28 June 2010

Sicko! Medicine and Health in Bible Times

By Timothy S. Wilkinson

    Ancient Egypt, famous to this day for its advances in architecture, astronomy, mathematics and art has no such claim in the field of medicine. In fact, ancient Middle Eastern cultures in general shared a basic view of disease: it was caused by some form of demonic possession. Whips, masks, and statuettes were used to frighten these spirits away.
                In Babylon (present day Iraq), doctors would remove the liver of a sheep and consult it to diagnose their patient’s disease; clay models of sheep’s livers have been found with diagrams explaining what the doctor should look for. Once the malevolent spirit had been identified, the physician/priest would perform an exorcism and then prescribe some sort of healing regimen to help the sufferer’s body recover from the damage the spirit had caused to his or her body.
                Although at times this regimen included ingredients now known to have some medicinal value—caper, mandrake, and garlic were common—records from the period make it clear that they were valued for the magical, rather than their medical, properties.  An ostraca from around 2000 B.C.E. instructs doctors to “pulverize…the dried vine, pine tree, and plum tree; pour beer over it, rub with oil, fasten as a poultice.”
                The Code of Hammurabi outlines some laws regarding medicine. If, for example, a doctor is operating on a patient’s eye using a copper lancet and the patient is blinded, then the doctor’s eye was also put out with the same copper lancet.
                As mentioned, Egypt did not build on the practice of the early Mesopotamians. We know many details of their medical practices from the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, the Papyrus Ebers, and other papyri from medical schools.
Egyptians, too, believed healing to be a spiritual process, and relied on the gods of healing: Imhotep, Apis, and Isis. Unfortunately, the “medicines” they developed to aid this process were no benefit to their patients. Ground donkey teeth, worm’s blood, and other outlandish items were often prescribed. The Papyrus Ebers has a recipe for a poultice to treat skin conditions: mix human excrement with fresh milk and apply it to the wound after the scab has fallen off. Equally effective was the remedy for drawing out splinters: cook worms’ blood in oil; cook a mole in oil; crush the mole with the worm’s blood and mix in ass’s dung and fresh milk. Apply liberally to the wound.
It is these bizarre practices that make the medicinal practices of the ancient Israelites so striking. The Torah forbade them from touching corpses, so they could make no post-mortem examinations to develop their knowledge of anatomy. They believed in a connection between good health and a life of devotion to God.  But their practices indicate a thorough understanding of human health unequalled by any civilization of the time.
Leviticus chapter 11 speaks of disease being spread by insects, rodents, and even contaminated water—something that would have made no sense to people unfamiliar with the concept of germs. It ran contrary to the beliefs of every other culture at the time.
A person who did (inadvertently) touch a dead body was required to wash thoroughly afterward—something not widely practiced before the last century. Deuteronomy chapter 23 mandates the safe disposal of sewage, protecting the people against fly-borne salmonellosis, shigellosis, typhoid, and other diseases that continue to kill thousands of people every year who do not use such precautions.
In fact, personal and social hygiene were emphasized in all aspects of life, making the Israelites unique among all Bronze Age people. Leviticus chapter 11 details a number of sanitation laws, all of which make excellent medical sense.
The nations that lived around Israel in Canaan practiced incest, bestiality, and orgies as part of their worship—hardly healthy practices physically or psychologically. Laws regarding sexual conduct and forbidding intermarriage with those who practiced such things no doubt protected the Israelites from sexually transmitted diseases.
Circumcision of newborn boys was to be done on the 8th day of the child’s life. Only in the past century have doctors discovered that the blood clotting element Vitamin K only reaches an adequate level by the 8th day, and that the clotting agent prothrombin is typically higher on the 8th day than on any other day of the child’s life.
The Sabbath law required all people to take a day every week for rest, relaxation and time with family and friends. While the Bible does not make any direct connection between observing the Sabbath and physical health, it is inarguably psychologically beneficial.
Poultices of dried figs and oil were used to treat boils—and are still used today to good effect. Oil and wine were poured onto wounds, wine was mixed with myrrh and other natural narcotics as a painkiller, and “balm of gilead” (likely an aromatic excretion from an evergreen tree) was effective in soothing irritated skin.
By Isaiah’s time, the Israelites had developed some forms of surgery. Skulls and diagrams found in the area of Jerusalem show clear evidence of trepanning: removing a section of bone from the skull to relieve pressure on the brain. This could be life-saving—although the number of skulls found with holes still in them seem to indicate the procedure was rarely successful. (Patients who healed would have the piece of skull replaced and the skin sewn back over it).
The conclusion many have drawn from such unusual medical practices (for the time) is that the Israelites had access to medical, biological, and physiological knowledge far ahead of their time.

For more information about life in Bible times, check out my novels Prophet of Israel and Judge of Israel, available from www.timothywilkinson.net.

Book Release Party: 17 July 2010

Join me for my official book release party:
17 July 2010
3:00 to 9:00 p.m.
316 West 9th Street, Port Angeles, WA. 

More details to come soon, but plan on an evening of Middle Eastern food, cocktails, a reading, and an opportunity to view artifacts and replicas from ancient Palestine!

Oh--and buy a limited edition signed copy of Judge of Israel while you're there!

Timothy S. Wilkinson

26 June 2010

Death of a Hebrew: Ancient Israelite Burial Customs

 Death of A Hebrew:
Ancient Israelite Burial Customs
by Timothy S. Wilkinson

                Ancient Israelite practices surrounding death were different from the Canaanites or Egyptians, who believed the dead lived on in another world, and different from modern Western funerals and wakes, which are quiet, somber affairs. They were probably most similar to the mourning rituals of the modern people of North Africa and the rural parts of the Middle East.
                When a person died (usually surrounded by family), everyone gathered began to wail—making a sound that Micah compared to the howling of jackals and the hooting of owls (Micah 1:8). This wailing would quickly spread outside the home and into the neighborhood. Incense was lit (sometimes in huge quantities that could be smelled outside the city walls), and the people would remove their shoes, tear their clothes, dress in coarse goat’s-hair garments, beat their breasts, and throw dust or ashes on their heads. Some would even cut themselves in grief, or shave off a portion of their beard or the tops of their heads (Jeremiah 48:37 and Micah 1:16), even though these practices were forbidden by the Torah (Leviticus 19:28 and Deuteronomy 14:1).
                Wealthy families would hire professional mourners—usually women—who would orchestrate the wailing and marching and help to raise the overall volume of the occasion. The “cup of consolation” might be passed among the family: a large cup of wine symbolizing the shared experience of grief. For about a week afterward the mourning would continue, and family and friends would fast (probably just during daylight hours) and neither wash nor anoint themselves with perfume or oil. This period of fasting was followed by a large funeral meal.
                Within a day or so of death, though (but not on a Sabbath or a holiday), the body was buried. To be left unburied was considered one of the worst possible fates, suitable only for the most notorious of criminals. (In the hot Palestinian climate, it would also have created a terrible stench and attracted all manner of vermin). The family would wash the body and wrap it in linen. (Egyptians, of course, embalmed their dead by removing the internal organs and storing them in canopic jars, filling the body with spices and paste, and wrapping it with bandages treated with preservatives). Sometimes they would place a cap on the deceased and wrap the jaw closed with a bandage around the head.
                A parade of mourners would follow the family members who bore the body on a stretcher from their home to the burial site. Very poor people were simply laid in a trench and then covered with dirt and stones—remains of many of these bodies have been found in the Kidron Valley east of Jerusalem.
                A group of burial caves or sepulchers has been found at Ketef Hinnom, west of Jerusalem. They apparently belonged to aristocrats of the seventh century B.C.E. The caves were cut from the limestone hills. Each had a low, round entrance that led into a larger room. Within this room were benches carved from the rock, each of which had been slightly hollowed out to accommodate the shape of a body.
                Along with the remains at Ketef Hinnom were found items that had been buried with their previous owners, the most significant of which were probably two plaques of silver beaten into a thin sheet and then rolled up. On the plaques had been carved the Priestly Benediction:
May Jehovah bless you and keep you;
May Jehovah make his face shine down upon you, and may he favor you;
May Jehovah lift up his face toward you, and assign peace to you.
                One of the remarkable things about these plaques is the evidence they provide that the divine name (written as the Hebrew letters YHWH) was in common use at the time.
                The mouth of the tomb was sealed with a large disc-shaped stone or a round boulder to keep out animals, and then the entrance was painted white so that travelers would not accidentally come too near it, thereby rendering themselves ceremonially unclean.
                After the bodies had been given time to decompose, the family entered the tomb and collected the bones and any personal items from the benches and placed them in jars called ossuaries. These were placed in hollows under the benches to make room for more bodies to come. Such tombs were used over and over for many years—the Ketef Hinnom sepulcher had remains from at least 95 different individuals. This may account for the common Hebrew expression for death: that a person had been “gathered to his forefathers.”

For more information about life in Bible times, check out my novels Prophet of Israel and Judge of Israel, available from www.timothywilkinson.net.

25 June 2010

"What Are We to Put On?"

“What Are We to Put On?”
Clothing in Old Testament Times
By Timothy S. Wilkinson

The Torah spends considerable time discussing rules about clothing and yet manages to give us few details as to what they actually looked like. In the first century of our Common Era, Pharisees made a list of clothing in order to specify which garments could be rescued from a burning house on the Sabbath (I wonder if they stood by with a checklist to make sure no rules were being broken). This provides us with some of the Greek names of garments at the time, as well as their relative values. How well this list applies to the garments of Israelites in earlier centuries, we do not know. Archaeology and non-Biblical source material have filled in some of the gaps, but assumptions are often made on the basis of clothing in Greek times (recorded in more detail by Alexander the Great’s scribes). It seems likely that clothing styles did not change too drastically, but it should be remembered that the following information can be confirmed only by time travel.

The Torah makes it clear that wearing the clothing of the opposite sex was strictly forbidden. There may have been several reasons for this, not the least of which were the religious practices of the Canaanites. Among their priests were kurgaru, whom we would call castrati—eunuchs who dressed in women’s clothing. Assinu were homosexual priests who likewise wore women’s clothing and make-up, and sinnishat zikrum (literally “female males”) were lesbian priestesses who dressed like men.

Basic Israelite men’s clothing, though, began with the kethoneth, something like a loose miniskirt. While laboring in the sun, it was all that men wore, and they would pull the skirt between their legs and tuck it into their belt, or girdle, to keep it out of the way. (I find it interesting that men wearing miniskirts did not, at the time, constitute a violation of the restrictions against wearing women’s clothing).

A woman’s undergarment (klanidja) was more like a long nightshirt or dress. It was worn by itself during hot weather and while sleeping. Ancient Hebrew women did not wear underwear as we know it. (Neither did men, except for the Priests while serving at the altar).

Men and women also wore a girdle, or wide belt—known as the abnet for men and the pirzomath for women. It was sometimes made of folded wool and sometimes of leather. A slit was cut in it as a money pouch, or pocket. A leather girdle could also be used to hold swords and daggers or provide protection to the abdomen during battle.

The outer garment could take many forms: cloaks, robes, ponchos, capes, aprons, and mantles. Some pictures of them can be found on the so-called “Black Obelisk” of Shalmaneser III, which depicts Israelites paying tribute. Sometimes it was a tunic of wool, linen, or sackcloth (goat’s hair). It might have been sleeveless and be worn over one shoulder like a Roman toga, have short sleeves and be left open in front to reveal a second tunic beneath it, or have long, voluminous sleeves and a hood like a monk’s robe. It was typically made of two pieces of material seamed at the waist (looms of the time could not weave cloth wide enough to make it out of one piece) with a v-shaped opening for the head. Embroidery patterns on the borders might identify the region from which the wearer came. For men and women, these garments were decorated with a blue fringe along their lower edge as required by the Torah.

This outer garment was used as a rug and a blanket when needed—and as a rag, pot holder, washcloth, and (by holding out the bottom hem in front of the wearer like a little girl bringing home berries) a pouch to carry things. The wealthy wore fancier versions—silk gradually made its way to the Middle East during this time—as a sign of status.

Men often went bare-headed, but they might wear a cap (pjilon), helmet, turban, or headband. Women did wear head coverings—turbans, scarves, or veils. For at least some of the Biblical period, an unmarried woman would only lift her veil for her husband—a practice that has been adapted by some Muslim nations today.

Men and women wore sandals for footgear, or went barefoot if particularly poor.

The Bible also speaks of special “robes of honor” worn as a sign of rank, wedding and mourning garments, and a detailed list of garments worn by the priests when they were serving at the Tabernacle or Temple.
Israelite men and women loved to accessorize. Women commonly wore a circlet of dowry coins around their heads, over their veil. In Isaiah 3:18-24, the prophet gives us a breakdown of other common jewelry: anklets, headbands, crescents, pendants, bracelets, scarves, headdresses, armlets, sashes, amulets, rings, earrings, nose rings, handbags, and more. Of course, he was listing them to condemn their usage, or at least the vanity and intercultural influence that had made them popular.

I wonder what he would have thought of our clothing today.

For more information about life in Bible times, check out my novels Prophet of Israel and Judge of Israel, available from www.timothywilkinson.net.

24 June 2010

Of Hearth and Home: Common Houses in Ancient Israel

Of Hearth and Home:
Common Houses in Ancient Israel
By Timothy S. Wilkinson

                The design of houses in the Middle East has remained fairly uniform through the centuries, so that even today one can find families living in houses that are virtually identical (in architecture, at least) to the homes of three millennia ago.
                The Israelites started out living in tents, as did many of the peoples of the Levant—and even after they had built more substantial homes, it was not uncommon for families to live in tents during the summer harvest season. Cave homes were also relatively common, like the one Lot lived in (Genesis 19:30) or the more elaborate caves of the Edomites at Petra (Obadiah 3).
                The standard house within the borders of a town, though, was blockish in design, comprised of a single rectangular room for the very poor, or a larger square with an open courtyard in the center for the wealthier. The roof was flat and typically reached by means of an external staircase—either outside the home or within the courtyard.
                Inside was usually a single room, around 10 feet square. The thick brick walls had niches carved in them for storing food and utensils, and a single, narrow window to let in light and let out smoke; it might be covered with a wooden lattice (Proverbs 7:6) in summer and a skin or wool curtain in winter. The door was nothing more than a curtain in poorer homes; wealthier citizens could afford a wooden door with a bar.
                The floor was packed earth, often in two levels: a lower section into which one entered when coming through the door, and a raised portion at the back where the family slept and ate. Historians speculate that one of the reasons for this raised section was to keep livestock from walking on the sleeping family when the animals were brought inside at night during winter. In any case, to our modern noses the houses would have been redolent with the smell of animals and smoke.
                Furniture was a luxury. Common people had a straw mat for a bed, and their “table” was simply a rug laid on the floor during meal times. The wealthier had couches, divans, tables, and chairs—sometimes exquisitely carved.
                Homes were constructed of bricks of sun-dried mud or fired clay until the time of King David. Then, with the availability of iron tools, houses of cut stone became more common. Unless the home was of finished stone, it was sealed with mortar or whitewash, designed to protect it from the weather. The idea was only moderately successful—these homes required constant maintenance. The walls provided a warm, protected environment for vermin—no doubt the rustling of rodents, birds, and snakes were common noises in the Israelite home.
                Homes in Galilee were typically built using black basalt. Those constructed along the Mediterranean coast were made of yellow sandstone, and the rest of the country used white limestone.
                The roof of the Middle Eastern home served many purposes and was, in some ways, the most important area of the house. It was constructed by laying brushwood across sycamore (cedar or cypress for the wealthy) beams, then binding and covering it with layers of mud. These roofs were, as you can imagine, particularly susceptible to rain. A heavy roller was kept handy to pack the mud down again after precipitation had softened it.
                In spite of this precaution, roofs leaked. Since the mud that made them was full of seeds and roots, plants began to sprout after each rain; roofs must have turned green during the wet season.
                The roof provided a cool, quiet place for the family to gather, for women to do their work, and for crops to be dried for storage. The Torah required that family heads install a parapet around the roof—no doubt because so much time was spent atop it that falls could have been common.

For more information about life in Bible times, check out my novels Prophet of Israel and Judge of Israel, available from www.timothywilkinson.net.

10 June 2010

Judge of Israel Release Schedule

14 June: order proof from printer
28 June: complete edit/review of proof; presses start printing!
14 July: first books shipped from printer
18 July: Book release party?

02 June 2010

The Torah as Legislation

by Timothy S. Wilkinson

The Torah was essentially a legislative document outlining the governmental systems that Israelites were to live by; in fact, unlike most nations, the citizens subjected themselves to the laws voluntarily. Its precepts were not only very advanced for their time, but they formed the basis for all of western law since—including the Constitution of the United States.

The Ten Commandments (the “Ten Words” in the original Hebrew) were fairly standard laws shared by most cultures—with one key exception. The tenth commandment forbade covetousness. Not only was this difficult to enforce, but its violation could be known only by God and the violator.

Jehovah was the Supreme Sovereign, and human kings (who first appeared hundreds of years after the Law was instituted) were said to ‘sit on Jehovah’s throne,’ representing him. Below the king, the nation was organized into tribal elders, princes or chieftains and, under them, chiefs of thousands, hundreds and fifties. These were selected by the elders on the basis of their fear of God, their trustworthiness, and their incorruptibility. Respect for all of these government officials was mandatory, and disrespect was punishable, in extreme cases, by death.

All members of the nation were required to love Jehovah and worship Him alone, and to do so with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. ‘Taking up God’s name in a worthless way’ was a serious offense. Engaging in the worship rituals of other nations was also a crime: making or worshipping idols, cutting or tattooing the body, spiritism, or sorcery.The tribe of Levi was responsible to take the lead in worship. Since this took precedence over their secular work, they were supported through a tithe paid by the other twelve tribes. The Levites, in turn, gave a tenth of what they received to the Priests, made up of one family or clan in the tribe.

Priests served as teachers, lawyers and judges. Elders made up the lower courts; difficult cases were submitted to under-priests or to the Supreme Court made up of the High Priest and his sons. Two witnesses to a given crime were required in order to file charges. If the accused was found guilty, these witnesses were the first participants in executing punishments (which helped prevent false testimony).

Civil infractions were typically punished by fine. Criminal infractions could result in public beating (no more than 40 strokes), a corresponding retaliatory punishment (an “eye for an eye”), payment of damages, or death by stoning.

While Hebrew people were born into their position as members of the “congregation of Israel,” people of other nations could freely join by being circumcised and abiding by the terms of the Law. Such proselytes were limited, though, in their access to certain holy locations and participation in certain rituals.

The seventh day of the week was a Sabbath, reserved for worship; no “work” (the word carries the idea of “secular activities” in Hebrew) was to be done on that day. Any individual with so little appreciation for spiritual things that he rejected the opportunity to relax and worship with family and friends and (alone, while the rest of his people were engaged in worship), sacrificed an opportunity to serve God for the sake of making money was considered an idolater: he had placed profit ahead of his obligations to God. As an idolater, he was executed. If this punishment seems harsh, it is good to keep in mind that any Israelite who ignored the Sabbath did so deliberately against tremendous family, social, cultural, and religious pressure; he was, in effect, rejecting the basic moral, political, legal, and religious precepts of the nation to which he belonged.

All males were required to gather three times a year at the Tabernacle or Temple for religious holidays. It appears from ancient records that most men brought their families with them. The celebrations were the Passover (commemorating the nation’s freedom from Egypt), the Festival of Weeks (a harvest celebration), and the Festival of Booths (commemorating God’s protection and aid during the nation’s forty year sojourn in the wilderness). In time, other holidays were added.

Worshippers presented animal, drink, grain, and other offerings at the Tabernacle or Temple on a variety of occasions. Some of these were consumed in the fires of the altar, some cooked and then eaten by the officiate and the supplicant, and some waved in the air in symbol of their dedication to God.

Marriage was a sacred institution. Husbands had legal ownership of their wives. Polygamy was tolerated but regulated. If a man died without having children, his brother was expected to marry the widow and ‘raise up children for’ the dead man. Israelites could not marry foreign women, unless the women were captured during military activities. Husbands could divorce their wives for any sexual sin, unless he had seduced her before they were married. Adulterers were executed by stoning. Indecent assault was punished by amputation of the limb involved.

Israelites could loan money to their countrymen, but could not charge interest or take the borrower’s outer garment or their millstone overnight as collateral. The loaner could not enter the borrower’s home to collect the debt (or collateral); he had to wait for the borrower to bring it out to him. Every seven years all debts were forgiven and any land that had been sold was returned to its original owner.

Dietary laws listed “clean” and “unclean” foods. Eating blood or fat was strictly forbidden.

Ceremonial uncleanness required an individual to quarantine his or herself for a period of time, wash and/or sterilize him or herself and any items that might have been affected, and be inspected by a priest before being pronounced clean. In addition to symptoms of various diseases (like plague or leprosy), an individual could be pronounced “unclean” after childbirth, menstruation, sexual intercourse, seminal emissions, touching a corpse or grave, or going into battle.

Unlike any other Bronze Age cultures of the Middle East, Israelite Law established an effective welfare system to address the needs of the poor and disadvantaged. Landowners left some crops in their fields during harvest, which the poor (including widows and orphans) could collect—requiring them to work for their sustenance and granting them the dignity of doing so. Alien residents were granted the same legal protections as all other citizens.

Slavery was a major part of the culture, but in practice it had more in common with modern employment than the slavery of the 19th century. It was almost always a way for an individual to work off an otherwise unpayable debt. Masters could flog their slaves, but if the slave was maimed, he was freed; if he was killed, the master could be executed. All slaves were freed on the Jubilee, which came every seven years. When they were granted their freedom (whether by Jubilee, fulfillment of their contract, or any other reason), the Law required the master to present them with severance—the amount to be determined by the master’s financial standing.

There were no other cultures that provided protection for animals in the way the Torah did. When bulls were turning a mill wheel, they could not be muzzled, but were allowed to eat of the fallen grains. Failing to help an animal in distress—no matter whom the animal belonged to—was a criminal act, as was overworking or mistreating beasts of burden. A person was not allowed to wipe out a family of birds by collecting both the mother and her eggs. Apparently to foster a sense of the value of life, an animal and its young could not be slaughtered on the same day, and a kid could not be cooked using its mother’s milk.

While there are many more statutes in the Law (a little more than 600 of them), it was miniscule in comparison with modern legal systems—in the early 1990’s, there were roughly 125,000 pages of laws in the federal law books of the United States. But for almost 1600 years the Torah served the needs of the people of Israel.

For more information about life in Bible times, check out my novels Prophet of Israel and Judge of Israel, available from www.timothywilkinson.net.

01 June 2010

Partridge to Pistachios: Food in Old Testament Times

Partridge to Pistachios: Food in Old Testament Times
By Timothy S. Wilkinson
                Our modern preoccupation with food would have been foreign to all but the wealthiest people of ancient Palestine. As it is for subsistence farmers and pastoral people today, food was a means of sustenance, not pleasure. This is one of the reasons harvest times were so exciting: they were the only times of the year when food and drink flowed freely.
                The Israelites ate two meals each day—a light breakfast during a pause in the morning’s labor, and a heavier dinner at home after the air had cooled in the evening. Breakfast foods were simple and quick: bread from the day before, fruits, and perhaps milk or cheese. During harvest season workers would simply eat the raw grain by the handfuls or parch it over a small fire. Families would expect to eat the same meal everyday for weeks or even months—until the next crop was harvested.
                The evening meal, though, allowed the housewife and her daughters to exercise their culinary talents--within the limits of their budget, of course. Bread (leavened and unleavened) was the staple, made from freshly milled barley (for the poor), millet, or wheat, and baked into thin, flat loaves in charcoal-fired ovens. Hebrews did not use utensils at the table; they used pieces of bread to scoop food from the communal pot. The bread might be smeared with a little fresh butter, made by placing cream in a skin bag and shaking and squeezing it.
                The common people at meat only rarely. Animals were valuable sources of milk and wool, and their flesh was hard to preserve; they were slaughtered only for special occasions. (The Philistines had an alternative solution to the preservation problem—they would cut off one or two of the animal’s legs and bind the wounds, keeping them alive until they were ready to eat the rest). When the occasion did call for it, though, there were a variety of meats available: veal, beef, mutton, goat, partridge, quail, geese, pigeons, fish, and lamb. The wealthy may also have had access to deer, gazelle, roebucks, and other birds. The Torah forbade the eating of fat, so the meat (already lean by our standards) would have been carefully trimmed and then boiled (in water or milk) or roasted with onions, garlic, or herbs.
                Water was drunk when available, but this was not often. Most water that the common people had access to was not fit for drinking. Women had to laboriously draw clean water from deep wells, and it was often tepid and full of silt. Milk was the drink of choice, whether from camels, sheep, goats, or (les commonly) cows. The Bible only rarely uses the Hebrew word for fresh milk. The common practice was to put milk into a goat-skin bottle, where it thickened slightly and went sour; to the Israelite palette, nothing was better for quenching thirst. Milk was also used to make cheese (probably in the form of curds) and yoghurt.
                In the spring, greens like lettuce, endive, horseradish, parsley and watercress appeared on tables as salads, perhaps blended with mint or chopped cucumbers and onions. Housewives flavored bean or lentil stews with leeks and garlic. Most meals featured raisins or dates (often pressed into cakes like pemmican) and whatever fruits were in season: grapes, pomegranates, figs, olives, apples, and others.
                Dessert was also reserved for special occasions, and fruit was sweet enough to be a treat to the ancient palette. But locust beans (carob pods) could be stewed and prepared as sweetmeats, or confections made from honey, dates, almonds, pistachios, and gum Arabic. Wine chilled with snow from Mount Hermon or expensive, imported melons might have finished off the meal.

For more information about life in Bible times, check out my novels Prophet of Israel and Judge of Israel, available from www.timothywilkinson.net.