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[XTalk] Re: The Miracle Maker

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  • Mahlon H. Smith
    ... Since NYC was of course not the best parallel, I only meant to question your emphatic use of it (twice in the same paragraph) to contest the stability --
    Message 1 of 8 , Apr 2, 2000
      I wrote:

      > >Not to quibble about being honest, Bob, but isn't your comparison just a
      > bit too much of an anachronism for an anthropologist? As a historian I
      > would hardly compare pre-1st c. Galilee with NYC as far as population
      > stability is concerned unless I was trying to stress differences.

      To which Bob Schacht replied:

      > Well, of course, NYC is not the best parallel. But if you'll go back and
      > read what I wrote, I was writing not about Galilee, but about Palestine.

      Since NYC was "of course" not the best parallel, I only meant to
      question your emphatic use of it (twice in the same paragraph) to
      contest the stability -- and therefore identifiable physiognomic
      features -- of the population of 1st c. Palestine. I realized that you
      were writing with broad strokes from the vantage point of a sweeping
      historical panorama over thousands of years.

      My point in focusing on Galilee should be evident from the title of this
      thread, which began with Mark Goodacre's quite innocent observation that
      the Jesus in this movie "looked Jewish," which Jim Crutchfield wrote to
      support. I take it that the point of this discussion on XTalk has
      something to do with an accurate conception of HJ rather than the
      history of Palestine or the Near East in general. So the purpose of my
      post was (a) to refocus that discussion on the probable region from
      which HJ came and (b) to point out that as far as we have evidence
      *that* particular region was *not* quite the "crossroads" that you were

      No matter how many armies in history marched through Palestine in
      general, where is there evidence of a people other than the Israelites
      *settling* in the hilly region that was identified by ancient Semites as
      *haGalil*? The only candidate I can think of is the Semitic Itureans,
      from whom Josephus claims Aristobulus I wrested control of Galilee in
      104 BCE (Ant 13.318), but (note!) does not claim were actual residents
      of that region. Cf. my *Into His Own* URL:


      I thought you were meaning to assert that the population from which HJ
      probably came was exposed to such a mixture of ethnic groups resident in
      the same area that it was impossible to narrow down what genes &
      physical features he probably had. If you weren't, I apologize for
      misinterpreting you. But if that *was* your point, then pardon me for
      suggesting that you were probably wrong & asking you to supply evidence
      to support your denial of a relatively stable gene pool for native

      You continued:

      > And as for invading armies, is not Megiddo (from which we derive
      > Armeggidon) located on the threshhold between Galilee and Samaria? Is not
      > the Plain of Esdraelon the historical battle ground of numerous campaigns
      > by Egyptian vs. Assyrian or Bablylonian armies?

      The obvious answer to both questions is "of course." But note four
      points: (a) the last of the invasions you referred to occurred almost 6
      centuries before HJ; (b) there is no historical record of these armies
      settling among the population in the area north of Megiddo (which is
      Galilee proper); (c) aside from the Egyptians who last *controlled* that
      area ca. 1200 BCE, the armies you mention were also composed of Semites;
      (d) no matter how many Israelite women these armies raped during their
      conquest, there are no historical grounds for suggesting that their
      off-spring settled the region from which HJ himself came.

      You wrote:

      > On one
      > of my holidays, I got out the topomaps and tried to retrace on foot the
      > path one of the Egyptian armies probably took thousands of years ago.

      Precisely my point about the temporal gap between non-Semitic invaders
      of this region & HJ. Did your "probable" path take you to Nazareth?

      I wrote:

      > > But most of the traffic on that route [the Via Maris] throughout history was
      > >probably regional trade between various Semitic peoples (Hebrews,
      > >Syrians, Phoenicians, Itureans, etc.).

      To which you replied:

      > Um, well, maybe so at *some* (to borrow some of your asterisks) times in
      > history, but your sweeping statement that this applies "throughtout"
      > history can hardly be sustained.

      You're right, I over-generalized. To be accurate I should have qualified
      that to read "throughout the period of *ancient* history relevant to
      population studies of Jesus' native region *prior* to his birth." Or do
      you have evidence of an Egyptian tradepost or Greek or Roman settlement
      in the Galilean segment of the Via Maris in the millennium prior to HJ's

      You continued:

      > Besides, some historians consider the
      > overland traffic from Egypt to Damascus historically significant since
      > the time of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt?

      What has that do with the ethnic homogeneity of Galilee in the 1st c.
      BCE? I grew up in rural Bergen County NJ in the shadow of NYC where the
      interstate traffic was so dense that old time local residents literally
      had to head to the hills to escape the noise & pollution. But settlement
      of out-of-staters in my native region was rare before the 1950s. In
      fact, one of the major highways that bisected my home borough of Paramus
      (Route 17) became a major artery for cosmopolitan development only in my
      college years. Further up toward the NY state border Route 17 cut thru
      Mahwah which remained less developed than areas of the Catskills until
      the 1980s. Less than two decades ago Mahwah was still home to a
      physically distinct ethnic group known locally as "Jackson whites."
      These were descendents of the old Dutch population in the area & freed
      Negro slaves who settled in the hills of NJ during the 1850s. Jackson
      whites were readily identifiable by inbred
      physical traits: a light brown complexion, reddish brown hair, blue
      eyes, &
      freckles. I went thru high school with several of them, who lived right
      off Route 17. Thus, the mere fact that an interstate highway passed
      through a given region is *not* admissable evidence against the survival
      of a genetically stable rural ethnic population, even in modern times.

      You wrote:

      > And doesn't Crossan argue that
      > the lesson of Sepphoris and Tiberias argue for outside interest in
      > exporing the resources of Galilee?

      As I wrote, Sepphoris & Tiberias are evidence only of what happened
      *after* the birth of HJ. They prove nothing about his probable genetic

      > Just as my field experience at Tell
      > Ta'anach influenced me, so yours in the rugged hills of northern Galilee
      > has influenced you into thinking of Galilee as a kind of boondocks place.

      I beg your pardon. But my personal experience of Galilee also includes
      region around the Lake Gennesaret & the southern tier from Tabor to
      Sepphoris. So I am well aware of the differences between upper & lower
      Galilee. I also know that in the 1st c. CE Tell Ta'anach was not located
      in the province of Galilee. So what might have been true there cannot be
      generalized with regard to the region from which HJ came. Moreover,
      social historians of Galilee like Horsley & those scholars dependent on
      them like Crossan & myself, stress that the urbanization & thus the
      cosmopolitanization of Galilee proper was begun by Herod Antipas as I
      wrote below:

      > >Most importantly for the question of mixing populations,
      however, is the
      > >fact that before the time of the Herods there was no major
      city in
      > >Galilee proper which could act as a magnet for attracting
      diverse ethnic
      > >groups.

      To which you replied:

      > Acco? (well, of course, you'll say that's not Galilee
      proper). Let's keep
      > scale in mind here. Even in ancient times, it didn't take
      that long to
      > travel from Damascus to Acco.

      The question is not travel but residency of local populations, unless
      thinks that every travelling salesman in antiquity sowed his seed along
      the path. Where in the gospels do you find any evidence that either the
      family or followers of HJ gravitated towards the Hellenized *Phoenician*
      city of Akko (Ptolemais)? At any rate, Damascus & Akko were centers of
      Semitic populations who were genetically related to the Israelites &
      therefore shared similar Semitic physical traits.

      I wrote:

      > >Where is there any evidence of Romans or other
      non-Israelites in
      > >Galilee's rural hillside villages like Nazareth?

      To which you replied:

      > So? Why make so much of Nazareth, when it was only 4 miles from
      > Sepphoris? Is that distance genetically significant?

      Absolutely! Both genetically & culturally. My hometown of Paramus lies
      only 4 miles from the George Washington bridge. But until my teenage
      years practically all the native population of the area was of
      Dutch/English/Scottish/German extraction -- quintessential WASPS. The
      influx of Irish, Italians, Poles, etc. began only after WW2 & really
      became noticeable only in my teenage years. Where do you find historical
      evidence of such urban cultural sprawl in Galilee even during the reign
      of that deliberate Romanizer, Herod Antipas? And where do you find *any*
      reason to think that such cosmopolitan development affected HJ's own
      family roots?

      I wrote:

      > >Add to this the fact that early Xn tradition regularly
      represented Jesus
      > >as a "Jew" with Judean roots.

      To which you replied:

      > I thought you were arguing for *Galilean* isolation of Jesus. Now you're
      > saying that he's regularly represented as a Jew with Judean roots. Well,
      > so much for Galilean isolation, I guess.

      If you'll read my post, I did not claim "isolation of Jesus" but merely
      that Galilee was "topically designed to support a stable ethnically
      homogeneous indigenous population." We have historical evidence of the
      Judean conquest & Judaization of at least some of Galilee a century
      before HJ. Where are there records of similar campaigns by Greeks,
      Romans or anyone else in this area?

      > >I conclude there are no good historical grounds for concluding that
      > >Jesus was anything but a full-blooded Semite & probably an ethnic Hebrew
      > >of Judean extraction.
      > >
      To which you replied:

      > I quite agree with your conclusion. However, what Crutchfield was arguing
      > went beyond this to make the claim that Jews (including Jesus) had a
      > known physiognomic type that was readily distinguishable from other
      > peoples, which is simply a racist absurdity.

      Unless you were referring to some other post than I got in my in-box,
      all Jim Crutchfield wrote was that "Jesus must certainly have shared the
      *general physical features* common to most of the peoples of the Eastern
      Mediterranean." I don't know how you can get out of that that he meant
      that Jews could be "readily distinguished from other peoples." The
      features he listed are *general* Semitic traits.

      As far as this being "racist absurdity": are you inferring that races
      and ethnic groups cannot be distinguished by readily distinguishable
      physical traits? Then how is it that ethnologists can track the path of
      Norman conquests by noting the occurrence of red hair & blue eyes in
      populations from Scotland & Ireland to Sicily? Or how could my wife,
      whose family was of Germanic extraction but lived in Hungary for more
      than 500 years, be told by a Hungarian she had just met: "Your ancestors
      obviously weren't Magyar"? Recognition of distinguishing physical traits
      does not make one a racist. But to pretend that there are no typical
      physical features of different ethnic groups is unscientific nonsense.

      You wrote:

      > The reason for this requires an
      > understanding of what it takes for a genetically isolated population
      > (assuming one existed in this case) to develop distinctive and
      > recognizable phenotypic characteristics (e.g., facial features, hair
      > color, eye color) different from those of surrounding populations.
      > Jack Kilmon raised the issue that social and religiously-motivated sexual
      > isolation could accomplish the same thing as geographical isolation. This
      > is true, but I doubt that the necessary degree of isolation can be
      > demonstrated...

      I would agree that some degree of geographical/cultural isolation was
      necessary in primitive populations for differences in physical features
      to develop & become inbred in particular groups. But once those
      differences have developed all one needs is the human animal's tendency
      towards tribalism to keep those features inbred. Throughout history all
      over the world tribes have coexisted in relative geographic proximity
      without significant inter-breeding (e.g., the Serbs & Albanians of
      Kosovo, the Watusi & pygmies of Africa, various castes in India,
      Mongolians & Koreans -- all of whom have physical features that make
      them readily distinguishable from each other). Tribal solidarity is what
      Israelite history was all about. Without it Jews would have disappeared
      as a distinct people a long time ago. One of the things that made HJ &
      the movement he spawned seem so socially radical to other contemporary
      Jews is that he & they challenged the whole ancient practice of basing
      social relations on tribalism.

      You wrote:
      > There is absolutely no way, given my training in population biology, that
      > I can see that a distinctive "jewish" physical type could have been
      > maintained.

      But Bob, that's not what Mark G., Jim Crutchfield or I have have been
      trying to say. When a WASP says that "Jesus looked Jewish" he simply
      means that HJ probably had physical features that Jews in general share
      with other Semitic peoples in general rather than features common among
      those of European extraction. If anyone had said that you could tell
      Jesus was a Jew (rather than Lebanese or Syrian or Samaritan) just by
      looking at him, I would have been the first to protest.

      This whole mountain of correspondence has been generated by a simple
      celebration on the part of two very WASPy scholars that *finally* there
      is an artistic work in which we have a Jesus who doesn't look like an
      Anglo-Saxon or some other European ethnic type -- a Jesus who looks more
      like his own people than us. Isn't that something to celebrate rather
      than protest?

      It may be a minor thing, but it could help make western Xns more aware
      of what that self-styled "Hebrew of Hebrews" Paul tried to get the
      gentile Xns at Rome to accept about his non-Xn "brothers by common

      "To *them* belong the fathers, and from *them* is the Messiah according
      to the *flesh*. God who is over all be blessed forever. Amen!" (Rom

      Should Paul be accused of "racist absurdity" for insisting that Jesus'
      flesh was genetically akin to that of the Hebrew patriarchs & non-Xn 1st
      c. Jews? If not, then what's wrong with saying that he probably looked
      Semitic rather than European? More Jewish than Greek? That his skin was
      probably swarthy rather than pasty white, that his hair was probably
      black rather than having golden highlights (like so many "portraits" of
      Jesus), that his eyes were probably brown rather than blue, that his
      nose was probably more hooked than straight, that his face was probably
      more elongated than square-jawed, etc.? I don't care what Semitic
      physical traits one imagines; isn't it high time that we western Xns
      *stop* representing Jesus as looking like *us* rather than his fellow





      Mahlon H. Smith, http://religion.rutgers.edu/mh_smith.html
      Associate Professor
      Department of Religion Virtual Religion Index
      Rutgers University http://religion.rutgers.edu/vri/
      New Brunswick NJ

      Into His Own: Perspective on the World of Jesus

      A Synoptic Gospels Primer

      Jesus Seminar Forum
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