Background

The Political and Economic Table Laid for the Disclosure of Christ (400BC – 27AD)

History shows us exactly how God set the table for the revelation of His Son, and the further mobilization of His Body, the Church. Although the world in which Jesus grew up differs radically from today, there are also essential similarities.

As we study the salvation history of the Bible, it is interesting to see how God positions His covenant people Israel right amid the operations of world powers: first Moses & Joseph in Egypt; then Daniel in Babylon; Nehemiah and the Persian kingdom. Then Jesus in the middle of Roman domination.

“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.”(Gal. 4:4).

May these historical facts position you individually in how relevant your purpose is in your lifetime and what a vital part you must play in your generation. May these perspectives on history give you greater meaning as you gain greater understanding of your personal piece in the puzzle of God’s overall salvation plan through Christ.

A Greek Enemy Favours Jerusalem: 336 BC – Alexander The Great

“The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it whichever way He wishes.” (Prov. 21:1 AMP)

Alexander, a 16-year-old young man is trained by the famous philosopher Aristotle as king in Macedonia Greece. Later, he would add the title “the Great” to his name. He united the warring Greek city-states and within nine years conquered the Persian Empire (Persia) and Ancient Egypt as far as the borders of India.

Greece is considered the cradle of Western civilization: the birthplace of democracy; Western philosophy; Western literature; historiography; science and mathematics. It also birthed Western drama, as well as the Olympic Games.

The ancient Greeks initially began to establish colonies and trade with them around both the Mediterranean and the Black Sea areas. Early dynamic cultural centres include: Athens; Sparta; Thebes; Thessaloniki; Alexandria; Smyrna and Constantinople.

The Greeks are renowned for their significant contributions to the lingua franca of their era, most notably through the translation of the Hebrew Bible’s Old Testament into Greek, a work known as the Septuagint. Moreover, the acculturation of the world was profoundly influenced by Greek culture, art, exploration, literature, philosophy, politics, architecture, music, mathematics, science, technology, business, cuisine, and sports. Greek religious beliefs, articulated through the mythology that detailed the interactions between the gods and humanity, would later exert a strong influence on Roman mythology, shaping the cultural and religious landscape of the ancient world. 

One day Alexander marched to conquer Jerusalem. According to the famous historian Josephus, the high priest of the day, Jaddua, who was God-fearing and wise, met Alexander outside the city with a group of priests dressed in white. Apparently, the previous night Alexander had a vision in which he encountered priests dressed in white. The high priest then presented to him Scriptures from Daniel 7 (vision of the four beasts). “My nocturnal vision continued and when I saw it again, there was a fourth animal ~ it is not an ordinary animal. It has extraordinary properties.”  This beast represented Alexander as the Greek Empire between 336-323 BC. When Alexander saw himself in the ancient scriptures, he left Jerusalem in peace. After his death, his empire was divided among his four generals.[1]

OT “Antichrist” Scripturally Predicted: Antiochus the Great (203 B.C.)

“And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.” (Luke 1:50-52)

Antiochus III, known as Antiochus the Great, became king over Syria, a region north of Palestine. His reign was succeeded by his brother, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who is often identified as a figure resembling the Antichrist in the Old Testament due to his notorious persecution of the Jewish people.

Under Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Jews endured severe oppression. He enforced the worship of Greek gods, including himself, and committed acts that deeply violated Jewish religious laws and sensibilities. One of the most egregious acts was his invasion of Jerusalem, during which he desecrated the Jewish Temple by slaughtering a pig on the altar and defiling the sanctuary with its blood. This act was abhorrent to the Jews, for whom the pig is an unclean animal forbidden in their dietary law.

The transgressions of Antiochus IV are highlighted with increasing severity: the interruption of the daily temple sacrifice by Gentiles; the egregious sin of desecrating the temple with the sacrifice of an unclean animal; and the ultimate blasphemy of erecting an image of Zeus within the temple, referred to as the “abomination of desolation” in the Book of Daniel (Daniel 11:31; 12:11). This series of actions not only demonstrated his arrogance but also his deliberate attempt to undermine and erase Jewish religious and cultural identity.

The Maccabean Uprising (165 B.C.)

The Maccabean Revolt was a significant Jewish uprising against the Seleucid (Greek) Empire, sparked by a series of events that unfolded as follows: In the village of Modi’in, located in the mountains of Ephraim, a Seleucid official attempted to force a Jewish inhabitant to perform a sacrifice on a pagan altar. This act of coercion incited Mattathias, a Jewish priest, to a point of outrage, leading him to kill the Seleucid official. This act of defiance marked the beginning of the revolt.

Following this pivotal incident, Mattathias, along with his five sons and a group of devout Jews, embarked on a campaign throughout the land, dismantling pagan altars and resisting the imposition of Hellenistic practices on their religious life. After Mattathias’s death, his son Judas, who was given the nickname “Maccabeus” (meaning “hammer”), assumed leadership of the revolt. Embodying the ferocity and determination his nickname suggests, Judas Maccabeus led his forces into Jerusalem, purging the Temple of the Zeus cult that had been established there.

In 165 BCE, Judas Maccabeus successfully rededicated the Temple, an event that is celebrated annually in the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, also known as the Feast of Dedication. This festival commemorates the restoration of Jewish worship at the Temple and is referenced in John 10:22 as the “Feast of Dedication”. The Maccabean Revolt not only restored Jewish religious practices but also established the Hasmonean dynasty, marking a significant period of Jewish independence and religious freedom. Now the Jews enjoyed religious freedom once again. During this time, Israel prospered by building a synagogue in almost every town but only one temple in Jerusalem remained where the sacrificial system was upheld. The synagogues were erected for prayer, gathering, poverty alleviation, and teaching in the law.

The freedom of religion lasted almost 130 years until political freedom was removed by the Roman emperor Caesar in 27 B.C. who seized control of the area.[2]

The Greek-Jews

The Greek influence was significant, by the beginning of the 2nd century BC, Greek-Jews became part of the priesthood. They were also the richest among the Jews, especially the Onias family from which the high priests originate. They controlled the temple service and even operated a bank in the temple.  They would play a very important role in the Jesus Narrative. 

The Roman Empire

The wisdom of God placed Jesus on earth in the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4-7). There were many things occurring at the time of the first century that, at least by human reasoning, seem to make it ideal for Christ to come precisely then.

The city of Rome, nestled in the heart of Italy, was traditionally founded in 753 BC by the legendary twin brothers Romulus and Remus. The foundation myth culminates in Romulus killing Remus and becoming the sole ruler, marking the beginning of Rome’s storied history. After the first Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem in 538 BC and completed a new temple in 516 BC, Rome’s narrative intersected with broader Mediterranean history when Hannibal invaded Italy in 218 BC.

Roman history unfolds across three pivotal epochs: the Monarchical period (753-509 BC), the Republic (509-31 BC), and the Empire (31 BC – AD 476). Contrary to the assertion that the Etruscans conquered Rome by 50 BC, it was actually Rome that overthrew its Etruscan kings in the late 6th century BC, transitioning from monarchy to a republic. This republic was led by annually elected consuls, supported by a senate comprising seasoned statesmen. This period saw Rome expand its influence, subduing various peoples to construct a vast empire that spanned the Western and Eastern Mediterranean, as well as North Africa.

Prominent generals like Julius Caesar wielded considerable power over these provinces, which gradually eroded the authority of the consuls, sparking internal conflicts and civil wars. Julius Caesar, born in 100 BC, emerged as a pivotal figure, but contrary to being Rome’s first emperor, he was appointed dictator perpetuo (dictator in perpetuity). His assassination in 44 BC in the Senate marked the end of the Roman Republic. In the ensuing power struggles, Octavian, later known as Augustus, emerged victorious to become the first emperor in 31 BC, inaugurating the Roman Empire, which would become one of history’s most extensive empires, boasting an estimated population of 50 to 90 million.

The empire’s vast territories, stretching from Britain to Egypt, unified a mosaic of peoples, languages, and religions under a common Roman way of life and governance, fostering an era of prosperity in trade, the arts, and culture. The construction of extensive road networks, ports, and the establishment of a standardized currency facilitated economic expansion and the spread of Christianity, notably aiding the missionary journeys of figures like the Apostle Paul.

In Judea, despite the Roman standardization, the temple taxes were collected in Jewish currency due to religious prohibitions against graven images, highlighting the complexities of Roman rule in diverse cultural contexts. Jesus Christ’s act of driving the money changers from the temple underscored a critique of their exploitation under the guise of religious observance, illustrating the tensions within Judea under Roman oversight.

Herod the Great reigned as king of Judea from 37 BC to 4 BC, correcting the initial timeline. His rise to power was marked by significant events, including the Parthian invasion of Palestine in 40 BC. Fleeing to the fortress of Masada, Herod sought assistance from Mark Antony, who, alongside the Roman Senate, officially recognized him as the king of Judea. This endorsement began Herod’s arduous three-year campaign to secure his throne from Antigonus, the last Hasmonean.

Despite Cleopatra’s ambitions to control Judea, the Romans declined her request. Following the demise of both Mark Antony and Cleopatra, Herod demonstrated his loyalty to Octavian (later Emperor Augustus), ensuring his position as a favored ally. In recognition, Augustus expanded Herod’s territory and granted him access to the lucrative copper mines of Cyprus, significantly enriching his kingdom. Herod’s wealth was renowned, and he made notable philanthropic contributions, such as supporting the shipping industry of Rhodes and the Olympic Games.

Herod’s rule further Hellenized Judea, a move that sat uncomfortably with many Jews despite Herod’s own Jewish heritage and his observance of Jewish laws and rituals to maintain his status in Judea.

In 20 BC, Herod embarked on his most ambitious project: the reconstruction and expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, also known as Zerubbabel’s Temple. This grand endeavor was nearly complete by the time of Jesus’ birth and stood until its destruction in AD 70 by Emperor Titus.

Herod’s legacy in the New Testament is most famously associated with the Nativity story (Matthew 2), particularly the visit of the Magi and the subsequent massacre of the innocents, a narrative that has inspired countless artistic works.

Following Herod’s death in 4 BC, his kingdom was divided among three of his sons. Herod Antipas and Archelaus received significant portions, while Philip was given a smaller inheritance. Archelaus’s rule was short-lived; in AD 6, Emperor Augustus deposed him due to his ineffectiveness, placing Judea and Samaria under direct Roman governance through procurators, marking a significant shift in the region’s administration.

The Four different Herods mentioned in the NT

• Matthew 2:22 mentions Herod Archelaus, a son and successor of Herod the Great who was king when Joseph, Mary and Jesus returned from Egypt to Judea.

• The Herod during the crucifixion of Jesus (Luke 23:7-13) was another son, Herod Antipas.

• In Acts 12:1-23 Herod Agrippa I is mentioned. He was a grandson of Herod the Great.

• In Acts 25 and 26 we read of his son, Herod Agrippa II, the great-grandson of Herod the Great.

Potius Pilate

(Matt. 27; Mark 15; Luke 13 & 23; John 18 & 19) is best known for being the official who presided over the trial of Jesus and ultimately ordered his crucifixion. Pilate’s importance in modern Christianity is underscored by his prominent place in both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. Although he is the best-attested governor of Judaea, few sources regarding his rule have survived. Nothing is known about his life before he became governor of Judaea, and nothing is known about the circumstances that led to his appointment to the governorship. Coins that he minted have survived from Pilate’s governorship, as well as a single inscription, the so-called Pilate stone

The Jewish historian Josephus, the philosopher Philo of Alexandria and the Gospel of Luke all mention incidents of tension and violence between the Jewish population and Pilate’s administration. Many of these incidents involve Pilate acting in ways that offended the religious sensibilities of the Jews. The Christian Gospels record that Pilate ordered the crucifixion of Jesus at some point during his time in office; Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus also record this information. 

The political factions

The Jewish Counsel

In the New Testament (NT), the term “Sanhedrin” derives from the Greek word “sunhedrion,” used to describe various types of councils, including administrative, legal, political, and religious bodies. However, the NT and extra-biblical sources provide limited information about the specific nature and functions of the Sanhedrin. The Mishnah, an important Jewish text detailing rabbinic laws and traditions, mentions in its treatise on courts that the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem comprised 71 members, and there were also smaller sanhedrins of 23 members each in other cities, composed of the area’s most influential figures.

In the NT, the Sanhedrin’s members are referred to by several terms, including “chief priests,” “scribes,” and “heads of families” (Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66). These designations are sometimes collectively mentioned as “the chief priests and the whole Jewish council” (Matthew 26:59; Mark 14:55; Acts 22:30), indicating a broader assembly that included various Jewish leaders. For example, Acts 4:5 mentions “rulers, elders, and scribes,” suggesting these groups were part of the council. Additionally, Acts 5:21 references “the high priest and all his associates,” indicating a gathering of the Sanhedrin and Jewish leaders. The presence of both Pharisees and Sadducees within the Sanhedrin is noted (Acts 5:34; 23:6; John 11:47), highlighting its diverse religious representation.

The Sanhedrin held significant authority over Jewish affairs in Jerusalem, yet it also had to navigate the complexities of Roman oversight. This dual responsibility is exemplified in Caiaphas’s proposal to execute Jesus to prevent potential accusations of rebellion against Rome (Luke 23:2, 5; John 18:14; cf. Matthew 26:66; Mark 14:63-64).

The term “chamber of counsel” in Acts 4:15 translates to “Sanhedrin” in the original Greek, underscoring the council’s role in judicial and religious matters. The Pharisees, a prominent Jewish sect during the NT period, were known for their strict adherence to religious laws and traditions, including Sabbath observance and ritual purity (Matthew 12:2; 23:25-28). Their beliefs contrasted with those of the Sadducees, particularly regarding the resurrection and angels (Matthew 22:23; Acts 23:8). The Pharisees also harboured messianic expectations, anticipating a descendant of David to restore Israel’s kingdom (Matthew 22:42).

This overview reflects the Sanhedrin’s complex role within Jewish society and its interactions with Roman authorities, as well as the diverse religious beliefs and practices among Jewish sects during the time of the NT.

Sadducees 

Sadducees are the name of the members of a Jewish party that played an important role in the time of Jesus. The members of the party came mainly from prominent priestly families and from the influential strata of society. They involved themselves much more than the Pharisees in political affairs and, wherever they could, tried to exert their influence on the authorities. They differed from the Pharisees on important points. They do not believe in the existence of spirits and angels, or in the resurrection (cf. Matt. 22:23; Mark 12:18; Luke 20:27; Acts 23:8), because the law of Moses according to their conviction say nothing about this.

Scribes 

Scribes is the name given to influential religious leaders of the Jewish people. On the basis of their careful and dedicated study of Scripture, especially of the law of Moses, and of the handed down religious practices of the ancestors, they were regarded as authoritative interpreters of Scripture who had to determine the precepts for the religious life of the people.

Ezra is the first person in the Bible to be called a scribe (Neh. 8:14). In Ezra 7: 6 he is called “a learned man, knowledgeable in the law of Moses”. In New Testament times, some of the scribes were also members of the Pharisees’ party (Mark 2:16; Acts 23: 9; but cf. Matt. 5:20; 12:38; 23:2; Mark 7:1; Luke 5:21).[3]

The Zealots

The Zealots, mentioned in the New Testament (NT), were a Jewish political movement that emerged in the 1st century AD, dedicated to resisting Roman rule in Judea. Characterized by their fervent nationalism and commitment to Jewish autonomy, the Zealots advocated for the expulsion of the Romans and were prepared to use violence to achieve their aims. They believed in the sanctity of Jewish laws and opposed any form of foreign domination or influence. Simon the Zealot, one of Jesus Christ’s twelve apostles, is often associated with this group (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13), although the NT does not provide details about his activities within the movement. The Zealots played a significant role in the lead-up to the Jewish Revolt against Rome in AD 66-70, a pivotal event that culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in AD 70. Their actions and the resulting rebellion had a profound impact on the course of Jewish history and the development of early Christianity.

Pharisees

The Pharisees were a prominent Jewish religious and political group active during the Second Temple period, including the time of Jesus. Originating in the 2nd century BC, they emerged from a movement that sought to preserve Jewish laws and traditions amidst Hellenistic influence. Politically, the Pharisees advocated for adherence to the Torah and developed an extensive oral tradition to interpret these laws, setting them apart from other sects like the Sadducees, who held more priestly power and were more aligned with the aristocracy and Hellenistic practices. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, the existence of angels, and divine providence, contrasting with the more conservative Sadducean theology. Their influence extended into the synagogues, where they had considerable sway over the Jewish populace. In the New Testament, the Pharisees are often depicted as opposing Jesus, challenging His teachings and authority. This opposition stemmed from various factors, including Jesus’ criticisms of their legalistic and hypocritical practices, as well as His growing popularity among the people, which threatened their religious and social influence. Despite their confrontations with Jesus, the complex relationship between Him and the Pharisees reflects broader tensions within Jewish society regarding identity, tradition, and adaptation in a changing world.

Tax collectors

In the New Testament (NT), tax collectors, known as “publicans” in some translations, were often depicted unfavorably due to their role and conduct within society. Originating from among the local populations under Roman rule, tax collectors were responsible for collecting taxes on behalf of the Roman authorities. They worked not only to gather general taxes but also tolls and customs duties, often collecting more than the required amount to pocket the difference for themselves. This practice led to widespread resentment and disdain among the Jewish population, as tax collectors were seen as traitors working for the oppressive Roman Empire and exploiting their fellow countrymen. Their political affiliation was closely tied to the Roman administration, which granted them authority and protection, further isolating them from the Jewish community. Despite their negative portrayal, the NT also offers narratives of redemption and transformation among tax collectors, most notably in the figure of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) and Matthew, who is called from his tax booth to become one of Jesus’s apostles (Matthew 9:9). These stories underscore themes of forgiveness, social inclusion, and the possibility of moral and spiritual renewal, even for those marginalised or vilified by society.

Economic Background

What did the world look like in the time of Jesus? Who were the people who sat in His audiences?

During the time of Jesus, the world was largely dominated by the Roman Empire, which exerted control through military conquest. This led to Judea being considered a militarized zone, much like certain contemporary countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, North Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia. The Romans introduced several significant changes, including a standardized currency, the establishment of banks, and the imposition of high taxes. They also focused on infrastructure development, constructing roads, ports, grand gates, colonnades, arenas, and market squares. Many remnants of these structures can still be seen across England and Europe today.

The Mediterranean region, with a population estimated to be between 50 and 70 million people, was heavily influenced by Rome, with the city itself serving as the capital. In this context, Galilee and Judea were two provinces ruled by Herod, and together they housed around 600,000 inhabitants. The world was characterized by a social hierarchy dominated by wealthy and powerful families. If one was not born into such a family, social mobility was extremely limited, and working one’s way up the ladder was nearly impossible. The common people had little voice or influence, and decisions were not made through voting or democratic processes.

The small Jewish community had lost its right to self-determination when Julius Caesar took control in 40 B.C. through military authority. However, Julius Caesar was later assassinated by members of the Roman Senate, leading to Augustus becoming the new proconsul. Augustus ruled with a careful balance of military and economic power. During this time, Hellenistic culture, characterized by Greek philosophy, language, art, mathematics, and science, reached its zenith and strongly influenced the cultural and intellectual landscape of the world.

Galilee: The Economic Demographics 

1. Imperial Elite: made up 0.04% of the population and made all the laws, and decisions pertaining to public life.

2. Regional-or-District elite: 1%: Some Military Governors, and retired officers. Like the Roman officer (Luke 7:1-10).

3. Municipal Elite 1.76%: Wealthy chiefs and managers of royal houses, such as Johanna the wife of Gusa, a high official of Herod. These women took care of Jesus and the twelve by their own means (Luke 8:3).

4. Traders and artisanstax collectors, soldiers: about 7% of the population.

5. Regular wage earners, artisans, large shop owners, fishermen: estimated 22% of the population. Jesus and his disciples would be categorised in this grouping. 

6. Smallholding familieslaborers (skilled and unskilled), artisans (especially those employed by others), wage laborers. Below survival poverty mark: 40% of the population.

7. Poor: 28% of society. Unmarried widows, orphans, beggars, the disabled, unskilled day laborers, and prisoners.[4]

According to estimates, the majority of people in Jesus’ time lived near or below the subsistence level, with no middle class. The state showed little concern for the poor, and social mobility was based on associations rather than individual efforts. Herod maintained his power through alliances with the Sanhedrin and religious leaders, as well as military force and support of the Roman Emperor.

Socio-economically, there were two main groups: a small aristocratic class comprising around 2-3 percent of the population, and a large mass of peasants accounting for approximately 80-85 percent. Within the supporter class (about 8 percent), individuals included priests, scribes, merchants, tax collectors, and army officers.

Smallholder farmers faced a significant challenge as they were caught in an unbreakable cycle of labor, taxes, and debt. The hierarchical value system of the culture, particularly in Roman Palestine, led to the exploitation of these farmers, leaving them exhausted and hungry. They had no protected human rights and existed solely for the benefit of others. The prevailing mood among the people was one of powerlessness and fear.

First-century Galilee was primarily an agricultural region with a small fishing industry, and its population was economically dependent on the wealthy elite. The majority resided in the three main cities: Jerusalem, Sepphoris, and Tiberias, with Jerusalem being the largest and serving as the religious and legislative capital. Jesus, however, spent most of His time in smaller towns, deliberately avoiding cities like Tiberias and Sepphoris. Even during His visits to Jerusalem, He stayed in Bethany, a small town outside the city.

The elite lived in remote areas, disconnected from the common people, with their agents handling tax collection. Local congregations, or synagogues, sometimes allowed residents to address minor legal matters themselves.

Tradespeople were identifiable by the symbols they carried. Carpenters would have wood chips behind their ears or needles fastened to their tunics, while tailors might wear colourful rags. Word-of-mouth served as the primary means of artisans marketing themselves.

The poverty in Galilee is reflected in the lack of grain storage facilities or shops found in archaeological excavations. The Galileans consumed what they produced, with little surplus for trade or barter after accounting for rent, taxes, loan exemptions, and interest.

To put the economic conditions in perspective, contemporary countries with a GDP per capita equivalent to that of the Roman Empire in Jesus’ day include Chad, Haiti, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.[5]

Life in Nazareth

According to prominent New Testament scholar Jonathan L. Reed, Galilee during Jesus’ time was located on the “fringe of the Roman Empire geographically and politically.” Recent archaeological evidence suggests that the inhabitants of Galilee were predominantly Jewish, raised in adherence to the Mosaic Law and Jewish traditions. Nazareth, positioned on the edge of the Jewish establishment and Roman trade routes, had fertile land and hills, but it might have been perceived as straying from its Jewish roots, as suggested by Nathanael’s remark, “What good can come out of Nazareth?”

It is estimated that Nazareth was home to about 250-400 people, mostly small farmers who practiced “polycropping” to avoid overdependence on a single crop. Archaeological findings indicate the presence of small dwellings built with local stones, such as basalt or limestone, stacked roughly on top of each other. These homes had packed earth floors and thatched roofs constructed with wooden beams held together by mud. Two or three houses would cluster around a central courtyard, where cooking often took place. The courtyard might also house a common cistern and a millstone for grinding grain.

Life in Nazareth revolved around the local community, as travel was arduous, perilous, and costly. The small one-room houses served multiple purposes, including shelter, sleep, childbirth, and even death, occasionally accommodating livestock as well. The survival-based nature of life fostered strong bonds and a closely knit, communal existence.

Skeletal remains from the time indicate common deficiencies in iron and protein, as well as prevalent cases of severe arthritis. Even minor illnesses like the flu, a bad cold, or an abscessed tooth could be fatal. Life expectancy, for those fortunate enough to survive childhood, averaged in the thirties, with reaching fifty or sixty being rare.

Jesus preferred Rural communities

In close proximity to Nazareth, just four miles away, was the bustling city of Sepphoris[6], undergoing reconstruction under Herod Antipas with a population of thirty thousand. The extensive ruins of Sepphoris reveal an amphitheatre, courts, a fortress, a royal bank, and houses adorned with frescoes and beautiful mosaic floors. Greek was commonly spoken in this cosmopolitan city. The absence of any mention of Sepphoris in the gospel accounts speaks to Jesus’ deliberate choice of living a hidden and obscure life. Though aware of Sepphoris, which was only an hour and a half walk away, Jesus focused His ministry on the smaller towns surrounding Nazareth.

These towns included Capernaum, where Jesus based His Galilean ministry and performed miracles (Matthew 4:13; Mark 2:1), Nazareth, His hometown where He grew up (Luke 4:16), Bethsaida, where He performed miracles and criticised the lack of repentance (Matthew 11:21; Luke 10:13), Cana, the site of His first recorded miracle of turning water into wine (John 2:1-11), Nain, where He raised a widow’s son from the dead (Luke 7:11-17), and Magdala, believed to have been visited by Jesus as the home of Mary Magdalene. Jesus also denounced the lack of repentance in Chorazin and Bethsaida despite witnessing His miracles (Matthew 11:20-21; Luke 10:13-14).

Distances travelled by foot, donkey, or ox-cart.

Nazareth to Bethlehem: Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. His parents, Mary and Joseph, traveled there from Nazareth due to a census ordered by the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. The distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem is approximately 113 kilometers.

Bethlehem to Egypt and Back: After Jesus’ birth, to escape King Herod’s decree to kill all young male children in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary fled with Jesus to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-14). The exact location in Egypt where they stayed is not known, but the journey from Bethlehem to the nearest parts of Egypt is approximately 692 kilometers. They returned to Nazareth after Herod’s death.

Nazareth to the Jordan River: Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. While the exact location of Jesus’ baptism is debated, it is generally believed to have taken place near the northern part of the Dead Sea. Nazareth to this region of the Jordan River is approximately 97 kilometers.

Throughout Galilee: Jesus’ ministry was heavily concentrated in Galilee, where He traveled among the towns and villages preaching, such as Capernaum, Cana, and Nazareth. The region of Galilee itself is not very large, with distances between locations generally ranging between approximately 48-64 kilometers.

Galilee to Jerusalem: Jesus traveled to Jerusalem several times as recorded in the Gospels, most notably for His final week leading up to His crucifixion. The distance from Capernaum, a central location in His ministry, to Jerusalem is approximately 129-145 kilometers.

Circuitous Routes through Samaria: On at least one occasion, Jesus traveled through Samaria, such as the journey recorded in John 4 when He spoke with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well near Sychar (modern Nablus). The direct route from Galilee to Judea through Samaria is shorter but still covers a significant distance of approximately 64-80 kilometers.

To the Region of Tyre and Sidon: Jesus also traveled outside the traditional boundaries of Israel, including a trip to the region of Tyre and Sidon (modern Lebanon), as mentioned in Matthew 15:21 and Mark 7:24. This journey from Galilee to Tyre is approximately 56-80 kilometers, depending on the specific route taken.

Diet

The local diet in Nazareth consisted mainly of grains, vegetables, fruits, olives, and olive oil. Milk or meat would be included occasionally if families had access to animals. Salted fish was a rare delicacy. Meals often featured lentil stew and seasonal vegetables, served with pita bread. Fruits, cheese, and yogurt were also enjoyed.

In terms of waste management, garbage and waste would have been disposed of similarly to contemporary informal settlements, with piles located nearby or in alleyways between houses. By modern standards, the environment would have been perceived as filthy, foul-smelling, and unhealthy.

Jesus choice of Vocation 

Jesus, being the Son of God, could have chosen to be a Priest, Scribe, Pharisee or Lawyer, yet He chose the ordinary work of an artisan. The Greek word “teknon” can be translated: Carpenter, tradesman, artisan, builder, or stone mason. The remark “Is this not the ‘teknon’ son?” reveals a commonly known respect for a skilled tradesman. You would not make such a remark regarding a general worker or free-hand. (Mar 6:3; Mat 13:55-56; Luk 4:22; John 6:42)  Traditionally, it was accepted that Jesus was a carpenter, but it is more likely that He was an artisan mason.  

In his book “A Marginal Jew,” scholar John P. Meier explores various aspects of the historical Jesus. Regarding Jesus’ occupation as a “tekton”, Meier suggests that the term can be translated as a “craftsman” or “artisan,” with a primary focus on woodworking. Meier argues that Jesus possibly worked as a carpenter but more likely a builder, as this aligns with the common understanding of a tekton during that time and in the cultural context of Nazareth.

This explains Jesus’ knowledge of houses build on a rock, vs sand. (Mat 7:24) The importance of the capstone, (Matthew 21:42-44) and the rebuilding of the temple in three days. Mark 13:1-2.  

Conclusion

This chapter is important because it gives us the right context to locate Jesus’ teachings in a place, time, and situation.  The fact that He chose an ordinary life makes His lifestyle attainable and possible.  Moreover, it shows us that living His life in poverty is possible without any privilege or special status.  


[1] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1120-alexander-the-great 

[2] The 400 Years between the Old and New Testaments – Ray C. Stedman 

[3] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.html

[4] Häkkinen, S. (2016). Poverty in the first-century Galilee. HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies, 72(4).

[5] Based on data published in Groningen Growth and Development Centre, ‘The Maddison-Project,’ Accessed August 30, 2017, http://www.ggdc.net/maddison/maddison-project/home.htm, 2013 version.

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sepphoris

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