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  • First Century Galilee: A Fresh Examination of the Sources by Bradley W. Root
  • Mark A. Chancey
First Century Galilee: A Fresh Examination of the Sources
By Bradley W. Root. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe 378. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014. xvii + 228 pp.

Bradley W. Root makes a significant contribution to ongoing conversations about the cultural, religious, and economic environment of first-century Galilee. His study, based on the 2009 University of California, San Diego history dissertation he wrote under David Goodblatt, focuses on seven issues: ethnicity, urbanization, economic conditions, political climate, religious ethos, Jewish-Gentile relations, and Galilean-Judean relations. In exploring these themes, Root argues [End Page 140] that scholars often prematurely jump to historical reconstruction without sufficiently wrestling with the methodological problems posed by their sources. He thus devotes the bulk of his twelve-chapter book to critical analysis of individual sources, leaving historical synthesis for the end. He sifts through the writings of Josephus, the classic four sources of the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, the hypothetical sayings source Q, special Matthean material, and special Lukan material), the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of John, and published archaeological reports. He does not engage rabbinic texts in depth because of the methodological difficulty of identifying traditions that accurately preserve glimpses of the first century.

In combing through Josephus’s Jewish War, Jewish Antiquities, and Life, Root takes his methodological cues from scholars such as Steve Mason and Shaye J. D. Cohen. Noting the oft-discussed inconsistencies in Josephus’s works, Root rightly concludes that some are “so dramatic that they probably reflect a conscious decision by Josephus to alter his presentation of events.” Furthermore, he observes, “it is about the events that took place in that region [Galilee] that Josephus had the greatest incentive to lie” (11). Nonetheless, Root argues that the consistency of Josephus’s comments about region suggests their general accuracy. Though Josephus drastically exaggerated the size of Galilee’s population to boost his own prestige as its military commander, he was probably not far off the mark when praising the region’s agricultural productivity and general prosperity. Josephus “was unable to come up with any major problems that Galilee experienced while Antipas was Tetrarch” (21) and he did not report the same level of mid-century banditry there that he does for Judea. Though Josephus depicted rural Galileans as hostile toward Sepphoris during the revolt, he did not attribute such antipathy to class, ethnic, or economic tensions. In short, Josephus’s portrayal suggests a region that fared well in many respects for most of the first century, with relatively few communities suffering even in the revolt.

Root’s exploration of gospel materials pays careful attention to issues of provenance and Tendenz, finding varying amounts of information applicable to his chosen focal points. He finds little explicit support for views of the region as extensively hellenized or romanized, thoroughly urbanized, and in the midst of widespread upheaval because of economic crisis, and considerable evidence for a predominantly Jewish population with strong cultural ties to Judea. Though the Gospel of Thomas has figured prominently in much recent historical Jesus research, Root’s evaluation of it finds few sayings that shed much light on Galilee’s cultural ethos. He opts for a minimalistic definition of Q over the detailed reconstruction offered by the International Q Project, and argues persuasively [End Page 141] that uncertainty about Q’s provenance requires scholars to “stop privileging the Q material as a source for Galilee” (60).

With regard to archaeological finds, Root follows the scholarly consensus that has emerged over the past twenty years that the Hasmonean absorption of Galilee brought with it an influx of Judeans and a corresponding establishment of many new sites. After surveying ceramic, numismatic, architectural, and other evidence, Root concludes that first-century Galileans and Judeans shared a “common ancestry, culture, and religion” (179). Hellenistic and Roman cultural influence were both manifest in various ways but did not reach the heights proposed by scholars who imagine the widespread presence of classical monumental architecture. Though hastily prepared fortification walls from the revolt suggest initial Galilean enthusiasm for the revolt, an overall lack of destruction layers...


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pp. 140-143
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