A Good Book

This week’s Good Book is O. Borowski, Daily Life in Biblical Times (Atlanta: SBL, 2003). The Old Testament has been intensively studied for centuries, millennia even, and in the past two hundred years the history of Israel in biblical times has been a major concern, in which both archaeology and ancient Near Eastern studies have played their part. However, there is one aspect of Israelite history that is less well known about, even for those who have studied the subject to some extent, and this is the aspect covered in this book. While we may be familiar with the major events of Israelite history, and may know some of the problems associated with key archaeological sites, we may not have such a good idea of what life was like for most Israelites throughout the biblical period. Not everyone, after all, lived at key turning points in Israel’s history, or at important archaeological sites; and even those who did still had the routines of daily life to cope with. What did that involve?  

After a brief introduction describing the geography of the land of Israel, and the sources available for reconstructing daily life, Borowski considers in turn: rural life; urban life; the household and life cycles; the arts; and writing. He pulls together information from all over the Old Testament and from other sources uncovered mainly by archaeology. Thus his chapter on urban life covers: the layout of a village; the layout of an Israelite house; village government; the family and hospitality; religious practices; agriculture, land use and the farming calendar; herding; other professions (pottery making, weaving, tanning, carpentry, masonry and metallurgy) all of which would have played their part in rural life; warfare (a somewhat surprising inclusion in this chapter, but justified on the grounds that warfare was an important aspect of life throughout Israel). The chapter on household life covers: the Israelite diet (baked goods, dairy products, meat, fish, fruit, fruit products, drinks, spices); food strage and preparation; health and sickness; hygiene and sanitation; the life cycles (birth, marriage and death).

Each topic is succinctly but clearly covered, and there are many maps, plans and illustrations. Some of Borowski’s statements may cause BTW readers to raise their eyebrows, mainly perhaps because of their neutral, non-evaluative tone. It is initially somewhat startling to read, in a section on Israelite religious practices (p. 24): ‘Shrines were scattered throughout the country from Dan to Beer-sheba, and the Israelites worshipped a variety of deities, including Baal, Asherah, YHWH, and others.’ But then one recalls that, of course, the OT writers make the same point (see Judges 2, 2 Kings 17, etc.): it’s just that they condemn the people for these practices! Or again: Borowski cites 1 Samuel 4 as evidence for the view that the Israelites regularly carried the ark into battle to ensure that God would help them to win (p. 37). But against this view it must be objected that this is the only incident (apart from a textually dubious passage in 1 Sam 14) in which the Israelites are said to have taken the ark into battle; and that, when one considers the flow of the narrative in 1 Samuel 4 and later chapters, this act is viewed by narrator as presumptuous. The whole point of these chapters is that God’s ark cannot be treated as a kind of lucky mascot (as it is by the Israelites) or as a trophy (as the Philistines in ch. 5 want to treat it. And it is worth noting that the Israelites lost on this occasion!

These are somewhat minor details, however. The book as a whole is highly informative and instructive, and will help many readers answer questions they may have had at the back of their mind (How did the Israelites do…? I wonder what happened when…? Did the Israelites eat…?). The book is also somewhat moving, as it brings to life the daily routines of people who have left no record in the OT text, but who nonetheless were part of the story of God’s dealings with Israel. If you read no other part of the book, I recommend you read the brilliant final chapter (‘A Day in the Life of the Ahuzzam Family’), which pulls together many of the topics discussed in the rest of the book into a reconstruction of what would have happened in the life of one family living in a village near Lachish around harvest time one summer during the reign of Hezekiah. These people were men and women like ourselves…

(Reviewed by Dr Philip Satterthwaite)

CHAPEL NOTES

Ruth Chapter Four

The speaker at Chapel on 28 April was another speech communication student at BGST.  Victor Chua, formerly CEO of the National Australian Bank (Singapore & SEA), is currently taking a break to pursue his own interests.  He worships at St Andrew’s Cathedral.

The speaker began with an imaginary scenario of the relationship between Ruth and Boaz years down the road.  Then he took us back to the story of Ruth, with its focus on chapter 4.

To Victor, the chapter (and the book as a whole) presents three challenges.  First, there is the challenge of cost.  He sees the kinsman-redeemer’s choice as being a costly choice – buying the property and endangering that investment because its title would be held by Ruth’s firstborn in the name of the deceased (Elimelech).

Secondly, there is the challenge of faithfulness.  Ruth was faithful to Naomi to the extent of marrying a man at least twice her age.  She thought of Naomi’s well-being more than her own.

Finally, there is the challenge of matrimony.  To Victor, the wedding scene highlights God’s concern for family life and relationships.

Chapel ended with a call to do the “right” thing, and to consider the well-being of others before our own.

Chapel Speaker on 12 May will be Dr Philip Satterthwaite.

NEWS BITS

1.       Study Skills Orientation, 2004. The session on Skim-Reading and Speed-Reading by Dr Quek Swee Hwa has been rescheduled to 4 June, 7.30-9.00pm. Kindly take note of the new date.

2.       Admission. Mr Loke Mun Tai is working toward the Dip CS at BGST. He is an engineer by profession and has obtained his degree (Bachelor of Engineering) from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He is now a pastor at the Faith Community Baptist Church.

3.       Erratum. We apologise for the omission of the underlined text under Chapel Notes: Joo Ching has taken several courses at BGST and is currently pursuing a full-time programme of studies at the Assemblies of God Bible College in preparation for ministry. He worships at Zion Gospel Mission, where he is also chairman of the board.

Building Fund 24

A BLESSED 
BIRTHDAY TO ...


Ms Choo Peck Hong  4/5

Mr Lee Fatt Ping  4/5

Rev Ng Seng Chuan  4/5

Mr Seah Min Aun  4/5

Ms Carolyn Gan  5/5

Ms Iris Lee  5/5

Mrs Low Bee Hong  5/5

Mr Alvin Tey  5/5

Ms Yeo Kim  6/5

Dr Atomic Leow  8/5

Mr Daniel Jew  8/5

Mr Joshua Cheng  9/5

Mr Lim Hong Kian  9/5

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