Skip to content
Deacon Keith Fournier Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

Biblical Antiquities

Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes

This department of archæology has been variously defined and classified. Some scholars have included in it even Biblical chronology, geography, and natural history, but wrongly so, as these three branches of Biblical science belong rather to the external environment of history proper. Archæology, properly speaking, is the science of antiquities, and of those antiquities only which belong more closely to the inner life and environment of a nation, such as their monumental records, the sources of their history, their domestic, social, religious, and political life, as well as their manners and customs. Hence, history proper, geography, and natural history must be excluded from the domain of archæology. So also the study of monumental records and inscriptions and of their historical interpretation must be left either to the historian, or to the sciences of epigraphy and numismatics. Accordingly, Biblical Archæology may be appropriately defined as: the science of;

III. SACRED, ANTIQUITIES of the Hebrew nation.

Our principal sources of information are:

(a) The Old Testament writings;
(b) the archæological discoveries made in Syria and Palestine;
(c) the Assyro-Babylonian, Egyptian, and Canaanitish monuments;
(d) the New Testament writings;
(e) the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus, and of theBabylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds;
(f) comparative study of Semitic religions, customs, and institutions.


(1) Family and clan

The Old Testament books present us the Hebrews as having passed through two stages of social development: the pastoral and the agricultural. The stories of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, picture them as dwelling in tents and constantly moving from one pasture-ground to another. In course of time tents merged into huts, huts into houses, and these into settlements, villages, and cities, surrounded by cornfields, vineyards, oliveyards, and gardens. Flocks and herds became rarer and rarer till the time of the early monarchy and afterwards, when, with few exceptions, they gave way to commerce and trade. As among all nations of antiquity, a coalition of various members, or branches, of the same family constituted a clan which, as an organization, seems to have antedated the family. A coalition of clans formed a tribe which was governed by its own chiefs or leaders. Some of the Hebrew clans at the time of the settlement in Canaan seem to have been organized, some to have been broken up and wholly or partially incorporated with other clans. A man's standing in his clan was so important that if he was cast out he became ipso facto an outlaw, unless, indeed, some other clan could be found to receive him. After the settlement, the Hebrew clan-system changed somewhat and slowly degenerated till the time of the monarchy, when it fell into the background and became absorbed by the more complicated system of national and monarchical government.

70% of families can't afford to send kids to Catholic School - Why?
(2) Marriage and the constitution of the family

In ancient Hebrew times the family, as a social organization, and as compared with the clan, must have held a secondary place. Comparative Semitic analogy and Biblical evidences seem to indicate that among the early Hebrews, as among other early Semitic nations, man lived under a matriarchate system, i.e. kinship was constituted by uterine ties, and descent was reckoned through female lines; the father's relation to his children being, if not ignored, certainly of little or no importance. Hence a man's kin were the relatives of his mother, not those of his father ; and consequently all hereditary property descended in the female line. The position of woman during the early Hebrew period, although inferior to what it became later, was not as low and insignificant as many are inclined to believe. Many episodes in the lives of women like Sarah, Rebeccah, Rachel, Deborah, Mary the sister of Moses, Delilah, Jephtah's daughter, and others are sufficient evidences. The duties of a woman, as such and as a wife and mother, were heavy both physically and morally. The work in and about the home devolved upon her, even to the pitching of the tent, as also the work of the field with the men at certain seasons. The position of the man as father and as the head of the household was of course superior to that of the wife; upon him devolved the duty and care of the training of the children, when they had reached a certain age, as also the offering of sacrifices, which necessarily included the slaughtering of domestic animals, and the conduct of all devotional and ritualistic services. To these must be added the duty of maintaining the family, which presupposes a multitude of physical and moral obligations and hardships.

Polygamy was an acknowledged form of marriage in the patriarchal and post-patriarchal periods, although in later times it was considerably restricted. The Mosaic law everywhere requires a distinction to be made between the first wife and those taken in addition to her. Marriage between near relatives was common, owing to a desire to preserve, as far as possible, the family bond intact. As the family was subordinate to the clan, the whole social life of the people, marriage, and even property rights were under the surveillance of the same. Hence a woman was to marry within the same clan; but if she chose to marry without the clan, she should do so only upon such terms as the clan might permit by its customs or by its action in a particular case. So, also, a woman might be allowed, where compensation was made, to marry and leave her clan, or she might contract through her father or other male relative with a man of another clan provided she remained with her people and bore children for her clan. This marriage-form, known to scholars under the term of Sadiqa-marriage , was undoubtedly practised by the ancient Hebrews as positive indications of its existence are found in the Book of Judges and particularly in the cases of Jerubbaal, Samson, and others. The fact itself that Hebrew harlots who received into their tents or dwellings men of other clans, and who bore children to their own clan, were not looked upon with much disfavour is a sure indication of the existence of the Sadiqa-marriage type among the Hebrews. One thing is certain, however, that no matter how similar the marriage customs of the ancient Hebrews may have been to those of the early Arabs, the marriage tie among the former was much stronger than, and never as loose as, among the latter. Another form of Hebrew marriage was the so-called levirate type (from the Lat. levir , i.e. brother-in-law), i.e. the marriage between a widow, whose husband had died childless, and her brother-in-law. She was, in fact, not permitted to marry a stranger, unless the surviving brother-in-law formally refused to marry her. The levirate marriage was intended first, to prevent the extinction of the name of the deceased childless brother; and secondly, to retain the property within the same tribe and family. The first-born son of such a union took the name of the deceased uncle instead of that of his father, and succeeded to his estate. If there were no brother of the deceased husband alive, then the next of kin was supposed to marry the widow as we find in the case of Ruth's relative who yielded his right to Boaz. According to the laws of Moses, a man was forbidden to remarry a divorced wife, if she had married again and become a widow, or had been divorced from her second husband. Israelites were not forbidden to intermarry with any foreigners except the seven Canaanitish nations; hence Moses' marriage to a Midianite, and afterwards to a Cushite woman and that of David to a princess of Geshur were not against the Mosaic law. The high-priest was to marry a virgin of his own people, and in the time of Ezechiel even an ordinary priest could not marry a widow, unless she were the widow of a priest.

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >

Betrothal was mostly a matter of business to be transacted by the parents and near family friends. A distinction between betrothal and marriage is made even in the Mosaic law, where betrothal is looked upon as more than a promise to marry; it was in fact its initial act, and created a bond which could be dissolved only by death or by legal divorce. Faithlessness to this vow of marriage was regarded and punished as adultery. Betrothal actually took place after a dowry had been agreed upon. As a rule, it was given to the parents of the bride, though sometimes to an elder brother. Marriage contracts appear to have been mostly oral, and made in the presence of witnesses. The earliest account of a written one is found in the Book of Tobit (D. V. Tobias ). The wedding festivities lasted ordinarily seven days, and on the day of the wedding the bridegroom, richly dressed and crowned, went in procession to the bride's house to take her away from her father. The bride, deeply veiled, was led away amid the blessings of her parents and friends. The bridal procession not infrequently took place at night, in the blaze of torches and with the accompaniment of songs, dancing, and the highest expressions of joy.

Adultery was punished by death, through stoning of both participants. A man suspecting his wife of unfaithfulness might subject her to a terrible ordeal which, it was thought, no guilty wife could well pass through without betraying her guilt. Divorce among the ancient Hebrews was as frequent as among any other civilized nation of antiquity. Mosaic laws attempted only to restrict and to regulate it. Any "unseemly thing" was sufficient ground for divorce, as also was barrenness. The wife, however, was not allowed to separate herself from her husband for any reason ; in the case of her husband's adultery, he as well as the other guilty party, as we have seen, would be punished with death.

Concubinage, which differs widely from polygamy, was also extensively practised by the Hebrews. A concubine was less than a wife, but more than an ordinary mistress, and her rights were jealously guarded in the Mosaic Code. The children born of such a union were in no case considered as illegitimate. The principal distinction between a legal wife and a concubine consisted in the latter's social and domestic inferiority. Concubines were not infrequently either handmaids of the wife, or captives taken in war or purchased of their fathers. Canaanitish and other foreign women or slaves could in no case be taken as concubines. The seducer of an unbetrothed maiden was compelled either to marry her or to pay her father a heavy fine. In later times, ordinary harlotry was punished, and if the harlot was the daughter of a priest she was burnt. Idolatrous harlotry and sodomy were severely punished.

Deacon Keith Fournier Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

The domestic and social life of the Hebrews was frugal and simple. They indulged very little in public games and diversions. Hunting and fishing were looked upon as necessities of life. Slavery was extensively practised, and slaves were either Hebrews or foreigners. The Mosaic law is against any kind of involuntary slavery, and no Hebrew slave was allowed to be sold to foreigners. An Israelitish slave was to be set free after five or six years servitude and not without some compensation, unless he were willing to serve another term. As was natural, Hebrew slaves were more kindly treated by their Hebrew masters than were foreign ones, who were either captives in war or purchased.

(3) Death and burial

The principal sicknesses and diseases mentioned in the Old Testament are: intermittent, bilious, and inflammatory fevers, dysentery produced by sunstroke, inflammation of the head, fits, apoplectic paralysis, blindness, inflammation of the eyes, hæmorrhages, epilepsy, diarrh a, dropsy, various kinds of skin eruptions, scabies, and the various forms of leprosy. To these must be added some psychical diseases, such as madness, melancholy, etc., and also various forms of demoniacal possession. No explicit mention of professional physicians and surgeons is made in the Old Testament.

In case of death, the body was washed and wrapped in a linen cloth and, if financial circumstances allowed, anointed with sweet-smelling spices and ointments. Embalming was neither a general nor a common practice. Burial took place, usually, on the day of the person's death. The dead body was never burnt, but interred, unless for some particular reason, as in the case of Saul and his sons. Mourning customs were various, such as wearing sackcloths, scattering dust and ashes on the head, beating the breast, plucking and pulling out the hair and the beard, throwing oneself upon the earth; rending the garments, going about barefooted, veiling the face, and in some cases abstaining from eating and drinking for a short time. The usual period of mourning lasted seven days. With few exceptions the bodies were interred outside of the town, either in caves or in public cemeteries. Persons of high social and financial standing were publicly mourned, and their bodies placed in sepulchres hewn in rock.

(4) Food and meals

The principal articles of food among the ancient Hebrews can be easily summarized from the interesting description of the land of Canaan occurring in the Book of Deuteronomy, where it is said to he "a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it" ( Deuteronomy 8:8, 9 ). Their meals were undoubtedly of the simplest description, and their table was more rich with fish, milk, fruit, and vegetables than with meat. Animal food in general was in favour with the people at large, but the Mosaic law restricted its use to almost the minimum. Animals or parts of animals designated for sacrifice or other holy uses could only be eaten under specific conditions. In the eleventh chapter of Leviticus and the fourteenth of Deuteronomy, a list is given of a large class of animals which were looked upon as ceremonially unfit to be eaten. Animals, furthermore, were classified as pure and impure, or clean and unclean , and the complicated legislation of the Pentateuch concerning the use of these is partly based on sanitary, partly fanciful, and partly ceremonial grounds. The evening meal was the principal meal of the day, and if knives, forks, spoons, and other like instruments were used in the preparation of the meals they were not used at the table. Hands were washed before and after meals. Neither prayer, nor grace, nor blessing seems to have been proffered before or after the repast. In other particulars the table usages and customs of the ancient Hebrews may reasonably be supposed to have been like those of modern Palestine.

15% OFF for Christmas
(5) Dress and ornaments

The materials for clothing were principally cotton, linen, and wool; silk is once, or never, mentioned in the Old Testament. The wearing of a mixed fabric of wool and linen was forbidden by the Mosaic law. So, also, either sex was forbidden to wear the garments proper to the opposite sex. The outer garment of men consisted of loose, flowing robes, which were of various types and forms. On the four corners of this outer robe a fringe, or tassel, was attached. The undergarment, which was the same for both sexes, consisted, generally, of a sleeveless tunic or frock of any material desired, and reached to the knees or ankles. That of the woman was longer and of richer material. The tunic was fastened at the waist with a girdle. The fold made by the girdle served at the same time as a pocket. A second tunic and the shawl, which was long and of fine material, were also in use. The outer garment of the Hebrew women differed slightly from that of the men, and no detailed description of it is found in the Bible . It was undoubtedly richer and more ornamented than that of the other sex. The most accepted colour for ordinary garments was white, and the art of bleaching cloth was from very early times known and practised by the Hebrews. In later times, the purple, scarlet, and vermilion colours were extensively used, as well as the black, red, yellow, and green. Girdles were worn by both sexes, and golden girdles were not unknown. Men covered the head with some kind of a turban, or cap, although it is doubtful whether its use was universal in pre-Mosaic and Mosaic times. In ancient times women did not wear veils, but probably covered their heads with kerchiefs, mufflers, or mantles. Sandals were in general use, but not among the poorer classes, or among the farmers and shepherds. Worthy of notice is the ceremony mentioned in Deut., xxv, 9, according to which if a man refuses to marry the wife of his brother, who had died childless, "Then shall his brother's wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot , and spit in [or before] his face, and she shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto the man that will not build up his brother's house". The drawing off of the shoe evidently indicated the surrender of the rights which the law gave the man to marry his brother's widow. Likewise the modern custom of throwing a slipper sportively after a newly wedded pair leaving the parental house appears to have a like symbolical significance; the parents and family friends thereby symbolically renounce their right to the daughter or son in favour of the husband or wife. Finger-rings, ear-rings, and bracelets were extensively used by both men and women, but more so by the latter. Prosperous men always carried a staff and a seal. All these ornamental articles, however, were more indulged in by the Egyptians, Assyrians, and other Oriental nations than by the Hebrews. Hebrew women wore also cauls, anklets, and ankle-chains, scent-bottles, and decorated purses, or satchels. Perfumery was also indulged in; and extensive use was made of pigments as applied to the eyelids and eyebrows by women. Tattooing on the face, arms, chest, and hands was in all probability practised by the Hebrews, although it was to a certain extent incompatible with certain Mosaic prescriptions.

(6) Pastoral and agricultural life

According to the Biblical records, tilling the ground and the rearing of cattle and sheep were the first and earliest occupations of men. In Patriarchal times the latter was in greater favour, while in the later Hebrew period the first prevailed over the second. This transition from the pastoral, or nomadic, to the agricultural, or settled, life was a natural consequence of the settlement in Canaan, but at no time did the two occupations exclude each other. Both, in fact, were important, indispensable, and necessary. The sheep was, of course, the principal animal both as an article of food and as wool-producers besides its constant use as a sacrificial animal. Sheep's milk was also a favourite article. Rams also, with from two to as many as eight horns, are not infrequently mentioned. Goats are frequently mentioned, and cows and oxen were utilized for milk and butter and for tilling the ground. Horses and camels were imported from Arabia. Poultry and hens are not once mentioned in the Old Testament. The ass was a common and useful animal for transportation, but the mule is not mentioned in the Bible prior to the time of the monarchy. The life of the Hebrew and Eastern shepherds in general was by no means easy or uneventful. Jacob, in fact, in reproaching his father-in-law, Laban, says: "Thus I was: in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep fled from mine eyes" ( Genesis 31:40 ); and of his own pastoral life and its perils David tells us that "there came a lion, an a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: and I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth" 1 Samuel 17:34-35 ]. The shepherd's duties were to lead out the flock to pasture, watch them, supply them with water, go after the straying ones, and bring them all safely back to the fold at night. These formed his riches, trade, occupation, and sustenance.

Agriculture is the natural product of settled life. Nevertheless we read of Isaac that during the prevalence of a famine in Palestine he cultivated land in the vicinity of Gerar, which produced a hundredfold ( Genesis 26:12 ). The Mosaic law recognizes land as the principal possession of the Hebrews, and its cultivation as their chief business. Hence every Hebrew family was to have its own piece of ground, which could not be alienated, except for limited periods. Such family estates were carefully surveyed; and it was regarded as one of the most flagrant of crimes to remove a neighbour's landmark. Estates were divided into so many yokes, that is, such portions as a yoke of oxen could plough in a single day. The value of the land was according to its yield in grain. Irrigation was practised to a certain extent in Palestine, though not carried to the same extent as in Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt. The chief dependence for moisture was on the dew and the drenching rains of the rainy season. The climate of Palestine was, as a whole, favourable to agriculture, although in modern times the valleys and the plains have greatly deteriorated in fertility. The ground was ordinarily fertilized by the ashes of burnt straw and stubble, the chaff left after threshing, and the direct application of dung. According to the Mosaic law, every tillable land should enjoy on each seventh year a sabbath, or a rest. The year in question is called the Sabbatic Year, in which the field was not to be tilled. The object of this prescription was to heighten the natural fertility of the soil. What grew spontaneously in that year was to be not alone for the owner, but, on equal terms, for the poor, for strangers and for cattle. It is doubtful, however, whether this law was scrupulously observed in later Hebrew times. The most widely cultivated grains were wheat and barley, as well as spelt and millet. Of plants and vegetables the principal were grape-vines, olive-trees, nuts, apples, figs, pomegranates, beans, lentils, onions, melons, cucumbers, etc. The season for ploughing and cultivating the ground extended from October to March; that of gathering the crops from April or May to September. The plough was similar to our modern one. It was ordinarily drawn by two oxen, cows or asses, never, however, by an ass and an ox together. It was also forbidden under penalty of confiscation to sow the same field with two kinds of seeds. The beginning of the harvest was signalized by bringing a sheaf of new grain (presumably barley) into the sanctuary and waving it before the Lord. The grain was generally cut with the sickle, and sometimes pulled up by the roots. Fields and fruit-orchards were not to be gleaned by their owners, as this privilege was given to the poor and strangers, as in the case of Ruth. The threshing and winnowing were performed in the open field, the first by means of cattle yoked together, the other by shovels and fans.

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >

(7) Commerce

The Hebrew people of olden times were not inclined towards commerce and did not indulge in it. This is probably due partly to the geographical position of Palestine and partly to its physical features. For although, geographically, Palestine would seem to have offered the most natural highway to connect the opulent commercial nations of Egypt, Syria, Phœnicia, Assyria, and Babylonia, nevertheless, it lacked a sea-coast. Hence the Israelites remained essentially agriculturists. The trade of the Israelites consisted chiefly in the mutual exchange of products among themselves. At the time of David and Solomon, caravans from Egypt, Arabia, and Syria were not infrequently sent to Palestine and vice versa. The ships which Solomon is said to have sent to remote lands were built and manned by the Phœnicians. But even this revival of commercial spirit among the Hebrews was short-lived, for it ended with the life of Solomon. Solomon's commercial activities have been also greatly misunderstood and exaggerated. A faint revival of the Solomonic commercial spirit was inaugurated by King Jehoshaphat, of whom we read that he made "ships of Tharshish to go to Ophir for gold: but they went not; for the ships were broken at Eziongeber" [I (D. V. III) Kings, xxii, 48]. During and after the Babylonian Captivity, the Hebrews were compelled by circumstances to resort to trade and commerce, as they had come into constant contact with their Babylonian brethren and with the numerous Syro-Phœnician and Aramæan tribes and colonies. The historian Josephus well summarizes this whole matter when, in his work against Apion, he says: "We neither inhabit a maritime country, nor do we delight in merchandise, nor in such a mixture with other men as arises from it."

Previous to the Babylonian Captivity , coined money does not seem to have circulated among the Hebrews, although a few references in Isaiah and other prophets seem to indicate its existence. Silver and gold were bought and exchanged by weight and value. The talent, the shekel, the kesitah , and the maneh ( mina ) are late Hebrew terms and of Babylonian origin. After the Exile, and especially during the Persian, Greek, and Roman dominations, coined money became quite common in Palestine, such as the quadrans , the assarion , the denarius , the drachma , the stater , the didrachma , etc.

During the time of the monarchy and afterwards, such trades and occupations as woodworking, metalworking, stone-working, tanning, and weaving were thoroughly in evidence among the most industrious class of the Israelites, but the Chosen People cannot be said to have attained considerable skill and success in these directions.

Give the gift of Sincere Prayer - Light Your FREE Prayer Candle
(8) Science, arts, etc.

At no time can the Hebrews be said to have developed a liking for the study of history, astronomy, astrology, geometry, arithmetic, grammar, and physical science in general. The Book of Job, Proverbs, and the many parables which Solomon is said to have written contain but meagre and popular notions, mostly drawn from observations of everyday life and happenings, while others are, to a great extent, due to the Babylonian influence and civilization which, from very early times, and especially during and after the Captivity, seem to have invaded the entire literary and social life of the Hebrews. Hence the Hebrew astronomical system, their calendar, constellations, sacred numbers, names of the months, solar and lunar months, etc., are of Babylonian origin. The Book of Job no less than the early chapters of Genesis show the traces of this same Babylonian influence.

As the Tell-el-Amarna letters have conclusively shown, the art of writing must have been known in Canaan and among the ancient Hebrews as early as the Mosaic age, and even earlier. Whether, however, this art was utilized by them to any great extent, is another question. Hebrew literature is one of the most venerable and valuable literary productions of the ancient East; and, although in respect of quantity and variety far inferior to that of the Assyro-Babylonians and Egyptians, nevertheless, in loftiness of ideals, sublimity of thoughts, and standard of morals and ethics, it is infinitely superior to them.

The art of music, both vocal and instrumental, occupies a high position in the Bible . Previous to the time of David, the music of the Hebrews seems to have been of the simplest character, as direct efforts to cultivate music among them appear first in connexion with the schools of the prophets, founded by Samuel. Under David's direction not less than four thousand musicians, i.e. more than the tenth part of the tribe of Levi, praised the Lord with "instruments" in the service of the temple. A select body of two hundred and eighty-eight trained musicians led this chorus of voices, one person being placed as leader over a section consisting of twelve singers. Heman, Asaph, and Ethan were among the most famous of these leaders. Men and women were associated together in the choir. In later Hebrew times the art of music developed still further till it reached its acme under Hezekiah and Josiah. The Hebrew musical instruments were, like those of other nations of antiquity, chiefly of three kinds, viz: stringed instruments, wind instruments, and such as were beaten or shaken to produce sound. To the first class belong the harp, the psaltery (also rendered "viol", "dulcimer", etc.), the sackbut ( Latin Sambuca ). To the second belong the flute, the pipe ( Latin fistula ), and the trumpet. To the last belong the tabret, or timbrel, the castanets, and the cymbals.

In mechanical arts, the Israelites were far behind their Egyptian and Assyro-Babylonian neighbours. The author of 1 Samuel gives a sorry but true picture of the times preceding the activity of Samuel as follows: "Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel. . . but all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock." In the times of Solomon, however, as it appears in connexion with the building of the temple, conditions materially improved. Of the artisan classes, those working in wood and metals were always, perhaps, the most numerous in Israel. Among the former were carpenters, cabinet-makers, wood-carvers, manufacturers of wagons, of baskets, of various household utensils, including the distaff and the loom, and of the tools used in agriculture, such as ploughs, yokes, threshing-machines, goads, and winnowing-shovels. Workers in metals mentioned in the Bible are gold- and silversmiths and workers in brass and iron. Some of the tools of which they made use were the anvil, the bellows, the smelting-furnace, the fining-pot, the hammer, and the tongs. Among the various products of these Hebrew metal-workers are settings for precious stones, gilding, axes, saws, sickles, knives, swords, spear-heads, fetters, chains, bolts, nails, hooks, penstocks, pans for cooking purposes, ploughshares, and the wheels of threshing-instruments. Copper or bronze was also used in manufacturing some of these articles. Other artisans mentioned in the Bible are: stone-masons, brick- and tile-makers, engravers, apothecaries, perfumers, bakers, tanners, fullers, spinners, weavers, and potters. Most of these trades and mechanical arts, however, came into prominence during the reign of Solomon and his successors.


(1) Civil administration

It has been truly said that law as law was unknown in early Israel. The customs of the clans and the conduct of the elders or of the most influential members of the tribe were looked upon as the standards of law and morality. Lawfulness was a matter of custom more or less ancient and more or less approved; and penalty was equally a matter of custom. When custom failed in a specific case, judgment could be rendered and new precedents might be made which in process of time would crystallize into customs. Hence the old tribal system among primitive Semitic clans, and especially in early Israel and Arabia, knew no legislative authority; and no single person or group of persons was ever acknowledged as having power to make laws or to render judgment. Of course prominent individuals or families within the tribe enjoyed certain privileges in acknowledgment of which they performed certain duties. In many cases they were called upon to settle differences, but they had no judicial powers and, if their decision did not satisfy the litigants, they had neither the right nor the power to enforce obedience, much less to inflict punishment. Within the tribe all men are on a footing of equality, and under a communistic system petty offences are unreasonable. Serious misdemeanour is punished by expulsion; the offender is excluded from the protection of his kinsmen, and the penalty is sufficiently severe to prevent it being a common occurrence. The man who is wronged must take the first step in gaining redress; and when it happens that the whole tribe is aroused by the perpetration of any exceptionally serious crime, the offence is fundamentally regarded as a violation of the tribe's honour, rather than as a personal injury to the family of the sufferer. This condition of affairs, however, does not necessarily imply a condition of utter lawlessness. On the contrary, tribal customs formed practically a law of binding character, although they were not regarded as law in the proper sense of the term.

FREE Learning Resources - Download Today - Printable PDF's

That such was the prevalent social condition of the ancient Hebrews in the patriarchal period is quite certain. The few recorded incidents in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob furnish ample illustration of it. The long sojourn of the Hebrews in Egypt and the comparatively advanced civilization with which they there came in contact, as well as their settlement in Canaan, might be expected to have influenced their old tribal system of law and justice. Nevertheless, the authentic historical records of Israel's national formation and even the legislation of the Book of the Covenant, which is undoubtedly the oldest Hebrew code of laws when carefully examined, utterly fail to show any such remarkable advance in the administration of law and justice over the old nomadic tribal system. It is true, that as Dr. Benzinger remarks, "before the monarchy Israel had attained a certain degree of unity in matters of law ; not in the sense that it possessed a written law common to all the tribes, or as a uniform organization for the pronouncing of legal judgments, but in the sense that along with a common God it had a community of custom and of feeling in matters of law, which community of feeling can be traced back very far. 'It is not so done in Israel ' and 'Folly in Israel, which ought not to be done' are proverbial expressions reaching back to quite early times". Nevertheless, law as law, with legislative power and authority, or a uniform system of legal procedure with courts and professional judges, were unknown in the earlier period of Israelitish history.

A study of the different Hebrew terms for judge clearly shows that a professional class of judges and, consequently, duly constituted courts did not exist in Israel till the first period of the monarchy, and even later. The Shoterim were primarily subordinate military officials, who were employed partly in the maintenance of civil order and military discipline. It was not until post-Exilic times that the term was applied to one with judicial power. Mehokek (primarily from hakak , "to cut in", "to inscribe", "to decide", etc., and subsequently, as in Arabic, "to be just", "right", etc.) meant originally commander or ruler. The shophetim ( Latin sufetes; Assyrian sapatu ), from which the "Book of Judges" takes its title, were not judges, but champions and deliverers. Hence, in Hosea (D. V. Osee ), vii, 7, and Ps., ii, 10, shophetim is a synonym of "kings" and "rulers", and the sufetes of the Phœnician cities and colonies were called "kings" by the Greeks. Other terms, such as palil , quasin , the meaning of which is rather obscure, primarily mean "umpire" in general, "chief", and "petty ruler". The only Hebrew which, properly speaking, means "judge", in its etymology and historical significance, is dayyan (found in all Semitic languages: Arab. dayyân; Aramaic dayyâna; Assyrian da-a-nu or da-ia-nu , etc.). Although the stem meant originally "to requite", "to compensate ", "to govern", and "to rule", we have sufficient warrant to believe that it meant, from the very earliest times, "to decide", and "to render decision". In the Old Testament, however, the word rarely occurs. In 1 Samuel 24:15 , it is even questionable whether it belongs to the original text, and it is only in post-Exilic times that the word meant "professional judge".

What was the polity of the Hebrew tribes prior to the time of Moses is not difficult to describe.

" Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob governed their families with an authority well nigh unlimited. Their power over their households was little short of a sovereign dominion. They were independent princes. They acknowledged no subjection, and owed no allegiance to any sovereign. They formed alliances with other princes. They treated with kings on a footing of equality. They maintained a body of servants, trained to the use of arms; were the chiefs who led them in war, and repelled force by force. They were the priests who appointed festivals, and offered sacrifices. They had the power of disinheriting their children, of sending them away from home without assigning any reason, and even of punishing them capitally.

"The twelve sons of Jacob ruled their respective families with the same authority. But when their descendants had become numerous enough to form tribes, each tribe acknowledged a prince as its ruler. This office, it is likely, was at first hereditary in the oldest son, but afterwards became elective. When the tribes increased to such an extent as to embrace a great number of separate households, the less powerful ones united with their stronger relatives, and acknowledged them as their superiors. In this way, there arose a subdivision of the tribes into collections of households. Such a collection was technically called a family, a clan, a house of fathers, or a thousand. This last appellation was not given because each of these sub- divisions contained just a thousand persons, or a thousand households; for in the nature of things, the number must have varied, and in point of fact, it is manifest from the history, that it did. As the tribes had their princes, so these clans, families, or thousands had their respective chiefs, who were called heads of houses of fathers, heads of thousands, and sometimes simply heads. Harrington denominates these two classes of officers phylarchs, or governors of tribes, and patriarchs, or governors of families. Both, while the Israelites were yet in Egypt, were comprehended under the general title of elders. Whether this name was a title of honour, like that of sheikh (the aged) among the Arabs, and that of senator among the Romans, or whether it is to be understood, according to its etymology, as denoting persons actually advanced in years, is uncertain, These princes of tribes and heads of thousands, the elders of Israel, were the rulers of the people, while they remained still subject to the power of the Pharaohs, and constituted a kind of 'imperium in imperio'. Of course they had no written constitution, nor any formal code of laws but governed by custom, reason and the principles of natural justice. They watched over and provided for the general good of the community, while the affairs of each individual household continued under the control of its own father. For the most part, it may be supposed, only those cases which concerned the fathers of families themselves would come under the cognizance and supervision of the elders."

During their wanderings through the Desert the Hebrew tribes had no occasion to introduce any radical change in this form of government, for they had to contend with continuous difficulties of a social, moral, and religious character. And, although numerically superior to many Canaanitish tribes, they were, nevertheless, lacking in military discipline and were constantly moving from place to place. Realizing the necessity of defending themselves against the predatory tribes and rivals for the possession of fertile lands and oases they soon developed a military spirit, which is the strongest external principle of cohesion in nomadic life.

The administration of justice in Israel in the Mosaic age, and for a long time after, was in the hands of the elders, the local judges, and, somewhat later, the priests and the Levites, joined afterwards by the prophets. The elders, who represented the former heads of the families and clans under the tribal system, had undoubtedly ample jurisdiction concerning family affairs, disputes about conjugal relations, inheritances, the division of property, the appointment of the goel or upholder of the family, and the settlement of blood-revenge. The local judges, as we have remarked, were not what this technical title ordinarily means. They were merely arbitrators and advisers in settling disputes which could not be settled by the elders, and very often they had to decide cases of appeal from the ordinary bench of elders at the city gates. They were, as a rule, taken from the body of the elders of the city, and later on from the princes, chiefs, and military officers of the army. The third class consisted of priests, and later on of prophets. They were appealed to in all difficult cases, their authority and influence being undoubtedly very strong. To appeal to a priest was to appeal to God Himself, for the priest was universally acknowledged as the official representative of Yahweh. His decisions were regarded as "directions", and as such they were of an advisory character, thus constituting the "oracle" of the Hebrews. As originally each family group had its own priest, resort was naturally had to him for light on practical difficulties, not so much the settling of disputes as pointing out the safe, judicious, or righteous way for the individuals of the household in embarrassment. The prophets were also, in course of time, appealed to, not so much as official representatives of Yahweh as from the fact that they were regarded as men eminent in wisdom and spiritual authority. From the eighth century downwards the authority of the priests was greatly overshadowed by that of the prophets, who managed the destinies of the whole nation with an almost unlimited authority and assertiveness, proclaiming themselves as the messengers of Yahweh and the mouthpieces of His orders. A single judicial centre for the whole nation was never attained till the period of the monarchy. During the period of the Judges several leading judicial centres existed, such as Shiloh, Beth-el, Gilgal, Mizpah, Ramah, etc.

Whether Hebrew judges held their office for life is not altogether certain, although the presumption is that they did. It is likewise uncertain whether any salary or compensation was attached to the office. In the case of the Ten Judges, no revenues were appropriated for them, except, perhaps, a larger share of the spoils taken in war ; and in case of the ordinary local judges or elders the offering of presents was quite common. This at first may have been a kind of testimonial of gratitude and respect, but it afterwards degenerated into mere bribery and corruption.

Whether the office of princes of tribes, chiefs, military officers, elders, and judges was hereditary or elective, is not easy to determine. Both systems may have been according to the different circumstances; but that in the majority of cases it was hereditary, admits of no doubt, for such was the prevailing custom in the ancient East and, to a certain extent, is so even in our own days.

No external sign of honour seems to have been attached to the dignity of judges and elders in Israel. They were without pomp, retinue, or equipage, although the passage in the Song of Deborah relating to those "who ride on white asses and sit in judgment" probably refers to the princes of the tribes, chiefs, elders, and judges in their respective capacities of military commanders, magistrates, and moral advisers and arbiters. In the East, even at the present day, the quadis , or chief judges and magistrates, have the distinctive privilege of riding either on mules or white asses, as against the military officers and civil governors who must ride on horses.

That the office of chief magistrate was unknown in ancient Israel is quite certain. In the whole Pentateuchal legislation allusion to such an institution is absolutely wanting. The supreme authority of the Hebrew community was in Yahweh. Moses, strictly speaking, was but the viceroy of Yahweh and the same, to a certain extent, may also be said of Joshua. Their successors, the judges, were rather military commanders than judges or magistrates in the strict sense. With the beginning of the monarchy, the civil as well as the military power began to be concentrated, as far as possible, in the person of the king. But the Pentateuchal legislation as a whole is decidedly adverse to the idea of concentrating all power in the person of the king, or in that of any individual, and it is not improbable that the writer of Deut., xvii, was influenced by Israel's historical experience under the monarchy.

Allusions to the administration of law and justice in the old Book of the Covenant are extremely meagre and utterly fail to give us any clear (or even vague) reference to legal procedure, judges, courts, or to any system of administration of justice. It is true that the Book of the Covenant contains statutes and judgments, apparently enacted by some authoritative power; for such an authority must be assumed, otherwise there would be no meaning in the precise fixing of punishment, etc., such as the punish

Join the Movement
When you sign up below, you don't just join an email list - you're joining an entire movement for Free world class Catholic education.

Giving Tuesday 2022: Support Now
Daily Readings logo
40 Days of Deals this Christmas season of 2022

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2022 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2022 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter!