GLEANINGS FROM THE SCRIPTURES
Women’s Work 2000 Years Ago
By Keith L. Estes
When a good wife put her hand to the distaff and spindle, as the proverb states, she was beginning to carry out her duties as family clothing maker. She used the distaff and spindle to make yarn or thread from raw wool or flax (linen is made from flax). This done, she had to weave the yarn or thread into cloth. The typical loom in Jesus’ time produced clothe about three feet wide, so, to make most clothing two lengths of woven material had to be joined side by side to gain the proper width. In Galilee, however, looms were often wider, so that an article of clothing could be woven in one piece. In John 19:23 we read that Jesus’ tunic “was without seam, woven from top to bottom.” Over his tunic Jesus and other men wore a loose-fitting outer garment, or mantle, with fringes bound by blue ribbon.
The tunic or sometimes the outer garment would have been tied with a leather belt or cloth girdle about four inches wide. The girdle might have had a doubled section sewn into it to serve as a purse. A man wearing only his tunic was said to be naked, or stripped. Men sometimes dressed this way while working. And so, in John 21:7, when Peter is described as being “naked” or “stripped” before leaping into the water upon recognizing Jesus, he was probably wearing only his tunic. If a man wore a girdle over his garment up between his legs and tucked it into his girdle to free his legs for easier movement, he was said to gird his loins. To complete his apparel, the Jewish man would have worn sandals and may have tied a white cloth over his head, letting it hang down to his shoulders.
The wife made her own clothes too. She wore the same type of tunic as the men, but her mantle was fuller, with enough fringe to cover her feet. While working, she might tuck the front of her mantle up over her girdle to form an apron for carrying small items. Most women wore head coverings. Both men and women wore sandals with soles of palm bark or wood and straps or laces of leather. They probably purchased their footwear from the local sandal maker.
PREPARING THE DAILY BREAD
As for her duties as provider of meals, a wife had to grind grain, bake bread, milk the goats, and make cheese and curds. These daily tasks began around daybreak. To grind the grain she used either a mortar and pestle or a hand mill, which consisted of two stones. The lower stone held the grain, and the upper stone was rubbed or rolled across the bed of grain to make flour. Next, she mixed the coarse meal with water, salt, and a little fermented dough saved from the previous day’s bread making as a leavening agent. She kneaded the mixture into dough and let it rise for a few hours, and finally shaped the dough into flat loaves and baked them-generally in a clay oven in the courtyard, Jesus, who must have watched his mother make bread compared the Kingdom of God to leaven which transforms meal into risen dough.
While the bread baked, the woman of the house might have planned the day’s meals. Most families ate two meals. Breakfasts were likely to be light and were carried to the fields or other places of work and eaten at mid-morning or midday. Suppers, by contrast, were substantial. Vegetables, eggs, cheese, bread, butter, wine, nuts, and fruit might all be served, and perhaps chicken or wild fowl. Fish was a common food, but red meat was a rarity, except on special occasions, when the fatted calf and the sacrificial lamb were presented with fanfare and ritual.
Certain meat and fish were forbidden as food on religious grounds. Pork and crustaceans, for example, were regarded as “unclean.” So, too, was any animal that had not been slaughtered specifically for food and entirely bled, because, as stated in Deuteronomy 12:23, “The life of the body is in the blood,” and should be regarded as sacred even in animals.
In warm weather cooking was done in the courtyard. On cold land rainy days, the cook brought her fire indoors to a portable clay stove fueled with charcoal or twigs. As there were no chimneys, the smoke and cooking smells permeated the house.
Most foods other than bread were boiled or stewed in a big pot and seasoned with salt and onions, garlic, mint, dill, cumin, coriander, rue, or mustard. Food was sweetened with wild honey or syrups made by boiling down dates and grapes.
Supper was a time of relaxation after a long day’s work. Everyone was required to wash his hands before eating, as the food was generally served in a common bowl and eaten by dipping in with the fingers. In his later life Jesus was called down by a Pharisee for eating without first washing in the proper way, prompting him to point out how the Pharisees carried out the letter of the law while defeating its spirit.
Ref. From the book, “Jesus And His Times”- The Readers Digest.