Archaeology and Rabbi Jesus -- By: Bruce D. Chilton

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 12:2 (NA 2002)
Article: Archaeology and Rabbi Jesus
Author: Bruce D. Chilton


Archaeology and Rabbi Jesus

Bruce D. Chilton

Bard College
Annandale-On-Hudson, New York

Archaeology and the Galilean Jesus: A Re-examination of the Evidence. By Jonathan L. Reed. Harrisburg: Trinity, 2000. xv + 253 pp. ISBN 1-56338-324-1.

In this important, well-written work, Jonathan Reed concludes that first-century Galilee included a thriving Jewish rural and urban culture, that urbanization was influential but not ambient, and that the hypothesis of a Cynic Jesus is “highly unlikely” (p. 218). At each point, the shape of his argument is interesting, and bears comparison with findings in works with which Reed interacts, including Richard Horsley’s and James F. Strange’s, and works with which he could not interact, including Marianne Sawicki’s and my own. To fill out the picture, I have also referred in my reading to Reed’s subsequent work with John Dominic Crossan.

Jewish Galilee

Reed concludes “that the overall settlement history of Galilee shows a substantial gap after the Assyrian conquest in the eighth century bce, with an inkling of repopulation beginning in the Persian Period” (p. 52). Hasmonean rule then brings “substantial settlement and population growth,” a conclusion he bases on the discovery of “stone vessels, miqwaoth in houses but no pork wherever bone profiles are published, and secondary burial with ossuaries in kokhim” (pp. 52-53). In short, “Jewish religious indicators permeate Galilean domestic space in the Early Roman Period.” To account for this, he prefers the explanation that “Judeans colonized the Galilee and overwhelmed the few prior inhabitants, who may have been earlier Jewish settlers” (p. 53).

Still, he argues on the basis of sayings in “Q” that a Galilean “prophetic role model did not succumb to the Jerusalemite cultic

hegemony” (p. 59). My general agreement with this picture causes me to recommend some cautions. Although Reed refers to Josephus, in this context he does not mention the Galileans’ militancy, including violence in the Temple.1 Perhaps his persistent criticism of Horsley’s work makes him discount too much a contribution to which he is in some ways indebted where it concerns social modeling (pp. 11213). In this same vein, Reed also objects to Horsley’s argument of “a revival of indigenous northern Israelite traditions by their later genealogical heirs in Galilee” (p. 60).

To do so, he needs to argue from absence—a perilous course, akin to exegetical arguments from silence. The critical finding here is “...

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