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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Ancient Jewish Culture

   
Author Topic: Ancient Jewish Culture
Whitney
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I'm writing a story where the society has some basis on ancient jewish culture and customs. Does anyone know of any resources I can go to read more about it? We're talking like Old Testament times. Any help would be appreciated
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wbriggs
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I like to get that sort of thing from novels (the look and feel of the culture, not accurate info).

The Egyptian gives the right tech level, but the wrong nation.

The Big Fisherman and The Robe give the right nation, but in 1st Century.

OSC has some books about the women of Genesis.


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tchernabyelo
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I'm not trying to be facetious, but I guess the Bible would be a useful source. Particularly the Pentateuch.


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quidscribis
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You could also post this question on the main forum at http://www.hatrack.com/cgi-bin/ubbmain/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=forum;f=2 . There are several orthodox Jews who hang out there and know a LOT about their religious history. They'd be able to steer you in the right direction.
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Aust Alien
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Try www.ancient-hebrew.org - Ancient Hebrew Research Center

Stuff on the language mostly - but cultural stuff that seems to aim at Patriachal times (Abraham, Isaac etc). Life in tents, clan organisation etc. A lot of ties in between word origins and Early Hebrew life.
Also recommend OSC's women of genesis series although that's really factual.


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Aust Alien
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Oh yeah the Bible too. Check out the library for a study bible that has info in it as well. Or one of those "life in Bible times" or "digging up the bible" books - I think they're in the 220s and the 270s in the Dewey Decimal system
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thexmedic
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You could always check out http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/index.htm if you have an awful lot of spare time...

You could also check out : From the Birth of Sumerian Civilization to the Fall of the Roman Empire" by Norman F. Cantor



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Elan
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The Bible has been edited. If you don't think so, compare your version to someone's version of a different belief/denomination. I did that once with a Catholic friend (I was raised Protestant) and was amazed at the differences.

A Jewish friend of mine once told me that Christians believe there are more similarities between Judiasm and Christianity than the Jews do. My advice would be to NOT research Judiasm through the lens of a Christian bible or Christian-based theology. Go directly to the Jews. Do not pass "Go." Do not collect $100.


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Jeraliey
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Elan is right.
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JamieFord
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The translated work by Josephus is worth a look. You can find a listing of his work at wikipedia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus

He was a 1st Century Jewish historian, and also a Roman citizen. A lot of modern histories are based on various translations of his work.

Even with all that, you probably should talk to someone of Jewish faith and ancestry–-that is also familiar with culture and customs of whatever time period you're working from.


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J
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The Bible had to be edited--it's a compilation of several sources. That "editing" process (canonization) doesn't mean that the parts of the Bible that deal with ancient Jews (which were authored by ancient Jews and meant originally to be read by ancient Jews) are inaccurate historically. Read Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Numbers, and Leviticus--you can't go wrong. The books are loaded with cultural implications, even down to the amazingly detailed nature of the deuteromic law and the manner in which they are written.
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Whitney
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Thank you very much for those links. I will definitely look those up. I'm not looking to understand Judaism, per se, as I am how people lived day to day (understanding that religion was an inextricable part of daily life). Especially prior to the disapperance of the 10 tribes of Isreal. I might be getting in over my head but I think my story dynamics will be far more interesting if I understand this culture better.
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quidscribis
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James Michener's The Source. It's a story of Jewish people covering tens of thousands of years - excellent to read on any account. Michener's a meticulous researcher - he might have a bibliography in the back of his books (I no longer have a copy of his book, so I can't check).
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Survivor
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If you don't already have a fairly accurate general idea of the level of technology and common customs, books like the Bible and contemporary histories won't help you much, because those are exactly the details that contemporary writers always neglect to mention. It is the extraordinary developments, not the pervasive elements of everyday life, that make it into histories.

That everyday life varied a lot over time and place in ancient Israel. So it might be a bit tricky to base your society on "ancient jewish culture and customs" without just basing it on whatever is common to most ancient middle eastern cultures.


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pooka
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How about the apocrypha? I haven't actually read it, but that might be of use. OSC's Women of Genesis books have bibliographies. There is also The Book of Mormon which deals with descendants of Menasseh for the most part, though there is also some Ephraimites and later they merge with a population of Jews.

I think the problem a lot of people run into with the factuality of it relies on an assumption that only the people mentioned ever came to the Americas, when this unfolding of events shows that immigrating to America was a pretty typical event. I mean, we can't even agree on whether the Vikings and Chinese might have done it also. Also given that The Book of Mormon has slightly fewer female characters than The Lord of the Rings shows that thoroughness of description was not a priority. But, yeah, very well might be as useless as the Bible in your studies.

The Bible is edited, it's true, but I wouldn't go with the popular academic characterization of it being wholly unreliable.


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strangenotions
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I disagree with Elan. I know this isn't supposed to be a thread discussing whether the bible is accurate or not, however I think I should say something. Of course the Bible has been edited, but not in the way that Elan implies. It has been sifted through, yes, due to the canonization process (the same process that decided that Gnostic Gospels were not scripture, etc.) However, it's not as if this was some sort of conspiracy. It was necessary because of the prevalence of false texts such as the Gnostic Gospels, etc, but it was not done in order to deceive. The differences there are between the Catholic Bible and the Protestant one came to be due to the friction between them during the protestant reformation. At the time, political forces and religious forces were essentially interconnected. Such interdependence led to the Anti-reformation in which the Catholic church added books to its Bible in response to the protestants. This in no way affects the reliability of the Bible.
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Elan
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Some people, me included, do not consider the Gnostic Gospels to be necessarily "false" nor the published gospels necessarily "true." However, I won't engage anyone in a religious debate in this forum.

The book "The Gnostic Gospels" by Elaine Pagels gives the reader a good look at how the budding religion of early Christianity evolved under the influences of that era's politics and history. In my opinion, anyone writing a story that is set during the years of the early Christian church would benefit from reading Pagels' work. Her books are thoughtful, well-researched, and don't promote any particular viewpoint as much as they present a broader base of information on the topic.

Pagels is a Professor of Religion at Princeton University.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elaine_Pagels


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Corky
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The Old Testament was sifted through and edited as well (anyone ever heard of the Deuteronomists?). See The Bible as It Was by James L. Kugel for another discussion of changes.

As for using the Bible as a cultural resource for setting a story in ancient times, you could do it as long as you were clear on the context of the various passages. And the Bible tends to assume you already know the context, so I don't think it would be the best resource.

Books about Biblical cultures might be more useful.

[This message has been edited by Corky (edited June 29, 2006).]


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Survivor
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It doesn't matter whether the Bible is reliable or not, because it isn't about daily life and customs.

Whatever value is has (or lacks) as a guide to moral issues and the history of God's dealings with His people, it simply does not answer questions about how long you cooked bread or where you put your utensils or your toilet and how it worked (given the things the Bible does bother to specify, this is somewhat amazing).

However, since often information about common customs, the level of technology, and the patterns of daily living in ancient times are critical to understanding the Bible, there is plenty of good scholarship about the subject. Scholarship that doesn't rely on the Bible itself, since the point is to make sense of what the Bible says by studying the context in which it was first written.


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pixydust
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Study the Law, this is what the ancient Jew lived by. Don't study Christian or Mormon texts. Study Jewish text. The Torah ("Old Testament") is the ancient text for the Jews. And definitely read, The Source. A great book. Also, don't feel like you can't talk to the people themselves. I have had some great conversations discussing tradition with a Jewish friend.
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Survivor
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Which won't be about everyday life of ancient Israel.

If Whitney (or anyone else) had asked about Jewish religious traditions that have survived into the modern day, I could see the point of asking modern day Jews about them. But that isn't the question, and it is comptely off-topic for the forum as a whole to bring modern religious practice in at every opportunity.


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oliverhouse
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quote:
The Old Testament was sifted through and edited as well (anyone ever heard of the Deuteronomists?). See The Bible as It Was by James L. Kugel for another discussion of changes.

This type of comment misses the point somewhat. Jews believe that every letter of the Torah matters, so starting with the assumption that the OT was edited will immediately place you outside of the Judaism you want to be in.

http://www.aish.com is a very orthodox Orthodox Jewish site that has some historical information as well as modern "how it relates to me today" stuff that's probably less relevant.

http://www.jewfaq.org is a fairly orthodox Conservative Jewish site. I've used it somewhat less, but it's probably worth checking out.

There are no doubt links on both sites that will lead you to better resources as well.

Good Luck,
Oliver


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Louiseoneal
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http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/jewhist.html


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Survivor
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Ancient Israel went through several major apostacies, and there was considerable divergence in the text of the Torah before the institutionalization of the "Masoratic" text, at which point all significantly divergent texts were destroyed (though some probably did survive, and became the basis of later scriptural innovations).

The idea that the Torah has never been edited or corrupted is a distinctly unscriptoral myth, anyone that has actually read the Old Testament knows that much. The history of significant portions of the Law being lost, altered, destroyed, stolen, and even taken back (by God) is by no means complete, but it is there.

Judaism places a high value on the text of the Torah because it has been a continuous battle over the millenia to keep it in some semblance of its original form. It is only through blind faith that anyone can believe the Torah is complete and correct now, when the Torah itself declares that there have been significant times in the past when it has not been complete or correct.

The constant danger of apostacy was one of the major elements of life in ancient Israel. I wouldn't call it a matter of everyday life, but it was more important then than it is today. You would have been aware of it, at any given point in Israel's history.

And that's all I'll say on the subject of whether or not one can be confident of the purity of the Torah. Through most of Israel's history, anyone that really studied the Torah had to wonder how much of it was accurate, or extent, or would ever be recovered. Whether modern Jews claim to be so confident about it now, Israelites back then couldn't be so sure. That's one important difference between life then and now, I suppose.


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oliverhouse
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Survivor said:
quote:
Torah itself declares that there have been significant times in the past when it has not been complete or correct.

The _Torah_ says that, or the OT says that? The Torah's only the first five books, and I don't recall it saying that it wasn't complete or correct.

That said, the issue might not be one of adherence to facts. You're writing for an audience. What view of history would that audience believe? And what moral choices are involved in creating a story based on that view of history?

None of this has much to do with day-to-day life and practices of ancient Jewry, of course.

Regards,
Oliver


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Survivor
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Okay, the Torah itself refers to both past and (from Moses' point of view) future instances of apostasy and loss (and restoration) of the Law. If you don't recall it mentioning certain specific instances of the Law being lost due to apostacy, then you haven't read it very closely. I have no control over something like that.

Concern over apostasy, both general and personal, was a real life concern for the people of ancient Israel, but it wasn't a daily concern for most of them. It did set Israel apart slightly from other ancient cultures, most of whom chose religious practices that were a bit more...indulgent. The tempting nature of certain "gentile" practices was known to Israel, and is given a lot of space in the Torah as well. But things aren't really spelled out. At least, not everything.


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pooka
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I thought it did specify how to dispose of human waste, and on occasion even how to use that to cook your bread... granted, this was counsel for a very special person and not the general populace.
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pooka
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I came across another resource, which is a Bible Dictionary: http://scriptures.lds.org/en/bd/f/8 It is intended to give some detail on things referred to in the bible. This link goes to the definitions of Jewish feasts but I think you can get back to the alphebetized list.
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