What did ancient people eat? – extra info.

“In biblical times the people ate three daily meals, differing noticeably in quantity.

  • Breakfast was quite meagre, consisting of only bread or fruit.
  • The midday meal was light, composed of bread, grain, olives, and figs. Ruth’s noon meal, for example, was made up of bread dipped into a vinegar-based wine  and some parched grain (Ruth 2:14).
  • The main meal was eaten in the evening after sunset, following the day’s work, and the whole family participated.

The amount of food served depended upon the economic circumstances of the household.

The meal was basically a one-pot stew served in a common bowl and sopped up with bread.

A thick porridge or stew of vegetables, some- times containing meat, is mentioned several times in the Bible. Usually made with lentils or other vegetables, the pottage was seasoned with herbs.

In his deception of Esau to win the birthright, Jacob prepared lentil stew which Esau described as “that red stuff (Genesis 25:29-34). The reference to “red” appears to be a wordplay on the land of Edom (“red”) with which Esau was associated.

Elisha served a similar stew to the company of prophets, which they ate from the pot in which it was boiled (and they were almost poisoned) (2 Kings 4:38-41).

The average family ate meat only on festive occasions. The arrival of prominent guests warranted serving meat, as in the case of the three strangers who visited Abraham and Sarah.

When Saul consulted the medium at Endor, she slaughtered a stall-fed calf and baked unleavened cakes (1 Sam. 28:24-25). The Hebrew marbéq (stall) designates an enclosure where animals were restrained for fattening. Apparently the “prodigal son” of Luke’s Gospel was served the same dish upon his return home (Luke 15:23-27).
Several other biblical texts provide information about the foods the Israelites ate. When David was in flight from Absalom, provisions brought to him at Mahanaim (in Transjordan) consisted of “wheat, barley, meal, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds, sheep, and cheese from the herd” (2 Sam. 17:28-29).”

Life in Biblical Israel, Philip J King & Lawrence E Stager, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2001, p.67

Condiments and Spices: Spices were always essential, and trade in them with Arabia and the Far East was an important matter. lt has been suggested that before the introduction of pepper (first mentioned in the Mishnah), seeds like coriander (Ex. 16:31), black cummin (ls. 28:25), origanum or the post-Exilic nigella (Hebrew “kezah”; “melanthion” to the Greeks and Romans), played an important part in preparing food and were grown in the country.

Caperberries (Ex. 12:8) were eaten as an appetizer before meals and also used as a condiment. Other herbs were grown, notably mint and rue, which was used mainly for medicinal purposes.

Dried products found in Pompei were common in Palestine, eg pine-nuts, spice, dates, carob-beans, walnuts and persimmon.

Jesus condemned the Pharisaic system of tithing certain spices and herbs (Luke 11:42) while disregarding the essential virtues. Spices, notably mustard seed (Mt. 13:31), are mentioned in the parables.

Salt was particularly important in sacrificial ritual and for ceremonial purposes. It came mainly from the salt pans of the Dead Sea. Because of its function as a food preservative, salt was a symbol of permanence, which may explain the “covenant of salt” (Lv. 2:13: Nu. 18:19; ll Ch. 13:5), meaning an inviolate covenant. established for all time. Thus the salt used in every sacrifice may have come to symbolize God’s irrevocable covenant with Israel.

Pictorial Biblical Encyclopaedia, G. Cornfeld, Macmillan Co., New York, 1964

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The road to Calvary

Maps: Jesus’ last journey

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. List the sequence of events in the days leading up to Jesus’ death – from his arrest to his burial.
  2. Locate the events on the map below.
  3. Why was Jesus taken before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate?

Possible route for Jesus in Jerusalem: trial, judgment and crucifixion

Probable route for Jesus in Jerusalem:
trial, judgment and crucifixion

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a colt of a she-ass found at a village opposite Bethphage (1, top right corner of map above). He was received by the people with cries of ‘Hosanna’, which means ‘Save now’. They spread their cloaks on the road and waved palm branches in blessing.

After teaching in the Temple (2) he returned to Bethany. The synoptic Gospels place the cleansing of the Temple courts during this visit.

Lamb trussed for slaughter Next day he and his disciples held the Last Supper at a house, the large upper room of which was “furnished and ready“ (Mark l4: l5 and Luke 22:12); we may assume that it took place in the rich Upper City of Jerusalem (3), at the home of one of Jesus‘ followers. This supper has been held to correspond with the Pascal meal and has many allusions to the Jewish Passover ritual.

After the Supper, Jesus and the disciples descended to the Kidron valley (4), to Gethsemane (the ‘Oil Press’) at the foot of the Mount of Olives. There he was arrested by a crowd armed with swords and clubs, led by Judas lscariot, one of the Twelve.

Christ as the Man of Sorrows, Pedro de Mena, 1673According to the Gospels Jesus was led to the house of the high priest Caiaphas (5). There he was interrogated first by the former high priest Annas and then by an informal tribunal presided over by the high priest himself. It was during these events that Peter, who was waiting outside in the courtyard of the palace, thrice denied Jesus.

Jesus was interrogated as to his status and ambitions, but though his inquisitors saw his replies as blasphemous, they were not empowered to inflict the death penalty. They decided therefore to accuse Jesus before the governor, Pontius Pilate (6), of a political offense: rebellion against the Emperor, implied in Jesus’ claim to be ‘King of the Jews.’

According to Luke (23:6-12) Pilate sent Jesus to Herod Antipas (as ‘he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction’) who sent him back to Pilate (7). Antipas most probably resided in the old Hasmonean palace, which was the residence of the Herodians on their visits to Jerusalem. Pilate, as governor, would have resided either at the palace of Herod on the western side of the city, or at the fortress of Antonia north of the Temple. As his main reason for staying in Jerusalem was to supervise the Temple during the mass pilgrimage at Passover, we can accept the tradition that the judgment on Jesus was passed at the praetorium set up in the Antonia. Jesus on the way to Golgotha, from the movie 'Passion of the Christ'

From there Jesus was led by Roman soldiers to Golgotha (8), traditionally a place outside the Second Wall of Jerusalem. Here he was executed according to Roman practice, by being affixed to a cross.

According to the same tradition he was buried nearby, in a tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea.

Gospel references: Matthew 21-27, Mark 11-15, Luke 19:28-23, John 12-19

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Last journey to Jerusalem

Jesus’ last journey: Bible maps

Activity for Bible study groups

Use the Gospel references at the end of the text to create an itinerary for Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem. Where did  he go? What did he do when he was there?

Galilee, Samaria, Jericho, Jerusalem

Galilee, Samaria, Jericho, Jerusalem

When the days drew near for him to be received up (Luke 9: 51), at the end of his stay in Galilee, Jesus began to foretell of his fate in Jerusalem to his disciples, ‘and they were greatly distressed’ (Matthew 17:23).

We may possibly insert into the story of Jesus‘ last journey to Jerusalem the incident mentioned in Luke 9:52~56. Perhaps Jesus intended to take the shorter route to Jerusalem by way of Samaria but, as the people would not receive him, he turned eastward and went through Perea, the ‘Judea beyond the Jordan’.

From there, he and his disciples crossed the Jordan and continued by way of Jericho, where he stayed at the house of Zacchaeus, a chief tax-collector, probably of the imperial estates in the Jordan valley, inherited by the emperor from the Herodian dynasty.

Two blind beggars were healed outside the town. Then Jesus continued along thc pilgrim road, which went up to the Mount of Olives and so to Bethphage on the mount and to Bethany, where he stayed at the house of Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus.

Gospel texts: Matthew 16:21, 17:22-27, 19:1-2, 20:17, 29-34
Mark 8:31, 10:1, 32, 46-52, 11:1-2
Luke 9:51-56, 10:38-42, 13:22, 18:31-42, 19:1-10, 28-35
John 12:1-8

Reconstruction of the palace of King Herod at Jericho, which Jesus would have seen

Reconstruction of the palace of King Herod at Jericho, which Jesus would have seen

Excavated remains of the palace at Jericho

Excavated remains of the palace at Jericho

Aerial photo of the Jerusalem area, with the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, Bethphage and Bethany

Aerial photo of the Jerusalem area, with the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, Bethphage and Bethany

Visits to Jerusalem

Jesus visits Jerusalem: maps, images

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. Make a list of the things Jesus did during his visits to the sacred capital city of Jerusalem.
  2. Choose several of these events and read the gospel passages describing them.
  3. Which event would you choose, if you could have been present at one of them?

Jerusalem, the Samaritan woman, Bethany

Jerusalem, the Samaritan woman, Bethany

The gospels according to John records several more journeys of Jesus to Jerusalem about which the other Gospels are silent. Thus, in John 2: l3-3:21 there is the story of a visit to Jerusalem at Passover, during which Jesus cleansed the Temple of money-changers and sellers of animals, an event placed by the other Gospels in his last days in Jerusalem (Mark 11:15-17; Matthew 21:12-13; Luke 19:45-46). Below right is a 1st century coin showing the facade of the Temple rebuilt by King Herod the Great.

1st century coin showing the facade of the Temple rebuilt by King Herod the Great During this stay Jesus was baptizing in Judea while John was doing the same in the well-watered plain of Aenon, near Salim (John 3:22-24). It was on his return from this ministry in Judea that Jesus passed through Samaria and met the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar, staying two days with the Samaritans, many of whom believed in him.

One more journey to Jerusalem, during which a paralytic was healed at the pool of Bethesda in the Holy City. is recorded in John 5.

John 7 gives a slightly different version of Jesus’ last journey than that found in the three other gospels. According to John, he went secretly to Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles (in the autumn), and was still there at the Feast of Dedication (in early winter, John 10:22).

After this he returned beyond the Jordan, probably to Bethabara (John 10:40). He then came back to Bethany, raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-46), and retired once again into the wilderness of Ephraim, northeast of Jerusalem (John 10:54).

Gospel texts: John 2:13 – 2:22, 4:1-42, 5:1-18, 7:1-10, 10:40, 11:1-44, 54

Aerial photograph showing the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, Bethphage and Bethany

Aerial photograph showing the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, Bethphage and Bethany

A reconstruction of the inner courts of the 1st century Temple in Jerusalem

A reconstruction of the inner courts of the 1st century Temple in Jerusalem

What remains of the ancient Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem

What remains of the ancient Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem

19th century photograph of Bethany

19th century photograph of Bethany

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The sea of Galilee

Maps: the Sea of Galilee

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. Where was Capernaum, and what famous words of Jesus were spoken there?
  2. Many of the miracles of Jesus happened around the Sea of Galilee, eg the multiplication of loaves and fishes, the expulsion of the Gaderene swine, etc. What were these miracles?
  3. What famous gospel woman came from Magdala? What was her story?

Capernaum, Gadarene swine, Magdala

Capernaum, Gadarene swine, Magdala

Apart from several journeys, Jesus’ entire activity before his final departure for Jerusalem was concentrated around the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 15:29; Mark 1:16; 6:31), also called Lake Gennesaret (Luke 5:1) and Lake Tiberias (John 6:1; 21:1), and usually just ‘the sea’ in the Gospels.

  • Gennesaret seems to be an earlier name. for it replaces the biblical ‘Sea of Chinnereth’ (Numbers 34:11).
  • ‘Sea of Tiberias’ was the name used after the founding of Tiberias in 18-19AD. The first Apostles were fishermen, and sometimes Jesus taught standing in boats, with the crowds listening on the shore.
  • The Sermon on the Mount was delivered near Capernaum (Matthew 8:1 and 5). The site is said to be on the height just behind Capernaum. On occasion Jesus upbraided the cities that refused to repent (‘Woe to you Chorazin , woe to you Bethsaida. Capernaum shall be brought down to Hades’ (Matthew 11:21-23; Luke 10: 13- 15).
The Roman gates of the city of Tiberias - photograph by Hanay

The Roman gates of the city of Tiberias – photograph by Hanay

On the Sea of Galilee there are frequent storms. During one such storm, Jesus slept while sailing across to the Gadarenes (Mark 5:35-41; Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-24) and when he awoke the sea was suddenly becalmed.

The location of the incident of the “Gadarene swine” has been much disputed (the usual version ‘Gerasene’ is impossible, for there was no territory of Gerasa on the lake shore). The two possibilities are ‘Gergasene’, pointing to Gergasa (Kursi) on the eastern shore of the lake in the territory of Hippus – and ‘Gadarene’. Gadara might have possessed a stretch of the shore situated between the River Jordan and Kefar-semah. The shore there is steep, so the plunging of the herd of‘ swine into the waters of the lake is plausible. The inhabitants of Gadara, being Gentiles, did not share Jewish scruples regarding the raising of swine.

Other events recorded in the Gospels relating to the Sea of Galilee and its surroundings are

  • the multiplication of the loaves and fishes at a lonely spot near the town of Bethsaida
  • the story of Jesus’ walking on the water
  • and Peter‘s attempt to follow his example (Mark 6:45-51; Matthew 15:22-23; and John 6:15-21).

Other journeys of Jesus include a visit to ‘Magadan’ (‘Dalmanutha’ In Mark 8: 10); in both cases we should read Magdala, the most important town on the sea shore after Tiberias, and famous for its fish-curing industry. This locality was the home of Mary Magdalene, who followed Jesus to Jerusalem; she was one of a group of women “who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities … who provided tor him out of their means” (Luke 8:2-3).

Gospel texts: Matthew 4:18, 5:1, 8:18, 23-34, 9:1, 13:1, 14:13-34, 15:29-39
Mark 2:16-20, 2:13, 4:1, 35-41, 5:1-21, 6:32-53, 8:1-10, 22
Luke 5:1-11, 8:22-39, 9:10-17
John 6:1-25

Remains of an ancient fishing boat found preserved in the mud of Lake Galilee

Remains of an ancient fishing boat found preserved in the mud of Lake Galilee

Reconstruction of the same boat (see above)

Reconstruction of the same boat (see above)

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The miracle at Cana

Bible Maps: the Sea of Galilee

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. People associate Cana with the story of the wedding feast. What other miracles did Jesus perform there?

Cana, Nain, Nazareth

Cana, Nain, Nazareth

Mark 6:1-6 inserts, within the story of Jesus’ teaching around the Sea of Galilee, an episode of a visit to Nazareth. Jesus preached in the synagogue there, but was rejected by his fellow townspeople who refused to believe that ‘the carpenter’ was an inspired prophet. In Matthew 13:53-58 the episode is placed in the same context, though Jesus is here called ‘the carpenter’s son’. Luke on the other hand (4:16-30) places the incident at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

The gospel story records that the townspeople of Nazareth attempted to throw Jesus from a cliff near the town. The terrain shown above is said to be where this happened.

It is in connection with this visit to Nazareth that we may perhaps place Jesus’ second visit to Cana, during which, according to John 4:46, he healed the son of an ‘official’ the orginal Greek has ‘basilikos’, the king’s man. Cana was situated at the border of the plain of Asochis, where there were royal estates. The king’s man was probably the royal steward administering this domain.

During another of Jesus’ visits in the neighborhood, he healed the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-17). Although called ‘a city’, Nain was more like a small walled town five miles southeast of Nazareth. Situated on a hilly slope, it had a gate and wall, which made it one up on surrounding villages. In later times Nain was the capital of a separate district. Remains of a Roman-era cemetery are still visible in the rocky area by the side of the road leading from Nain to the Via Maris (see photograph below).

Gospel texts:  Matthew 13:53-58
Mark 6:1-6
Luke 4:16-30, 7:11-17
John 4:46-54

The site of ancient Nain, with Mount Tabor in the distance. Deborah and Jezebel were familiar with this area.

The site of ancient Nain, with Mount Tabor in the distance.
Deborah and Jezebel were familiar with this area.

Excavations of an ancient house in Nazareth

Excavations of an ancient house in Nazareth

The ministry of Jesus

Maps: Jesus teaches, cures

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. Look at the map and see the towns near Nazareth, where Jesus lived.
  2. Where is Capernaum, and what happened there?
  3. Why is the town of Cana important to Christians?

Nazareth, to Cana, and Capernaum

Nazareth to Cana, and Capernaum

According to Luke 3:23, Jesus was about thirty years old (quite old in those days) when he began his ministry. His first preaching at Nazareth seems to have been unsuccessful, and he left the town to settle at Capernaum on the shores of Lake Gennesaret.

Capernaum (in the original Hebrew. Kefar-nahum, “Village of Nahum“) was a prosperous little town whose inhabitants engaged mainly in fishing (a great haul of fish is recorded in Luke 5:6). Being a frontier town between the domains of Antipas and Philip (see Provinces of Galilee), it had a custom post – the Apostle Matthew may have been called from his duty there as a tax-collector (Matthew 9:9: Mark 2: 13-14; Luke 5:27). A centurion commanding the local garrison, though he was a Gentile, had built the local synagogue (Luke 7:5), where Jesus often preached.

It was at Capernaum that Jesus called his first disciples, the fishermen Simon (Peter) and Andrew, men of nearby Bethsaida east of the Jordan (John 1:44), as well as James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and here he invested the Twelve Apostles (Mark 3:13-19; Matthew 10:1-4).

It was here also that he performed many of the miraculous deeds reported in the Gospels. From then on Capernaum was called ‘his own city’ (Matthew 9:1). As Capernaum had a more varied population and was nearer to the borders of the Decapolis than landlocked Nazareth, it was probably more receptive to the new teachings.

Yet Jesus did not entirely sever his ties with the town of his youth. John 2:11 continues, after the story of his baptism, with a miracle performed by Jesus at Cana in the presence of Mary and the disciples. Therefore, if we follow John’s Gospel, the visit to Cana occurred at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

Gospel texts: Matthew 4:12-22, 8:5-17, 9:9-10, 18-20
Mark 1:16-34, 2:1-17, 5:22-43
Luke 4:31-41, 5:27-32, 7:1-10, 8:40-56
John 2:1-12

Reconstruction of an ancient fishing village on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, by Balage Balogh

Reconstruction of an ancient fishing village on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, by Balage Balogh

19th century photograph of a Palestinian village

19th century photograph of a Palestinian village

19th century photograph of Cana, as it then appeared

19th century photograph of Cana, as it then appeared

Palestinian women carrying large water jugs

Palestinian women carrying large water jugs

John baptises Jesus

Jesus meets John Baptist

Questions for Bible study groups

  • Where did John baptize Jesus?
  • What happened to Jesus after he was baptized?
  • What happened to John the Baptizer?

The baptism of Jesus

The baptism of Jesus
According to Luke’s gospel, in the “fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” (A.D. 27-28), John the Baptist went out into the region about the Jordan River, preaching the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:l-9). His words were straight to the point:

7 “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bear fruits that befit repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

If we look at the Gospel story with other historical sources of the period (in particular Josephus and the Qumran documents), we can see that John was part of a deep spiritual ferment pervading the whole of Judea at that time.

John’s activity was concentrated in the Jordan valley, but we don’t know exactly where. It was either at Beth-abara at the fords of the Jordan near Jericho, or higher up the river at Aenon near Salim, south of Scythopolis (Beth-shean). Among the multitudes who flocked to be baptized was Jesus, who came from Nazareth in Galilee. This was the beginning of his ministry.

According to the Gospels Jesus’ baptism was followed by forty days of seclusion in the wilderness, most probably the wilderness of Judea above Jericho. This has from time immemorial been a refuge for those who wished to isolate themselves from the world. The sequence of baptism and seclusion in the wilderness was common at the time, especially among the Dead Sea Sect, whose headquarters were at Mesad Hasidim (Khirbet Qumran) not far away. No concrete evidence has, however, been found to connect John or Jesus with the sect.

Gospel tradition has it that Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert and carried by the evil spirit to the ‘pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem’ presumably the south-eastern corner of the Temple Mount which had a sheer drop of 130 feet. Having overcome temptation, Jesus returned to Galilee.

John continued to preach and baptize and was ultimately arrested by order of Herod Antipas, kept in prison for some time (traditionally at Macherus in southern Perea). and executed when Herod succumbed to the wiles of his wife, Herodias, who hated the prophet because he denounced her marriage to Antipas (she had previously been married to his brother (Mark 6: l4-29; Matthew l4:l-l2; Luke 3:l9-2O).

Gospel texts: Matthew 3-4:12, 14:1-2
Mark 1:4-14, 6:14-29
Luke 3:1-22, 6:18-30, 9:7-9
John 1:6-8, 15-42, 3:22-24

Machaerus where John was executed (see map above, bottom right). At the rear of the fortress is a ridge built by King Herod the Great to bring fresh water to the people within the walls.

Machaerus where John was executed (see map above, bottom right). At the rear of the fortress
is a ridge built by King Herod the Great to bring fresh water to the people within the walls.

Jesus’ return to Galilee

Jesus returns: Egypt to Nazareth

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. Why did the family of Jesus travel back to Nazareth?
  2. Herod Antipas would later be complicit in the death of Jesus. What sort of a man was he?
  3. A large part of Jesus’ childhood may have been spent in Egypt. Why is this fact ignored by the gospels?

Back to Galilee from Egypt

Back to Galilee from Egypt

Soon after the birth of Jesus, Joseph had fled with his family to Egypt, where there was a large Jewish community, and safety. But after the death of Herod Joseph had a dream/impulse/vision that convinced him that he and his little family should return to where they had come from, Nazareth in Galilee.

At that moment Nazareth was a safer place to be than Judea, which was experiencing upheavals under the rule of King Herod the Great’s oldest surviving son Archelaus, now the ethnarch (political leader of a distinct ethnic group) of Judea. King Herod had died, and the current ruler of Galilee was his younger son Herod Antipas (Herod is a family name, a surname).

Antipas was what might kindly be called a hands-off ruler, inclined to do nothing rather than make any sort of decision. This laziness/caution had served him well during the last years of his father’s life, when King Herod had executed many members of his own family, including Antipas’ two older brothers. Antipas, apparently too lazy to care about power, kept his head down and survived.

So Joseph decided the safest thing to do was return to his native Nazareth, where he could live quietly, work hard, and raise a family.

19th century photograph of the ancient road between Jericho and Jerusalem

19th century photograph of the ancient road between Jericho and Jerusalem

Nazareth was not entirely cut off from the world. It was about seven miles southeast of Sepphoris, the capital of western Galilee. There Jesus grew into manhood.

The only story of these ‘hidden years’ in the gospels is that told by Luke (1:41 51), according to which Jesus went with his parents to Jerusalem when he was twelve years old.

Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem when his parents went a day’s journey on their way back to Nazareth (presumably down to Jericho so as to return by way of Jewish Perea rather than through despised Samaria). Missing the boy, they returned to the Holy City and there found him debating with the teachers in the Temple. They then returned with him to Nazareth.

Gospel texts: Matthew 2:19-23
Luke 2:41-52

James Tisssot's Sojourn in Egypt

James Tisssot’s Sojourn in Egypt gives an image of 19th century rather than 1st century Egypt,
but it jolts the viewer into realizing that a large part of Jesus’ childhood
may have been spent in Egypt rather than Galilee

The Finding of Jesus in the Temple, William Holman Hunt

The Finding of Jesus in the Temple, William Holman Hunt

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Flight into Egypt

The flight into Egypt

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. Why did Mary and Joseph leave Galilee and journey to Egypt with their young baby?
  2. What was the probable route they took?
  3. See the ruins of Pelusium (images below). The buildings are no longer there, but the surrounding countryside would have looked much the same. What would it have been like walking through this land to an unknown future?

Jesus was born at Bethlehem in the days of King Herod, who died in the spring of 4 BC. Jesus’ birth probably occurred in 4 or 5 BC. According to Luke (2:22-24), the baby/child was presented at the Temple.

Menaced by the half-mad and very dangerous King Herod, Joseph and Mary decided to flee to Egypt by night.

The shortest way to leave Herod’s domain was seemingly by way of Ascalon, which lay on the main road to Egypt: the safer way of the desert would have been too arduous for a woman and a newborn baby.

Galilee, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Egypt

The route they took: Galilee, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Egypt

The family arrived unharmed in the land of the Nile, where they found shelter and sustenance among the many Jews then living in Egypt.

Exactly where they lived is unknown, but there was a sizeable number of Jewish enclaves there at the time, and Joseph and Mary probably had relatives or connections among them.

Gospel texts: Matthew 1:18 – 2:15
Luke 2:4-38

(Above and below) Ruins of the ancient city of Pelusium 1

(Above and below) Ruins of the ancient city of Pelusium,
though which Jesus, Mary and Joseph probably passed on their journey to Egypt

Egyptian coffin portrait

This Egyptian coffin portrait was painted only a little after the time that Mary and Joseph lived there. The two peasant farmers from Galilee, parents of Jesus, would have encountered a highly sophisticated society capable of producing subtle paintings like the one above. It was a long way from Nazareth.

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