The best books on life and times in Roman Palestine

Who am I?

I have been an avid reader of historical fiction since I was very young, and I love learning about the life and times of different periods of history. One might describe me as a "research junkie." My desire to know more about the everyday lives of my historical characters has taken me on many wonderful adventures, and my personal library is full of books I use for research. I write fiction, creative nonfiction, and novels. I am currently completing a new novel about a family of downwinders, people who contracted cancer from government-sanctioned radioactive fallout from the atomic bomb tests in Nevada during the 1950s and 1960s.


I wrote...

Blood of a Stone

By Jeanne Lyet Gassman,

Book cover of Blood of a Stone

What is my book about?

Set in first-century Palestine on the fringes of the Roman Empire and the Jesus movement, Blood of a Stone is a sweeping story of murder, betrayal, love, and the search for redemption. Faced with the brutality of slavery, Demetrios murders his abusive Roman master and flees to Galilee to create a new life and a new identity.

However, freedom has its price. Secrets cannot remain secret forever. When Demetrios is betrayed by a close friend, he risks everything to silence those who would enslave him again. His quest leads him to startling discoveries and dire choices, and Demetrios must answer the question we all face: Can we ever be free of our past?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Daily Life in Roman Palestine

Jeanne Lyet Gassman Why did I love this book?

When I pulled this book off my library shelves, I discovered it was still bookmarked with about 40 Post-it flags. This was one of my go-to books for research about life and times in first-century Palestine. The book is divided into sections with labels such as "Family Life," "Religion and Magic," and "Labour and Trade." Each section contains detailed discussions on subtopics related to the main section. For example, under "Family Life," you will find information on clothing, marriage, and divorce, jewelry, food, housing, etc. There are wonderful illustrations and drawings. At the end of each chapter, there is a list of suggested reading and a full bibliography. I spent hours pouring through the resources here when researching my own novel.

By Catherine Hezser (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Daily Life in Roman Palestine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Written by an international and interdisciplinary team of distinguished scholars, The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Daily Life in Roman Palestine is an indispensable reference compendium on the day-to-day lives of Jews in the land of Israel in Roman times. Ranging from subjects such as clothing and domestic architecture to food and meals, labour and trade, and leisure time activities, the volume covers all the major themes in an encompassing yet easily
accessible way. Individual chapters introduce the reader to the current state of research on particular aspects of ancient Jewish everyday life-research which has been greatly enriched by critical methodological…


Book cover of Atlas of the Bible

Jeanne Lyet Gassman Why did I love this book?

Part of my job when writing historical fiction is to know the "lay of the land." That means understanding regional maps, the geography, the climate, and the flora and fauna of the era and location of my story. I turned to this book so often that some of the pages are falling out. Beautifully illustrated with color photos, maps, and drawings, this book describes the history and main features of twelve main geographical regions in the Holy Land and connects them to major events in the Old and New Testaments. It's an accessible resource that functions more as a cultural atlas than simply as a map atlas.

By John Rogerson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Atlas of the Bible as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first atlas of the Bible to treat its subject geographically rather than historically, this unique work features the main biblical sites, illustrated with photographs and colour maps. The book opens with a description of the Bible, explains how it came to be composed and how it has been transmitted to us through medieval manuscript copies and modern translations. The second section of the text provides an outline of the historical background of the Bible, from the time of Abraham to the close of the New Testament period. The third and principal section discusses the main geographical regions of the…


Book cover of Nelson's Bible Encyclopedia for the Family: A Comprehensive Guide to the World of the Bible

Jeanne Lyet Gassman Why did I love this book?

As its title implies, this book is accessible to the entire family and would be a great resource for Sunday school teachers who want to provide their students with a larger understanding of the life and times of peoples in ancient Palestine and Rome. The book is broken down into easy-to-find categories such as "The Home," "Warfare," and "Travel and Communication," to name a few. There are stunning photographs on every page with detailed and clear explanations. The back of the book has timelines of the Bible and a map of Palestine in New Testament times with highlights of key events in the New Testament. There is also an alphabetical index that makes it easy to find information on specific topics.

By Arthur Cundall, Rosemary Mellor, Arthur Rowe , Frederick Fyvie Bruce

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nelson's Bible Encyclopedia for the Family as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Discusses historical and cultural topics relevant to an understanding of the Bible, under such topics as archaeology, geography, government, business, education, and health.


Book cover of Today's Handbook of Bible Times and Customs

Jeanne Lyet Gassman Why did I love this book?

This was another book that I marked with dozens of Post-it flags for my research for my novel. The subtitle pretty much describes what it offers: A cultural, social, and political background on the land and people of the Bible, based on all the recent archaeological discoveries. This book is broken down into categories: "Family Life," "Food and Drink," "The Practice of Medicine," "Childbirth," etc. One of my favorite sections was the food and drink section. Not only does this book have photographs of the food and drink, but it also includes some simple recipes on how to prepare and serve them. I now know the proper way to serve locusts!

Book cover of Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography

Jeanne Lyet Gassman Why did I love this book?

As a writer of historical fiction, I believe context is everything, and this book provides a scholarly discussion of the beliefs and practices of the period that inspired Christianity. In order to understand the teachings of Jesus, it can be extremely helpful to understand where Jesus came from, including the culture he grew up in. This book draws upon recent archaeological findings and translations to discuss in the detail the philosophical and psychological foundations of Jesus' ideas and beliefs. As a contextual biography of Jesus' life, it offers a readable and compelling story of Jesus' world.

By Bruce Chilton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rabbi Jesus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beginning with the Gospels, interpretations of the life of Jesus have flourished for nearly two millennia, yet a clear and coherent picture of Jesus as a man has remained elusive. In Rabbi Jesus, the noted biblical scholar Bruce Chilton places Jesus within the context of his times to present a fresh, historically accurate, and revolutionary examination of the man who founded Christianity.

Drawing on recent archaeological findings and new translations and interpretations of ancient texts, Chilton discusses in enlightening detail the philosophical and psychological foundations of Jesus’ ideas and beliefs. His in-depth investigation also provides evidence that contradicts long-held beliefs…


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A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

By Janet Hulstrand,

Book cover of A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

Janet Hulstrand Author Of A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

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Who am I?

Author Reader Editor Francophile Minnesotan Once and forever Brooklynite

Janet's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

This memoir chronicles the lives of three generations of women with a passion for reading, writing, and travel. The story begins in 1992 in an unfinished attic in Brooklyn as the author reads a notebook written by her grandmother nearly 100 years earlier. This sets her on a 30-year search to find her grandmother’s journals and uncover the hidden interior lives of her mother and grandmother.

Her adventures take her to a variety of locations, from a small town in Iowa to New York, Washington, London, and Paris—and finally to a little village in France, where she is finally able to write the book that will tell her own story, intertwined with the stories of her mother and grandmother.

A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

By Janet Hulstrand,

What is this book about?

This story, about three generations of women with a passion for reading, writing, and travel, begins in 1992, in an unfinished attic in Brooklyn, as a young writer reads journals written by her grandmother as a schoolgirl nearly 100 years earlier. This sets her on a 30-year quest to uncover the hidden lives and unfulfilled dreams of her mother and grandmother. In this coming-of-middle-age memoir, the author comes to realize that the passion for travel and for literature that has fueled her life's journey is a gift that was passed down to her by the very role models she was…


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