The Economic System Of Jerusalem During The Time Of Jesus

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Posted: Aug 17, 2018 12:36 PM
The Economic System Of Jerusalem During The Time Of Jesus

We've looked pretty closely at the economic system of Jesus home town, Nazareth, of the nearby city, Sepphoris and of the region, Galilee. What we saw is a practical, entrepreneurial society with fairly wide ownership of property and reasonably high economic output in farming, manufacturing, fishing and building.

Semi-autonomous, it probably did not pay taxes directly to the Roman empire.

"…taxation seems to have been a greater burden in Judea than in Galilee. Whether it was so much greater as to lower the standard of living significantly in Judea vis a vis Galilee, is the question. We know that in 17 CE Judea appealed to Tiberius for tax relief (Tacitus, Ann. 2.4216). Thus, direct taxation from Rome seems to have contributed to a lower standard of living.17… the surveys indicate and assume that both a land tax (tributum soli) and a 'head-tax' were payable [in Syria]." He bases his conclusion on the third-century-CE evidence from Ulpian and the Ro- man jurist Paul 14. Fiensy, Social History, 100-101. Udoh (To Caesar, 222) thinks that the taxes on movable property, if they were assessed, would have been added to the tributum soli. 15. Udoh, To Caesar, 238.

16. Tacitus described Judea and Syria as fessae, "exhausted " by taxes. See Finley, Ancient Economy, 90. Cf. Josephus, War 2.85-86; Ant. 17.204-205, 306-307 who reports that the people of Palestine/Israel complained about the taxes levied by Herod the Great

Christian Origins and the Ancient Economy, David Fiensy, pg. 122

Metropolitan in the sense that it was a trading zone, with dealings with foreigners, but not as wealthy as Jerusalem to the South and the region with it ruled, Judea.

Judea was a very different sort of economy from Galilee. Nazareth sat on the eponymous Nazareth Ridge near the bottom of Lower Galilee. From there, Jesus could stand and look to the South, and unlike in his own homeland, he would see a great plain dominated by gigantic agricultural combines, which found their origins, quite often, in acts of political favoritism.

"There certainly were large estates in Palestine as well. But were there such large farms specifically in Lower Galilee (the area from Nazareth on the south to the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee) where Jesus came from? So far the archaeological evidence says no. Yet, on the Great Plain, just south of Nazareth, there is both literary and archaeological evidence that large estates had been in existence already for three hundred years by the time Jesus was born. Jesus had only to look over the Great Plain from the edge of the Nazareth ridge to view some of these vast farms.  Perhaps Jesus's observation of these estates furnished material for many of his parables. As mentioned above, Mar 12:1 -8, the parable of the Tenants, refers to a vineyard with tenant farmers, an absentee landlord, and several slaves who were sent to collect the rent. In order to support several tenant farmers, the vineyard must have been quite large. Luke 16:1-12 speaks of debts of one hundred measures of oil and one hundred measures of wheat, which would have required at least a medium-sized estate to produce. The same conclusion can be made with respect to the parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-30=Luke 19:11-27), the parable of the Debtors (Luke 7:41-43=Matt 18:23-34), and the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:21-35). These parables speak of large sums of money that imply great wealth. In the ancient economy one could possibly become wealthy as a merchant…"

Christian Origins and the Ancient Economy, David Fiensy, pg. 70

In Nazareth and environs, Jesus would have interacted with small farmers who owned the land they worked on. But in the South, if Jesus traveled there for work as a carpenter (who were part of building industry in general working on wood alone or often working with stonemasons as part of larger builds) he would see consolidated farming operations worked and managed by people who did not own the land. The people who owned the land were generally absent, sending officials to collect the wealth of the farms.

This arrangement is likely the human origin of Jesus' parables set on farms the owners of which are not present.

"Mar 12:1 -8, the parable of the Tenants, refers to a vineyard with tenant farmers, an absentee landlord, and several slaves who were sent to collect the rent. In order to support several tenant farmers, the vineyard must have been quite large. Luke 16:1-12 speaks of debts of one hundred measures of oil and one hundred measures of wheat, which would have required at least a medium-sized estate to produce. The same conclusion can be made with respect to the parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27), the parable of the Debtors (Luke 7:41-43=Matt 18:23-34), and the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:21-35). These parables speak of large sums of money that imply great wealth. In the ancient economy one could possibly become wealthy as a merchant…"

Christian Origins and the Ancient Economy, David Fiensy, pg. 70

"Still others of Jesus's parables depict scenes on a large estate. The parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21), for instance, describes an estate owner hoarding grain in a manner reminiscent of accounts in Josephus (Life 71-72 , 119) about the granaries "of Caesar" in Upper Galilee and of the granary of Queen Bernice on the Great Plain. Luke 17:7 refers to a man's servant plowing his field for him. Matthew 20: 1-15 narrates about a landowner who has so much land he must hire day laborers to work it. Luke 12:42-43 alludes to a wealthy man who has a bailiff to run his estate. Matt 13:24-30 describes a farm that requires several slaves to work it. Finally, Luke 15:11-32 pictures an estate with day laborers and slaves. Clearly Jesus was familiar with what happened on these huge farms, but archaeologists have not found evidence for their existence in Lower Galilee itself.""

Christian Origins and the Ancient Economy, David Fiensy, pg. 71

Galilee was a younger economy, likely less burdened by the inequalities which are driven by extractive societies with parasitical ruling classes. Any young Galilean who was financially and economically sophisticated and socially aware who traveled from Galilee to Judea and saw the abuses, the enslavement both de facto and even de jure and exploitation of the people (the 'givers' of wealth), by the Judean political and politically connected elites (the 'takers' of wealth), might well have been shocked and dismayed (and probably offended) by what he saw.

I think the Gospel records show, that one young Galilean in particular was offended by what he saw in Judea.