Galilee in the First Century (1)

by Shmuel Safrai

Below you find part 1 of a long article, titled:

The Jewish Cultural Nature of Galilee in the First Century

It is translated from Hebrew by Edward Levine.
Also available in scanned pages and in a pdf-file.

Because of its length it is divided in three parts.
Here we give the Introduction
and the Table of Contents,
with links to the other parts.


There is a great deal of literature describing the Jewish cultural nature of Galilee in the first century C.E. Several scholarly fields are involved.

The issue is discussed by scholars of Jewish history and of the history of the Oral Torah for subsequently, during the second to fourth centuries and even later, Galilee was the living center of the Jewish people and its leadership, and the place in which the Oral Torah was collected and in large degree created. It also is extensively dealt with by scholars of the beginnings of Christianity, since Jesus grew up in Nazareth in Lower Galilee, and his activity was centered mainly within the bounds of Galilee. Conversely, Jewish scholars of the history of the Halakhah or of talmudic literature in general, when discussing the cultural image of Galilee, refer in some degree to the history of Christianity or to the background of the beginnings of Christianity.

Furthermore, the issue has been discussed in the general literature of Jewish history and of the history of the Land of Israel. Similarly, many scholars, especially Christians, deal with it extensively both in general works on the life of Jesus and in studies devoted to Galilee and its Jewish cultural image.1Recently published books that bear directly upon the subject of this article include: F. Malinowski, Galilean Judaism in the Writings of Flavius Josephus (Ann Arbor, 1973); G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew (London, 1977); E.M. Meyeres and J.F. Strange, Archaeology, the Rabbis and Early Christianity (Nashville, 1981); S. Fregne, Galilee from Alexander the Great to Hadrian (Notre Dame, Indiana, 1987); R. Riesner, Jesus als Lehrer (Tubingen, 1987); M. Goodman, State and Society in Roman Galilee A.D. 132-212 (Totowa, New Jersey, 1983); W. Bosen, Galilaa als Lebensraum und Wirkungsfeld Jesu (Basel and Vienna, 1985).

According to the opinion that was prevalent from the middle of the nineteenth century on, Galilee, which was annexed by the Hasmoneans to the Jewish state only during a later stage of their rule, was far removed from Jewish cultural life, as well as from the Torah and the observance of Jewish law. Although Jewish settlement, which was sparse in Galilee before the period of Hasmonean rule, subsequently expanded, scholars insist that the expansion did not contribute to a growth and deepening of Jewish life. According to this school of thought, the world of the Pharisees (meaning the world of the sages and their teachings) was limited to Judea. Galilee stayed far removed from the world of Torah and observance of the commandments, both before the destruction of the Temple and during the Yavneh period, until the Sanhedrin and its sages moved to Galilee after the Bar Kokhba war.

This opinion, which has been formulated in various ways with differing emphases, leads to the drawing of major basic conclusions in many areas of Jewish history: the political sphere, the spiritual-cultural sphere and the theoretical sphere of the history of the Halakhah. On this basis, some scholars view the Christianity of Galilee as a manifestation of ignorance of Judaism, and Jesus and his disciples as the representatives of the ignorant in their war with the sages of the Torah and the Pharisees, who were meticulous in their observance of the commandments. Only in a Galilee having that character, they suppose, could incipient Christianity have found its expression.

It is on such hypotheses that these scholars base their interpretations of major episodes in the history of the Halakhah, such as the struggles of the sages in the post-Bar Kokhba period to inculcate the laws of ritual cleanness and uncleanness and their practical applications among the Jews of Galilee. They likewise seek to understand the zealot movements in Galilee, seeing them as manifestations of a nationalist rural ideology based on ignorance and directed against the urban sages of the Torah.

In the last generation, especially under the influence of studies by Gedalyahu Alon,2G. Alon, Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Eretz Yisrael bi-Tekufat ha-Mishnah we-ha-Talmud (“The History of the Jews in the Land of Israel During the Period of the Mishnah and the Talmud”; Tel Aviv, 1953), vol. 1, pp. 318-323. Regarding the Torah sages in Galilee before the revolt, see also A. Büchler, Am ha-Aretz ha-Galili (“The Galilean am ha-aretz”, Jerusalem, 1964), pp. 193-240 (the pagination is according to the Hebrew translation; I did not have access to the German original during the writing of this article). See also A. Oppenheimer, The Am ha-Aretz (Leiden, 1977) pp. 2-7, 200-217; and “Ha-Yishuv ha-Yehudi ba-Galil bi-Tekufat Yavneh u-Mered Bar Kokhba” (“The Jewish Community in Galilee During the Period of Yavneh and the Bar Kokhba Revolt”), Katedra 4 (1977), 53-66; Z. Safrai, Pirqei Galil (“Chapters on Galilee”; Ma’alot, 1972), pp. 19-26. those hypotheses about Galilee have been extensively undermined and refuted. Nevertheless, several of his arguments have not been understood in their entirety. Alon dealt mainly with an investigation of life in Galilee during the period between the destruction of the Second Temple and the Bar Kokhba revolt. Many of the scholars dealing with this issue did not read his studies or those studies which followed him, especially since most of them were written in Hebrew. We keep hearing that the achievements of the Pharisees in Galilee were meagre, and that in general there were no Galileans among the Pharisees and the sages. Scholars even claim that only one sage — Rabbi Jose ha-Galili — came from Galilee; those living in Galilee were Jews, but not rabbinic; Galilee was a focal point of Hellenistic cities and centers of Hellenistic culture, and the Jewish content of Galilee was extremely sparse.

In this essay we shall briefly review the arguments of Alon and others, adding proofs and arguments, mainly from the period preceding the destruction of the Temple. We must also re-examine the alleged positive proofs of the dearth of Torah and observance of the commandments in Galilee during the Second Temple and Yavneh periods.

Some of the proofs from the tannaitic tradition refer to the Yavneh period. It may be assumed, however, that on the whole they reflect the general reality of the cultural life in Galilee during the period prior to the destruction as well. This is the picture we also receive from Josephus and the New Testament. There are many proofs, however, from both halakhic and aggadic literature about Jewish life in Galilee during the Second Temple period itself. They will show that, contrary to the views outlined above, Galilee was a place where Jewish cultural life and a firm attachment to Judaism flourished well before the destruction of the Second Temple. Apart from Jerusalem, it even excelled the other parts of the Land of Israel in these respects.

Below the headings in this article,
with the original page numbers in
Immanuel 24/25,
The New Testament and Christian-Jewish Dialogue.
Studies in Honor of David Flusser
.

Click on a title to go to the section.

 

Table of contents

  1. Sages in Galilee (149)
  2. Torah Study in Galilee (165)
  3. Galilean Attachment to Judaism (170)
  4. Galilean Pietism and Jesus of Nazareth (180)

Notes   [ + ]

1. Recently published books that bear directly upon the subject of this article include: F. Malinowski, Galilean Judaism in the Writings of Flavius Josephus (Ann Arbor, 1973); G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew (London, 1977); E.M. Meyeres and J.F. Strange, Archaeology, the Rabbis and Early Christianity (Nashville, 1981); S. Fregne, Galilee from Alexander the Great to Hadrian (Notre Dame, Indiana, 1987); R. Riesner, Jesus als Lehrer (Tubingen, 1987); M. Goodman, State and Society in Roman Galilee A.D. 132-212 (Totowa, New Jersey, 1983); W. Bosen, Galilaa als Lebensraum und Wirkungsfeld Jesu (Basel and Vienna, 1985).
2. G. Alon, Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Eretz Yisrael bi-Tekufat ha-Mishnah we-ha-Talmud (“The History of the Jews in the Land of Israel During the Period of the Mishnah and the Talmud”; Tel Aviv, 1953), vol. 1, pp. 318-323. Regarding the Torah sages in Galilee before the revolt, see also A. Büchler, Am ha-Aretz ha-Galili (“The Galilean am ha-aretz”, Jerusalem, 1964), pp. 193-240 (the pagination is according to the Hebrew translation; I did not have access to the German original during the writing of this article). See also A. Oppenheimer, The Am ha-Aretz (Leiden, 1977) pp. 2-7, 200-217; and “Ha-Yishuv ha-Yehudi ba-Galil bi-Tekufat Yavneh u-Mered Bar Kokhba” (“The Jewish Community in Galilee During the Period of Yavneh and the Bar Kokhba Revolt”), Katedra 4 (1977), 53-66; Z. Safrai, Pirqei Galil (“Chapters on Galilee”; Ma’alot, 1972), pp. 19-26.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *