Manners and Customs of Bible Lands

By Fred H. Wight


THE BIBLE WRITTEN BY ORIENTALS. It is easy for Occidentals to overlook the fact that the Scriptures had their origin in the East, and that each one of the writers was actually an Oriental. Since this is so, in a very real sense the Bible may be said to be an Oriental Book. But many are quite apt to read into the Scriptures Western manners and customs, instead of interpreting them from the Eastern point of view.

Knowing Oriental manners and customs necessary to understand the Bible. Many passages of Scripture that are hard for the Westerner to understand, are readily explained by a knowledge of the customs and manners of Bible lands. On the other hand, to ignore this subject is to deprive one's self of a thorough mastery of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.

A study of the manners and customs of Arabs of Bible lands invaluable. For many years the Arabs were the custodians of Palestine. In the seventh century, an army of Arabs broke away from Arabia and invaded the Near East. They brought with them the habits of life inherited from countless generations before them. Since they have lived in these lands ever since, they have largely become the conservators of the manners and customs of Bible times.

During the centuries, Arab customs largely unchanged. There are three classes of Arabs in these lands. First, there is the Nomad or Bedouin Arab, who is a shepherd and lives in tents. Second, there is the Peasant or Fellahin Arab, who is a farmer and usually lives in a village one-room house. Third, there is the City or Belladin Arab, who as a rule engages in business in the larger cities. The Belladin Arab has come in contact with western civilization more than the other classes, and therefore his manner of life has undergone a certain amount of change. On the other hand, the Peasant Arab has changed his customs very little, and the Nomad Arab practically none at all. Through the centuries the Arabs have for the most part considered it to be morally wrong to change their ancient customs. For this reason the manners and customs of Bible-land Arabs are very much the same as the Jews of Bible times. There are some exceptions to this rule, and most of those have to do with religious observances.

Sources of material about manners and customs of Bible-land Arabs. For information about the life-habits of the Arabs of the Near East we are indebted to natives of Bible lands, long time residents, missionaries, scholars, and travelers.

What about the customs of the Jews who have returned to the new nation of Israel? The customs of the Jews who are now returning from various parts of the world to the land of their fathers, will not be of great value for this study, because they are largely the customs of those lands from whence they have come, and in many cases that means Western customs. There may be a few of the returning Israelites and some of those who have lived long in the land, who have the old-time habits of life, especially religious observances, but those who do are very much in the minority.

Other sources of information about manners and customs of Bible times. Historians who have written about the time of CHRIST or of the Apostles have often given information about the manner of living of those days, and of even earlier days. Also the findings of archaeologists have been a valuable source of knowledge on this subject. Things unearthed by the spade, such as pottery, various articles of household furniture, remains of old houses, inscriptions, and the like, often reveal secrets of how men in the long ago lived and acted. Ancient civilizations lost to the world for centuries have been revealed to men by the work of excavators in Bible lands.