Palestien in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts

By Demaris, Richard E. | Journal of Biblical Literature, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Palestien in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts


Demaris, Richard E., Journal of Biblical Literature


Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts, by K. C. Hanson and Douglas E. Oakman. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998. Pp. xx + 235. $21.00.

Studies of Roman and Second Temple Palestine have shifted steadily over the last quarter century in their interpretive approach and focus from historical analysis oriented toward elite society to social-historical and social-scientific analysis directed farther down the social pyramid. Palestine in the Time of Jesus lies at the leading edge of this development, and its pronounced social-scientific perspective sets it apart, even from social-historical treatments such as those of S. Freyne. The book is closer in approach to that of R. Horsley, but more explicit and thorough in its use of the social sciences. While Horsely puts social conflict and analysis of it at the center of his work, Hanson and Oakman focus on the social structures of early Roman Palestine, and they ground their treatment of Jesus and the NT in that framework.

Five chapters, a brief preface, and a short conclusion form the body of the book, with the first chapter devoted to the authors' method and the remaining four proceeding logically from that method. The authors conduct a systems analysis, and they bring a cross-cultural perspective to their work, although comparative data come primarily from the Mediterranean world, past and present. The systems or social domains they identify in Roman Palestine are kinship (ch. 2), politics (ch. 3), economy (ch. 4), and religion (ch. 5). The authors treat the latter two domains as adjuncts of the first two; political and kinship arrangements, not the market, controlled the economy, and religion was tied to the family and the state.

As an example of how the book unfolds, ch. 1 introduces kinship by contrasting the absolute nuclear family typical of modern North America and northern Europe with the endogamous community (or extended) family characteristic of Roman Palestine. The contours of the social order in Roman Palestine become clear as the authors explore the significance of gender, genealogy and descent, marriage, dowry and bridewealth, divorce, and inheritance in this kinship structure. The chapter closes with treatment of the Matthean genealogy for Jesus and the NT references to Jesus' family.

Despite their theoretical approach, the authors intend their book for a wide readership and classroom use. It is meant for "the undergraduate, seminarian, pastor, or generally educated reader" (p. xvii). To that end, they adopt a readable, relatively simple style, and they avoid detailed argumentation and complex analysis. The authors open each chapter with several guiding questions, introduce the models they will apply, then interpret the particulars of Roman Palestine according to those models. Numerous diagrams aid in the presentation of the models. Each chapter also begins with two or more quotations from the NT to which the authors return once theoretical matters are laid out. Concluding each chapter are suggestions for additional reading and a list of questions that point the reader to passages in the NT and other ancient literature that illuminate or are illuminated by the model introduced in the chapter. The book ends with an extensive, tripartite glossary (thoroughly cross-referenced) covering ancient groups, institutions, objects, and events; ancient documents, collections, and authors; and social-scientific and cross-cultural terms. …

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