Archaeology and the Galilean Jesus: A Re-examination of the Evidence

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Archaeology and the Galilean Jesus: A Re-examination of the Evidence

  1. Review

    The collection of studies which comprise this book presents a re-examination of recent Galilean archeological sites, and offers an interpretation of the evidence which suggests implications for historical Jesus research and Christian origins. The author is Professor of Religion at the University of La Verne, California and Co-Director of the Sepphoris Acropolis Excavations.

    The author points out that in the past, New Testament scholars paid scant attention to the findings of archeologists but that today, there is a growing acknowledgment of the necessity to see the texts of the New Testament in the context of the social world from which they emerged. He writes, "Archeology is no longer simply a tool to assess chronology and confirm dates, or a tool to tract down a site or structure; rather it provides a more general picture of the material culture of any given historical period."

    Part One of the book focuses on the archeology of the ethnicity and religion of the first century inhabitants of Galilee and the socio-economic forces that resulted in the urbanization of the society. Archeological evidence indicates that although Galileans had a "different social, economic, and political matrix than Jews living in Judea or the Diaspora," they were both ethnically and religiously Jews. This evidence is related to three issues in historical Jesus research, ( 1) the message and activity o f Jesus in relation the purity system of Second Temple Judaism, (2) the relation of Jesus and the Galileans to the Temple in Jerusalem and (3) the use of the northern prophetic tradition for interpreting the mission and ministry of Jesus.

    The socio-economic ethos of Galilee in the first century C.E. was formed by Rome and her client kings over several centuries, resulting in a shift from a rural and agriculture society to an urban and commercial society. The result was that the peasants who farmed family owned plots of land were pushed "into debt, then tenancy, then some off the land to return seasonally as day laborers, or into lives as artisans, beggars and bandits." This was the world Jesus confronted and challenged with his social gospel of an alternative society he called the Kingdom of God.

    Part Two consists of two chapters, which present the archeology of two Galilean sites, Sepphoris and Capernaum. The evidence sheds light on cities that were important in impacting and shaping Galilee as "the religious, cultural, economic and social milieu of early Christianity." Each chapter makes a contribution to our understanding of the context of the life and teachings of the historical Jesus.

    Part Three offers two chapters of a more exegetical nature. In one chapter the author discusses the geographical locale of the community which produced the Sayings Source Q and the implications of the location for interpreting this source. Although there is continuing debate about the exact location of the Q community, textual and archeological evidences point to Galilee. The other chapter is an extensive exegesis of the Sign of Jonah: Q 11:29-32, preserved with a high degree of agreement in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. If the Q passage is seen in a Galilean setting, the comparison of Jesus to the prophet Jonah "contains a criticism of Jerusalem and those seeking a sign, and could later explicitly be developed into predictions of Jerusalem’s destruction."

    The concluding chapter stresses the importance of archeology, along with the social sciences, for historical Jesus research. The author writes, "Only archeology can describe those aspects of the past that are unarticulated in the texts, but which underlie their interpretation." Any valid interpretation of the mission and ministry of Jesus must be undertaken against the background of a reconstruction of the social world of first-century Galilee.

    Since this illuminating and persuasive book is based on a collection of studies delivered at scholarly meetings and published in scholarly journals, it is not an ‘easy’ read. But it is worth every effort!

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