Subscribe via RSS Feed

David Fiensy: Christian Origins and the Ancient Economy

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


Publisher’s page:


Pin It
Page 2 of 212

Tags: , , , , ,

Category: Biblical Studies, Winter 2017

About the Author: John H. King, M.Th., retired from the pastorate after serving congregations in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts for over 24 years and now develops software for the financial services industry. He is the author of Challenged: Living Our Faith in a Post Modern Age.

  • Connect with

    Subscribe via Twitter 1368 Followers   Subscribe via Facebook Fans
  • Recent Comments

  • Featured Authors

    Amos Yong is Professor of Theology & Mission and director of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena. His graduate education includes degree...

    Jelle Creemers: Theological Dialogue with Classical Pentecostals

    Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books<...

    Listening for God’s Voice and Heart in Scripture: A conversation with Craig S. Keener

    James F. Linzey is the chief editor of the Modern English Version Bible translation. His graduate education is a degree in religious studies from Fuller Theological Seminary....

    Memorial Day Ceremony 2018 at the Manila American Cemetery

    William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major w...

    Anglicans from the Global South and the Worldwide Anglican Communion