Ancient Civilizations: Daily Life in Ancient Israel

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13095

What was life like in ancient Israel? What jobs did they have? Did the children go to school? What did they eat and drink? What did they wear? And why did they have those flat roofs on their houses?



learning style
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Did you ever wonder why we know so much about some ancient civilizations and so little about others?

We do know a lot about ancient Israel. Not only about its kings and wars, but also about the daily lives of the people.

Why do you think that is?

Archaeology and ancient writings, especially the Bible, have given us a lot of information on the everyday lives of the ancient Israelites.

So, let's find out about them!

What kind of homes did they have?

Many Israelites lived in small houses made of bricks of clay and straw, baked hard in the sun. Most houses would have outdoor steps leading to a flat roof. This was like another room of the house, especially in hot weather. The family might even sleep on the roof during the hottest days of the summer!

Some people lived in a little village, where the homes would be gathered around some source of fresh water, either a well or a spring. The houses might have a small garden for growing food.

ancient Israel village

Other people lived in small cities, enclosed by a wall to protect them from enemy attacks.

What did they eat?

They would only eat meat on special occasions, not every day. When they did eat meat, it was meat from sheep, goats, or cattle. Some items in their everyday meals were bread, vegetables, fish, cheese, and fruit. The bread was made from barley or wheat, and it was often unleavened (meaning it did not have yeast in it to make it rise).

unleavened bread

For fruit, they had grapes, figs, pomegranates, and dates. They could dry the grapes and make raisins, which along with dried dates and figs could be stored to eat later. They grew olive trees and used the oil for cooking.

Fish from the Sea of Galilee could be dried and salted. This allowed it to be kept for later, carried on a journey, or sent a long distance to be sold.

They didn't have sugar but used honey to sweeten things. Like children everywhere, kids in ancient Israel probably loved to eat candy!

  • Would you like to try their candy made out of nuts, raisins, and honey?

What did they drink?

The Israelites made wine from their grapes, but they usually saved it for special occasions. At their everyday meals, they would mainly drink water. They drank goat's milk as well and used it to make cheese and yogurt.

What did they wear?

The Israelites' clothing was made from wool or linen. The women would weave cloth and make the clothing for the family. Men, women, and children wore similar garments: a long tunic reaching down to the ankles, and a cloak used to cover the head and body to protect from the sun and rain. They also used this as a blanket at night! Their shoes were simple sandals.

ancient Israelites

Did they use money?

Early on, the Israelites used a barter system like other ancient people, trading one thing for another. Later, they used gold or silver to buy things. By 700 BC, they were using metal coins.

What kind of jobs did they have?

Here are some of the occupations a man might have in ancient Israel:

Priest: Only men from the tribe of Levi could become priests. They would teach people the ways of God and take care of the religious ceremonies at the synagogues, or the temple in Jerusalem.

Scribe: Scribes were educated men who worked for the government. They kept records, wrote letters, and helped in collecting taxes.

Soldier: King Saul established the first standing army in Israel. The soldiers fought with bows and arrows that could shoot over 1000 feet, spears made of thick wood with a heavy pointed metal end, and long swords made of iron.

Potter: Clay pots were an important part of every household, so making them was a good business to be in! Here's how the pots were made: water was poured on clay, and then people stomped on it to make a sticky mud. Some simple shapes were molded by hand, but most things were shaped on a potter's wheel. Then, they were left to dry in the sun before being hardened in a kiln (a large outdoor oven).

Fisherman: Many Israelites lived by the Mediterranean Sea or the Sea of Galilee, and they made their living by fishing. They went out on wooden boats and caught fish in their nets. There were small fish, called sardines, which were pickled and eaten by many Israelites. They also caught larger fish such as tilapia. They often went fishing at night, which made the nets invisible to the fish! Would you like to go fishing at night?

Farmer: Farming was very important in ancient Israel, and most people made their living off the land. They grew wheat, barley, figs, grapes, and olives. They had very wet winters and very dry summers, so they planted in the late fall to let the crops soak in the winter rain, and harvested in early summer before the heat killed the plants. Since it's such a hilly country, they had to build stone terrace walls around their farms to help keep the rain and soil from running off.

How did they practice their religion?

The Israelites believed in one God, who had told Abraham to leave his home and come to the land of Canaan.

God gave them many laws to follow, from how to live family life to how to care for the poor and needy. He also told them how he wanted them to worship him. They worshiped first at scattered altars, where they would offer sacrifices.

Later, they built a place of worship called a tabernacle. Only a priest could enter the tabernacle and offer the sacrifice. Inside was a lampstand, a table where sacrificial bread was laid out, and an altar where incense burned. Further inside, a special room was closed off by a large curtain. Inside this room was a box called the Ark of the Covenant. It contained the Ten Commandments on stone tablets. God told the Israelites that his presence would dwell with them in this place.

Later, God directed Solomon to build a grand temple in Jerusalem. This temple, as you learned in the previous Related Lesson, was destroyed by the Babylonians. However, the Israelites rebuilt the temple when they returned from exile. The second temple was destroyed by the Romans.

Did the children go to school?

Boys would go to a rabbi's school from the age of 5 to 13. Girls could go, too, but would stop at 10 and spend the rest of their school years at home learning how to take care of a home and family, preparing for the important job of being a wife and mother.

What did they do for fun?

The Israelites played board games such as chess, checkers, and backgammon. Pieces of clay, parts of bones, or pebbles were used as game pieces.

They also had athletic contests in wrestling, running, and discus throwing.

But their favorite pastime was probably storytelling! They had many stories to pass on about the history of their people and how God had taken care of them from the beginning.

Now, continue on to the Got It? section where you'll research another Israelite job and interview an ancient Israelite!

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