Were there no large farms? Professor Fiensy asserts, “There is no historical-archeological evidence for large estates [2,000 acres or more] in Lower Galilee in the time of Jesus.” This is a significant archeological/historical discovery because if a number of elites had eaten up farmland, large acreage, this would testify to the foreclosure of a corresponding number—in acreage—of smaller farms. Galilee would be in economic crisis—but, there is no clear evidence of this. Professor Fiensy hesitates to affirm that the wealthy were exploiting the poor farmers in Jesus’s day, although, he concurs that “this social dynamic was perhaps developing slowly.” This became more an economic condition after the Great Jewish Revolt in 66 CE and, therefore, more so, affected the early church.
Interestingly enough, large estates were implied in a number of Jesus’s parables which would not have represented the farmlands around Nazareth. Judea, Fiensy argues, was a different matter altogether. He dedicated a complete chapter to five major differences to consider that suggested economic conditions in Judea were not as prosperous. Tacitus informs that in 17 CE Judea—not Galilee—appealed to Tiberius for tax relief.
Repeatedly however, Professor Fiensy cautions against comparing a modern day economy with that of Jesus’s day. Using models, scholarship attempts to reconstruct the socio-economic side of Galilean life without mistakenly defining their culture in modern terms. We must let the ancients speak for themselves. How, for example, does one measure their standard of living? Some suggest the size of the house is telling but Fiensy suggests the size of their grain silo might be a better measurement.
Such a study provides a clearer understanding of what the Savior meant when He brought up such subjects as praying for “our daily bread.” One footnote reported that “during times of want, the poor … would wait at dusk at the Sabbath limit where two benefactors would hand out dried figs to them.”
With this background in mind, we can enjoy the remaining chapters which expand the discussion after the resurrection into the age of the early church: no distinction or status was recognized among its members—rich and poor were of one mind and heart. The final chapter is an interesting read that deals with occupations the early Christians found objectionable and those they saw as exemplifying Christlikeness.
Professor Fiensy’s work is serious research for all those who, in a realistic interest, want to draw a little closer to the Gospel account.
Reviewed by John King
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