Who Were the Galileans in the Days of Jesus? - Page 2

Archaeological research now reveals this was not just an oversight of the Biblical writers. Surface surveys indicate no human occupation of the Galilee during the sixth and seventh centuries BCE. A few scattered, small settlements began to appear in following centuries, mostly military outposts and a few small farming communities which sent their harvests to the coastal cities. The same conclusions can be drawn from the excavations of major sites as well. So Galilee remains essentially empty for more than half a millennium following the Assyrian invasions.

The archaeological evidence reveals a sudden change about the start of the first century BC. Over a period of a couple decades, dozens of new villages appear. This indicates that a new, rather large, population comes into Galilee. The trend continues for the next half-century or so, with many new settlements appearing and then growing larger.

Who were these new inhabitants? These new archaeological findings indicate that they were transplanted Judeans. The ancient historian Josephus relates how Alexander Jannaeus, the King of Israel from 102 to 76 BC, extended the northern boundary of his Judean-centered country into Galilee during his reign using military means.

The archaeology reveals that the new inhabitants were Judeans. First, the currency of the region is now that of the Judean Janneaus and his successors; it is not that of the coastal cities or of Damascus further north in Syria. Second, excavated village areas reveal the same interest in religious purity common among Judeans, with ritual baths cut out of the bedrock and houses that contained stone bowls, cups and plates that were impervious to impurity. Third, the Galileans followed a Judean diet in that they did not eat pork; no pig bones are found in the garbage dumps.

So the archaeological research of recent decades now shows that the Galilean population of Jesus' time were descendants of Judean immigrants of a century or so earlier.

Whether it had been Jewish migrants from Judea or a Galilean peasantry forcibly converted to Judaism that ultimately became the "Galileans" of Jesus' day, one thing seems reasonably clear: they were considered different in many respects from Jews living farther to the south, closer to Jerusalem.

According to L. Michael White, Professor of Classics, abd Director of  Religious Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, the term Galilean seems to have been used in a variety of ways in this period. To some, it just means an outsider, or someone who's not really an old Jew of the traditional sort. Precisely because the Galilee had traditionally been Jewish at the time of the Maccabean Revolt a hundred or 150 years before Jesus.

A lot of the problem was apparently due to religion. Says theologian Frederick Bruner:

"Galilee was not just geographically far from Jerusalem; it was considered spiritually and politically far, too. Galilee was the most pagan of the Jewish provinces, located as it was at the northernmost tier of Palestine. This distance from Zion was not only geographic; Galileans were considered by Judaeans to sit rather loosely to the law and to be less biblically pure than those in or near Jerusalem."

Judean Pharisees, in particular, were less than impressed with Galilean observance of the fine points of Jewish religious observance. While praised for their passionate identification with Judaism and the Jewish people, their ignorance in law and disinterest in study was an almost never ending source of fuel for Judean snobbery. The Jerusalem Talmud records the despair of the great First Century sage, Yohanan ben Zakkai, at having been asked no more than two questions about Jewish law during his 18-year posting in the Galilee: "O Galilee, O Galilee, in the end you shall be filled with wrongdoers!" (Shabbat 16:7, 15d).

Finally, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia informs us:

"The population of Galilee was composed of strangely mingled elements-Aramaean, Iturean, Phoenician and Greek. In the circumstances, they could not be expected to prove such sticklers for high orthodoxy as the Judeans. Their mixed origin explains the differences in speech, which distinguished them from their brethren in the South, who regarded Galilee and the Galileans with a certain proud contempt."

Regardless of their origins, however, the points about Galileans on which virtually everyone could agree was their fierce attachment to what they regarded as Judaism, their uncompromising patriotism, and their unstinting courage. Perhaps no sector of the Jewish population fought the Romans with more valor, refusing to surrender even when Judeans were ready to come to terms.

As the great contemporary Josephus recorded, Galileans were "always able to make a strong resistance on all occasions of war; for the Galileans are inured to war from their infancy .... nor has the country ever been destitute of men of courage."

Written by Carl Hoffman for Travelujah, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Travelujah is based in Israel.


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