Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"Life in Year One" by Scott Korb, a Review

As the old saying goes: the more things change the more they stay the same. That in a nutshell could sum up Scott Korb's highly readable book "Life in Year One: What the World Was Like in First-Century Palestine". Then again, such a summation might encourage you not to read it, which would be an injustice on my part because there is much that we need to take into account when considering the life and times that shaped the the New Testament generation.

Scott Korb sets up his book in a fairly straight forward way by examining ten fairly common things (the world, money, home, food, baths, health, respect, religion, war, and death) as they were in first century Palestine. In so doing he takes the fairly exotic topic of a world two thousand years removed from our own and puts it into terms that we can all readily understand.

Scott Korb not only examines how such familiar things as money and health were understood two thousand years ago in a part of the world that is as foreign to us today as it was way back then, the author also does a good job of putting those ancient situations into contemporary ways of seeing the world. For instance, in his chapter on food, Korb clues us into a huge shift that was happening in year one, in Palestine. That is, there was a large increase in the number of cities as well as a shift in population from rural to urban living. This shift impacted how people fed themselves, from a diversified largely vegetarian diet to a reliance on one crop--corn, or more specifically barelycorn.

In his attempt to get us to understand what this means both to first century people as well as twenty-first century people trying to understand them, he writes:
Indeed, it's hardly going too far to call these years at the start of the first century the birth of big agribusiness. It might be said, in fact, that during the first century a displaced tenant farmer in Galilee was witness to an ancient version of what food writer Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, has described in America as the "Conquest of Corn." And in those terms, we might call the dilemma facing the first-century peasant in Palestine the "Conquest of Barleycorn." (Korb, p. 87)

Not only does Korb do a nice job of pointing out similarities between our world and theirs, he also injects wit and humor that remind us of just how human our forebears are. In chapter nine "War in Year One" in his attempt to describe what exactly led to the revolt in year 66 that eventually led to the Romans sack of Jerusalem and destruction of the second Temple, Korb describes everything from the seriously historical to the seriously hysterical, if not down-right absurd.

Relying on first-century sources he shares the following story of what might have initiated the revolt:
Some blame even has to fall on an unnamed Roman soldier who, in the spirit of Monty Python, farted in the general direction of a crowd of Jews: "The people had assembled in Jerusalem for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Roman cohort stood on guard over the Temple colonnade, armed men always being on duty at the feasts to forestall any rioting by the vast crowds. One of the soldiers pulled up his garment and bent over indecently, turning his backside towards the Jews and making a noise as indecent as his attitude." (Korb, p. 175)

These two examples are but just two of many that will make you think about the world of the New Testament in a whole new way.

Also of note, if you purchase or check out this book, Korb's footnotes are just as informative and worthy of attention as the main body of his work. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in a wider and deeper understanding of the world in which Jesus lived, died and rose again.

1 comment:

  1. Allow me to invite you to my Amazon Author's Central page, where there are already some discussions of the book underway. Please feel free to add to a discussion or start a new one.

    I'd love to hear from you.


    Best wishes,
    Scott Korb