German Family Tomb Relief from Pergamum Museum; Berlin, Germany
Bock

More on Families Then and Now Sept 13

We continue to study the Greco-Roman culture into which the New Testament is set. One of the things striking me about this study is how careful one should be to move from our world back to the first century. It is not simply the case that how we live and think is how people in the first century lived and thought.

We continue to study the Greco-Roman culture into which the New Testament is set. One of the things striking me about this study is how careful one should be to move from our world back to the first century. It is not simply the case that how we live and think is how people in the first century lived and thought. To that end, I made a list for my class of how things differed between families of the first century and those of our time. Here is that list.

1) The age at marriage differed. Girls were married in the early to mid-teens generally.

2) Authority of father over the whole clan was maintained until the father died, even over married sons.

3) The pattern was arranged marriages because families, including extended families, were seen as economic units.

4) Marriage across status lines was not to be tolerated.

5) There was frequent infant death and life usually was not long. To live beyond the age of five was hard to do. In fact the median age of women was 27 (because of frequent death in childbirth) and of men was 37.

6) Slave children were put to work and subject to abuse (including sexual abuse).

7) The sense of extended family developed and was important because the need for solidarity existed in order to survive.

8) The family was sacral unit (or sacred unit) with its own god and cult. This role for the family and religion for the state in general was promoted as source of stability by Augustus, Caesar at the time of Jesus’ birth.

Roman Family Tomb Relief from Pergamum Museum; Berlin, Germany

So family life contained a less romanticized role in Greco-Roman life, being seen in very practical and functionally economic and social terms.

4 Comments

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    bock

    Jewish Morality dlb
    I am not sure I have seen such statistics. This would be a difficult number to figure out, especially since we have much less Jewish materials and Jews are spread across the Greco-Roman world.

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    Jo Anne

    Honor killings
    We are reading more about the practice of ‘honor killings’ in the news. Was this a fairly *common* practice among families in the ancient world?

    • Avatar

      bock

      Honor Killings dlb
      The honor killings you refer to are more a part of ancient Middle Eastern culture. They are especially prevalent in some forms of Islam. Still there was a sense in some circumstances where the honor of someone could lead to revenge. Dishonoring the gods of a city, as well as rulers, might lead to this kind of a response. This is one reason Philo, a Jewish philosopher, noted how Jews would not disrespect the gods as God had commanded such respect be shown (Laws 1.53). Family honor could also be in view, if the person had the status and power to deliver a response.