If there is a constant throughout history it is the need for food and water for survival. And generally speaking women have been at least partially responsible for making sure the family has both. In the 21st Century, this is a much easier task for most areas of the developed world. Water is piped into the house, and food is as near as the closest grocery. Not so for village women in New Testament times, as we shall see.
Sun-up signals the time for daily household tasks to begin. A wife and her daughters are responsible for providing fresh water for the home. So they make daily trips to the village well in the early morning and in the evenings, carrying pitchers of water on their heads or shoulders. If larger quantities of water are needed, men use large sheep or goat skins to carry the supply.
Fred H. Wight, in his Manners and Customs of the Bible (1953), says “each woman who comes for water brings with her, in addition to the pitcher…a hard leather portable bucket with a rope, in order to let it down to the level of the water” (page 90). (See John 4:5-13.)
Then they busy themselves with food preparation for the day: grinding grain; baking bread; milking the goats; and making cheese and curds. (Mary Hendren will explain more about bread in her posts, “Breaking Bread,” and “The Staff of Life.”)
“Most families ate two meals. Breakfasts were likely to be light and were carried to the fields…and eaten at mid-morning or midday” (Reader’s Digest: Jesus and His Times, page 97). Supper was relaxation time after a hard day’s labor and the meal was substantial: “vegetables, eggs, cheese, bread, butter, wine, nuts, and fruit, with occasional chicken or wild fowl.”
In warm weather cooking is done in the courtyard, but during inclement weather the cook resorts to using a portable clay stove inside. Since there is no chimney, smoke and cooking odors permeate the small house.
Most foods other than bread are boiled or stewed in a big pot and seasoned with salt and onions, garlic, mint, dill, cumin, coriander, rue, or mustard.
Wight writes that the only dishes at a meal are those containing the food, such as a pot for stew. There are no plates for individuals, or silverware. Bread is used to scoop food from the common pot, and meat is eaten with the fingers (pages 58-60). (See Matthew 26:23; Mark 14:20.)
The rules of the culture require that hands be washed before and after a meal. This is done by pouring water over the hands into a basin and then discarding it appropriately. Wealthier family have servants who assist in this activity.
At day’s end
After a full day of work for the entire family, mattresses are pulled out, and mother, father and children settle in together for a night’s rest. At daybreak, the cycle begins again.