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Popular Galilean support for Jesus in Judea

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  • Daniel Grolin
    Dear X-Talkers, I have recently been reading through Richard Horsley s book Archaeology, History and Society in Galilee . I found it very inspiring and
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 18, 2002
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      Dear X-Talkers,

      I have recently been reading through Richard Horsley's book "Archaeology,
      History and Society in Galilee". I found it very inspiring and

      I think that his conclusions can be summarised as follows: Galilee
      belonged to the Northern Kingdoms and by and large maintained the ideals
      of pre-Davidian Israeli religion. They maintained a covenant with Yahweh
      and had a common (popular) tradition regarding primarily Moses and the
      Northern prophets Elijah and Elisha.

      Now I would maintain that when we attempt to understand Jesus' activity we
      should primarily understand him in this context. Jesus, IMHO, consciously
      emulated these popularly known figures, as had popular prophets before and
      after Him.

      Now if Galilee had retained its essential dislike of monarchy, in favour
      of what Benhard Anderson has called "Tribal Confederacy" ("The Living
      World of the Old Testament"), how can we deal with monarchic themes in the
      Gospels? Generally I am quite dismissive. Most of these traditions seem to
      belong to a scribal environment that was foreign to Jesus. However, there
      are two strands of traditions that seem to warrant closer inspection.

      The first is what Gerd Theissen in his "Theory of Primitive Christian
      Religion" identifies as an adoption by lower-class Christians of royal
      ethics. Such an adoption can, I think, be understood as anti-monarchic
      move to breach monopoly of royal ethics. Jesus could be subversive by
      calling on all to become (like) kings.

      The second strand has perhaps more to do with the reception of these
      teachings than with what Jesus thought. For example, the Markan tradition
      about the question of whether the Messiah had to be the son of David, is a
      scribal discourse in which the common assumption is that he indeed has to
      be the son of David. (see Horsley and Hanson, "Bandits, Prophets and
      Messiahs") One of the scribes (i. e. the Christian) in this discourse,
      however, is making a scribal argument in favour of a popular Messiah, who
      does not need to be a son of David (which Jesus probably wasn't). Behind
      all the scribal back and forth there is a tradition that Jesus was a
      popular Messiah.

      It seems to me that even if Jesus had made all kings, in the eyes of His
      followers, Jesus was the King of Kings. How could this work with Galilean
      followers? I think that despite the ideal of a "Tribal Confederacy",
      pragmatically monarchy was a stronger form of government. So when Judah
      son of Hezekiah made an attempt to wrest the monarchy from the Herodians
      it had none of the religious overtones that we see, for example, with the
      Judean Messiah Simeon bar-Giora. My feeling is that since monarchy was a
      fact, most Galileans would have been happy to settle for a monarch that
      had their interests at heart and would keep them independent.

      Another tradition that seems to suggest this is the entry scene to
      Jerusalem. The whole setting that springs from Zechariah is of course a
      later scribal work. Contra Sanders I would say that it is highly unlikely
      that Jesus would have consciously acted out such an obscure prophetic
      text. Even assuming He had it was unlikely to have been understood as such
      by the illiterate crowds of supporters.

      I note, however, that the crowds are described as having spread out their
      garment. This act recalls the anointing to king of Jehu by one of Elisha's
      prophets. I think it is reasonable that such a tradition, belonging as it
      does to the Northern Kingdoms, could have been known by the common
      Galilean folk. Thus this act could be a show of support by Galileans that
      Jesus should follow Jehu, who revolted and put an end to the House of
      Ahab. Whether the crowds wanted a military intervention, which was the
      norm for a Messiah, or they combined the Messiah figure with a prophetic
      model in which divine intervention would intervene is difficult to say.

      Comments and thoughts are welcome.


      Daniel Grolin
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