A scholarly revolution began in the late 1970s that broke open and expanded the interpretation of Jesus of Nazareth’s ministry and mission, and the life of early Christianity. Women scholars took leadership in these new explorations, and others like Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, Donald Kraybill, and most recently Reza Aslan (Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth) made major contributions. This reviewer’s favorite is Richard Horsley who, like Aslan, looks at the First Century Palestine through the eyes of an historian, and not a theologian. His best book in many ways is Galilee: History, Politics, People. Best because Horsley gets to the roots of the Galilean peasant society from which Jesus emerged using historical, anthropological, sociological, and archeological tools to give the reader a fine portrait of what it was like living in First Century Galilee. And it is not a pretty picture.
Galilee and Galileans are usually hidden from history. It was culturally far away from Jerusalem with no local native priestly aristocracy. However, Galilee lived under the thumb of the Jerusalem priestly caste, Jewish client kings, and for most of the First Century under oppressive Roman rule. Thus ”Galileans had a keen sense of independence being repeatedly subjected to outside rulers … resistance to oppressive rulers was the norm” (p. 276). Horsley is excellent in describing Galilean rural peasant family life. “The family/household was the basic social economic form, and breakdown of family was a major factor in social distress and conflict.” “Living was barely subsistence for most households, marginal economically, and susceptible to any disruption in the annual agricultural cycle.” That with oppressive taxes from the aristocratic priesthood, client kings, and Roman rule led to a culture of banditry, revolt, rebellion, and strikes. So looking at Jesus parables, for example, many of the parables point directly to economic oppression. Horsley is also more than helpful in understanding the event at Calvary. If we want to get a grip fully on why Jesus was murdered on the cross, then we need to revisit where he came from and what he brought to Jerusalem from the culture and life of Galilee. Horsley is at the top of his game in helping us to do this. Ministry and mission at St. Philip’s needs Richard Horsley as our “Jesus culture whisperer.” This is a great book telling the true story of life in First Century Galilee.
—The Rev. Paul Buckwalter
The Rev. Paul Buckwalter writes reviews of books you can find in the Renouf/Nelson Library.