Tag Archives: Judaism

When Jesus walked the Earth? Well, not quite

April 25, 2010

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life in year one cover

“Life in Year One,”

by Scott Korb

Perhaps my expectations were too high.

I thought “Life in Year One” would make me feel as though I were walking through Israel 2,009 years ago, taking in the sights Jesus would see, smelling the scents Jesus would smell, feeling the atmosphere of the places where Jesus walked.

Author Scott Korb does his best to piece together snatches of what is known about the period of time when Jesus lived and a few decades after his death, but I’m afraid the odds were against him being able to give readers that palpable sense of place that I was looking forward to.

After all, unlike later periods of human history, there are no diaries to rely on other than the gospels, and the major history was written by Josephus, a Jew who found it worth his while to cozy up to the conquering Romans, and Korb several times points out the exaggerations that make Josephus’ history suspect.

Readers will learn about money, food, bathing and buildings during Jesus’ time on Earth. It’s information that’s interesting enough, although a bit of repetition has bulked up what is a relatively short book here, only 208 pages.

Faith at the heart

The most interesting information involves religion, especially the fact that while there were numerous divisions within the unity of the Hebrew faith, a lot of the debating happened at the so-called upper levels was unimportant to people who lived away from the heated discussions among members of competing sects. Korb notes, “When it comes to religion as it was really and truly lived and things were really and truly believed, the people who seem to have been in charge were probably a little out of touch.”

The most important analysis Korb makes, in my view, is explaining the deep connection between the people of Israel and their religion:

“You cannot separate the lives of the people of this land from their belief in the God who put them there. More to the point, you cannot separate the lives of the people of this land from their belief that God had put them there.”

To the Jewish believers God was “the central piece of history itself,” Korb writes, and the typical Jew of the time felt and understood that God was involved in everything — that “what came from the ground, what lived in the trees, every hair on your, belonged to God” — as it had for your ancestors. It was a belief passed down genetically.

Because of the centrality of religion in the lives of the Jewish people of Jesus’ time, the synagogue was the center of a community’s life — and not just for worship. The synagogues that Jesus would have attended would have served as well as a soup kitchen, a town hall, a hostel and a school. As Korb notes:

“The people came and fed one another, taught one another. The place bustled all week. A visitor always knew he’d have a place to stay. And the Sabbath was hardly more important than the rest of the week. This tradition had been passed down through their genes. And despite all their disagreements and debates, even despite the power of Rome and the culture of Greece, they always had that. Tradition. And the synagogue was the place to practice it.”

If only we knew more

“Life in Year One” does a solid job of helping readers appreciate what it was like for the Jews to have been absorbed into the Roman Empire and actively work at keeping their Jewish identity while under Roman rule. Korb does a great service in bringing that feeling to the surface.

After reading “The Pacific” recently — a wonderful account of World War II in that part of the world, thanks to diaries written by marines and documents kept by the government — I couldn’t help but wish that Mary, for example, had written a diary and that some day it will be discovered in an archaeological dig.  There’s a book I’d love to read. — bz

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Look and learn about the places you’ve read about in the Bible

July 16, 2009

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“Oxford Bible Atlas,”
Edited by Adrian Curtis

If you’ve never been to the Holy Land or other places mentioned in the Bible, this is the book to take you there in absentia.

If you’ve been to any of those ancient sites, this Oxford University Press large-format paperback is the book to rekindle memories.

It was nearly 50 years ago that the Oxford Bible Atlas first appeared in print, and this fourth edition blossoms like none of its predecessors thanks to color photography throughout. As you might imagine, satellite photos of the Dead Sea, the River Jordan, and that portion of Earth from Egypt to the Arabian Penisula weren’t in that first edition in 1962.

As Adrian Curtis explains, the primary aim of the atlas is to provide the reader with an awareness of the world in which the biblical stories are set. Aerial photographs do what one’s imagination never can to show what the hills of Galilee, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and the City of Jerusalem are really like.

While many of us are accustomed to looking at an atlas for directions, the Oxford Bible Atlas does so much more, offering not just geography and history but archaeology and geology, too. There is as much text and photography as there are maps.
We don’t just see where Babylon is on the map, for example, but we learn how the exile of the Jews there came about.
Curtis, a Methodist lay preacher, is an excellent teacher with a background as a lecturer on the Hebrew Bible for 40 years at the University of Manchester in Great Britain.

You can very easily sit down with the atlas and read it as any other work of nonfiction, chapter by chapter. It would be great for Bible study, small group, faith sharing or adult faith formation purposes, reading a chapter a week. Most chapters are just a few pages, with full-page maps included, and they tend to read chronologically.

Where did the Ephesians live?
While many are likely to have a fairly good idea where Damascus is (in Syria, north and east of Israel), how many times have those of us in the pews heard the lector proclaim names of biblical places such as “Cappadocia” or “Ephesus” (Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians!) and not had a clue that both are part of modern-day Turkey?

A couple of the later chapters offer a real education in archaeology, including a two-page spread on ancient writing systems.

I enjoyed reading and finding my way along on the maps, but I could see where others might enjoy and learn about biblical lands just by looking at the many photos and reading the captions. That alone is an education.
Bravo to all involved in bringing Bible places to life. — bz
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