The historical events inthe book Life in Year One depict what life was like for those visiting or living in first century Palestine- through war, death, the home, marriage, even types of crucifiction and King Herod’s genital worms. Due to the story being an overview of early Palestinian culture, art, and life, all of the events take place within Palestine and the society within it.
Author Scott Korb begins his account of the turning of the time period by introducing King Herod. Herod, according to historical accounts, was a ruthless leader who carried out the interests of the Romans and showed no mercy or grace in doing so. Korb characterizes him as having a “Penchant for violence” and being driven by “Extreme paranoia and jealousy” that describes the state of his rule through mental deterioration in later years. Despite the impact of Herod’s life, it is his death that sparks considerable change in Palestine. Without rule, everyone from slaves to royalty fought to claim the throne in whatever city or region they could. At this point, the Roman government steps in and restores order by burning down the city of Sepphoris, then making Herod’s son Antipas tetrarch of Galilee. (In this time period, Galilee is a region within Palestine. The other sections of Palestine are ruled by the other ‘Herods’.)
With the initial turmoil of Roman invasion and power struggle subsiding, the different aspects of first century life begin to develop further. Korb starts off by describing how a standardized economy took shape, explaining that cities like Sepphoris relied on larger cities nearby for trade and to sell agricultural products to. From here comes waves of newer and better coins, each one more mass produced and expensive than the last.
A description of the typical home and family life then follows in Chapter Three: “The Home in Year One.”In terms of the physical house, structure differed between cities depending on how developed they were. Poorer towns like Nazareth sported houses constructed of field stones, stuck together by dung and mud, topped with reeds. Fishing towns, such as Capernaum, had apartments with courtyards and locks. Raising livestock in adjacent homes or rooms was typical, and bread could be found baking in alleyways amongst dumped waste and garbage.Family life begins at marriage, as is typical today. Korb goes on to explains in this chapter that in year one Palestine, arranged marriages were normal, and having kids was an economic decision. (And partial gamble- boys were considerably more useful and profitable than women, for whom a dowry was paid for and who were seen as a money drain on the household if unmarried.) Misogyny was very clearly present; divorce, rape, forced prostitution, and being shamed for menstration or sex were all parts of being a woman in Palestine.
Life in Year One goes on from here to describe food, baths, hygiene, and religion in this time. Food was plain, mostly bread and grains, and played a major role in supporting the family through agriculture. Working in this field (quite literally a field) was dirty work, but hygiene was more than just physical cleanliness. While people did make an effort to stay clean by bathing in the sea or using public baths, spiritual purity was also deeply important.
Entering any religious space required one to bathe in holy water and scrub for great lengths of time. In terms of purity, menstruating women, the touching of a corpse, or even eating pork were all sins, andbrought shame upon the person.
The lack of soap, trash services, and real doctors created concern for health. Scott korb’s chapter on health in year one explains that doctors could not use their own scientific knowledge to heal anyone of anything. Instead, these ‘doctors’ were a medium between God and the patient to heal them spiritually. Terrible cases of leprosy and other diseases ran rampant through crowded towns and urban centers due to situations like this.
Finally, the book ends on an overview of war and death. The author goes over crucifiction, a painful process used on criminals that involves the nailing of the arms and feet toa cross, as well as Herod’s descent into death due to his gentital worms. Korb also mentions the wars that followed the greatking’s death. They were revolts by the Jews that were quickly shut down by the Roman infantry. Oppressed lower classes often found themselves subjected to banditry to keep anything of value, and quality of life declined as more criminal activity and violence broke out. Terrorists groups like the Sicarii were bandits themselves; they would murder silently among crowds, and even targeted political figures.
Life in first century Palestine is an interesting subject that is highlighted by the individual sections of the book Life in Year One. Each chapter focuses on a specific development of the time, whether it be cultural, spiritual, economical, or the details in between.