Galilee in Jesus’ time (Matthew 15)

Jesus grew up in Nazareth, about 24 km from the sea of Galilee. This region had been settlet by Jews since ancient times and had remained a bastion of Judaism down through the centuries. Certain aspects of this area help to define the cultural environment in which Jesus lived, spoke and acted:

  • Economically, the region benefited from the fish of the Sea of Galilee, trade with Phoenician costal cities and reasonably productive agricultural yields, including wheat, grapes, figs and olives.
  • In terms of religion, although cut off from Judea by Samaria, Galilean Jews appear to have been as orthodox as their Judean counterparts. Galilee did experience upheaval in the Jewish revolt of A.D. 66-70, but the region was not necessarily marked by revolutionary sentiment before that time.
  • Politically, Galilee lay within the territory of Herod Antipas. While the Gospels say little about Antipas, the incidents surrounding the death of John the Baptist profoundly distressed the common people. Certainly Jesus realized that preaching would be unsettling to worldly monarchs like Antipas.
  • Galilee is thought to have had a strong Gentile presence. The city Sepphoris, just a few km from Nazareth, is believed by many to have been largely Hellenized. However, it si doubtful that Gentile customs had any major influence on Jesus’ preaching; the cultural separation between a city like Sepphoris and a Galilean village was much greater than the physical distance. Furthermore, we have no suggestion in the Gospels or other records that Jesus frequented urban centres like Sepphoris of Tiberias.
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