Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Mary and Joseph Present the Infant Jesus for Her Purification

Hello My Friend and Welcome.

“And when the time came for her purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”  —Luke 2:22-24 

Every Jewish mother was required to make an offering at the time of her purification following the birth of a child — 40 days after for a boy, 80 days for a girl. Here is an admittedly unscientific attempt to arrive at an estimate of the number of pigeons required for Temple sacrifice.

A)   Determine the country’s population. Josephus places the number of Jews in Jerusalem at the time of its destruction at 3,000,000. Even though the timing of Titus’s attack trapped a significant portion of the country’s population in the city, this number exceeds the space available. Tacitus places the number at a more reasonable 600,000. If 600,000 people were in Jerusalem, the total population might have been 1,000,000.

B)    Average life expectancy at that time was about 35 years. [Let’s be clear, I’m not suggesting that a person was considered “old” at 35. This average takes into account the fact that one of every two children died before the age of five.] In order to sustain a population of 1,000,000 with an average life expectancy of 35 years you need 1,000,000/35, or 28,571 new individuals a year. With the high infant mortality rates this means about 60,000 births annually.

C)    If 80% of the mothers chose the “poor option,” we need .8 x 60,000 x 2, or roughly 100,000 pigeons each year for purification sacrifices.

Just as there were families that earned their living raising sacrificial lambs for Temple, clearly there had to be people who raised pigeons for the same purpose, and here’s how they did it.

Aren't they beautiful? This is a photo of the Dovecotes at the ancient city of Beit Guvrin in the Judean lowlands. Part of the Beit-Guvrin - Maresha National Park in Israel, it also features a Roman amphitheater and Tel Mareshah, which was fortified by Solomon’s son Rehoboam (2 Chron. 11:8). The area is riddled with man-made caves. The workers dug a narrow hole in the hard nari rock layer. When they reached the soft inner chalk layer they dug deeper and deeper widening and expanding the cave. These caves were used for burials, storerooms, olive presses, hideouts and dovecotes.
We can be certain chickens were kept in home flocks at the time of Christ. Recall his conversation with Peter in Matthew 26:33-34 “Peter declared to him, ‘Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’”  
However, chickens were kept primarily for their eggs rather than for consumption. Only the upper classes could afford to kill a chicken or chickens for a meal since doing so meant foregoing their future contribution of eggs. Instead, the common man ate dove, or pigeon, if he was going to consume fowl. 
Thus, in addition to the necessity of meeting the demand of birds for the Temple, people also consumed them as a meat source. The secondary market, as it were, was surely as large, or larger, than the calculations above. No doubt on market day in every community throughout the land there would be people with grates of pigeons to sell.

And finally, what is perhaps the most interesting of the group. A dovecote was uncovered in the ruins of Masada. We all know that Masada was a mountaintop fortress in the Judean desert built by Herod the Great. It later became the site of a mass suicide of Zealots led by Eleazar ben Ya’ir when they were trapped by Roman troops. Talk about self-sufficiency. Not only did Herod have huge cisterns and granaries, he apparently had fresh squab whenever he wanted it as well.

Our posts on Foods of the First Century will be going on hiatus for a short time as Sowing the Seeds focuses its attention on the Chruch Calendar and the Seasons of Advent and Christmas. They will resume after the new year.

As always, we wish you Peace and Blessings.

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