Christians believe that God the Father sent his eternal Son to live as a human being in the world. This doctrine is called the Incarnation, and it is one of the basics of the faith. Less well known is that God intentionally planned the cultural and political circumstances of the incarnation of his son. Did God choose wisely, or would any old time and place have done? The Scriptures say it was carefully planned:
"But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,
to redeem those under the Law…" (Galatians 4:4 NAS)
" and came and resided in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene." (Matt. 2:23-3:1 NAS)
"And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born.
And they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet,
'And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler, Who will shepherd My people Israel.'" (Matt. 2:3-6 NAS)
For example let's talk about Galilee.
"Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee;
And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim:
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,
The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles;
The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt. 4:12-17 KJV)
Galilee is important. It is mentioned in 65 verses of the Gospels (Galilee, Galilean, Galileans) and Jesus' origin there is a recurring theme in the accounts of his life.
Galilee was the right place for Jesus to grow up, the right place for him to begin preaching the kingdom. Let's leave aside for the moment, the references to Zebulon and Naphtali (that will be addressed in great detail in the upcoming research report, Understanding the Times: How Issachar and Zebulon Gained Superior Insight), let's focus on what sort of a place Galilee was.
Galilee was politically, culturally, geographically and economically distinct from Judaea in the south of ancient Israel. Some of the history is debated but it was most likely colonized by Jewish nationalists out of Judea who wanted to extend Jewish culture and Israelite national interest into what had become largely pagan territory. These settlers were religiously conservative, but also used to dealing with pagan culture. They constituted the frontier of Jewish culture to the North.
Upper Galilee is mountainous, and therefore difficult to pass. Lower Galilee on the other hand, where Jesus lived and traveled throughout the Gospel accounts, was much flatter and more passable and well served by cross roads. This made it a major trading thoroughfare.
"Geographically and topographically Lower Galilee is differentiated from Upper Galilee ( the region from the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee to Lebanon). Upper Galilee is more mountainous and remote and; therefore, was more isolated in antiquity. Lower Galilee is more open to travel and thus in antiquity saw a more vigorous trading activity."
David Fiensy, Christian Origins and The Ancient Economy, pg. 73
In other words, Galilee was a commercial region, a way station on the way from the East to the Mediterranean ports. This means that anyone who grew up in Galilee and was reasonably well traveled (which it appears that Jesus was) would have encountered many different types of people from many different types of background. They would learn to be comfortable among Jews, Greeks, Romans and traders from the former Babylonian and Persian regions. They would be exposed to multiple languages and cultures.
The economy and social hierarchy appear to be flatter than Judea to the East and more so than the rest of the 'known world' at the time. It was a near universal in the ancient Mediterranean region that urban elites saw rural peasants as virtually sub-human. While Galilee did not have a fully egalitarian relationship between peasants and metropolitans, the research indicates an unusual degree of reciprocity. Not full equality but more mutual respect that the norm.
"As L. White has observed, for medieval agrarian societies, "cities were atolls of civilization on an ocean of primitivism:' This description of ancient society) while typical for classical historians, should be modified somewhat for Lower Galilee. In the first place, E. Meyers has shown that Greek made strong inroads into that region. 13 Thus the linguistic differences between urban and rural areas, so marked in other parts of the empire) were less striking-though still existent-in Lower Galilee. Second, D. R. Edwards has argued persuasively for economic reciprocity and cultural continuity between urban and rural areas of Lower, Galilee.
The natural result of different cultural experiences was a sense of superiority on the part of the urbanite over the country peasant. Lenski shows that in agrarian societies in general, the urban elite viewed peasants as subhuman. M. Rostovtzeff observed that city residents in the Roman Empire regarded the farmer as an inferior, uncivilized being. R. MacMullen writes that the urbanite regarded the peasant as an "unmannerly, ignorant being.""
David Fiensy, Christian Origins and The Ancient Economy, page 8
The economic conditions also appear to reflect less hierarchy. Archeological evidence indicates that Galilee was made up largely of agricultural 'freeholders', small farmers who owned the land they worked.
This quote is from blog of Ben Witherington III:
"…it is time to stop talking about taxation so severe that the locales couldn’t survive and to stop talking about large estates in Galilee swallowing up all the land of the small land holders in Galilee, and to stop minimizing the profoundly religious character of these villagers in Galilee. 2) its also time to stop talking as if Jesus was a peasant, by any definition…In other words, its time to say that the archaeological and historical evidence do not really support the exaggerated claims of Dick Horsley and Dom Crossan and others on these matters. Far better to listen to those doing the archaeology in the field like Overman and Showalter who are much more guarded in painting the picture of Jesus’ context and social world."
It had small industry as well. For example stoneware from Galilee is found throughout the region (confirmed by the latest nuclear analysis).
"A peasant might also trade outside the village ("Private or reciprocal Exchanges with 'Out of Region'") or at the "Markets of Sepphoris and Tiberias," whether trading surplus farm produce or handmade crafts. Two villages from Lower Galilee are now becoming, because of archaeological excavations, known as major exporters of common pottery. Likewise, two other villages produced and marketed a significant amount of stoneware vessels. These exchanges might have been made at the market centers in the two largest cities of Lower Galilee, Sepphoris and Tiberias, or they might have been done in market centers outside Lower Galilee. For example, the pottery manufactured in Kefar Hananya has been found in towns and villages in the Golan. The peasant villager was also obligated to send tithes, wave offerings, and temple taxes to the temple in Jerusalem. The villager received nothing economic (in the physical sense) in return for this flow of goods. But, as J. K. Davies points out, there are "non-physical flows" that play a role in the economy. For example, a person who donated a sum of money to a village might receive back only the nonphysical flow of increased honor."
David Fiensy, Christian Origins and The Ancient Economy, pg. 74
There was a thriving fishing industry. In other words, we see not just sustenance fishing, but industrial fishing. Fish were caught, dried, salted and exported. Galilee was reasonably prosperous and prospered in a way that an economy does when it is relatively young, before interest group political manipulation leads to economic concentration through political power.
"Another interesting small find that supports the view that the village residents were not extremely poor-although this find is not exactly a luxury item-is the Herodian lamp…Thus, the locals preferred to import their lamps, and perhaps to pay a higher price than for locally produced lamps, in order to fulfill evidently) a religious purpose. 31 Thus, a look at all of these sites presents us with ruins from villages sometimes with houses clearly of upper-level or wealthy villagers, some- times with less prosperous houses, but also certainly not with the remains of starving or destitute persons. We conclude from these archaeological remains that the villagers were not on the verge of either starvation or bankruptcy. The results from the eight villages 32 suggest strongly that the rural residents of Galilee were not destitute. The freeholding farmers were not starving. As a matter of fact, some were doing rather well in Galilee."
David Fiensy, Christian Origins and The Ancient Economy, pg. 91
We know all this through a combination of original source documents, such as the historical works of Josephus as well as an explosion in recent decades of archeological activity in the region. The actual material remains that have been unearthed have severely undermined a general consensus among academic Biblical scholars that Galilee was very poor, with a large proletariat (the anachronism is intended) of disposed farmers with nothing to lose waiting for a poor, revolutionary leaders, like Jesus to lead their social protest movement. Those theories are based on theoretical models and more than a dollop of revolutionary chic from the 70s and 80s. But that is not the picture painted in the Gospels, nor in the historical strata.
"A heated disagreement has arisen among two groups benefiting from the heritage of the social sciences with respect to the socioeconomic conditions of Galilee in the first century CE: These are, namely, archaeologists in one group and biblical scholars utilizing social-science models in the second. Although the discip1ine of anthropology claims the subdisciplines of both archaeology and cultural anthropology under its umbrella, some archaeologists seem critical of those seeking guidance from social-science-specifically cultural-anthropology-models. They ask, should we use the social-science models to guide us and help us interpret the historical and archaeological data? and often answer no. The hesitation is understandable. Certainly social-science models can be used in an unhelpful way. One gets the impression from some works that the ancient data are almost irrelevant. If the social-science critic says peasant society had certain features, then those features must have been there in first-century Galilee as well. The New Testament scholar using social-scientific models can be so model-driven that the model becomes the evidence, or, in other words, the scholar works deductively instead of inductively from evidence."
David Fiensy, Christian Origins and The Ancient Economy, pg. 81