Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus


In Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit Jodi Magness unearths “footprints” buried in both archaeological and literary evidence to shed new light on Jewish daily life in Palestine from the mid-first century b.c.e. to 70 c.e. — the time and place of Jesus' life and ministry.
Magness analyzes recent archaeological discoveries from such sites as Qumran and Masada together with a host of period texts, including the New Testament, the works of Josephus, and rabbinic teachings. Layering all ...
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In Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit Jodi Magness unearths “footprints” buried in both archaeological and literary evidence to shed new light on Jewish daily life in Palestine from the mid-first century b.c.e. to 70 c.e. — the time and place of Jesus' life and ministry.
Magness analyzes recent archaeological discoveries from such sites as Qumran and Masada together with a host of period texts, including the New Testament, the works of Josephus, and rabbinic teachings. Layering all these sources together, she reconstructs in detail a fascinating variety of everyday activities — dining customs, Sabbath observance, fasting, toilet habits, burial customs, and more.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Jodi Magness brings literary evidence from both Jewish and New Testament writings together with extensive archaeological material to produce a literally 'down to earth' picture of the conditions and customs of daily life in the late Second Temple period. Essential reading for all who are interested in that period.”
— Fergus Millar
Oriental Institute, Oxford

“A superb handbook on Jewish daily life in the late Second Temple period. Magness demonstrates how texts and archaeology, with careful scholarship, can illuminate each other. This book will be valuable for undergraduates, graduate students, and all scholars of the period for a long time to come.”
— Sidnie White Crawford
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

“Magness's originality and her mastery of the sources make this a major contribution to our field.”
— Lawrence H. Schiffman
New York University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802865588
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 4/12/2011
  • Pages: 375
  • Sales rank: 987,196
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Jodi Magness is Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In addition to Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, her research interests include ancient pottery, ancient synagogues, and the Roman army in the East, and she has published and lectured extensively on these subjects. She has participated in twenty different excavations in Israel and Greece, including serving as codirector of the 1995 excavations in the Roman siege works at Masada. Her works include the award-winning books The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls and The Archaeology of the Early Islamic Settlement in Palestine.
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Table of Contents


1. Footprints in Archaeology and Text....................1
2. Purifying the Body and Hands....................16
3. Creeping and Swarming Creatures, Locusts, Fish, Dogs, Chickens, and Pigs....................32
4. Household Vessels: Pottery, Oil Lamps, Glass, Stone, and Dung....................54
5. Dining Customs and Communal Meals....................77
6. Sabbath Observance and Fasting....................85
7. Coins....................97
8. Clothing and Tzitzit....................107
9. Oil and Spit....................121
10. Toilets and Toilet Habits....................130
11. Tombs and Burial Customs....................145
12. Epilogue: The Aftermath of 70....................181
Index of Modern Authors....................306
Index of Subjects....................311
Index of Scripture and Other Ancient Texts....................328
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First Chapter

Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit

Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus
By Jodi Magness

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2011 Jodi Magness
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8028-6558-8

Chapter One

Footprints in Archaeology and Text

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities


Perhaps no epoch in the history of humankind has been the subject of greater fascination and more intensive study than the late Second Temple period in Palestine — that is, the first century B.C.E. and first century C.E. — for this was the world of Jesus. We are fortunate to have a relative abundance of literary sources that inform us about this period, including the writings of the ancient Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, the literature of the Qumran sect (the Dead Sea Scrolls), and the books of the New Testament. Archaeology too has yielded a wealth of information, with excavated sites throughout the country including Jerusalem, Jericho, Masada, Herodium, Caesarea Maritima, Qumran, Sepphoris, and Gamla, to name just a few. And yet, paradoxically, there are many aspects of the late Second Temple period in Palestine that remain obscure or poorly understood. These gaps in our knowledge continue to fuel old debates and controversies and spawn new ones, with many spilling over from the ivory tower of academia into the public arena.

To be sure, this is a fascinating era to study. The late Second Temple period in Palestine was an unusually turbulent time, encompassing the collapse of the Hasmonean (Maccabean) state and its annexation to Rome, the brutal reign of the client king Herod the Great (40-4 B.C.E.), and the breakdown of Roman rule under Herod's sons and a series of ineffective and insensitive Roman administrators. Smoldering tensions occasionally erupted into open fighting, pitting Jews against Gentiles, Jews against Romans, Jews against Samaritans, rich against poor, and rural populations against town and city dwellers. Urban terrorists called Sicarii — literally, "dagger men" — openly assassinated their opponents. Escalating cycles of violence culminated with the outbreak of a Jewish revolt against Rome in 66 C.E., which ended disastrously for the Jews four years later when Jerusalem fell and the second temple was destroyed (70 C.E.).

What do we know about the everyday life of Jews in Palestine during this turbulent era? That is the question this book addresses, focusing especially on the mid-first century B.C.E. (end of the Hasmonean period and beginning of the reign of Herod the Great) to 70 C.E. The subjects of this study are the ancient inhabitants of Judea as well as the Judaized populations of other parts of Palestine (Galilee, Idumaea, Peraea), but mostly excluding the Yahwistic population of Samaria. Although Palestine was part of the Roman East, the daily life of Jews — and especially the Jews of Palestine — was distinguished by an observance of biblical (pentateuchal) law and especially purity laws relating to the Jerusalem temple that has left material traces. This book seeks to identify and correlate evidence of these Jewish "footprints" in the archaeological record and literary sources. These footprints relate to a broad spectrum of quotidian activities, from dining practices to toilet habits to Sabbath observance to burial customs.

This introductory chapter sets the stage for the discussion of various categories of activities by considering the characteristics that distinguished the Jews of Palestine from other peoples in the Roman world. Many of the features that set Jews apart stemmed from their worship of the God of Israel and the observance of his laws. Debates about the proper observance of these laws created sectarian divisions among the Jewish population. These divisions not only resulted from differences in opinion with regard to religious practice but also reflected socio-economic realities in late Second Temple–period Palestine.

Sectarianism in Late Second Temple–Period Palestine

Jewish Palestine of the first century swarmed with different sects. Every sect probably had its divisions and subdivisions. Even the Pharisees themselves were reported to have been divided into seven categories. It is therefore precarious to ascribe our documents definitely to any of the known three major Jewish sects. The [Dead Sea] Scrolls confirm that in the [late] Second Temple period there existed in Israel three main movements: the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes.

By the late Second Temple period various movements and sects had developed among the Jewish population of Palestine, the best-attested of which are the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Jesus' movement. These groups were differentiated by their approaches to the interpretation and practice of biblical law, with many of the disagreements among them centering on the Jerusalem temple and especially purity observance relating to the sacrificial cult.

Much of our information about these groups comes from literary sources, the most important of which are Flavius Josephus, rabbinic (especially tannaitic) literature, the New Testament (especially the Synoptic Gospels), and Qumran literature (the Dead Sea Scrolls). To these sources we may add Philo Judaeus and Pliny the Elder, especially on the Essenes. The problems inherent in using the information provided by these sources, which sometimes appears to be contradictory not only between different sources but even internally, are well known. They include the authors' biases and agendas, the question of their sources of information (and the reliability of these sources), chronological issues (especially in cases where the composition postdates 70, sometimes by a century or more), the relationship between the authors and the groups mentioned or described, and the intended audience(s) and purpose(s) of the work. This does not mean that the information provided by these sources should be disregarded altogether, but rather that these works must be evaluated and used critically and responsibly. As Ya'akov Sussman remarked (referring to rabbinic literature and the Dead Sea Scrolls), these sources "complement [or complete] and illuminate each other."

As a Jew who lived in Palestine before 70 and claimed to have personal familiarity with these groups, Josephus provides valuable information, despite his well-known biases and misrepresentations. Much of our information on the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes comes from War 2.119-65; Ant. 13.171-73, 293-98; and 18.12-20. Some of Josephus's observations seem to be echoed in the New Testament, for example, concerning resurrection: "The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three" (Acts 23:8). A saying attributed to Rabbi Akiba is usually understood in light of Josephus's description of the Pharisees' approach to free will: "Everything is foreseen, and free choice is given" (m. 'Abot 3:15).

For the purposes of this study, I make certain assumptions, some of which are of necessity simplifications. The Sadducees were members of the Jerusalem elite or governing class, including some high priests, although not all of the high priests and aristocracy were Sadducees. The Pharisees are related (but not identical) to the rabbis of the period after 70 C.E., with whom they share some similar approaches to the interpretation and practice of Jewish law. Anthony Saldarini described the Pharisees as a "retainer class" that was both a religious group and political force and often interacted with the governing class. Saldarini noted that this retainer class is not analogous to a modern middle class as its members lacked independent power and were dependent on the governing class. Emil Schürer defined as follows the relationship between Sadducees and Pharisees: "the contrast between Sadducees and Pharisees is not one of a priestly party versus a party of the religiously observant, but of a clerical and lay aristocracy vis-à-vis an essentially lay group which derived its authority from learning."

I identify the group that settled at Qumran and the wider movement of which it was a part with Josephus's Essenes. Priests — and especially dispossessed Zadokite priests — played prominent roles in the establishment and leadership of this sect, although not all members were descended from the house of Zadok or other priestly families. Other members of the wider movement lived in Jerusalem and elsewhere around Palestine but have not left identifiable remains in the archaeological record. 17 For the purposes of this study I usually refer to the group at Qumran as the Qumran community, Qumran sect, or sectarians and reserve the term Essene when dealing with the testimony of ancient authors or with the wider movement. In my opinion it is accurate to describe the Qumran community and the larger movement of which it was a part as a sect, but I do not consider the other groups and movements to be sects as they are not characterized by the same extreme exclusivity and withdrawal or separation from the larger society.

I focus on Jesus as he is portrayed especially in the Synoptic Gospels but generally do not consider the practices of the Jerusalem community led by James and Peter after Jesus' death, as the literary and archaeological information is too meager. In my opinion our earliest sources about Jesus and his socio-economic setting indicate that he was a lower-class Galilean Jew.

Purity and Holiness

They shall consecrate my temple and fear my temple, for I dwell among them. (11QT 46:11-12) Purity therefore, first, serves as an important mode of differentiation and definition for the sects known to us in the first century B.C. and A.D.

Ancient Jews worshipped the God of Israel as their national deity and lived according to his laws. These laws require Jews ("Israel") to be in a state of ritual purity when they enter God's presence: "they must not defile their camp, where I dwell among them" (Num 5:3). The Hebrew Bible contains legislation listing items, people, or processes that convey impurity and mandates methods of purification. Many types of impurity are due to natural processes that are a result of the human condition, such as death, skin diseases, and sexual discharges. It is not a sin to contract these impurities, which temporarily contaminate people and certain objects in close proximity. Although the means of purification vary depending on the cause or nature of the impurity (for example, corpse impurity versus having a genital discharge) and the status of the person who has contracted it (priest versus layperson), for most types of impurity the Hebrew Bible requires bathing or washing in water and the passage of a certain amount of time. The Hebrew Bible also considers certain moral offenses — mainly sexual transgressions (such as adultery, homosexual relations, and bestiality), idolatry, and murder (bloodshed) — as defiling. These acts not only make the transgressor impure but they pollute the land and people of Israel: "Thus the land became defiled; and I punished it for its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants ..." (Lev 18:25).

God's presence dwelled in the tabernacle among the Israelites (the "camp") during their desert wanderings: "And have them make me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them" (Exod 25:8). Later the two successive temples on Jerusalem's Temple Mount provided the main point of contact between God and his people. Ancient Jews do not seem to have debated the need to purify themselves before entering the Jerusalem temple. However, during the late Second Temple period disagreements developed about whether (and to what degree) purity laws should be observed beyond the boundaries of the temple cult. These disagreements reflect a lack of consensus about where God's presence dwelled or was supposed to dwell: was God's presence confined to the Jerusalem temple or did it dwell among all Israel — or was Israel expected to strive to attain the purity necessary so that God's presence could again dwell in their midst?

A related point of disagreement concerned whether Jews were expected to live in imitation of God's holiness (imitatio Dei), as expressed for example in Lev 11:45: "you shall be holy, for I am holy." Disagreements arose because the various sources of the Hebrew Bible present different notions of holiness. According to the Priestly Code, the temple (or sanctuary) and priests are holy but the Israelites and their camp are not. Nevertheless, all who dwell in the camp must observe the laws of purity because of God's presence. The Holiness Code extends divine holiness as well as priestly sanctity to the entire Land of Israel and its inhabitants (not just the sanctuary and priests). According to the Deuteronomist (and E and J), the people of Israel are holy because they were chosen by God. Hannah Harrington notes that the Qumran sect was distinguished from other groups, not by their definition of holiness, but in the level of holiness they required of ordinary Jews.

The lifestyle of the Qumran sect reflects their belief that God's presence was not restricted to one place (the Jerusalem temple), just as the desert camp with the tent of meeting in its midst moved with the Israelites during their wanderings. The Damascus Document explicitly describes sectarian communities as "camps": "And this (is) the rule for the settlers of [the] [camps] who walk in accordance with these (rules) ..."(CD 12:22-23). Therefore, unlike other Jews the sectarians followed laws that applied to the desert camp of the Israelites, such as defecating in a pit dug outside the camp, which was required because "the Lord your God travels along with your camp, to save you and to hand over your enemies to you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you" (Deut 23:12-14). Because the sect was conceived of as a substitute temple or sanctuary in the midst of which angels dwelled, members were expected to maintain the level of purity required for priests on a daily basis:

"{no madman, or lunatic shall enter, no simpleton, or fool, no blind man, or maimed, or lame, or deaf man, and no minor, none of these shall enter into the Community, for the Angels of Holiness are [in their midst]}." (4Q266 8 I, 6-9)

Unlike the Qumran sect, the Pharisees did not withdraw from the sacrificial cult even if they may have criticized the temple priesthood. Vered Noam has identified two approaches to purity among the Pharisees and rabbis: the first approach limits purity concerns strictly to the temple on the basis of scripture, and the second expands purity observance to everyday life outside the temple cult based not on scripture but on custom. These apparent contradictions suggest a mixed view concerning the divine presence and notion of holiness, which at the same time are confined to the temple but encompass all of Israel.

A major point of disagreement between the Pharisees and the Qumran sect was whether the biblical purity laws required for the desert camp of the Israelites applied to the entire city of Jerusalem or only to the temple. The Qumran sect held a maximalist position, equating Jerusalem with the desert camp: "And we think that the temple [is the place of the tent of meeting, and Je]rusale[m] is the camp; and out[side] the camp [is outside of Jerusalem;] it is the camp of their cities" (4Q394=4QMMT 3-7 II 16-18). This is why the sectarians sought to ban from Jerusalem all types of impurity (even human excrement) as well as all who carry or spread impurity, including dogs and chickens. In contrast, the Pharisees seem to have limited the observance of the purity laws required for the desert camp to the temple, with a lesser degree of purity required for the rest of the city and even the Temple Mount, as suggested by rabbinic literature:

And just as in the wilderness there were three camps, the camp of the Indwelling Presence of God, the camp of the Levites, and the camp of the Israelites, so there were in Jerusalem [three camps]: From the gate of Jerusalem to the gate of the Temple Mount is the camp of Israel. From the gate of the Temple Mount up to Nicanor's Gate is the camp of the Levites. From the Nicanor's Gate and inward is the camp of the Indwelling Presence of God. And that [corresponded to the place within] the curtains in the wilderness. In the time of journeying, no aspect of sanctity applied to them, and people were not liable concerning them on account of uncleanness. (t. Kelim B. Qam. 1:12)


Excerpted from Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit by Jodi Magness Copyright © 2011 by Jodi Magness. Excerpted by permission of William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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