While the internet is a wonderful research tool, books are often more dependable. This was driven home to me recently because my computer has been in the repair shop for more than a week, and I'm typing this on a loaner laptop. I was grateful to an "old ruin" of a book, paper and ink rather than the "cloud," for providing me research material for this blog post.
One of my favorite old reference books is PALESTINE AND THE BIBLE by Samuel Schor, born in Jerusalem around 1860. My falling-apart copy is faded and worn, the nineteenth edition published in 1931, so the book itself is a piece of history. Having the appearance of a homemade book, it is a true soft cover, made of tan paper only slightly thicker than its pages, folded back to reinforce the edges. Perhaps it resembles the first pamphlets from which it originated.
In its introduction, Schor wrote "God's Word is an Eastern Book. It was written in the East, by Easterns, and for Easterns." He went on to say his little book was intended to help Western readers understand Eastern expressions as they studied the Bible. He often included Bible verses to illustrate his descriptions of life and customs in Jerusalem. In 1891, he started what he called the "Palestine Exhibitions." His book developed over the time he lectured and wrote pamphlets for the Exhibitions.
I consider PALESTINE AND THE BIBLE an early precursor to "Everyday Life in Bible Times" books. The book is out of print and I believe copies are rare, so in this post I'd like to share with you a few tidbits of Schor's unique insights.
EASTERN PLOUGHS AND YOKES
- Primitive ploughs were made of wood, had a handle, and were light enough to be carried by a man. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:62)
- The plough is fastened to the neck of oxen with a yoke and the oxen pass under it. But the nations that bring their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him, those will I let remain still in their own land, saith the Lord. (Jeremiah 27:11a)
- The weight of the yoke makes the poor animals stoop, hence the force of the allusion that when God brought Israel out of Egypt and broke their yoke of bondage, He said "I made you go upright." I AM the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright. (Leviticus 26:13)
- Partly for protection and partly because of the size of their fields, farmers would often plow together, each with his own team of oxen, creating long, straight plow lines across the field. Thus Elisha was engaged when he was called by Elijah. So he departed thence, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him. (1 Kings 19:19)
Aban took a deep breath, the air crisp after the rain, smelling of rich soil, grass, and sun. Did Elijah see the influence he still held? How he could sway the people for good? Their time in the country should be a balm for the prophet—show him he was still needed, still had a purpose.
Elijah continued talking to a small crowd as they walked. The road dipped into a wide valley bordered by a stream. There, twelve drivers plowed with twelve yoke of oxen. Six plowed the length of the field, each staggered behind and to the side of the one ahead. Another six tilled the width. At the row’s end, they turned in front of each other in a woven fashion, resulting in finely crumbled red soil. The last driver, a huge sunburned fellow, kept both hands on his plow handle but nodded toward Elijah and Aban as he neared the road.
Elijah stopped in the middle of a story. He stared at the last plowman a moment, gently disengaged the hands of several clinging children, and walked across the field. Aban took a step to follow but then he stopped. He felt almost as if an invisible hand rested on his shoulder.
Elijah removed his cloak. When he reached the farmer, he flung it over the other’s shoulder.
The man jerked his head up, surprised, and grasped the cloak with both hands, letting go the plow. The oxen continued their swaying walk for a few steps and then looked back, confused, as the plow listed to one side, then tipped forward and out of the soil.
Aban swallowed hard. A child jostled against him. People around him murmured. This was the calling of a new prophet, happening right in front of him.
A few more notes from Samuel Schor about Jerusalem's houses, cities, and a fun story about the "Needle's Eye." When he wrote this in the late 1800's, it was his opinion that everyday life, customs, and apparel in the Holy Land had not changed much from Bible times.
HOUSES AND CITIES
- House exteriors are plain, small windows are covered so as not to attract covetous rulers or thieves. He that exalted his gate seeketh destruction. (Proverbs 17:19b)
- A courtyard is open to the sky. In a great house, one court may lead to another. Floors may be paved with stone, marble slabs, or inlaid with mosaics. Vines and fruit trees may grace the court for both rich and poor. But they shall sit every man under his vine and fig tree, and none shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Micah 4:4)
- A cistern to collect rainwater would be built in the court. Often empty during the dry season, the Bible records how a cistern (sometimes translated as "well') became a hiding place for two men fleeing Absalom. Nevertheless a lad saw them, and told Absalom; but they went both of them away quickly, and came to a man’s house in Bahurim, which had a well in his court; whither they went down. (2 Samuel 17:18)
- Rooftops often afforded an additional room for sleeping or taking meals. In a city, closely-packed houses made it possible to go from one house to another by stepping across the adjoining roof. But this would be a breach of etiquette, only permitted in extenuating circumstances, such as hurried flight. When Jesus says "Let him who is on the housetop not come down..." in Matthew 24:17, He refers to such desperate times.
- Schor notes that Jerusalem has always been a walled city, with four large gates closed at sunset and not opened until sunrise, except for a great official on an errand of importance. Schor discusses a two-leaved, iron reinforced gate with a smaller gate, known as the 'needle's eye.' Referring to himself as "the author" he relates a humorous story in which he observed a camel enter through this smaller door.
"In those days, all the city gates were closed at sunset and not opened until sunrise. On Friday, being the Moslem's Sunday, all gates were closed at noon for one hour to allow the soldiers to march to the Mosque for prayer. The author's parents lived then in a house belonging to a Greek priest, about 100 yards outside the Jaffa Gate. The school he attended was inside the city. His father therefore arranged for his boy to leave school half an hour earlier on Friday mornings, so as to reach home for a midday meal before the closing of the Jaffa Gate.
On one occasion he reached the gate too late--it had just been closed. This meant waiting about an hour. This he did not mind, for numbers of people congregated, and an Arab crowd is always an amusing one. One piece of unusual diversion occurred when some one outside knocked and demanded admission.
The sentinel, after several questions, opened the 'needle's eye' to admit him. He proved to be an officer, and he entered leading his horse. While the soldier stood at attention and saluted, a facetious fellah suddenly slipped in from without.
He had a rope in his hand, and before long there appeared the head and neck of a camel he was leading; with his head, long neck, and two of his legs in, the camel refused to go on, and there ensued a great struggle, causing much mirth.
Many men outside, enjoying the fun, tried to force the camel by pushing and beating; while the soldier, now free to attend to the gate, tried with the butt end of his gun to force the camel and man back again.
But the crowds were on the side of the man, with the result that after a great deal of struggling and growling on the part of the camel, his hind legs and body at last passed through the small gate amid the cheers and laughter of the crowds. The camel was carrying no burden."
I used Schor's eye-witness account, quoted above, as inspiration for another scene in RAIN where my protagonist Aban helps encourage a camel through the Eye of the Needle. It was a fun scene to write, and you can read it in my biblical novel, RAIN. In fact, you can read the entire story of a mysterious prophet, a desperate youth, and a relentless queen during the time of Israel's great drought!
Today I'm offering a giveaway of one autographed copy of my novel RAIN to one person who 1) leaves a comment or asks a question below and 2) also shares a link to this post on their social media. Please use the hashtag #HeroesHeroinesAndHistoryBlog in your social media post so I don't miss it!
Oh! And remember to cleverly disguise your email address so I can identify you if you win.
Inspired by the Bible stories of Elijah, Dana wondered about the widow of Zarephath and her son. Who were they? What was their life, before? How did the boy change after he died, saw the other world—and came back?
Those questions led to Dana writing RAIN, in which she built her dream world of adventure, danger, and romance. Peace and quiet, however, have remained elusive.