By Marian Curd
Daily Life in Paleetine at the Time of Christ, by Daniel Rops. Translated from the French by Patrick O'Brian (Weidenfeld and Nicoleon, 42s.).
IN the daily life of the Jewish people. may not the most important event in the history of the world have passed unnoticed? Did the crowd, the women on their way to the upper market for their Passover shopping, worshippers on their way to the temple, ass-drivers, craftsmen, merchants and so on in Jerusalem in April of the year 30 A.D. pay much attentiOreto the procession? After all, a condemned man being led to execution was no uncommon spectacle.
This is the thought-provoking ending to a tremendously rich book which brings deeper understanding of the words of Christ. of His actions and their setting.
Daily Life in Palestine in the Time of Christ k a hook which is what it says it S. Daniel Rops. loaded with literary laurels, has drawn on the Bible, the apocryphal books of the Old and New Testaments. Josephus and the Talmud to give us the geographical human and political details of the all-important little land of Christ's birth.
He tells us how people lived. what they did. wore and ate; what the land. the weather. the houses. NiTrc like; and although some parts of the book are somewhat overmeticulous and others suffer from generalisations, the result is a picture in depth: it is a picture of great value to all. hut particularly to the teacher of Scripture in day or Sunday schools-right from the lower forms upwards. It should be in every school library.
Flow many children are rather shocked when they hear about the man who was turned 'away from the wedding feast because he had no wedding garment? Who bothers (or is able) to explain the puzzle to them.
Won't the ,story about the beam in one's eye make more sense if it is explained that in the narrow. noisy odoriferous .streets of those days carpenters carrying large beams of wood over their shoulders presented a very real danger of a "beam in the eye". in Jerusalem streets were so narrow that two panniered asses could barely pass.
Here. too, we have the explanation of the fish in St. Matthew's Gospel which St. Peter found with a coin irs its mouth. This fish apparently keeps its young in its mouth. and when the little fish grow too big it expels them taking a stone or a coin in their place.
Flow about the food of those days? Cocks and hens there were in plenty; vegetables included cucumbers, beans. lentils, lettuce. chicory. Little meat was eaten. Fish and bread formed the usual meal.
The olive was valuable and the whole cuisine based upon its oil. The fruit was eaten. the oil used in lighting and medicine, and for sacred purposes. Its wood was highly esteemed and used in the temple. It grew everywhere reaching 40 ft. in 500 years. It was a tree of joy, peace, and health. Camels were rare then but could carry some 10 cwt. for 30 miles. The ass was not the little donkey of our beaches and markets. but a Muscat ass, almost white, big, strong, and able to travel 25 miles a day quite happily. Horses were not normally mounted. Cats. so revered in Egypt, were rare in Palestine. there isn't even a word for one in the Hebrew language!
A handsome present for a woman of those times would have been a belt--a thing of many folds which was used for much the same purpose as a handbag today.
The look of the land of Israel may have changed somewhat, but the climate remains: strong con trasts, delightful early mornings. short twilights. night skies of astonishing beauty. hut nights so cold that the law required the creditor to give back the debtor his cloak. taken as a pledge. at dusk. In March. said a proverb. "the ox shivers at dawn but at noon he seeks the shade Of the fig tree to loosen his skin".
Contrasts were great. In winter Pius worshippers in the temple at Jerusalem might have their faces slashed with icy rain borne on the gales; while at Jericho the wealthy took their ease in linen robes . .
On an April night the gospel shows us Peter coming into the high priest's courtyard for news of his Master and trying to warm himself at a brazier. (By the way. an odd slip on p. 225, it was of course Peter not Paul who thus warmed himself.)
According to Jewish law a boy came of age at 13. A man married at 18 or soon after. a girl from I2e. Our Lady reckons Daniel Reps, was probably no more than 14 when Our Lord was born. And he questimes the date of Christmas. The sheep, he reasons, would not have been out on the hills in December. The nights are too cold. Myrrh, which one of our plaster Magi will he carrying on Sunday. is a thorny plant whose gum resin was so valuable that in the Song of Solomon the beloved compares her lover to it. Another plant. the " lily of the field ". might mot have been the white lily that we know. hut. says the author, may have been the crimson gladiolus. or red anemone.
Clear exposition of 'the laws and customs of the Jewish people as given by Mr. Rops explains for example the astonishment of the apostles when they saw Our Lord talking to the Samaritan woman. It was. in fact. improper for an Israelite to speak to a woman in the streets at all-even it' she were his wife !
Silver trumpets blasted out from the Temple in Jerusalem. calling the people to prayer, as often as the BBC now turns out the news. That is life. That is the feel of this scholarly, revealing book which needs to he held in one hand, the Bible in the other. while the feet are on the ground and the head no longer needs to wonder about such trifles as the purchasing power of the widow's mite . . .