Bible Society of South Africa

Living, Working & Warfare

Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries

Agriculture, livestock and fisheries were important ways of earning a living in Ancient Israel.
Read more about these in the following topics:


When armour is mentioned in the Bible, this does not refer to a suit of armour that covers the entire body. Armour in the Bible is a cuirass or scale armour.


In the Old Testament, occasionally there is talk of an Israelite army. In the New Testament we read mainly of Roman soldiers and army units.

Baking Plate

A baking plate was a round plate made of pottery or metal, which was used to bake bread on. The baking plate was placed above the fire on a few stones. After that, a thin round slab of dough was placed on it and baked into bread.


“The ban” is a religious term that is often used in stories about wars, meaning that people or things are devoted to God.


A banner or standard was a flag or a metal board on a long pole. A banner was carried by the army and served to identify a group of soldiers.

Battering Ram

Battering rams were used when laying siege to a city. They were intended to make holes in the city wall or to smash the city gates. The Assyrians were the first to use battering rams. This made them very successful in sieges.


Battles usually took place between two armies in an open field. The army was normally split into a number of subdivisions in order to attack the opponent from different sides.

Battle Axe

A battle axe was a close combat weapon that was used by foot soldiers. It consisted of a wooden handle of around 30 inches (about 76 cm) in length and one or two semi-circular blades attached to the end of the handle.

Bow and Arrow

A bow and arrow was a commonly used weapon in ancient times. It was a light weapon and therefore easy to carry. An added advantage was that you could hit the enemy from a distance.

Bread Oven

Bread was baked on a griddle or in an oven. A bread oven could be located next to the house, inside the house in the courtyard, or close to the door.


Bronze is a strong and hard metal which is made by mixing two relatively soft metals: copper and tin, or instead of tin, another metal such as lead.


Byssus is a term for a woven material. It is linen of the highest quality. The more thinly woven the material, the more costly the final product.


The chariot was an open wagon with two wheels at the back and a platform that three soldiers could stand on. One drove the wagon, one had a bow and arrow or a spear with which to attack the enemy, and the third protected the other two with a shield.

City Gate

The city gate was the entrance to the city. The gate was part of the city wall. A large city like Jerusalem had several city gates. The city gate was the weakest part of the city wall, which is why it was usually fortified with towers.
A city gate usually consisted of several areas. In the time of the kings, there were usually two or three spaces on either side of the wall.
In front of the city gate there was often a second, outer gate.

City Wall

Already in the Bronze Age, before the time of the kings, many Canaanite cities were fortified with city walls and gates. Many of these cities remained in use in the Iron Age as well, in the time of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

Cloth (Production)

The production of fabric for clothing was generally the task of women. In Proverbs 31:19 it is said of the “strong woman”, “She spins her own thread and weaves her own cloth.” Women made the cloth primarily for use in their own home, but occasionally they also sold some, as we are told in Proverbs 31:24.

Spinning and weaving were mostly done at home. But 2 Kings 23:7 tells us that there were women in the Temple who had to make clothing for the statues of the goddess Ashera.

There were also men who wove and worked on cloth, for example, cloth for the decoration of the tabernacle. Spinning was seen as women’s work.


A club or a battle axe was a hand weapon that could be used by foot soldiers. It consisted of a short wooden handle to which a heavy head of stone or metal was attached. The handle was often widest at the bottom, tapering towards the head, or it was bent to afford the user a better grip.


A club or a battle axe was a hand weapon that could be used by foot soldiers.


A cymbal consisted of two bronze plates, the cymbals themselves. The hands of the musician had to slip under a cord, so that they could hold the cymbals firmly.


A cymbal is a percussion instrument. Out of all the percussion instruments, it was chiefly the cymbals which were often used in the temple.

double flute

A double flute could be made out of bone, metal, or wood, and it had a reed. This instrument can be seen as the forerunner of the modern oboe or clarinet.


A drum is a percussion instrument. It was not often used in and around the Temple, but rather was often used for processions and celebrations. The Hebrew word for drum is toph.


A drum is made from the hide of an animal, which is stretched out over a wooden frame. The drum was held in one hand and struck with the other.


Wool and flax were the most commonly used materials for making cloth. The natural colour of flax, from which linen was made, was greyish white. Linen was not generally dyed, but bleached to give it a brighter whiteness.
Wool can have various natural colours, varying from white to dark brown and black. If people wanted materials to have a different colour, the wool could be dyed. There are also indications that in Mesopotamia materials were dyed already in the third millennium.

Fishing Boat

Boats were used when fishing on the Mediterranean Sea and Lake Galilee. Thanks to archaeological finds, we have a good idea of {fishing boats in the time of Jesus.

Fishing boat with casting net

A casting net was a round net, about five to seven meters in circumference, with a rope in the center and lead weights around the outside. The fisherman on the beach or in the boat held on to the rope and threw the net into the water with a circular motion. The act of throwing caused the net to fan out and it fell like a kind of parachute onto the lake. The weights ensured it sank to the bottom. The fisherman would then pull the rope, closing the net like a bag, and draw the full net into the boat.

fishing boat with drag net

A drag net was a large net, around three hundred meters in length. At the ends it was three to four meters in height, and in the middle about eight meters. In the water, the bottom of the net was pulled down with lead weights, while the top was held up with cork floats. On either side, the net tapered to a point, with ropes attached.
To spread out the drag net, half of the crew would sail out onto the lake or the sea, while the other half stayed on the beach and held the end of one of the ropes. The boat kept moving further out onto the lake until the net was taut. Then the boat would sail back to the shore in a wide arc. Next, the fishermen on the beach pulled the net full of fish ashore. The net could also be pulled up into the boat.

Fishing in the Time of Jesus

In the area where Jesus lived and worked — around the Lake of Galilee — fishing was an important source of income for many people. Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, for instance. Archaeological data and information from the New Testament allow us to form a good picture of fishing in the time of Jesus.

Fishing Net

In the time of Jesus, the most important method of fishing was with a net. This could be in three different ways: with a drag net, a casting net or a trap.


Various wind instruments occur in the Bible. These instruments were used to warn people or summon them together, though they were also used to make music in the Temple.

Goats and Sheep

The landscape and climate of Israel were eminently suitable for goat herding. Goats mainly eat leaves and foliage and can therefore survive in dry and desert-like areas where there is not much grass. They are also very good at navigating rocky terrain.

Grain Harvest

In biblical times, wheat and barley were the most important crops in Israel. The spring and early summer were the time of harvest. The barley was the first to ripen, already in April. The wheat followed a few weeks later, in June.


According to 1 Samuel 17:6, the Philistine soldier Goliath wore bronze greaves, in addition to a bronze helmet and armour. The Hebrew word for greaves is only used in this passage in the Bible. In depictions from the ancient Near East, soldiers are always shown with unprotected legs, so the greaves in the description of Goliath are unusual.


Probably a harp was an instrument with many strings: it had more strings than a lyre. The strings were made of sheep’s colons.


The purpose of a helmet was to protect a soldier’s head during battle. Sometimes flaps were attached to the helmet to protect the ears and the neck. Many ordinary Israelite soldiers did not wear a helmet, but just tied a scarf around their heads.

Hezekiah’s Tunnel

2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:30 both mention the tunnel that King Hezekiah made to lead water to the city. This was probably prompted by the fact that King Sennacherib of Assyria was threatening to lay siege to Jerusalem.


In the Old Testament period the so-called four-room house was the most common type of house. In New Testament times the houses were often built around an inner courtyard.

House in the New Testament

In New Testament times, houses were frequently built around a courtyard. These houses were often only one storey high. In cities there were often residential blocks, whereas out in the countryside houses were detached. Richer people would have a villa built that was inspired by Roman building conventions.

House in the Old Testament

In the period up to the Babylonian exile, the so-called four-room house was the most common type of house in Israel and Judah. This type of house was found in villages as well as the cities, though houses in the countryside tended to be larger than those in the cities. Archaeologists think that city dwellings were occupied by a single family, while houses in the countryside were occupied by several families from a single clan.


Important utensils in and around the house were:


Leaven (or yeast) is old (sour) dough that was used to help new dough to rise.


In the Bible, linen mainly features as material for priestly garments and clothing for rich, influential people, such as Joseph at the Egyptian court (Genesis 41:42). Linen was also used in the tabernacle and in the Temple. According to the Gospels, Joseph of Arimathea used linen to wrap Jesus’ body.

Bible Society of South Africav.4.21.9
Find us on