Differences Between Galilee and Judea

August 17, 2011 — Leave a comment

Justin Taylor has a great post summarizing R.T. France on the differences between Galilee and Judea. Here is his summary:

  1. Racially the area of the former Northern Kingdom of Israel had had, ever since the Assyrian conquest in the eighth century B.C., a more mixed population, within which more conservative Jewish areas (like Nazareth and Capernaum) stood in close proximity to largely pagan cities, of which in the first century the new Hellenistic centers of Tiberias and Sepphoris were the chief examples.
  2. Geographically Galilee was separated from Judea by the non-Jewish territory of Samaria, and from Perea in the southeast by the Hellenistic settlements of Decapolis.
  3. Politically Galilee had been under separate administration from Judea during almost all its history since the tenth century B.C. (apart from a period of “reunification” under the Maccabees), and in the time of Jesus it was under a (supposedly) native Herodian prince, while Judea and Samaria had since A.D. 6 been under the direct rule of a Roman prefect.
  4. Economically Galilee offered better agricultural and fishing resources than the more mountainous territory of Judea, making the wealth of some Galileans the envy of their southern neighbors.
  5. Culturally Judeans despised their northern neighbors as country cousins, their lack of Jewish sophistication being compounded by their greater openness to Hellenistic influence.
  6. Linguistically Galileans spoke a distinctive form of Aramaic whose slovenly consonants (they dropped their aitches!) were the butt of Judean humor.
  7. Religiously the Judean opinion was that Galileans were lax in their observance of proper ritual, and the problem was exacerbated by the distance of Galilee from the temple and the theological leadership, which was focused in Jerusalem.

The result, he says, is that

even an impeccably Jewish Galilean in first-century Jerusalem was not among his own people; he was as much a foreigner as an Irishman in London or a Texan in New York. His accent would immediately mark him out as “not one of us,” and all the communal prejudice of the supposedly superior culture of the capital city would stand against his claim to be heard even as a prophet, let alone as the “Messiah,” a title which, as everyone knew, belonged to Judea (cf. John 7:40-42).

This may at first blush sound like interesting background material that is not especially helpful for reading and interpreting the gospels. But Mark and Matthew have structured their narratives around a geographical framework dividing the north and the south, culminating in the confrontation of this prophet from Galilee and the religious establishment of Jerusalem.

Professor France writes: “To read Matthew in blissful ignorance of first-century Palestinian sociopolitics is to miss his point. This is the story of Jesus of Nazareth.”

Patrick Schreiner

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I teach New Testament at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. I am married with three children. This blog, against all wisdom, includes anything I am interested in. That includes movies, music, theology, culture, hermeneutics, the Gospels, and politics. Feel free to comment and let me know you are reading or that you have found something helpful. I reserve the right to delete unhelpful or rude comments. Many of these posts are simply things I find interesting and therefore I am not asserting I agree with everything I link to.

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