The best books on life and times in Roman Palestine

Jeanne Lyet Gassman Author Of Blood of a Stone
By Jeanne Lyet Gassman

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?

The books I picked & why

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The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Daily Life in Roman Palestine

By Catherine Hezser (editor),

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

Why 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.


Atlas of the Bible

By John Rogerson,

Book cover of Atlas of the Bible

Why 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.


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

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

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

Why 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.


Today's Handbook of Bible Times and Customs

By William L. Coleman,

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

Why 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!


Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography

By Bruce Chilton,

Book cover of Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography

Why 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.


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