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Did Galilean Anti-Imperialism really exist?

Prior to 44 AD, "Roman Galilee" wasn't Roman. How, then, could it be anit-Roman?

Although Judea became Roman in AD 6, Galilee remained "independent" for all of Jesus' natural born life. Of course, today we know very well that Herod Antipas ultimately answered to Caesar in Rome, but at that time a large part of the imperial "client king" understanding was that Herod and all of his subjects got to maintain the illusion of true independence.

Thus, for Jesus and all his contemporaries, Judea was Roman, but Galilee was decisively not. Here are several concrete examples to help paint the picture in a bit more detail:

The tax collectors in Galilee were Herodian. (The Gospels call Levi a 'publican' for semantic convenience. That Italian word had become Greek-ese for "tax collector".) In political-financial terms, what we know is that the residents of cities like Sepphoris paid taxes to Antipas, whose own financiers dutifully sent along the imperial tribute. Likewise, the merchants of harbor towns like Tiberias paid customs fees to Herodian agents, one of whom was Antipas' own nephew Agrippa (who served there briefly, somewhere between 30 and 32 AD, before leaving Galilee, and later returning as King in 41).

In Jesus' era, Herod Antipas was free to collect all the revenue he could justifiably commandeer. Rome would look into his overall wealth and increase expectations when appropriate.

Any soldiers in Galilee were Herodian. The centurion in Capernaum was retired (and probably not even Italian*). Any local peace keeping was done by Herodian soldiers or by Herodian-authorized armed Galileans. At one point, Antipas built his own army. (We don't know when, or how large it remained, but there may be some continuity between the Royal Army dissolved in Judea (by AD 6) and the Army which Antipas stationed at Gamla (c.34-36). At the very least, some internal peacekeeping was necessary, to say nothing of providing deterrent for potential threats: whether Trachonitie brigands, revenge-minded Nabateans or budding Gaulanite Zealots.

Antipas couldn't have not kept at least a small army. Syria's four legions were more than twelve or fifteen days' march to the north!

(* On Capernaum's Centurion: We know he was retired for two reasons. First, there were no Romans stationed in Galilee directly at this point. Second, the Centurion's wealth suggests he must have sold the land granted to all Legionaries who survived 20 years' service. Now, his designation as "Centurion" means he'd worked for the Romans, not that he was born an Italian. Like most Roman soldiers recruited under Augustus, the man probably came from outside Italy; but he probably wasn't Galilean himself, given his gentile status. The major piece of knowledge we don't have is to know why he chose to relocate to Galilee, of all places - especially since, circa 30 AD, it had been 24 years since a Legion's recorded march through the region, and 34 years since Rome's last military action *in* Galilee!  One plausible explanation could be that this Centurion bought, freed and married a Galilean slave woman whom he found somewhere else in the empire. This could also explain the great fondness he reportedly held for in general. Alternatively, he could have grown up a gentile in Galilee before becoming a soldier, but that would not as easily explain the fondness involved in his desire to return. *)

The synagogue communities, whether or not they received oversight from or paid tax to the government, held joint property and did commerce solely at the pleasure of Herod Antipas. Tiberius sometimes had opinions about Jewish people in Rome, and he paid due heed to the political prowess of the Jerusalem Temple party and all their adherents, but there was no need for Caesar to meddle directly with religious affairs that took place strictly in Galilee.

In general, therefore, the population of Galilee, being Jewish but not Judean, were in a more comfortable position regarding everything Roman. As long as Herod Antipas kept the peace, Rome wasn't worried about Galilee. As long as the Galileans didn't revolt, Rome wouldn't come depose Herod. This much should have seemed abundantly clear after the Galileans observed what happened to Archelaus' Judean regime (4 BC to AD 6). Being content under Herod was a good way to remain with the "devil they knew".

One natural consequence of Galilee being so insulated from Rome is that Galilee never seemed to develop as much concern about Rome. The independent government of Judea (AD 66 - 67) had to send out Judean generals (such as Josephus) to rouse a Galilean defense from the coming onslaught. And when Vespasian came in, his first target was the zealot hotbed of Gamla (that also being strategic high ground in the Golan). In contrast, the Galilean defenses were neither such a priority nor very difficult to surmount.

For another example, the famous rebel of AD 6, "Judas of Galilee" stirred up a lot of anti-Roman feeling in Judea, due to Quirinius' settlement, but his "No Lord but God" rhetoric didn't go down as being leveled against Antipas in Galilee or with Philip's tetrarchy. (It's well known Judas was from Philip's lands, not Antipas', but that doesn't affect the point here.) Apparently, it must be the case either that Judas didn't feel that way about Herodian princes or that he couldn't make the argument stick with their subjects. 

Either way, the Galileans seemed content enough to remain under Herod. Instead of making them anti-Rome, that only makes them conservative culturally (as all ancient cultures naturally were). Granted, also, Antipas' peaceful rule deserves some credit for its own modest success. One can paint pictures of the big, bad, evil empire from Italy, but the very strong evidence for that accurate portrait is not based on experiences being felt by the Galileans of Jesus' day or before. 

((** Not even in Sepphoris of 4 BC, where that individual city was itself overrun by a gang of toughs who decided to play king of their very small mountain. That Judas, "son of Ezekias" had no grand vision or ideological agenda, is the record from Josephus. That Sepphoris was burned down is probably due to the inexperience of the Legion's commander on that day when, after a brief ultimatum, Varus' son ordered destruction by fire. A dark tragedy can be written about the drama in Sepphoris in that season, but it did not stem from prior anti-Roman sentiment and could as easily have been blamed on the brashness of the Galilean agressors or the (passive?) complicity of the Sepphorian city folk. At any rate, if Galileans had any cause to hate Rome, it would have been over Sepphoris, and yet we have no record of such sentiment. In fact, we don't even have record of Galileans in general caring much about Sepphoris. As horrific as it turned out to be, the burning of Sepphoris had been Rome's first violent incident and the after-event publicity no doubt did put the blame onto Judas E and his gang. Such a dubious and isolated event - however horrible - cannot by itself succeed in creating a national uprising of furor against those involved, nor sustaining such furor three to four decades later (nor even seven, apparently). **))

All in all, the Galilean experience prior to Jesus' heyday just doesn't show any evidence of being rife with anti-Roman sentiment. To the contrary, all the above evidence quite suggests that, at least to speak of, there simply was none. Probably there was some general sympathy pain for the Judean experience, since many Galileans cared a good deal about Jerusalem. However, again, since these feelings didn't seem strong enough to stoke up much resistance even in the raging days of the late 60's, how much righteous secondary anger was there likely to be around Galilee in the placid 20's and 30's? 

Down in Judea, Pilate made one or two newsworthy mistakes but they were cleaned up quickly enough, and Caligula didn't threaten his Temple stunt until AD 40/41. Even those were primarily, if not strictly, Judean events. (Personally, I'm fully convinced the Galileans were Jewish, but they weren't Judeans. Or, to rephrase that as a comedic Greek speaking New Yorker might say - The Galileans were Ἰουδαῖοι, but not, you know, Ἰουδαῖοι-Ἰουδαῖοι.)

Even the Judean's own strong feelings against Rome weren't built in a day! Significantly, it wasn't so much the famous but isolated incidents which caused Judean hostility to develop, but the daily emotional grating effect of seeing Roman influence everywhere. After five hundred years of being ruled from afar, the Romans were least tolerable - not only because they came last, but because they were most brutally effective at the actual governing part. Rome didn't just send Satraps to send home their tribute money. Rome stationed soldiers in the Antonia fortress next to the Temple. Rome greatly limited local governmental autonomy in micro-managerial ways. Rome acquired the Samaritan cavalry in 4 BC and kept them (with their Greek name, Sebastioi) as enforcers of Roman authority over Judeans. Rome did all this and more - relentlessly - for several decades in a row.

But Rome did all of this only in Judea. In great contrast, Galilee suffered from none of these symptoms.

In short, "Roman Galilee" wasn't ever Roman enough to become anti-Roman.

In fairness to certain popular theories today, one can indeed make a case that Jesus himself was somewhat anti-imperialistic, but it seems only for personal, spiritual and devotional reasons. There's no way to show that Jesus was overtly driven by feeling that "Caesar is bad". There are, deeply, many ways to show that Jesus was jealous for the Hebrew Divinity's behalf. If Jesus had any "anti" imperialistic sentiment, it wasn't anti, but pro. It would have been, simply, "God ought to rule". 

In conclusion, however, I don't think one can argue strongly that such a message played well *politically* in Galilee in the late 20's and early 30's AD. Judea, yes. But Galilee, no.

And in this, perhaps, we might find a surprising new opportunity for research.

One could perhaps look for a slight change in message as Jesus moved from Galilee into Judea, late in his ministry... but then that would require re-examining the Gospels (first as literature, second as historical portraits of both Jesus and the context swirling around him) to determine whether Matthew, Mark, Luke and/or John made any efforts to consistently present such a "slight change in message" as their narratives draw towards Jerusalem. And if so, another question is whether that narrative arc would stand as evidence of deliberate chronological or generally developmental narration by the Gospel writers.

Such a new research project only has to begin with one simple chronological supposition. It is both general, basic and easy to detect in the Gospels. The general alignment of episodic content across the Synoptic Gospels (and John, to a lesser extent) divides sharply into two groups content narrated before John's beheading versus after John's beheading. If the episodic content aligns so consistently, perhaps the didactic content was also placed deliberately into two groups - what Jesus preached early in Galilee, and what Jesus preached later in Judea. (Full disclosure: in complete honesty, these last two paragraphs came on me by surprise. The post above was never set up to lead me to chronology. It's just that chronology wasn't far from my thoughts at the moment this post was beginning to wrap up. Go figure!)

Again, I say all this would involve a great deal of future research. I hope someone is game enough to take all of this on. I heartily encourage them hereby so to do!!!

BONUS: One more side observation to all this: the crowd members shouting "make him King" at the seaside around Passover time were most likely those crowd members from outside of Galilee. There was already reason to suppose that some of these multitudes seeking Jesus were substituting one pilgrimage for another, but the present discussion now suggests with more definite specificity that there were most likely Judeans in this crowd of pilgrims, Judeans who were leaving Judea and traveling away from the Temple to go visit Jesus at Passover time, instead.


MikeSnow said...

A very interesting note on the centurion. How do you explain these words, "For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me..."?

Bill Heroman said...

Good question, Mike. "Set under authority" can refer to local and regional Galilean powers, but "with soldiers under me" is definitely a sticking point. Who were these men?

This is probably why Bock and others prefer to claim the "centurion" was a military officer under Herod Antipas. The term "centurion" being clearly Latin, however, I find this unlikely.

Thus, my answer is it all depends. If we take this to mean the centurion has active soldiers in current service together with him, then we'd have to suppose he's not retired and they were all in transit together, somehow stopping often in Capernaum - the frequent visiting being of course wildly implausible. Worse, in that case, it's hard to see how the synagogue could be paid for (without the retirement gifts which an active centurion would not yet have received).

OTOH, if we take the Lukan detail to imply that he's got wealth, then he's almost certainly got to be retired. On top of that, having servants as well as "soldiers" strongly implies a locally settled household.

As I said, it depends. However, if we're committed to these Lukan details (which I am) *and* if that indeed makes this centurion retired (which I maintain that it must), then the only possible explanations for the phrase you quote would seem to be as follows: (1) he was speaking of his past experience, in which case the grammar is off, or (2) he brought soldiers with him as part of his household, now essentially servants but they maintain the habits and familiarity of their old army relationship.

Aside from one of those two options (for I don't see a third), we'd have to conclude that this Centurion was somehow wealthy *and* on leave from active duty *and* temporarily displaced from the Syrian Legions (or Judean Cohorts). The least likely, of course, is the wealth. Why would someone of means continue serving as Legionary?

Bock's solution almost seems better, until we realize that this also comes against all those same questions as above, plus the Latin objection to boot.

On the balance, my best suggestion is that some lower ranked soldiers came with this centurion when he settled in Galilee. There could be any number of other solutions, of course. Most importantly, as I say, it all depends on which data we chose as our starting point.

As imperfect as all this may seem, it's much more economical than trying to explain the synagogue relationship if the centurion were still active in his service.

Bill Heroman said...

*When I say, "He was speaking" I mean as the narrative writers purport him to have been speaking.

The idea that this guy said these exact words is far less important. What matters is that, by attributing these words to him, both Matthew and Luke are claiming directly that such details applied to this guy's situation. IMHO, that is enough.

Anonymous said...

S. Zeitlin, in “Who Were the Galileans? New Light on Josephus' Activities in Galilee,” Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Jan., 1974), pp. 189-203, had a different take, which I interpret as meaning that of the revolutionary “Galileans” were not necessarily ethnically Galileans. I see that you are not convinced the Galileans were Judean. What of the general consensus that Aristobulus had re-Judaized and somewhat Judean-ized Galilee ca 100 BCE?

== ==
... Undoubtedly the term "Galileans" in this passage [Jewish War IV, 9,10. 558] does not have a geographical connotation but it has the sense of a contingent, on a par with the Zealots, and the followers of Simon son of Gioras.
It seems that the term "Galilean" which is given by Luke has no geographical connotation but refers to a particular contingent of a group of men who bore the appellation, "Galileans".
It was just about this time that some people arrived and told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. At this he said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans who suffer like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans because they suffered such things? I tell you, no. But unless you repent, you will perish as they did." [Luke 13, 1-3.]
== ==

== ==
... In another passage in Antiquities, Josephus relates that Judas was a Galilean [Ant. 18, 1, 6 (23)]. However, in Antiquities 18,1,4, Josephus writes, "A certain Judas, a Gaulanite from a city named Gamala who had enlisted the aid of Zaddok, a Pharisee, threw himself into the cause of rebellion." In this passage Josephus says that Judas came from the city of Gamala which is on the east side of the Jordan (in Transjordania). Judas who was called a "Galilean" did not come from the province of Galilee. This is supported in another passage where Josephus writes, "At this period a certain Menahem, son of Judas, surnamed the Galilean [Jewish War 2.17.8 (433)].” This passage corroborates the former statement that Judas did not come from Galilee but was surnamed the Galilean i.e. he belonged to the group who were called Galileans because they were a contingent among the revolutionary groups.
== ==

== ==
As was noted before, the Galileans, whose organizer was Judas, reproached the Judaeans for recognizing temporal rulers besides God; Judas admonished the Judaeans calling them cowards for recognizing mortal rulers after having God for a ruler [All editions of the Mishneh now extant have _ _ _ ~ "the ruler with Moses", but there were copies which read _ _ _, "the ruler with God" which is borne out by the Tosafists, (B.B. 162a), who state _ _ _. The reading in the manuscript is correct. If we read, "the ruler with Moses", then the answer of the Pharisees to the Galilean becomes illogical. He asked why did the Pharisees write in their documents "the ruler with Moses", and the answer was given by them that in the Torah is written the name of the ruler with Yahaweh, moreover, the name of the ruler precedes the divine Name. The original reading, "the ruler with the divine Name". The word, _ _ was assumed to mean "a writ of divorce". However, the word, get, has also the connotation of a general document. Cf. S. Zeitlin, Megillat Taanit: As a Source for Jewish Chronology and History in the Hellenistic and Roman Period, 1922, pp. 99-100, note 269.]. That is also the contention of the Galileans against the Pharisees because the Pharisees recognized their rulers as well as the rulers of Rome; while to the Galileans, this foreign, temporal rule was utterly repugnant, particularly since it was Roman.
In sum, within this short essay, I trust that I have given a solid demonstration that the term "Galilean" used in Vita refered to a revolutionary group who propagated war against the Romans and revenged themselves on those Judaeans who gave their allegiance to the Romans.
== ==

Rick C.

Bill Heroman said...

Hi, Rick. The short answer is that a lot can happen in 170 years. FWIW, my post has nothing to do with whether Jesus' contemporaries in Galilee were ethnic Judeans. Compare Texans with Bostonians, the vast majority of both being Anglo-Saxon in terms of ethnic origins, having developed differing prevalences in their political currents.

As to the particular group of "Galileans" being referenced in Josephus' autobiography, I'm not as familiar with the debate about their identity but I can't see at the moment how anything about that *subset* of Galileans in the 60's could possibly provide much definition to the greater population of *all* Galileans in the 20's/30's.