Hospitality was a fundamental aspect of Middle Eastern culture during  Jesus’ and present times. Hosts were expected to receive guest with open arms and guests were expected to accept the host’s offers of food, drink, gifts, and shelter graciously.

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Not only was it custom for hosts to feed and shelter their guests, but it was expected of them to provide the best food and lodging within their means. Furthermore, hospitality was expected to be freely given at any time or in any place (Luke 11:5-8). Families who did not meet these standards, or were not hospitable at all, brought shame upon themselves. In exchange for the host’s provision, guests were required to honor the host and his or her family, and praise them for their hospitality to others to increase the host’s honor in the community (Strauss, 163).

The host-guest connection is defined by Christ as a relationship where the guest brings and offers peace to the host and his or her home and where the host takes in the guest and allows the guest to stay, eat, and drink (NIV Bible. Luke 10:5-7). Because hospitality was a common practice in Middle Eastern culture during Christ’s time, he explicitly instructed his disciples to pack only a staff, sandals, and a shirt.

“These were his instructions: ‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff -no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.'” (NIV Bible. Mark 6:8-11)

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Whole communities were also held to hospitality standards as a whole. Jesus discerns between a good host community and a bad host community:

“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you… But when you enter into a town and are not welcomed… I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.” (NIV Bible. Luke 10:5-12)

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Hospitality’s chief function in Christian culture and history lay in the facility that it provided traveling early Christian preachers and evangelists. While spreading the news of Christ through Middle Eastern cities and villages, these missionaries always had necessary provisions (Strauss, 164).




Food and Meals

During the time of Jesus’s life on Earth which is documented in the four gospels the customs of eating where very different than they are today. The typical diets of the rich versus the poor varied greatly in both quantity and types of food. Wealthy romans ate on average four meals a day consisting of “fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, and fish” while poor people ate mostly “bread and vegetables” (Strauss 152). Jews typically only ate two meals a day “one at noon and another in the evening” (Strauss 153). They would typically live on bread, vegetables, fish and dairy products with meat usually reserved to be only eaten during festivals. In second Samuel some types of food common during this time period such as “Honey curds, sheep, and cheese from cows’ milk for David and his people to eat…”are talked about (NIV Bible, 2 Samuel 17:29). Water at the time was often considered unsafe to consume and would be typically “mixed with wine usually three or four parts water to wine” (Strauss 153).  

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Common meals were often eaten while sitting on mats. More formal meals were eaten with participants around a low table. It was an important custom for participants to “lean on their left arms and use their right hands to eat” (Strauss 153). Social status played a big role in these meals. Both your place at the table and even the qualities of food served were based on the participants social status in the community. In Luke 14 Jesus gives a parable that talks about the different seats at the banquet table. He tells his followers “But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests” (NIV Bible, Luke 14:10).


Sadducees were a Jewish sect in Judea during the Second Temple period. This sect controlled the priesthood and was highly involved in political responsibilities, like controlling the Sanhedrin. They were also fond of Roman Hellenistic thinking. This way of thinking brought order and structure into the sect.

Hellenistic thinking also brought up theological conversations and a new way of teaching The Torah. This separated the Sadducees from the Pharisees because they denied the oral traditional teaching of the time and relied on the Pentateuch (the first five books of Moses) for teaching. They would also separate themselves from the beliefs of the Pharisees by denying the idea of predestination and the immortality of the soul.


Of the various religious Jewish groups or sects that came to be at the time of the New Testament, the Pharisees were arguably the most separated and distinct from the rest. In fact, the word “Pharisee” itself is thought to be from the Hebrew “perushim” meaning separatists, as many Pharisees were known to detach themselves from many such as those who interpreted the Law differently than they, as well as from Gentiles or Jews who embraced the Hellenistic culture or other foreign influences invading Judaism (Strauss, 132).

Thought to be descendants of the Hasidic Movement, the Pharisees emerged sometime after the Maccabean revolt (Strauss, 132). While the Sadducees possessed great political power, the Pharisees had a great support among the people who were primarily middle-class merchants and craftsman quite involved in synagogues. They believed in resurrection of the dead, the prophesied coming of the Messiah, as well as the afterlife.


Their extremely devout and strict attitude and approach they had to the to the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) is another main characteristic of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were experts on the Law, believing that the gift for interpreting the law, also known as oral law, had been given by God Himself along with the written law to Moses on Mount Sinai. According to the Pharisees, the written law could not be understood without the oral, and therefore the oral law was more important. This approach to the laws made holiness or sanctification possible outside of the temple through following the law.


In fear of infringing on any of these rules they found so important, the Jewish leaders would build a “fence around the law” by developing a system of rules and interpretations that would keep people as far from sin as possible (Strauss, 132). For example, if the law said not to work on the Sabbath day, they would make up volumes of rules that indicated exactly what actions constituted work.

While the New Testament paints a fairly negative picture of the hypocritical and legalistic nature of the Pharisees, this was not their intention. The Pharisees’ main goal was to live a life of “purity and obedience to God’s law” (Strauss, 133). However, they fell short in understanding the true beauty and promise of the Gospels and the love of God. Jesus’ main criticism with the Pharisees was not that they fought to uphold the Law, but that they failed to live out their beliefs in front of a watching world.


Messianic Expectation

Similar to the expectation modern Christians have of Jesus returning to Earth to fulfill the promises He made, there was a longing of first century Jews for the coming of a savior or “messiah.” This longing or hope was known as messianic expectation. The expectation was that this God-sent person would establish a kingdom or world here on Earth that is similar to the one in heaven.


When it comes to messianic expectations of the first century, the most popular messianic hope was for the Davidic Messiah (Strauss, 139). It was thought that this savior would come from David’s lineage and that this person would help defeat the enemies Israel was facing which would allow it to once again gain back it’s independence. Numerous references to the Davidic Messiah can be found in various books of the Bible such as Luke and also in some Old Testament books like 2 Samuel and Isaiah.


Although the thought of the Davidic Messiah was the most common, there were other groups of first century Jews who had differing thoughts about who this coming messiah would be. For example, the Sadducees were perfectly fine with the authority being held by the priests (Strauss, 140). Other groups of Jews at the time expected this savior to come as a person similar to Moses (Samaritans) or they expected two messiahs, one from David’s lineage and one from Aaron’s lineage (Qumran sectarians). Along with these differences, there were also differing thoughts regarding what the messianic figure would be like. Some groups thought that it would be a person a little more powerful than a typical king and others expected this figure to be more like a superhero. All in all, it was evident that there were multiple beliefs and opinions regarding messianic expectation that depended on the certain sect or group of first century Jews being examined.



Maccabees and Jewish Independence

The Maccabean Revolt (166-135 BC)

Pious Israelites realized the actions of Antiochus Epiphanes were threatening their national and religious existence. 1 Maccabees 1:44-50 explains how the customs of Jewish beliefs were being infringed upon, “[Antiochus] directed them to follow customs strange to the land, to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and… to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals, and to leave their sons uncircumcised”.

This led to the revolt which was first started by Judas Maccabee’s father, the old priest Mattathias, when he refused to offer a pagan sacrifice. A different Jew paid the sacrifice for him. Mattathias was outraged and killed the Jew and the Syrian official.

arch_of_titus_menorahImages from Google Images


Mattathias and his five sons gathered an army in the hills to fight the Syrian army. They were allied with the Hasidim who desired no pagan influence in Judaism.

Mattathias died in 166 BC and that is when Judas took over as leader. Judas and the rebel army continually beat the Syrian army and liberated the temple from Jerusalem with a little help from the Hasidim. The victory was celebrated and became the Jewish festival called Hanukkah. (Strauss, Pg 101-102, 2007)


Hasmonean Dynasty (135-63 BC)ensignlp-nfoo1dc8

The Hasmonean dynasty was named after Hasmon when his descendant, Simon, claimed political control over Israel from the Syrians in 135 BC. Although Israel was now freed of Seleucid rule, their future was less than peaceful.

Images from Google Images


Simon and his sons were assassinated by Ptolemy in 135 BC leaving Simon’s son in law, John Hyrcanus, to being an expansionist policy. In true free nation style, John Hyrcanus conquered the Idumeans and the Samaritans then forced Judaism upon them.

In addition to the tension that veils Samaritan and Jewish relations, the burning of
Samaritan temples did not improve such relations. This rivalry is mentioned many times throughout the gospels.

In 103 BC, Alexander Jannaeus continued his father’s expansionist policy by expanding his territory into thekingdoms of David and Solomon. As the priest kings of Israel expanded and leaned towards hellenistic qualities in their new territories the Hasidim decide to separate themselves from the hellenizing Hasmonean priest-kings. This resulted in three people groups; the Pharisees and \the Essenes who viewed the Hasmonean priesthood as illegitimate, and the Sadducees who were supporters of the Hasmonean dynasty. (Strauss, Pg 102-104, 2007)   (Picture from Google Images).

Radicals: Zealots and other Revolutionaries

Intro on the Zealots

In first-century Israel there were many groups and revolutionaries, which were people who sought to bring about political or social change. A broad term for many of these groups was a zealot. A zealot is fairly similar to a revolutionary, except for their increased passion and belief in their cause. A zealot would typically then share their beliefs with others, and convince them to share their same feelings.


Social Bandits

Some of these revolutionary movements focused on a form of “social banditry”. These Social bandits were basically like a first-century Israel version of the hero, Robin Hood, who would steal from the rich and give to the poor. They would attack the elite and powerful upper classes within Israel, along with the Roman troops who protected them. From doing this they gained popular support from the poor and common people. Of course the Romans were not in favor of their practices, viewing them as just criminals.



Another of these Zealot like movements, was one called the “messianic”. They were given this title due to their political aims to overthrow the Roman rulers. From that they would then establish an independent Jewish state. The people originally believed that the messiah would be one who would come and overthrow the Roman rule and oppression, so that is where the name messiah came from.



Prophetic Zealots were people who gained support of the people by proclaiming that God was planing on delivering Israel soon. These movements often had one central leader.There was one movement which held similar beliefs to the Pharisees but they believed in no other leadership than God.



The Sicarii were a dangerous and deadly group. They would kill people in broad day light. They would carry concealed daggers and stab roman sympathizers in crowded areas. after killing someone they would quickly re-conceal their weapon and blend back in with the crowed and leave unnoticed.


Zealots in the Bible

Zealots are mentioned in the the new testament. Acts talks about a man named Theudas who lead a group of 400 but who was killed. It also talks about someone named Judas the Galilean. Judas the one who tried to overthrow the romans claiming that only God could be the leader of Israel. Also in the book of Acts there is a spot that mentions and Egyptian who lead a group of 4000 into the wilderness. Barabbas the one the people freed instead of Jesus was likely a Zealot. The same greek word used to describe Barabbas is used for the two criminals next to Jesus. They very well could have been Zealot like people as well.



Clothing and Style

General Clothing

Clothing in the time of Jesus was very different than what we generally see today. Men on the norm would wear a tunic, which is a shirt like knee length garment made out of linen and/or cotton and was tied around the waist. And on cooler days a heavier cloak might be worn, a garment typically made of wool, to help keep warm. Woman would typically wear a shorter tunic as an undergarment and an outer robe that would stretch down to their feet. And lastly leather sandals would be worn by the higher class individuals because of the dirt roads. An interesting fact tied to the leather sandals was as a guest arrived at a host’s house the host would have their servant wash the feet of the guest to welcome them to their home (Strauss, 154). A passage that could be viewed as contradicting is  John 13:1-17. In this passage, it was the night before Jesus was to be crucified. Gathered together with the twelve disciple, Jesus was sharing one last meal with all them. At one moment in the meal Jesus reached out and proceeded to grab a towel, a water basin, and began to wash the disciples feet. Shocked, the disciples urged Jesus to stop because of how degrading this task was. Jesus answered: “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”


Greek/Jewish Style

Within the Greek culture it was common for men to be clean shaven and wear their hair short. Also, women often times wore extravagant jewelry and cosmetics. It was not common for Greek women to cover their heads or arms, as they would tend to wear their hair in elaborate hairstyles. In the Jewish culture men wore long beards and kept their hair long. Women would wear their hair long and unveiled only if they were unmarried. A married woman who wore a veil in public symbolized modesty and showed respect to her husband by doing so. If a married woman did not cover her head in public, it was a sign of promiscuity or prostitution (Strauss, 154).  For example, Luke 7:36-50 tells the story of the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume, and dries them with her uncovered hair. Instantly the pharisees who were with Jesus began to pass judgement on the women because her uncovered head revealed that she was immoral and sinful. One of the pharisees even said in verse 39, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She is a sinner!” This scripture goes to show how important head coverings were for Jewish women to wear, and why it was so important for them to be dressed to their standards.


Commerce, Transportation, & Communication


Communication over long distances was a complicated and long drawn out process. There was no postal system. If you wanted to write a letter to family or friends either you, or a friend had to carry it to its destination. This would have been similar to the way that some of the books of the Bible would have been received. The Apostle Paul who was an author of thirteen different New Testament books would often send others with letters for their intended recipients. One courier written about for her assistance in taking a letter to the Roman Christians was Phoebe. She was a Deacon of the early church. There were also official Roman couriers for the government who carried important documents, letters, etc. It took these couriers around forty-five days to take a letter from Rome to Caesarea or modern day Israel (Strauss, 159).


Communicating over these long distances was successful in no small part because of the roads created. Romans were impressive builders.  The roads were straight, paved, and wide enough for two chariots to pass by one another. (Strauss, 159). Today many Roman roads are still in existence. Individuals from Roman generals all the way down to common men traveled on these roads for transportation. While these roads were quite the engineering feat, they were often dangerous. One biblical example of this is exemplified in the story of the Good Samaritan. In the story a man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and was jumped, beaten, and left for dead by a band of robbers There he was left until the Good Samaritan came to his aide.



The wealthy people would most likely ride a horse. Merchants often had donkeys, camels, or other beasts of burden (Strauss, 159). Like previously mentioned the common man walked everywhere. Traveling by ship was often the quickest and most efficient way to trade and transport. One downfall to this was in the winter the seas were known to be dangerous. Paul, who traveled often, shipwrecked three different times. Trips were known for varying from three weeks to three months depending on the direction of the voyage and winds (Strauss, 159).


The markets were not only the center of commerce in the city, but also a place to visit with one another. The markets would be located within the city walls. Merchants would sell goods, officials would meet, the common man would find work, and preachers would find an audience to preach (Strauss,159). Shops lined the city’s alley like streets. These shops often contained living quarters in the back and didn’t have running water or sewage. Boards would be also be on display to share public announcements for the people (Strauss, 159). These markets were the place to be.