If you drive around our nation and take the time to exit the interstates, you will see many small and large American farms. The prototypical farm from our past includes a number of buildings, including a house, barn, workshops, storage sheds and a number of other out buildings. This was not the case in the ancient world. For the sake of safety and for connection to the community, most ancient farmers lived in towns. The family farm might be as close as the edge of the village or it might be two or three miles away. Every day the farmer, his sons, and coworkers started their work by walking and ended the day by returning home. Can you imagine walking six miles a day just to go to and from work?
There were exceptions to this practice. Farmers often had storehouses and slept on their land in small structures called tabernacles during harvest times. Wealthy farmers who owned very large parcels often built manor homes on their land. Archaeologists have shown us that these homes were much like miniature villages, with cooks, black smiths, servants, slaves, laborers, shepherds, overseers, accountants, and their families. Still, the land holdings of these farmers were large enough that most of the laborers must have walked long distances to their work.
When first beginning to study first century Palestine, I was impressed by the idea that Jesus and his family and neighbors walked to Jerusalem for annual festivities like Passover. Nazareth is seventy miles from Jerusalem and the road is not flat. No one except military officers and very high ranking political officials would have ridden horses. Even donkeys were reserved for luggage and the richest merchants. Everyone else walked. I estimate that the trip took three days. Let’s see … seventy miles, three days. That is three long days. Just as an experiment, I walked twenty-one miles one day. It took months of training, expensive shoes and socks, and more than one blister. But in a sense, for the average person in the first century, every day was a day of training, except, of course, the Sabbath.
Imagine how fit we would be if we trimmed most fat and all sugar from our diet and then walked six miles a day.
Do check out The Food and Feasts of Jesus; Inside the World of First Century Fare. It should be released almost any day and prerelease copies are still available from most online booksellers.
And in all things, keep the feast.