Daily Life at the time of Jesus by Miriam Feinberg Vamosh presents a rich overview of the culture and circumstances in which the Lord walked the earth. It discusses many aspects of Jewish life in the first century, features a copious amount of images and illustrations, and is just over 100 pages in length.
Jesus lived among His brethren in a specific time period with a unique set of social and economic circumstances. The religion and culture in which He lived were reflected in His manner of life and teaching. Understanding these background elements are helpful in properly appreciating what we read in the Bible. Ms. Vamosh does an excellent job of presenting a brief overview of many things that would have been second nature to Jesus’ hearers, but are foreign to us.
For example, the book explores common village life, the synagogue, wedding feasts, and much more. It sheds light on many well-known passages in the New Testament such as Jesus reading from Isaiah in Luke 4 and the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25 (pgs. 56 and 59). Most topics are considered over the course of just a page or two.
That doesn’t sound like much, but the book’s paper size is large, and the margins often contain 2-4 images on either side that are related to the matter being described. These add a deeper explanation of the subject beyond just words, and for me, greatly increased my appreciation of Jewish life. It also features a number of full-page images and two-page spreads that are worthy of close attention. They depict many Biblical scenes, such as a typical village and the Temple. It is a beautiful book. The text often makes reference to things and events that are depicted in such visuals as well. One instance includes the apostle Paul preaching to the people on the steps of the Antonia Fortress (pg. 33).
This is appreciated because Daily Life at the time of Jesus quotes from the Bible nearly constantly. In the illustration just mentioned, the author includes Acts 21:30-22:1 on the preceding page. Most pages have a Bible quotation or reference on it somewhere. Most of them have both a verse, and its citation, at the top. The book is also replete with quotations and references to writings of the religious teachers who influenced daily life in the first century. The most common of these are from the Jewish Talmud. Many readers may also be pleased to hear that the words of Josephus are quoted repeatedly. All of this demonstrates the great research that Ms. Vamosh has done in preparation for this work.
Outside of Biblical topics, the book also examines a few other places of interest that may be known by some Jews and Christians. These include the community at Qumran and the fortified palace known as Masada. For example, the work dedicates a few pages to the Dead Sea Scrolls (pgs. 77-79). Of these three, there are 15 different illustrations and photos related to the Scrolls and Qumran! At least six pages are spent on Masada (pgs. 80-86). On those, the author presents over a dozen photos and multiple illustrations.
The sheer amount of imagery is very impressive, and the text conveys just enough information for readers to have a good basis from which further study can be conducted. It is comprehensive in scope, but not in depth of its material. Miriam’s work provides a good survey of what she explores, but its brevity compels interested readers to look into other sources for more detailed information. Thankfully, both an index and bibliography are included at the back of the book.
There are only two small caveats I have with this work. Some may struggle with the book’s vocabulary. Second, the historical overview at the beginning may make for particularly dry reading.
Even though some of the above could be viewed as drawbacks, I actually think of them as expected based on the subject matter. Spending time setting the historical scene of the book is a required element for a text such as this. The words the author uses are sometimes rare, but also appropriate based on the topics discussed. I thoroughly enjoyed Daily Life at the time of Jesus by Miriam Vamosh, and recommend it highly to anyone who wants to begin studying the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth and His fellow Jews.
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Ancient Weaving in Israel by reinhildn from Pixabay.