Wednesday, March 15, 2023

What was it like back then?

consider the following possibility...


Many cultures were travelling around the eastern mediterranean around the time of Jesus.  There were three major cultures present: Greek City-State, the Roman Empire, and the Jewish Temple-State.  None of these were working efficiently at the time.

The various cultures lived in semi-isolated groups within cities trying to keep their culture/history alive.

This produces an environment of tension, bigotry and racism.  

Along came Jesus.  He was (most likely) a reformed rabbi who saw the problems caused by the cultural clashes and wanted to teach people how to get along in peace and harmony.


Prior to Alexander the Great, there were three models which societies would use to structure themselves. Yes, there are others, but these three are most predominate in the time of Jesus.

Let's call the first one the "Ancient Near-Eastern Temple State". Every city had its own god (maybe more) who ruled the citizens of the city. Assyrians, Babylonians, Canaanites, and Judeans are familiar examples. Common in these temple-states was social stratification (power vs purity, or king and high priest) and some form of scribe would mediate between the two organizations. This was the culture of the jews before the first destruction of the temple. There was one high priest for all of Judea.

Then there was the polis or Greek City-State. The polis was a creation of the Greek spirit of independence and free thinking as well as the practical need for aristocratic clan leadership. The Hellenistic approach was to push the control of government down to the city level. Each city choose what type of government they wanted, from democracy, monarchy, oligarchy, or tyranny to name the most common. What they had in common was the sense of rejection to a large, national dictator predetermining how they are ruled.

And, of course, we cannot overlook the roman republic. This social system, based on patricians and senators, demanded order from all within their domain.

When I look at the United States, I see a similar behavior: cultures moving about and coming in contact with one another, each wanting to maintain what they have. When that interferes with another culture, conflict increases. I've often said people raise their "voice" when they don't feel heard. If someone's culture is being ignored, pushed aside, or otherwise not honored as the people of that culture expect, the tendency is to push back. In the US, we tend to deal with pockets of cultural infusion at any time.  The western mediterranean area must have been overwhelmed by all three of these cultures clashing everywhere all at once.

In the meantime, the Jewish temple state was undergoing change as well. After the hasmonean rulers attempted to integrate Greek ideas, the more "pure temple-state priests" pushed back harder. This lead to the pharisees, who wanted to push back time and integration to their more familiar world. These separatists developed schools of ethics, piety and politics based on the law of Moses to counter the changing environment leading away and towards Hellenistic practices.

This "raised voice" began to divide the Jews into those moving towards new practices and those wanting to keep their culture intacted and unchanged. Needless to say, there was a vast amount of diversity in the area at the time of Jesus.

Like the current United States, I'm certain that groups would cluster tightly together in small micro-cultures. Just as we have the chinatowns, Japan towns, little Italy, and more, people wanting to preserve their culture will band together in small tight communities. As these communities bump into one another, the chance of conflict increases. Once that conflict has gone on more than a generation, people forget what caused the conflict and simply integrate the hatred and animosity into their daily lives.

This is the world Jesus was born into. This, therefore, is the underlying world Jesus worked with as he preached a message of love. To this chaos, he taught the following three things:

  1. The notion of a perfect society conceptualized as a kingdom
  2. ANY individual was fit for this kingdom
  3. That the kingdom should be a mix of people (ethnic, cultural, etc)
Needless to say, but this message did not sit well with people trying to enforce their cultural beliefs or even those who simply wanted everyone else to just go away.

No comments:

Post a Comment