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Discovering Physical Evidence of Biblical Daily Life – Part 1: The Alabastron

How often do you think about the parables, stories and historical accounts in the Bible? Do you ever wonder how the things what we read about really looked, felt, or smelt? Here on the Sar-El blog we will be sharing with you a series of short articles that will shed light on some of the archaeological evidence of biblical history uncovered here in Israel.

Aaron Goel from our team, has a Bachelor’s degree in Archaeology and it is his passion to share with you archaeological treasures that not only point to the truth of biblical history, but also build upon the wealth of the Scriptures, enriching your own spiritual journey into the Bible whether you are here on tour with us, or at home waiting for your next visit!

All items mentioned throughout the series can be seen either on display in Israel’s many museums, or on location at archaeological sites.

Article & photography: Aaron Goel

 

Discovering Physical Evidence of Biblical Daily Life – Part 1: The Alabastron

When we spend time reading the Bible, whether it be the Old or New Testament, we usually focus on internalizing different aspects found in Scripture such as revelations of Divine Wisdom or social morality etc. The wealth of the Scriptures however, also includes various intellectual-philosophical or spiritual discoveries and revelations. Some researchers and intellectuals use the Scriptures as a historical record and archaeological guide to daily life during biblical times.

Museums, specific archeological activities and historical sites in Israel provide visitors with the opportunity to understand the physical history and testimony of both Old and New Testament times. The Israel Museum and the Bible Lands Museum both provide an extensive and informative experience, displaying daily objects and utensils used by the average man or woman in biblical times. The exhibitions are presented simply and make it very easy for the visitor to connect and rediscover for themselves the physical materials of Israel’s biblical past.

There are many sites throughout Israel that are open to the public such as the Nazareth First Century village, the Temple Mount sifting project of “Emeq Tzurim”, the Hasmonean village, Katzrin’s ancient park, the Davidson center, the Wohl Museum of Archeology, and the Burnt House to name just a few. Some of these sites allow the visitor to touch and hold ancient artifacts or exact replicas in their hands (Temple Mount Sifting Project for example), while others such as the many Museums, enable the visitor to see for themselves what life was like during biblical times; how Jesus and his disciples lived from day to day, how they ate, etc.

Historical artifacts and objects are a subject of passion and wonder. When an ancient artifact that hasn’t been touched for more than 2000 years is excavated from the dust, it is easy to wonder and imagine who the small broken oil lamp in your hands belonged to in Jerusalem during Yeshua’s time. In whose hands has this small bronze coin passed? Whose piece of jewelry was this? Rediscovered artifacts are the only links between us and the past (after texts such as the Bible). These texts are reminders in their own right of these daily objects but it is not always possible to fully understand biblical times without also understanding and seeing the archeological remains and artifacts.

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Olive grinding wheel at Maresha

After seeing the architectural and physical sites, it is also important to see objects of the biblical peoples: their way of life, eating and drinking, doing business, etc. Many people tell us that the Bible has come to life after they have visited Israel with us and travelled the land- witnessing biblical history before their very eyes!

While a detailed archaeological report may quickly cause some people to lose interest, there is always something special in understanding the physical testimonies of biblical times and there are many ways to do so that don’t require reading a report! Have you ever thought about the daily life of someone during Bible times? Have you ever wondered what the Alabaster Jar of the woman who anointed the feet of Yeshua (Jesus) looked like for example? (Luke 7:37). Was it a luxurious golden jar or a humble clay container?

 

The Alabaster Jar-flask (example pictured below)
Mentioned in Luke 7:37.

During ancient times people would perfume themselves similarly to today. The purpose however was not just for fashion; it was cultural and often essential. The Greeks influenced the ancient world and after them, the Roman Empire, even before Alexander the Great’s conquest. Consequently, most ancient cultures were influenced by the Greek tradition of anointing the body with oils after physical exercise or bathing, and even for massage.

Perfumes used in the ancient world were mostly made of oils rather than the water-based (Eau de Toilette) preparations that we see today. Precious oils could cost phenomenal amounts. Anointing the dead with perfumed oils was also the practice during Biblical times, remember Luke 24 where the women went to prepare Yeshua’s body after His death.

The anointing of Yeshua’s feet in Luke 7 was a reference to His future death. The oil poured on Yeshua by the sinner woman was probably very costly, although the shape of the jar was most probably like the common anointing flasks shown below. (You can see these for yourself in archeological exhibitions of various Museums in Israel.) The original Greek name for the English translation “Alabaster Jar or flask” of perfume (ἀλάβαστρον μύρου), used in the New Testament is generic and does not specifically describe the material of the flask itself. The Greek name used indicates several different kinds of anointing flasks rather than a specific kind. It is probable that the flask was not made from suggested Alabaster which was an expensive carved stone, but most likely from glass or even regular ceramic.

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Common flasks/bottles for perfumes and oils 1st Century AD

These small ceramic and glass “flasks” are called Pear Shaped bottles and are dated to a long period in time, including the time of Yeshua (between around 50 BC till the beginning of 2nd century AD) and could be the type of jar used and mentioned in Luke 7.

It is truly amazing to see biblical history before your eyes and even in your own hands. Do you want to experience the Bible coming alive? Come to Israel and discover not only the places written in the Bible, but witness and touch for yourself the living testimony and history of the Holy Land.


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Aaron Goel (the author) works at Sar-El Tours & Conferences and has a BA in Archeology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He worked in the archeological domain for several years, both in excavations and research in the City of David Jerusalem excavations and for the Coin department of the IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority).