Daily Life in Ancient Israel

What was life like for the settlers of Canaan during the time of the Biblical Judges?

According to author Robert D. Miller, archaeological surveys and excavations of the central hill country have provided a much clearer picture of daily life in ancient Israel during the time of the Biblical Judges and the early Israelite settlers of Canaan.

What was life like for the tribes of Israel in the time of the Biblical Judges, the period archaeologists call Iron Age I (1200–1000 B.C.E.)?

The evidence for the early Israelite settlers of Canaan comes from two sources: archaeological survey and excavations. Much of the area of the central highlands, where most of the settlers of Canaan established their villages, was archaeologically surveyed in the 1980s and 1990s. These surveys provided much useful information about daily life in ancient Israel during the period of the Biblical Judges, including the arrangement and size of tribal villages and even the nature of early Israelite economic and political systems. Excavation data, both from recent excavations (Shiloh, for example) and from digs long past (such as Bethel), also provide evidence of daily life in ancient Israel, including the society’s wealth, warfare and housing.

From this evidence, the following portrait emerges of daily life in ancient Israel during the time of the Biblical Judges.
 


 
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The Israelite villages built by the settlers of Canaan were on hilltops. They were quite small, possibly 400 people in the largest of these—Shiloh or Gibeon, for instance. These towns were mostly unwalled, though they were part of larger political units or regional chiefdoms that provided security. The Israelite villages within a given region were subjects of the major town of the area, some of which, like Shechem, were very large and controlled considerable territory.

Israelites lived in nuclear households during the time of the Biblical Judges, often with their relatives in clusters of houses around a common courtyard. Houses were made of mudbrick with a stone foundation and perhaps a second story of wood. The living space of the houses consisted of three or four rooms, often with sleeping space on the roof or in a covered roof loft. One of the first-floor rooms was probably a courtyard for domestic animals, mostly sheep and goat.

At that time of the Biblical Judges, the hills were densely overgrown, covered with a thick scrub of pine, oak and terebinth trees. And it was often too rocky for the sheep, so raising animals never stood at the forefront of the economy. Instead, the early Israelite settlers of Canaan would burn off some of the brush, terrace the hillsides within an hour’s walk of the village, and plant grain, primarily wheat. Other lesser crops included lentils, garbanzo beans, barley and millet. They had orchards on these terraces as well.
 


 
BAS Library Members, read more about daily life in ancient Israel during the time of the Biblical Judges in Robert D. Miller, Archaeological Views, “Israelite Life Before the Kings,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2013.

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  1. Enopoletus says

    I’ve been reading Miller’s book (“Chieftains of the Highland Clans”). It’s extremely information-dense (and slim) and should be required reading for anyone interested in Israel in the Iron I. You (and I mean you) should buy it. I might post a review or two of it at my blog (“Against Jebel al-Lawz”). Did you know Gibeon was destroyed at the end of Iron I /beginning of Early Iron IIa and Middle Iron I Shiloh was fortified with a city wall? I didn’t either (before I skimmed the book). The maps are useless if one does not have Google Earth or a similar software. Over half the book is filled with short bits of filler and a very, very long bibliography. The core of the book (chapters 3, 4, 7, and especially 5) is worth reading by anyone interested in Iron I Israel.

  2. Paul says

    There is an interesting pdf; “Depiction of the Status of Women in Israel During the Iron Age.” We may fill in the gaps of our knowledge of women’s role in Iron Age Isrealite society by examining the small hand-held figurines (mentioned by Miller in his article on page 68 of BAR). Among them are “terracotta figurines of female musicians” which are depicted “standing and holding a hand drum” (pdf p.8). Around the beginning of the Iron Age we have the oldest known Hebrew account (and also the earliest known Hebrew text) of the ceremonial function of female musicians in the Song of Miriam, performing a drum-dance-song (Exodus 15:20,21, see also Judges 11:34, 1 Samuel 18:6, and Jeremiah 31:4).
    Miller also mentions that villages were subject to major towns in the area, the largest of which is Shechem, controlling an area about 20 miles across. In the Bible it is Abimelech who decieves the inhabitants of Shechem into making him king, whereupon he hires worthless and reckless men to go on a killing spree (Judges 9:4). The carnage is finally checked by a woman who drops a millstone on Abimelech’s head (Judges 9:53). This is clearly a reference to women’s empowerment because grinding stones were usually the tool of women to process grain so that “women’s control over food consumption gave them power and prestige in society” (pdf p.13).
    It should be remembered, too, that our human ancestors, Homo Sapiens, replaced the Neanderthals because of the way both male and female Neanderthals invested all of their efforts on hunting big game, even the children. Humans, on the other hand, introduced a division of labor with males doing the hunting and females doing the gathering of what grows naturally.

  3. lygkhiiygb says

    nice?

  4. colette says

    Please, please stop looking for an oppressive Father. To travel through time into the past and into the future you must clear your mind of the now. Seriously clear your mind. In the beginning we were in caves. Life was hard, vicious and unexplored. He directed that man be first then women than children. We knew everything spiritual and nothing physical. He loves us. He knew it would be hard at first. He knew it would be physical things we would have to conquer. We already knew the spirit. He put man above because of his physical strength and the ability of men to actually mix spirit and physical in their minds. Women are spiritual. We give birth. We are not in paradise where spirit is all. We are on earth where physical attacks us daily. Women and children were not oppressed, they were protected until the time of revelations. We we assigned help mates to conquer the physical world. Women do NOT need to direct men into spirit, the Father does that. If they do that then they hamper men from their duel purpose of conquering the vicious physical world. It was through men’s ability to carry spirit and to stand against the attacks of the physical world that the lives of women and children have improved. I Pray my simple understanding leads you to know we are so Loved by the Father. We cannot exist here in total spirit. Thank you Father for men. For without their God head, women and children and the Human race would not be.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Tuesday’s Links To Go | Tim Archer's Kitchen of Half-Baked Thoughts linked to this post on March 5, 2013

    [...] What was life like for the settlers of Canaan during the time of the Biblical Judges? These surveys provided much useful information about daily life in ancient Israel during the period of the Biblical Judges, including the arrangement and size of tribal villages and even the nature of early Israelite economic and political systems. Excavation data, both from recent excavations (Shiloh, for example) and from digs long past (such as Bethel), also provide evidence of daily life in ancient Israel, including the society’s wealth, warfare and housing. [...]

  2. Bridging the Gap: The Historical Context of the Book of Ruth (Part 1 of 3) | Foundation Experiment linked to this post on January 7, 2014

    [...] Moving backwards chronologically in Israel’s history, it would stand to reason that the period in which the judges were ruling would fall just prior to the time of the monarchy, just prior to 1000 BC. Evidence of early Israelite settlements during this period has indeed been found in archaeological surveys and excavations that help date the period of the Judges to 1200-1000 BC (Iron Age I). You can read more about that here. [...]

  3. Author Sets Gripping Teenage Adventure Fiction in Ancient Israel | XXX Escort Girls Reviews linked to this post on March 24, 2014

    […] Richard L. Tenney comes a poignant and highly engaging volume that paints a unique picture of ancient Israeli life and gives a transcendent message on how fathers play a deeply important role in families in The […]

  4. Voice in the Wilderness linked to this post on March 28, 2014

    […] Biblical Archaeology – Daily Life in Ancient Israel […]

  5. Author Sets Gripping Teenage Adventure Fiction in Ancient Israel | Elite Massage Reviews linked to this post on April 19, 2014

    […] Richard L. Tenney comes a poignant and highly engaging volume that paints a unique picture of ancient Israeli life and gives a transcendent message on how fathers play a deeply important role in families in The […]


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