Next time you and your pals hop in a hot-tub time machine
, you might not want to set it for the 1st century A.D. in Palestine.
As Scott Korb details in his provocative new book, "Life in Year One
," the Holy Land was quite likely an unholy mess of disease and human waste back then -- not to mention religious terrorists and crushing poverty.
First-century medicine was incredibly rudimentary, and many believed that illnesses were curses from God, a tradition that Jerry Falwell
proudly upheld until his death.
We asked Korb
to expound on Jerusalem's Dung Gate, 1st-century herpes and why those who practiced the "pull out and pray" method feared the punishment of the Lord.
First-century Jews can make modern religious types look positively lazy. Take the Essenes
, who were so holy that they wouldn't even defecate
on the Sabbath.
"According to the historian Josephus," says Korb, "on other days -- and one imagines a mad rush Saturday night -- 'they dig a hole a foot deep ... and draping their cloak around them so as not to affront the rays of god, they squat over it ...
"'Then they put the excavated soil back in the hole,'" quotes Korb via Josephus. "'On these occasions they choose the more secluded spots; and though emptying the bowels is quite natural, they are taught to wash after it, as if it defiled them.'"
It's not likely that toilet paper was in use. Water helped.
The Dung Gate to Hell
"There were ways to keep human waste away from people -- in some cases, far away," says Korb. "The Dung Gate
in Jerusalem, for instance, which is first mentioned in the Book of Nehemiah, was appropriately named.
"Waste was removed from the city (and most importantly, from the Temple), dumped in the Valley of Hinnom
, and burned. This valley came to be known as Gehenna
, or Hell."
Pull out and pray
First-century birth control was a complicated matter. "Condoms are unlikely," says Korb, acknowledging that it's possible that prophylactics were invented in Egypt circa 1000 B.C.
And religious Palestinians would have thought that the beloved "pull out and pray
" method was frowned upon by God. "Men would have known well the story of poor Onan, struck down by God for, well, coitus interruptus
-- aka pulling out," explains Korb. "What we think of as onanism
-- that is, masturbation -- is a misnomer."
There were some basic female contraceptive methods, but it's unclear how effective they were.
"One medical historian in particular, John M. Riddle
, has spent years compiling lists of plants that have been used for millennia, and throughout the world, to disrupt pregnancies, including fennel, juniper, Queen Anne's lace, and squirting cucumber
Korb's book makes it clear that what Biblical times referred to as "leprosy" involved a wide range of nasty skin afflictions, including severe eczema. So couldn't it be possible that a poor soul with a cold sore might have been cast out as a leper?
"Herpes has been recognized since ancient times. And 'leprosy,' as such, seems to have been a catch-all. So there's no reason not to think so," Korb tells us.
"That said," he continues, "I did a quick Google search of biblical herpes
and got a whole long list of verses that someone put together suggesting that other people get herpes, not God's people.
"First on that list, Exodus 15:26: 'Saying, 'If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.'"
Want to know more about the dirty glories of Life in Year One? Pick up Scott Korb's book now.