Popular Galilean support for Jesus in Judea
- 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
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
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.