SOAS University of London

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

Family, Work and Leisure in Ancient Judaism

Module Code:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 1

This course will examine various issues of the everyday life of Jews in Roman Palestine. For the rabbis of the first five centuries C.E. all aspects of life were religiously significant. In this course the relationship between rabbinic teachings and the social historical background of Jewish everyday life shall be investigated. The sources available for this investigation are literary traditions, archaeological material, inscriptions and papyri. 

Jews who lived in Roman Palestine in late antiquity lived in an environment which was greatly determined by Graeco-Roman and emerging Christian culture. Therefore comparisons between Jewish, Graeco-Roman, and early Christian attitudes and values are of particular interest for the various issues under consideration here.

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 differenced in representations of ancient Jewish life;
  • explain the significance of the family and family practices
  • 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 discussed in class.


A two hour lecture and one hour seminar each week.

Scope and syllabus

The topics to be addressed in the course will include:

  • 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), 
  • burial practices and travel and mobility.

Method of assessment

One essay 4000 words (worth 80%); one class presentation (worth 20%).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules