"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bible Land Culture: Courtyards, Non-Privacy, The Nativity, Bread, Voices

I finally finished Wild Goose Chase the other day and started on another book. I'm only on page 80 of over 300 pages, but I wanted to record these things while they were fresh on my mind.

Manners and Customs of Bible Lands by Fred Wight

My dad had this book at his house and suggested I read it last week when I was visiting. I have found it so interesting, and it actually made me "homesick" for Syria and life in the Bible lands. When I saw a sketch and read a description of the traditional house with courtyard, I could totally picture it because I'd stayed in one while in Damascus. (The hostel was actually an old Damascene house with courtyard and click here to see an old house with courtyard converted into a restaurant.) I could relate when the author said it was like within the courtyard one was inside his own house, but with the bonus of also being able to see the sky and experience God's great outdoors. He said when Bathsheba was bathing in the courtyard, she was within her house and not able to be seen by most. Only because of the palace's vantage point was David able to view her.

Many things stated reminded me of Syria -- removing the shoes upon entering a house, the warm, demonstrative greetings, the importance of hospitality. I enjoyed the part about Arabs not wanting to eat alone and how if you stayed as a guest in an Eastern house, you wouldn't be left alone (so don't expect much privacy) because they don't like being alone. To be left alone is a sad thing in a place that values relationships and community. I remember Thomas from the hostel. He was a young American who decided to rent a room with a Syrian family in order to learn more Arabic. One of his complaints: they never left him alone! He said the little boys were constantly opening the door to his room and wanting him to watch movies with them. (American movies, mind you, so they didn't really help him improve his Arabic!) But now reading this about how an Eastern person would feel "ill-treated" if left alone and how they would expect companionship, it makes much more sense why this Arab family kept seeking out Thomas' company.

Page 34 deals with seeing the birth of Jesus from Western and Eastern eyes. I'd first been introduced to this concept two years ago when I read an Arab Christian's book and found it pretty amazing to have my long-held views challenged. It was neat to see it mentioned in this book as well. Makes me believe we totally got that whole born-alone-in-a-barn thing wrong by looking at Jesus' birth and interpreting "manger" talk through our Western eyes. Of course we have mangers in barns, but people of Jesus' days were not like us. And for Mary and Joseph to go to Bethlehem which was the place of their family roots and not find one hospitable soul in a culture that exudes hospitality is plum crazy!

I read about the importance even "sacredness" of bread and, therefore, how amazing Jesus' "I am the Bread of Life" statement was to people of His day. (see pg. 45) Also I loved the part about how people would knock on the doors and say "It is I" and the other would recognize his voice. The author reminded us of when Jesus appeared to his disciples and said "It is I" and they recognized His voice (see pg. 40). He stated that the Easterner "is trained to listen to a voice and be able to recognize a friend." Does this relate to Jesus' statement about His sheep knowing His voice and following Him? (see John 10)

This book was published in the 1950s. The author said Arabs of today had preserved so much of the Biblical culture that they could get true glimpses of Bible times by speaking of present-day Arabs. Of course things could have changed within the last 60 years, but still I could relate to some of the things stated as I mentioned above. This book seriously made me want to live in Syria for a while and experience living in this great culture.

Did I mention that one year ago today we made our plane reservations for our trip to Syria? I can hardly believe the time has passed so quickly.


Joni said...

Susie, sounds like the kind of book I'd love! I enjoy things about culture.

Carmen said...

Very interesting. I think we miss it here in the West. We have busied our lives with schedules full of to dos but relationships have fallen to the back burner.

I know I sometimes feel exhausted and overwhelmed at the idea of making time for getting together with people. How awful. Although, to be honest, I almost always enjoy it once we're there or they're at my place. It's just we're programmed to go go go instead of cultivate community.

Perhaps it's a regional thing. I'm not sure. I did enjoy your post though.

I do laugh at a friend when they call and identify themself (when I recognize their voice) or laugh at myself when I pronounce who I am like my friend doesn't already know.

Susanne said...

Joni, yes, I think you'd find parts of it of interest! :)

Carmen, I agree. Relationships seem to suffer because of our busy lifestyles. It does seem too much trouble often to plan get togethers with friends. Like you though, I usually enjoy them once I'm there.

Thank you for your comments!