As far as the Jerusalemites were concerned, Jesus and his friends were a group of provincial dissidents from Galilee. Judas, on the other hand, was from Jerusalem. So what was he doing with Jesus? And why did he object to Mary anointing the feet of Jesus?’ See Why Did Judas Do It?
You need to recognise the enormous cultural gap between people like Martha and Mary of Bethany, and us. If they were transported into the modern world they would see us as reckless, lost, and confused. If we were in their world, we might see 1st century Jewish Palestinians as superstitious and irrational.
Not only that. Jesus came from the peasant class, which meant that he had a peasant’s perspective on the world. As a villager he was more aware than we would be of the gap between rich and poor, the injustice of society, the cruelty of poverty.
Reconstruction of a 1st century kitchen
He did not have much in common either with city-people from Jerusalem, especially if there were from the priestly class. Life for a villager in Galilee was entirely different from city life.
This is where his friendship with Martha, Mary and Lazarus was especially valuable since as Jerusalemites they provided not only hospitality but news and support as well.
Then, as now, the social classes formed a pyramid, but it was a much steeper pyramid than the one we know. The elite class consisted of only about 3% of the population. 70% of the people were peasants, that great silent group of the ancient world, whose main concern was whether there would be enough food to keep their family going.
There was virtually no middle class, at least as we know it. The 3% elite were the only real consumers of luxury items, with their wealth coming from ownership of the land.
Jesus lived in a class-conscious society, but he seemed to be able to communicate easily with people from a range of backgrounds.
Food utensils from Roman Judea, circa 350AD; similar items would have been used in Martha and Mary’s house, and at the Last Supper
The bread eaten at that time was usually flat bread; this would have been eaten at the dinner at Bethany, and at the Last Supper
Women were expected to weave fabric for the clothing worn by members of their household
Map of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus; Mary and Martha lived on the hills to the right of the Kidron Valley (see bottom right of map)
Palestine at the time of Jesus
ACTIVITIES AND FOCUS QUESTIONS
A Letter from the Past
Choose one of the three characters in the Bethany household: Martha, Mary or Lazarus. Write a letter to that person, asking for more details about what happened in one of the events in which Jesus played a part.
You might ask about the house they lived in, what they were doing, what their emotions or reactions were, what the other people in the story were like, etc.
Compose the letter that Martha, Mary or Lazarus might have written in response to your questions. Give as much information as you can.
You must base this response on
research you have done into the life and people of the times
a creative reconstruction of possible emotions, reactions, ideas, etc.
Tracing the Last Steps of Jesus
Research the route that Jesus followed through the Jerusalem/Bethany/Kidron Valley area. Find the probable locations of events in the last days of Jesus’ life.
The Dinner at Bethany
Martha of Bethany in her kitchen, Vincenzo Campi
Find out about meals in ancient Israel,
the meat, vegetables and desserts that were available ( a famous cook called Apicius wrote a cookbook at about the time these events occurred, using ordinary ingredients as well as expensive ones; use a search engine to locate this book and consult his recipes)
Using this information, place yourself at the meal in Martha and Mary’s house and describe it. Imagine yourself there. Describe Jesus and the other people there. Relate the incident where Martha objects to Mary, and your reaction to Jesus’ words.