MANNERS AND CUSTOMS OF PALESTINE
by Wayne S. Walker
The Bible, while not written as a book of history, does claim to deal with actual history. In the course of discussing historical events, Bible writers often make reference to manners and customs of the people who were part of those historical times. Writers of historical fiction often do research to find out about the manners and customs of the people who lived in the times of which they are writing. Yet, in spite of their best efforts, errors occasionally occur in such human works. If similar errors occur in the Bible, then it can be shown to be of human origin. However, if there are no such errors, this accuracy would bolster its claim to be a divine revelation of God.
The Bible often makes reference to sheep and shepherds since shepherding was one of the most common occupations of Palestine in Bible times. Jesus used the picture of a shepherd separating his sheep from his goats to illustrate the separation of the righteous from the wicked at the final judgment (Matthew 25.32-33). It was reported that there were shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night near Bethlehem when Jesus was born (Luke 2.8). Jesus also used the shepherd and the sheep to illustrate the relationship between Himself and His followers (John 10.1-5). Those who visit Palestine even today report that one can still see the separation of sheep and goats on sale days, that shepherds still lie out at night with their sheep in the summer in the hills around Bethlehem, and that the scene of sheep hearing the voice of their own shepherd and following him alone is still seen repeatedly throughout the Middle East.
It is recorded that Jesus was buried in a tomb that was hewn out of a solid rock in front of which was rolled a large stone (Matthew 27.59-60, Mark 16.1-4). Now, what if it could be proven beyond doubt that no such tombs were in use in Jerusalem at that time? It would cast doubt on the integrity of the Bible writers. However, four such first-century tombs are known in Jerusalem, including the Herodian family tomb and the Tomb of the Kings where the rolling stone is still in place! In fact, Henry Halley reported that Christian Gordon in 1881 found at the west foot of "Skull Hill" a garden. Under five feet of rubbish, he located a tomb from Roman times, cut in a wall of solid rock, with a trench in front where a stone had been rolled for a door (Bible Handbook, pp. 551-552).
Jesus told a parable in which He said, "…There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower…" (Matthew 21.33). According to Ferrell Jenkins, "The Israel Guide, p. 218 says: ‘The name Gath designates a winepress cut in the rock, such as are found in plenty in areas where vineyards were extensive.’ The wine press was cut in the rock. The grapes were placed in the vat and then crushed. I have seen several of these" (The Book and the Land, p. 4). McGarvey also reported seeing many such vineyards with towers of ancient appearance (Lands of the Bible, p. 59-60). Thus, Biblical references to manners and customs of Palestine are completely consistent with all the information that is known about "everyday life in Bible times." (—taken from With All Boldness; May, 1997; Vol. 7, No. 5; p. 5)