick or stone at one end with pillows and mats to sleep on or sit on. People also sat on the floor or on cushions. You might have a table, couch, or bed if you were rich.

Things you might find in a house in Nazareth:
Woven Blankets
Woven mats
Cushions/pillows (often decorated with embroidery)
Rough mortar and pestle (usually in courtyard)
Jars for oil, olives, water.
Cooking utensils.
Pottery for eating on
Oil lamps
A loom
Food like garlic, onions, dried beans, grain, squash, figs, watermelon, grapes
Herbs (possibly hung up to dry) like coriander, dill, chicory, hyssop, marjoram, mint, thyme.
Jewelry (beaded glass, gold, silver or bronze, hoop earrings )

Bible Lands and Cities
Follow the Rabbi: A Galilee Home
Women in the Bible: Clothes, Jewelery, Houses
Houses in Bible Times
Wikipedia: Ancient Isrealite Cuisine

Picture of Nazareth Villiage shelf provided by See the Holy Land.

Printable Version of This Post
Printable Galilee Version of This Post  - This is identical to the Nazareth version except that it also has info about houses of the wealthy, and refers to Galilee in stead of Nazareth.

If you are recreating a 1st century home, you might find this tutorial on making faux rock walls useful.

A Meal In Galilee

According to Bible Lands and Cities, a typical meal in Galilee would consist of lentil soup and flatbread (usually barley bread). With this they might have had fresh fruits in season (grapes, melon, cantaloupe, figs, apricots, pomegranates, and olives) or dried fruit (dried apricots, figs, and pomegranates). They also might have cheese made from goats milk, and curdled milk (similar to yogurt) sweetened with honey. Meat was rarely eaten except on special occasions. The most common meat was probably dried fish. Other meats eaten included goat, lamb, chicken, geese, duck, pigeon, and quail. Beef was only eaten by the elite.

Here are some recipes you can use when recreating a Galilean meal:

Lentil Soup with Flatbread
(You will need to multiply this for a large group)

7 ounces red lentils

15g (1 tablespoon) rice

1 flat bread

1 tbsp cumin

2 tbsp olive oil

2 onions, sliced


Rinse the lentils and rice and put them in a saucepan. Cover lentils with water. Add salt and cumin. Bring to a boil and cook 1 hour.

Fry or grill the sliced onions until blackened. Scatter the onions on the soup and serve immediately.

Flatbread can be used with the soup in two ways:
1. Serve with soup for dipping, either toaster or untoasted.
2. Cut into bite sized pieces and toast, then sprinkle on soup right before serving.

From a recipe found here.

Rice was first introduced in Isreal by the Persions, and by the Roman period was a common food and major export.  

Barley Flatbread
This recipe makes 8 loaves. If participants are helping you make this bread, you can also get some barley seed or wheat kernels and have them grind it into flour between two rocks (or a flat rock and a stone rolling pin, which was somewhat like women in Galilee did). I suggest having them grind a small amount and add that to pre-ground store bought barley and wheat flour, since grinding enough to make an entire loaf could be time consuming.

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup fat free plain yogurt at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup barley flour
1 cup wholewheat flour (or other whole grain)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Dissolve the yeast in warm water. Stir the yogurt until it is smooth, then stir in baking soda. The yogurt will froth. Combine salt, barly flour, and wholewheat flour (or alternative) in a large mixing bowl. Stir in yogurt yeast/water mixture. Knead for 10 minutes by hand.

Cover the bowl with saran wrap or wet towel and let rise for 1 to 1.5 hours in a warm place. It should doubled in size. Remove the dough from bowl and kneed on a breadboard. Divide into into 8 small balls. Flatten each ball into a 6″ circle. Cover and let stand for 20 minutes.

Have cloth ready for pressing the dough and wrapping the finsihed loaves (something you won’t mind getting oil on). Coat a frypan with oil or cooking spray (olive oil would have been used in Galilee, but other oils work just as well). Place dough in the pan (how ever many will fit without touching…and a little room between). Press each circle of dough with the folded cloth to squeeze out air bubbles and prevent air pockets from forming. Cook 1.5 minutes, flip, and cook another minute more. When the bread is cooked the edges of the bread will look moist. Remove from pan and wrap in cloth to keep warm.

From a recipe found here. (Recipe modified to add 1st century details). You can find more recipes for flatbread here.

PRINTABLE:This coloring page from Bible Printables features women making flatbread.

In rural villages like Nazareth, women would often wake up 3 hours before dawn to grind grain.

Historical source for Rice Fact: Wikipedia:  ancient Israelite Cuisine.  Other sources sited in text.

The Synagogue at Nazareth

SynagogueComing to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him.
- Matthew 13:54-58 (NIV)

Three of the Gospels mentions Jesus preaching in the Synagogue in Nazareth (Matthew 13:54-58; Mark 6:1-6; Luke 4:16-30). Though Nazareth was a small town, it is not surprising that it would have a Synagogue, as it only took 10 Jewish men to start one, and the population of Nazareth was most likely primarily (if not completely) Jewish. This, however, did not necessarily mean that Nazareth had a synagogue ‘building.” According to Biblical scholar Jonathan L. Reed, the term synagogue “refers primarily to a gathering and only secondarily to a structure in the earlier periods of Palestine.” (Archaeology and the Galilean Jesus: A Re-Examination of the Evidence” By Jonathan L. Reed, Pg 154-155) But if there was a synagogue building in Nazareth at the time of Jesus, what would it have been like?

Inside a First Century Synagogue
Most synagogues of the first century shared the following common features:

  • Benches lining the walls.

  • An open central space.

  • Rows of columns on each side of the central space.

The walls in many synagogues were decorated with carvings or frescoes. Most synagogues contained a chest to hold scrolls of God’s word, and in the center or at one end of the communal meeting room there was something like a podium, where the scriptures would be read.

A Sabbath Service
A Sabbath service could start once there were ten people present. The service may have opened with a communal prayer, then the people gathered would stand as the scriptures were read. Passages from the Torah, the Prophets, and the Psalms would be read in Hebrew first, often followed by a translation into Aramaic (the language most people spoke then). Following this the reader or another Jewish male would offer a commentary on what was read. Others were then free to offer their opinions. A communal prayer may have closed the meeting.

Women attended synagogue, and unlike in the temple, they were not always segregated from the men (though sometimes men and women did sit separately). Pious Gentile “God-fearers” who had not fully converted to Judaism could also attend the Synagogue.

Synagogue School
Synagogues also served as schools. As early as 75 BC education for boys in Israel began to be considered compulsary. Children were taught reading and basic arithmetic, and once a child could read they were given parchment rolls with passages of the Scriptures to memorize. The primary passages they learned were:

  • The Shema (Deut 6:4-6)

  • The Hallel (Ps 113-118)

  • The Story of Creation (Gen 1-5)

  • The Essence of Levitical Law (Lev 1-8)

Students were also asked to seek out and memorize a personal text…one that began with the first letter of his name and ended with the last letter of his name.

To teach was a high honor, and the moral character of a teacher was considered more important than his academic qualifications. A teacher had to be an even-tempered married male who had another way to support himself, since he must teach for free.

A Community Meeting Place
Synagogues also served as a court of law and community center where festivals and political assemblies would be held.

Donald D. Binder, “Second Temple Synagogue FAQs”
The Synagogue
Education in Ancient Isreal
Nazareth Village Synagogue
Archaeology and the Galilean Jesus: A Re-Examination of the Evidence” By Jonathan L. Reed, Pg 154-155
Jesus Went to Synagogue
Jerusalem Synagogue

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Joseph, the Carpenter

Nazareth Village Carpenter - Photo by Andrew Dowsett
The greek word translated “carpenter” used to describe Joseph in our Bible was a very broad term that could also be translated “building-tradesman.” It could describe someone who worked with wood, stone, plaster, or tin and could even be used to describe an unskilled building worker.

One common job a carpenter did was to make planks of wood for a roof. The carpenter had to first cut down trees for timber with an axe or primitive saw, then either saw down the length of the wood or shape the wood into suitable beams with a hand adze (an axe-like tool used primarily for shaping wood). (You can see some pictures of first century carpentry tools here. )

Carpenters also made smaller items for the home like doors, window lattices, stools, low tables, and chests. In Nazareth Joseph most likely supplied farmers with agricultural tools like yokes, ploughs, and shovels. But it’s unlikely he would have found enough work in Nazareth alone, and probably often traveled to nearby towns to work on building projects or sell his craftwork.

PRINTABLE: : This coloring page by Bible Printables features various trees that grew in Isreal. These are examples of the trees Joseph may have used for wood for his carpentry.
PRINTABLE: : A coloring page of an Olive Tree, another tree that Joseph might have used wood from.

The Biblical Wood Shop
Isreal Pages: Sepphoris and Nazareth
Photo by Andrew Dowsett

Nazareth Pictures

Nazareth Villiage is a recreation of Nazareth as it was 2,000 years ago, located just 500 yards from where some believe the town of Nazareth was at the time of Jesus. Thank you to James Emery and Ian Scott for the pictures below.

And here's a video tour of Nazareth Village...

CRAFT IDEA: Making Thread, Dyeing, and Weaving

This page contains some affiliate links through which I can earn commission.

Weaver from Nazareth Villiage  - Picture By See the Holy Land
The picture to the right shows a woman spinning thread like a woman in 1st Century Isreal might have done. They would start by making yarn using a drop spindle, then might dye the yarn, and then weave it on a loom. All of these activities make great crafts, though some of them are not as easy for young children.

I have not tried this out but it looks as if this is a craft which could be done with older children and teens, but might be too hard for younger children. A drop spindle can be made from a dowel and a door pull, wooden car wheel, or even a an old CD. There is a good video showing how to use a drop spindle here, and you can find some detailed written instructions here (though it looks like two different types of spindles were used, one with a weight at the bottom and another with a weight at the top). Making enough string for even the coaster sized weaving project below would probably be too time consuming for a typical VBS marketplace session or Sunday School class, but it looks like making enough for three strands for a braided bracelet might be possible.

While it’s possible to dye with the same natural materials used in the first century, most methods require boiling and some considerable time. So, if you want to dye wool or cloth with children commercial dyes may be preferable (though you can use grape juice or kool-aid). However, if you intersperse dying with other activities during the wait time while the dye sets, it may be possible. Click on the links below to find out how to make various dyes which might have been used in first century Galilee:

Overview of Dying With List of Natural Materials You Can Use
(not all materials listed were available in 1st Century Isreal)

Plants Used in Dying (Includes historial info on some plants)
(Page sometimes refers you to Medical Uses of Plants and other sections of its site, which can be found from its main page here.)

Chicory and Walnut Dye
(Also has a Goldenrod Dye, which is Native to the Americas and wasn’t in Isreal at that time.  But chicory and walnut were both available in Isreal).

Dandelion Root Dye

Grape Juice Dye

Marigold/ Calendula Dye

Onion Skin Dye

Pomegranate Dye

Making coaster sized rugs or woven bracelets with cardboard looms is a craft children can do, and which many adults would enjoy as well. You can find a tutorial here or check out the video below.  You can make the looms yourself from scrap pieces of cardboard, though if you are doing these with a large group it might be worth it to buy them (you can find a variety of sizes for sale here and some wide-notched varieties that work well for kids here). To make it easy for children to weave, you can glue popsicle sticks to the end of pre-cut pieces of yarn for them to use as a “needle” to pull the thread over and under the strings, or you can purchase plastic needles. Unfinished projects can be taken home, but make sure to first demonstrate what to do when finished (and possibly send home printed instructions). Another option is a straw loom which is sometimes easier for little hands.

Picture of weaver from Nazareth Villiage provided by See the Holy Land.


Activity: A Galilean Garden

(NOTE:  This was originally an activitiy primarily for Nazareth VBS, but to my knowledge these grow throughout Galilee, or at least in the mountains of Galilee, so I changed it to Galilee for wider use).

Planting something which grew in Galilee can be a fun activity for a child. Luckily, there are many common garden plants which also grew in Galilee. I’ve listed some below which have short germination times (which is important when planting with children, who can loose interest if a plant takes too long to sprout). The varieties which grew wild in Galilee may be a somewhat different then the varieties commonly grown in the US, which tend to be a bit more showy.

Cucumber (germinate 4-6 days)
Squash (germinates 4-6 days)
Canteloupe/Muskmellon (germinates 4-6 days)
Garlic (plant cloves)
Dill (germinates 5 days)

Since none of these vegetables grow well on a windowsill (except possibly garlic or dill, though dill grows tall), you may want to check here to see when is the best time to plant in your area. Cantaloupe may be an issue with parents, since they take up a lot of garden space.

Alyssum, (germinates 4-8 days) – type in Isreal is yellow
Aster (germinates 7 – 14 days)
Calendula/Pot Marigold (germinates 5-7 days) .
Pink Dianthus (germinates 5-7 days)
Morning Glory (germinates 7 – 14 days)
- NOTE: the seeds of morning glory are poisonous if eaten in large quantities.
Portulaca (one site said 6-10 day, another said 14 – 21 days)
Scabiosa/Pincusion Flower/Bachelor Button – (germinates 8 – 12 Days)
Snapdragons (germinates 7 – 12 days)
Viola (germinates 7 – 14 days)

FUN FACT: Calendula flower was used for medicine, and a dye can be made using it’s petals. The type which grows in Isreal looks more like a daisy and less like a mum (I’ve seen something similar sold in garden centers in the US).


FARMING TOOLS PRINTABLE: You can share this free coloring page from Bible Printables featuring farming tools from Bible times to teach children even more about farming.

THRESHER PRINTABLE. This coloring pages features a thresher used to thresh wheat in ancient times.

Nazareth VBS Resources

Some great resources for Group's Nazareth VBS
...or other Nazareth themed church activities.

Group Hometown Nazareth Main Page
We used the Hometown Nazareth VBS program at our church, and I highly recommend it. While we decided to forgo the cartoonish decorations in favor of the more historical decor, the information, dialogues, and format of this program is exceptional! Our kids really responded to it.
Nazareth VBS Facebook Page
I've found this group to be an invaluable resource for problem solving and getting ideas, 
Groups Forum
I've found the forums at Group can also be a great resource, though it is not as active as it used to be.
1st Century Nazareth Printable Doc
This flyer I made contains useful pictures and tid-bits about life in Nazareth in the first century.  This flyer is free for non-profit use. It contains a lot of the information found about Nazareth on this blog in printable form, including pictures.  You are welcome to copy it and alter it as long as you keep the credits for pictures and info in tact.
A Nazareth Home Printable Doc
This flyer has a list of items you might find in a Nazareth house, along with a photo collage.  This flyer is free for non-profit use. It contains a lot of the information found about Nazareth on this blog in printable form, including pictures.  You are welcome to copy it and alter it as long as you keep the credits for pictures (if you use those).
Jesus in Nazareth: Preschool VBS
This looks like it would be a good supplement to the Group Nazareth VBS materials for Churches wanting to incorporate a pre-school program.
Jesus in Nazareth Coloring Pages
Free coloring pages for Nazareth VBS.

Ways to Make a Faux Stone Wall
A great resource on this blog for making Mary's house, and other houses you might use in Nazareth.
Riding to Nazareth Craft
This looks like a great craft to do with younger children during family time.
VBS Nazareth Snack Ideas
Great easy snack ideas which help teach the VBS Bible point of the day.
Tips for the Hometown Nazareth Bead Bazaar
A woman shared her experience with the Bead Bazaar...and if you are doing this marketplace craft, there's lots to learn from there!
Bible Coloring Pages - New Testament
Here you will find a well organized list of New Testament Bible coloring pages.

Back to Exploring Nazareth
If you haven't just come from my "Exploring Nazareth" series, please check it out.
More VBS Resources
My list of general VBS resources that would be helpful with almost any VBS program.  

Biblical History Resources

Bible Lands
This is a wonderful source for learning about daily life in various ancient cities.
The Nazareth Village Website
Nazareth Villiage has been a great resource both for photographic inspiration and for the informative articles on their site.
Historical Timeline
This timeline is great for putting the events of the New Testament in context. - Bible Timelines
This site has very good color coded visual timelines of the 4 Gospels as well as a 2000 year timeline that puts the Gospels in context.
Gospel Harmony - 4 Gospel Timeline
This site attempts to put the individual stories in the four Gospels in chronological order. Though I'm not sure if I agree entirely with their ordering (for instance, they split Jesus' trip to Nazareth where he was rejected into two separate visits, where it seems to me like these were describing a single event) I found this a valuable resource.
Life of Jesus - First Century Context of Palestine (Israel)
An overview of political and daily life in first century Palestine.
Bible Resources - Local Governments
I found this a clear, concise description of the structure of government under the Romans in Jesus' time.
Bible Archetecture
I found the "housing" section of this site extremely helpful.
All Things In the Bible
You can preview a lot of the pages of this book online, including pages showing agricultural and carpentry tools.
Sabbath Meals - Ancient History
I found this answer to a question about the type of meal Jesus would have eaten extremely helpful. He not only laid out wonderfully the first century diet and eating habits, but related it to it's practical application in a 5th grade classroom.
Primitive Skills and Wilderness Crafts
Though this lens doesn't have anything specifically to do with 1st Century Palestine, some of the skills it describes (rope making, fire starting) were things that were part of daily life in all ancient cultures).
Inside First Century Home | That the World May Know
Summary of what it was like in a first century Jewish home.
Luv Shmuli
This fictional diary of a first century Galilean boy is a fun way to learn about daily life in this time period.
Ancient Jewish Coins
A reference listing of coins used by the Jewish people in ancient times - Calgary Coin.
Map of 1st Century Judea and Galilee
A good reference.
Bible Printables - Bible Life and Times Coloring Pages - Biblical Headdress - 6
This site contains not only coloring pages depicting Biblical stories, but many pages that help kids learn about daily life in Biblical times.

Cooking With the Bible
A good source of Biblical recipes.

VBS General Resources

Some great resources and websites I've found to help you with VBS.

Groups Forum
I've found the forums at Group to be an invaluable resource for problem solving and getting ideas.

Holy Land VBS Un-official Forum
An un-official place to discuss Holy Land Adventure VBS...full of great people with lots of wonderful advice.  This is the best place to find "alternative" crafts and supplies and such...things that aren't talked about as much now on the official forums.
VBS Connect
They recycle pre-owned, gently used VBS and childrens ministry materials by making them available to churches nationwide. A great resource if you want to find materials for an older VBS program.

VBS Tips
A blog with a wealth of VBS tips.
Bible Coloring Pages - New Testament
Here you will find a well organized list of New Testament Bible coloring pages.
Summer Photo Tips for VBS - Laura Swift Photography
Summer photo tips for VBS. Take your kids to VBS and grab a few fun story telling photos while you are there.

Free Fonts and Font Info

Alphabet Timeline
What was used where and when (I was surprised to learn there was a Samaritan alphabet, for instance)
Hebrew Fonts
These fonts have ancient Hebrew letters, and are free to use. The Nabatean Font (1st c.) would have been the type Jesus would have used and read from most often.
Greek Fonts
Various Greek Fonts, all free to use

Free Bible Graphics

Each site has different terms of use, and in some cases each graphic on the site does, so "free" is relative.  Some are in the public domain (completely free to use for anything--though maybe not in all countries), some are Creative Commons (free, but maybe not for adaption or commercial use, depending on license, and usually require credit given), and some have other rules of use.

Illustrated Bible History
A collection of free biblical history graphics.  Images may be used for personal, Church, or non-commercial use. Links should go to
Open Clip Art
Clip art released by their authors into the public domain.  You can find lots of great biblical images here, as well as other images.

Clip Art Etc.
A clip art archive free for educational or non-profit use.
Wikimedia Commmons
Collection of graphics (and sound and video files too), most of which are either in the public domain or under open licensing allowing them to be freely used.  Check the licenses on each image or file for specifics.

Photos and clip art released by their authors into the public domain.  You can find lots place images here (like pyramids in Egypt, the Jordan River, etc.)

MOST PHOTOS ON THIS SITE ARE NOT FREE TO USE, however, some are, and you can do an advanced search to find pictures available under creative commons.

If you know of another great VBS resource, please share it in a comment.