In the heat of the midday sun, members of the tribe of Naphtali jostled members of the tribe of Judah. Nearby, banners flapped from tents. Roman soldiers hoisted shields and spears.
The scene was interrupted by a man in a long robe, who asked the sons and daughters of Israel to sit down on the grass. "There is more rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over 100 [righteous] people," he said. "Go and tell this to everyone in the world."
"Bless you, Jesus!" shouted a woman in the crowd.
"Bless you, daughter," he replied.
Yesterday, at the first of a two-day children's camp sponsored by Magothy United Methodist Church, it was hard to tell who was having more fun -- the 80-odd children in attendance or the dozens of adults helping put on "Marketplace A.D. 29," a re-enactment of life in Biblical times.
Each child at the Bible school was assigned to one of the 12 tribes of Jacob and lived in that tribe's tent for the day, under a mother's supervision.
"All right, I need all the Asher children with me!" said a woman dressed in robes, a head-dress and heavy gold jewelry.
A ram's horn called the children to attention. Craftspeople rushed by in tunics and thonged sandals. One woman sang Hebrew songs. Others helped the children make tambourines.
Inside a tent, the "Tribe of Joseph" gathered around Karen Heilker, a "tribal Mom," to consume cheese, honey, grapes and honey-nut cakes.
"We got chekels," mispronounced Pam Folkemer, aged 7, rummaging in a bag attached to a hair-belt around her waist. She pulled out replicas of Israeli shekels. "This was their money," she said proudly.
Youngsters played around a village well, while others charged off to the market. Set up inside a church building, the market was bright with striped fabric and reed mats. Along the simulated street, children visited shops where they learned to make Jewish toys, weave baskets and form bowls from clay.
A caligrapher's shop unraveled the winding intricacies of the Hebrew language. "This is how they write your name," explained Pam Folkemer. "They spell your name backward in Hebrew."
At other shops, the children dipped string into beeswax to make candles. Nick Johnson, 8, crafted a dreidel from a block of wood with a post through it, creating the traditional top-like spinning Jewish toy.
Said Meghann Bush, another elementary-school student, "This is good for kids who don't get to go to church to hear about Jesus and the Bible times. And you learn stuff, like, I didn't know [that] back then they made baskets out of reeds."
All during the day, "street dramas" of New Testament scenes were put on by costumed church members.
After lunch, the children headed for a field to play Roman games -- archery, the discus throw and tug-of-war, because the land that is now Israel was occupied by Rome during Christ's life.
Georgia Schmidt, who helped coordinator Felicia Granofsky organize the event, watched the parade of robed figures spread out across the playing field. "We didn't get much sleep last night, but everyone helped. Even neighbors who are not members of the church pitched in," she said. "It's been great."
Today, an ironworking shop will be added to the marketplace attractions, where the children will see how coins and jewelry were made.
This is the first time the 300-member church has produced such an elaborate summer program for children, but when a planning committee heard about "A.D. 29," they admired the attempt to make the world of the Bible come alive.
Tonight, the youngsters will return for a grand finale from 7 to 8:30 p.m., when the public is invited to tour the marketplace. The program will end with a processional from the market to the church sanctuary, where the Resurrection scene will take place.
"It's all so interesting," said Lindsey Kingston. The best part of the first day, she said, was getting to live in a tent. She plopped down on the tent floor, quite authentic in a tunic and sandals.
"It's fun to imagine [this is] real and you're living back then," she said. "Maybe it felt like this."