August 17, 2009

How Jewish was Galilee?

The Galileans began converting to Judaism under the Hasmoneans before or by 103 BC - possibly at the point of a sword, definitely at the point of a knife. One hundred years later, Herod the Great died and Joseph & Mary brought Jesus from Egypt to Nazareth. How Jewish were the Galileans, one century after conversion? I'm not going to try answering that one today, but I just thought of an interesting comparison.

Black slaves in America were freed by Abraham Lincoln in his Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. One hundred years later, Martin Luther King stood at the Lincoln Memorial and said "I have a dream..." How much had changed in that century? In some ways, very much. In other ways, not so much.

Forty-six years after MLK, the USA has a black president. Thirty-three years after Herod died, Capernaum was proud of a new Synagogue building, that was probably less than twenty years old, that was largely financed by a gentile. Things change more quickly in the 21st century, but things have always changed more quickly in some places than others.

It's still an interesting comparison. How free were African-Americans in 1963? Totally free. How Jewish were Jewish-Galileans in 0033? Totally Jewish. And yet not the same kind of free, not the same kind of Jewish, as others.

Change has as much to do with location, economics and political connectedness as it does with time and it sure seems like the Judean Jews had a somewhat aggressive program of integration for their Galilean recruits over the course of that century. That's a huge, shameful difference that adds greater contrast to this comparison. People assimilate much faster when they're actually wanted and when their connectedness is actively nurtured. But then again, the Galileans never had to integrate geographically with the Judeans.

Just some things to think about...

1 comment:

Peter Kirk said...

You seem to imply that Galilee had not been Jewish before. But it certainly had been Israelite. Yes, of course under David and Solomon and then the northern kingdom. But even after the Assyrian exile there were faithful Israelites in this area, 2 Chronicles 30:11. It is unlikely that all of these rural Israelites would have been exiled to Babylon. So I would imagine that by Hasmonean times many but not all of the Galileans would have considered themselves Israelite, and would probably have continued some kind of low profile Israelite worship under the Babylonians, the Persians and the Greeks. So the forced conversion by the Hasmoneans would have been not so much from paganism to Judaism as from an archaic variant form to the official Jerusalem cult.

So maybe a better US analogy would be with assimilation today of new immigrants from western Europe, of the same majority stock but with several centuries of separate development. It would certainly be hard work, and might even take the point of a sword, to convert our European churches to the typical American model!

Recent Posts