The Jewish Cultural Nature of Galilee in the First Century

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The prevailing opinion among New Testament scholars is that first-century Galilee was culturally and spiritually deprived, and that, therefore, Jesus came from an underdeveloped and backward Jewish region of the land of Israel. Professor Safrai here presents massive evidence against this view.

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.[1]

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  • [1] This article was translated from Hebrew by Edward Levine. 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. Freyne, Galilee from Alexander the Great to Hadrian (Notre Dame, Indiana, 1987); R. Riesner, Jesus als Lehrer (Tübingen, 1987); M. Goodman, State and Society in Roman Galilee A.D. 132-212 (Totowa, New Jersey, 1983); W. Bosen, Galiläa als Lebensraum und Wirkungsfeld Jesu (Basel and Vienna, 1985).

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  • Shmuel Safrai [1919-2003]

    Shmuel Safrai [1919-2003]

    Professor and Rabbi Shmuel Safrai died on July 16, 2003. He was buried the following day in a section of Jerusalem's Har ha-Menuhot Cemetery reserved for faculty of the Hebrew University. His grave is only a few feet from the grave of his close friend…
    [Read more about author]

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