Modelling Early Christianity: Social-Scientific Studies of the New Testament in Its Context

By Philip F. Esler | Go to book overview

1

HERODIAN ECONOMICS IN GALILEE

Searching for a suitable model

Sean Freyne

INTRODUCTION

One of the occupational hazards of ancient historians must surely be the temptation to draw a complete picture of whatever segment of life interests them, irrespective of the adequacy of their data for such a task. Few of us are happy to acknowledge the many gaps in our knowledge of the ancient world, no matter how sophisticated the modern retrieval systems are. This dilemma, the need to present a coherent hypothesis (often disguised as the definitive description) despite the absence of sufficient information, poses important hermeneutical questions which scholars are sometimes reluctant to address. For instance, when I reread my own previous work on Galilee I find myself repeatedly asking why precisely I had opted for a particular understanding of the data (Freyne 1980, 1988, 1992). The answer, hopefully, is because in my judgement the evidence pointed in that direction, even when other possible interpretations could and should be considered. The question becomes more acute still on comparing one’s own views with those of others writing about the same topic. Why is Martin Goodman’s (1983) description of Galilee very like my own—a predominantly peasant Jewish village culture? Why is it that D. Edwards (1988) and J.D. Crossan (1991), J. Strange (1992) and A. Overman (1988) can speak so confidently about the urbanization of Galilee, particularly lower Galilee, with all the attendant consequences for social and religious life in the region? Is this due to the bias of the sources which may be selectively chosen, or are there deeper methodological or even ideological issues at play and how might one rationally adjudicate among the competing views?

One important new tool in the repertoire of the ancient historian is the use of the social sciences, whose critical application can mean an end to what has been described as ‘the intuitivist approach’, with its ‘hit or miss’ aspect. By carefully choosing an appropriate model and applying it as rigorously as possible many mistakes can be avoided and it becomes possible to assess the validity of one’s initial intuitions and to compare the results with those of others in a more critical and rational manner. In a previous paper I attempted to develop and apply a model to do with the cultural role of cities to Galilean social life (1992),

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