City Life

Most cities from the biblical period were fairly small, and people lived in closely knit, well-defined communities. Jerusalem of David's time covered 9-10 acres with a population of 1,500-2,000 persons. Jerusalem during Jesus' time occupied about 250 acres with a possible population of 40,000-45,000. At that time, it was one of the larger cities in the eastern part of the Roman Empire.

Typically, large cities like Jerusalem in the ancient Near East were walled. Timely payment of taxes and faithful service to the king gave the people the privilege of living safely inside city walls and using the stored food in time of famine.

Many smaller towns were also walled. The main gate was the town's social center, as well as a place of commerce. Galilee was quite heavily populated, and the small towns and villages had large public buildings such as synagogues, theaters, and baths. The synagogue occupied the higher elevation in town, and the market functioned near the city gate.

Towns generally had a nearby source of water (a spring or stream), and were circled by small farms. Each farmer had an acre or two of land. They cultivated olives and grapes on hillsides, and grain and vegetables between the trees or vines, or in the valleys. Small flocks of animals were taken out to graze on hillsides where it was impossible to farm. The city generally was organized around small, narrow streets running at right angles to each other. Homes lined these streets and were built right up to the gutters.