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?
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).
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!
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…
by Dr Philip Satterthwaite)
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.
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.
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).
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.
there is the challenge of matrimony.
To Victor, the wedding scene highlights God’s concern for
family life and relationships.
ended with a call to do the “right” thing, and to consider the
well-being of others before our own.
Speaker on 12 May will be Dr Philip Satterthwaite.
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
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.
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.
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
Lim Hong Kian 9/5
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This page is updated on 4 May 2004.