Life in Year One: What the World Was Like in First-Century Palestine


For anyone who's ever pondered what everyday life was like during the time of Jesus comes a lively...

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Life in Year One: What the World Was Like in First-Century Palestine

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For anyone who's ever pondered what everyday life was like during the time of Jesus comes a lively and illuminating portrait of the nearly unknown world of daily life in first-century Palestine.

What was it like to live during the time of Jesus?

Where did people live?

Who did they marry?

And what was family life like?

How did people survive?

These are just some of the questions that Scott Korb answers in this engaging new book, which explores what everyday life entailed two thousand years ago in first-century Palestine, that tumultuous era when the Roman Empire was at its zenith and a new religion-Christianity-was born.

Culling information from primary sources, scholarly research, and his own travels and observations, Korb explores the nitty-gritty of real life back then-from how people fed, housed, and groomed themselves to how they kept themselves healthy. He guides the contemporary reader through the maze of customs and traditions that dictated life under the numerous groups, tribes, and peoples in the eastern Mediterranean that Rome governed two thousand years ago, and he illuminates the intriguing details of marriage, family life, health, and a host of other aspects of first-century life. The result is a book for everyone, from the armchair traveler to the amateur historian. With surprising revelations about politics and medicine, crime and personal hygiene, this book is smart and accessible popular history at its very best.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A society both familiar and strange emerges from this absorbing historical study. Korb (The Faith Between Us) calls his retrospective “a lively romp through the land of Palestine,” circa 5 B.C.E.–70 C.E., but the picture he draws from archeology, ancient historical accounts, and religious texts is anything but lighthearted. For the average Jew, he contends, life was impoverished, taxes crushing, hygiene abysmal, crime outrageous, rulers—Roman and Jewish—rapacious or deranged, and death gruesome. (He details a typical crucifixion as well as Herod the Great’s fatal case of genital worms.) Confronting these harsh realities, he continues, was an all-encompassing religious culture featuring elaborate codes of purity, a sense of ambient holiness emanating from the Temple in Jerusalem, ancient traditions and dynamic new sects, from Pharisees to insurrectionary Zealots. The author tries to distance himself from historical-Jesus controversies, but can’t help gravitating to them (especially in his extensive footnotes, which are as interesting as the main text); he deploys his sources to speculate plausibly about Jesus the man and examine the appeal of Christianity’s response to contemporary social upheavals. Korb’s vivid, breezy prose makes accessible a mountain of scholarship that illuminates the past. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
A generally historical, fun look at life during the time of Jesus. Scholars, Korb (co-author: The Faith Between Us: A Jew and a Catholic Search for the Meaning of God, 2007) fairly notes, have differing theories about first-century Palestine, and he keeps the simmering debates and minutiae within long-winded footnotes. Well-versed in biblical studies-he spouts Josephus and Garry Wills with equal fluency-the author features folksy translations from the Gospels in koine Greek, a kind of "lowest common denominator" of the time that was nothing like Homer's language but allowed the illiterate peasants to communicate in the agora. The Jewish revolt would gear up by 66 CE, but between Jesus' birth and mid-first-century CE, when nationalist groups began to agitate against the Roman authorities, life was pretty quiet in Palestine. Korb notes that inhabitants of Palestine were God-fearing Jews and that the tight, humming economy kept tiny villages like Nazareth oriented toward the Roman capital-yet the coins they used were aniconic, or without graven images. The people were observant of Sabbath and religious practices and kept kosher, and most were illiterate. Families valued boys over girls, who were a burden if unmarried; marriages were arranged, and divorces were tolerated. People used ritual baths for purification as part of their godliness, although after 70 CE, with the destruction of the Second Temple, no more baths were built in Palestine. Another intriguing tidbit: Leprosy as we now know it, in its bacterial form, has never been discovered in human bones in Palestine, thus it was probably a catchall in the biblical era for psoriasis or eczema. As for miracles, Korb skirts the issuealtogether ("I find the ground rather shaky myself"). An accessible, light-pedaling survey. Agent: Jim Rutman/Sterling Lord Literistic
From the Publisher
"Easygoing in pace, Morey's narration is more conversational than dramatic, a style that makes this detailed work accessible and interesting from the beginning." —-AudioFile
Library Journal
What was daily existence like at the time of Christ? In a unique style that melds historical spadework, journalistic investigation, and contemporary travel writing (and emphasizing at the outset that this is not about Jesus Christ), Korb (coauthor, The Faith Between Us) focuses on the granular details of life in Palestine in the first century, contending that it "was a time of insurgency, banditry, widespread soothsaying and prophecy, political backstabbing and religious uprising." He begins each chapter with one or more quotes from the New Testament and then delves into an aspect of first-century life in Palestine; chapters focus on themes such as money, home, religion, baths, health, war, and death. Readers will learn why coins featured no portraits or heads and how waste was disposed of during the 75-year period—a time of crisis and cataclysm—between the birth of Jesus and the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. VERDICT Heavily footnoted yet eminently readable, Life in Year One will appeal to casual readers as well as scholars who enjoy chasing down citations and scouring bibliographies. In short, it is intriguing, entertaining, and, most important, informative. World travelers, historians, and religious scholars will also appreciate it.—C. Brian Smith, Arlington Heights Memorial Lib., IL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400115884
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/22/2010
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged CD
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Arthur Morey has recorded over two hundred audiobooks in history, fiction, science, business, and religion, earning a number of AudioFile Earphones Awards and two Audie Award nominations. His plays and songs have been produced in New York, Chicago, and Milan, where he has also performed.
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Table of Contents

Translator's Note: On the Epigraphs for Life in Year One 1

Author's Note: On Writing Life in Year One 5

Introduction: This is Not a Book About Jesus 9

I The World in Year One 25

II Money in Year One 39

III Home in Year One 57

IV Food in Year One 77

V Baths in Year One 93

VI Health in Year One 111

VII R-E-S-P-E-C-T in Year One 127

VIII Religion in Year One 145

IX War in Year One 159

X Death in Year One 177

Epilogue: We've Nearly Reached the End of Our Journey 195

Acknowledgments 209

Notes 211

Bibliography 225

Index 233

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    When Jesus walked the Earth? Well, not quite

    Perhaps my expectations were too high.

    I thought "Life in Year One" would make me feel as though I were walking through Israel 2,009 years ago, taking in the sights Jesus would see, smelling the scents Jesus would smell, feeling the atmosphere of the places where Jesus walked.

    Author Scott Korb does his best to piece together snatches of what is known about the period of time when Jesus lived and a few decades after his death, but I'm afraid the odds were against him being able to give readers that palpable sense of place that I was looking forward to.

    Unlike later periods of human history, there are no diaries to rely on other than the gospels, and the major history was written by Josephus, a Jew who found it worth his while to cozy up to the conquering Romans, and Korb several times points out the exaggerations that make Josephus' history suspect.

    Readers will learn about money, food, bathing and buildings during Jesus' time on Earth. It's information that's interesting enough, although a bit of repetition has bulked up what is a relatively short book here, only 208 pages.

    The most interesting information involves religion, especially the fact that while there were numerous divisions within the unity of the Hebrew faith, a lot of the debating happened at the so-called upper levels was unimportant to people who lived away from the heated discussions among members of competing sects.

    The most important analysis Korb makes, in my view, is explaining the deep connection between the people of Israel and their religion:

    "You cannot separate the lives of the people of this land from their belief in the God who put them there. More to the point, you cannot separate the lives of the people of this land from their belief that God had put them there."

    To the Jewish believers God was "the central piece of history itself," Korb writes, and the typical Jew of the time felt and understood that God was involved in everything - that "what came from the ground, what lived in the trees, every hair on your, belonged to God" - as it had for your ancestors. It was a belief passed down genetically.

    Because of the centrality of religion in the lives of the Jewish people of Jesus' time, the synagogue was the center of a community's life - and not just for worship. The synagogues that Jesus would have attended would have served as well as a soup kitchen, a town hall, a hostel and a school. As Korb notes:

    "The people came and fed one another, taught one another. The place bustled all week. A visitor always knew he'd have a place to stay. And the Sabbath was hardly more important than the rest of the week. This tradition had been passed down through their genes. And despite all their disagreements and debates, even despite the power of Rome and the culture of Greece, they always had that. Tradition. And the synagogue was the place to practice it."

    "Life in Year One" does a solid job of helping readers appreciate what it was like for the Jews to have been absorbed into the Roman Empire and actively work at keeping their Jewish identity while under Roman rule. Korb does a great service in bringing that feeling to the surface.

    After reading "The Pacific" - a wonderful account of World War II, thanks to diaries written by marines - I couldn't help but wish that Mary, for example, had written a diary and that some day it will be discovered in an archaeological dig. There's a book I'd love to read.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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