SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Daily Life of Jews in Antiquity

Module Code:
1 unit
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3

This course will examine Jewish everyday life in Roman Palestine.  For this investigation, literary, archaeological, and epigraphic sources are available.  How can these sources be investigated together to throw light on ancient social reality?  For the rabbis of the first five centuries C.E. all aspects of life were religiously significant.  They devised detailed legal rules concerning the proper conduct of family relationships, relations between neighbours, the treatment of slaves and labourers, and the conduct of business.  Do these legal rules reflect social reality or should they be considered the theoretical discussions of a scholarly elite?  How can archaeological remains and inscriptions increase our knowledge and how do they relate to the literary accounts?  The topics addressed in the course will range from housing and living conditions to issues of family life (the respective roles of the householder, his wife, children and slaves; marriage and divorce; (family purity), working conditions and types of work, leisure time activities (theatre, bathhouse), and burial practices.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to

  • critically analyze ancient literary, archaeological, and epigraphic sources which provide evidence on aspects of Jewish everyday life
  • understand the relationship between religious theory and practice and social reality
  • examine the ways in which rabbinic halakhah deals with issues of family law and civil law
  • assess gender differences in representations of ancient daily life
  • explain the significance of the family and family practices in ancient Judaism
  • evaluate the role of slaves and slavery in ancient Jewish society and religion
  • write essays that utilize and integrate the different types of source material utilized in the course

Method of assessment

Exam (60%) and Essay (40%)

Suggested reading

  • Schaefer, Peter (1995) The History of Jews in Antiquity, Luxembourg.
  • Hirschfeld, Yizhar (1995) The Palestinian Dwelling in the Roman-Byzantine Period, Jerusalem.
  • Satlow, Michael L. (2001) Jewish Marriage in Antiquity, Princeton.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules