Purity and Politics in Herod Antipas’s Galilee: The Case for Religious Motivation

in Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus
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Recent investigations of the milieu of Galilee in the late Second Temple period have largely sought to understand the emergence of the Jesus movement by searching for explanations in the living conditions of the region. Political, cultural and socio-economic factors have been pursued to unlock the mystery of the Jesus movement’s Galilean provenance. While not denying the validity of these perspectives, the present study aims at introducing religious motivation and purity concerns as distinct characteristics of Galilee in the Herodian period. This is done by discussing the material data that point to religious motivation and by surveying the relevant textual material that sheds light on the growing halakhic concern for purity in this period. It is concluded that religious motivation and purity concern indeed were driving factors in the Galilean milieu, placing Galilee firmly within the wider developments of the Jewish state from the Maccabean Revolt onward.

Purity and Politics in Herod Antipas’s Galilee: The Case for Religious Motivation

in Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus




Albert SchweitzerVon Reimarus zu Wrede: eine Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr1906).


Douglas E. OakmanThe Political Aims of Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress Press2012).


Richard A. HorsleyJesus and the Powers: Conflict Covenant and the Hope of the Poor (Minneapolis: Fortress Press2011).


Per BildeThe Originality of Jesus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht2013).


Sean FreyneGalilee from Alexander the Great to Hadrian 323 b.c.e. to 135 c.e.: A Study of Second Temple Judaism (University of Notre Dame Center for the Study of Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity, 5; Wilmington, DE: Glazier/Notre Dame University Press1980).


 Cf. Morten Hørning Jensen‘Rural Galilee and Rapid Changes: An Investigation of the Socio-Economic Dynamics and Developments in Roman Galilee’Bib 93.1 (2012) pp. 43-67 and Morten Hørning Jensen ‘Climate Droughts Wars and Famines in Galilee as a Background for Understanding the Historical Jesus’ JBL 131.2 (2012) pp. 307-24.


Steve Mason‘Jews, Judaeans, Judaizing, Judaism: Problems of Categorization in Ancient History’JSJ 38 (2007) pp. 457-512 (480); original emphasis.


Mason‘Jews Judaeans’ p. 488.


Horsley‘Jesus and the Politics’ p. 101.


 Cf. MagenStone Vessel Industry p. 162. See also Yitzhak Magen ‘Ancient Israel’s Stone Age: Purity in Second Temple Times’ BARev 24.5 (1998) pp. 46-52; Jonathan L. Reed ‘Stone Vessels and Gospel Texts: Purity and Socio-Economics in John 2’ in Stefan Alkier and Jürgen Zangenberg (eds.) Zeichen aus Text und Stein (Basel: Francke Verlag 2003) pp. 381-401 (383).


 Cf. AdlerArchaeology of Purity pp. 193-95 and Yonatan Adler ‘“Come and See the Extent to Which Purity Had Spread” (TShab 1.14): An Archaeological Perspective on the Historical Background to a Late Tannaitic Passage’ in Steven Fine and Aaron Koller (eds.) Talmuda De-Eretz Israel: Archaeology and the Rabbis in Late Antique Palestine (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter forthcoming).


MagenStone Vessel Industry p. 162 cf. map 2-6 on pp. 152-61.


 Cf. Adler and Amit‘Ritual Purity after 70’ p. 139. Cf. also J. Reed who estimates that stone ware has been found ‘at every site in Galilee with a substantial first-century c.e. layer’ (Crossan and Reed Excavating Jesus p. 166). For instance at Jotapata more than 120 fragments of soft limestone vessels were found; cf. David Adan-Bayewitz and Mordechai Aviam ‘Iotapata Josephus and the Siege of 67: Preliminary Report of the 1992–94 Seasons’ Journal of Roman Archaeology 10 (1997) pp. 131-65 (164).


Berlin‘Jewish Life’ p. 430.


 Cf. e.g. Meyers and ChanceyAlexander to Constantine pp. 78-79; Berlin ‘Jewish Life’ p. 433; Eyal Regev ‘Pure Individualism: The Idea of Non-Priestly Purity in Ancient Judaism’ JSJ 31.2 (2000) pp. 176-202 (181-84); Deines Steingefäße p. 163; Fiensy Jesus the Galilean p. 174; James D.G. Dunn ‘Jesus and Purity: An Ongoing Debate’ NTS 48 (2002) pp. 449-67 (452).


Miller‘Some Observations’ p. 418.


 Cf. Steven Fine‘On the Development of a Symbol: The Date Palm in Roman Palestine and the Jews’JSP 4 (1989) pp. 105-18 (73-74).


 Cf. e.g. Berlin‘Jewish Life’ pp. 429-34.


Ronny Reich‘Miqwa’ot (Jewish Ritual Immersion Baths) in Eretz-Israel in the Second Temple and Mishnah and Talmud Periods’ (PhD dissertation, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1990); cf. the summary in Ronny Reich, ‘Ritual Baths’ in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East (1997) 4:430-31.


 Cf. Berlin‘Jewish Life’ p. 452 and Zissu and Amit ‘Common Judaism’ p. 49.


 Cf. Reich‘Baths – OEANE’ p. 431; Ronny Reich ‘They are Ritual Baths: Immerse Yourself in the Ongoing Sepphoris Mikveh Debate’ BARev 28.2 (2002) pp. 50-55 (51).


 Cf. Adler‘Come and See’ and Adler and Amit ‘Ritual Purity after 70’ pp. 126-39.


 Cf. ReedGalilean Jesus pp. 157-58.


 Cf. Ronny Reich‘The Great Mikveh Debate’BARev 19 (March/April 1993) pp. 52-53; Reich ‘They are Ritual Baths’ and Eric M. Meyers ‘Yes They are’ BARev 26.4 (2000) pp. 46-49 in which they argue that division lines were not mandatory; that though the pools differed in size they all could contain the required 40 seahs of water; that Eshel is wrong in claiming that no other bathing facilities existed (the case for some houses) and in presuming that bathing required a permanent installation; and that the lack of adjacent otzarot constitutes a problem since other types of tanks could have been used like installations on the rooftops for collection of rainwater.


Yonatan Adler‘Second Temple Period Ritual Baths Adjacent to Agricultural Installations: The Archaeological Evidence in Light of the Halakhic Sources’JJS 59.1 (2008) pp. 62-72; Yonatan Adler ‘Ritual Baths Adjacent to Tombs: An Analysis of the Archaeological Evidence in Light of the Halakhic Sources’ JSJ 40 (2009) pp. 55-73.


 Cf. Zissu and Amit‘Common Judaism’ pp. 51-61.


FineArt p. 71. Cf. also L. Levine who states with reference to this period: ‘For a period of three hundred years or so down to the mid-second century c.e. the Jews appear to have studiously avoided any kind of figural representation as is attested on their coins mosaic floors frescoes lamps and other small finds. The Jews selectively borrowed motifs from the world around but eschewed any kind of figural or pagan image’. See Lee I. Levine ‘Archaeology and the Religious Ethos of Pre-70 Palestine’ in James H. Charlesworth and Loren L. Johns (eds.) Hillel and Jesus: Comparative Studies of Two Major Religious Leaders (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 1997) pp. 110-20 (117-18). Also R. Hachlili concludes that in this period there ‘evolved a local Jewish art strictly aniconic using neither figures nor symbols’ (Hachlili Jewish Art p. 83).


 Cf. e.g. Ya’akov MeshorerAncient Jewish Coinage. Volume I: Persian Period through Hasmonaeans (New York: Amphora Books1982) pp. 13-34; Ya’akov Meshorer A Treasury of Jewish Coins: From the Persian Period to Bar Kokhba. (Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi Press 2001) p. 2; Bradley W. Root ‘Coinage War and Peace in Fourth-Century Yehud’ Near Eastern Archaeology 68.3 (September 2005) pp. 131-34.


 Cf. Meyers and ChanceyAlexander to Constantine pp. 231-32. For other examples of Jewish ornamentation in this later period see Levine The Ancient Synagogue pp. 206-24.


 Cf. JensenHerod Antipas pp. 203-209.


ArbelUltimate Devotion p. 135.


FiensyJesus the Galilean p. 171.


Martin GoodmanJudaism in the Roman World: Collected Essays (Leiden: Brill2007) p. 133.


 Cf. FiensyJesus the Galilean pp. 171-72.


 Cf. Per Bilde‘The Causes of the Jewish War According to Josephus’Journal for the Study of Judaism X.2 (1979) pp. 179-202 and now Bilde Originality of Jesus.


Martin HengelDie Zeloten: Untersuchungen zur jüdischen Freiheitsbewegung in der Zeit von Herodes I. bis 70 n. Chr. (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, 283; Tübringen: Mohr Siebeck2011).


 Cf. JensenHerod Antipas pp. 89-90 99-100.


 Cf. SandersJudaism pp. 380-451; E.P. Sanders Jewish Law from Jesus to the Mishnah: Five Studies (London: SCM Press 1990) pp. 97-254; Jacob Neusner ‘Mr. Sanders’s Pharisees and Mine’ BBR 2 (1992) pp. 143-69. Cf. also Martin Hengel and Roland Deines ‘E. P. Sanders’ “Common Judaism” Jesus and the Pharisees’ JTS 46 (1995) pp. 1-70 and Dunn ‘Jesus and Purity’.


KazenJesus and Purity pp. 72-78 342-43.


 Cf. Marcus J. BorgConflict Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus (Studies in the Bible and Early Christianity, 5; New York: Edwin Mellen Press1984); Crossan and Reed Excavating Jesus.


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