Inside First Century Home

Posted in: Culture

In Galilee, the ancient village of Qatzrin has been excavated and reconstructed. Although it was populated centuries after Jesus' time, scholars believe that the buildings and artifacts discovered there represent the practices of the first century.

A typical Galiliean home was built of basalt (dark volcanic rock) and had either one or two stories. A stonemason (sometimes translated as a "carpenter") used a wooden scaffold as he carefully squared the larger rocks and wedged smaller stones in between to provide stability and strength.

Sometimes walls were plastered with mud and straw. The doorframe was built of shaped stones and covered by a wooden door. A courtyard, located between various rooms of a family's housing complex, was paved with stones.

Roofs were often made of wooden beams topped with tree branches and covered with clay. When it rained, the clay absorbed water, sealing the roof. Sometimes people did their work on their roofs, which needed to be repaired every year. (See Matt. 24:17; Mark 13:15; Acts 10:9.)

A typical Galilean kitchen contained a domed oven for heating and cooking when the weather was cold. Animal dung, the pulp of pressed olives, and small branches were used as fuel.


Common kitchen utensils included hand grinders for making flour, cooking pots, reed or palm-leaf baskets for gathering and storing food, a broom, and stone water jars. Small gardens, vineyards with grapes and olive trees, and some small livestock provided most of the people's food. (See Luke 15:8.)

A Galilean family room, the center of family life, was probably used for eating, storing food, and socializing when the weather was inappropriate for being outdoors in the courtyard. Wealthy people reclined as they ate; poorer people sat on the floor or benches. Food was served on pottery plates or in pottery bowls.

Jewish laws regarding "clean" and "unclean" apparently required that different pottery be used for different types of food (so that meat and dairy did not mix, for example). (See Matt. 23:25; 26:23.)

Provisions such as grain, wine, and oil were stored in large jars in cool places. (See 1 Kings 17:7-14; 2 Kings 4:1-7.) Other foods were hung from the ceiling. Life for first-century Jews depended upon raising food and protecting it from spoilage, rodents, or insects, so the people needed to store it well.

Jesus encouraged people to live by faith in God's provision, and he criticized people who were so obsessed with providing for the future that they hoarded goods. (See Matt. 6:25-26, 31-34; Luke 12:16-26.)

Sleeping Quarters, sometimes located on the second floor and accessed by ladder, had beds made of wooden frames with rope stretched over them. A mat was then laid on each bed. Sometimes more than one family member slept in the same bed (Luke 11:5-7).

Poorer people often slept on mats placed on the floor. People could take their mats with them when they traveled. (See Matt. 9:2-6; Mark 2:3-12.)

Lighting was provided by small olive-oil lamps that were supplied from a goatskin oil container. Most people, however, went to bed at sunset and got up at dawn. Honest people didn?t work after dark, hence the phrase ?works of darkness? was developed. (See Luke 22:53; Rom. 13:12; Eph. 5:11-14.)

A storeroom contained the all-important farming tools and supplies that most families needed in order to provide their own food: wooden plow, sickle, brooms, winnowing fork, a sieve for grain, rope made from plant fibers, an animal skin used as a churn for butter or cheese, etc.

Typically a wooden plow with an iron point was pulled by a donkey or ox over the small fields in which grain was grown.

At harvesttime, farmers cut the grain with the sickle, then placed the grain on a hard stone surface called a "threshing floor" where it was crushed (threshed) by a small sled dragged by animals.

The straw and grain mixture was then thrown into the air on a windy day. The lighter straw and chaff blew away; the grain fell and was collected. Finally, the sieve separated any chaff that remained. (See Matt. 3:11-12; Mark 4:26-29.)