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July 10th, 2012

Daily Tao - 59

Leadership is based on moderation.
Practice moderation,
and you'll get in touch
with the power of Tao.

If you get right with Tao,
nothing is impossible.
If you get right with Tao,
there's no limit to what you can do.
If you get right with Tao,
you can be a true leader.

Remember this advice
if you want to be a leader:
Plant deep roots in firm soil.
Get right with Tao,
and you'll always see things clearly.

The  Beatrice Tao
Daily Tao - 59

ere as in many places, i prefer the Gia-Fu/English version (at link above)

"In caring for others and serving heaven
there is nothing like using restraint.
Restraint begins with giving up one's own ideas..."
"....Douglas E. Oakman (1991:34) suggests, "it is necessary to acquire a special set of conceptual lenses when reading ancient literature, including the Bible, in order to perceive appropriately the nature and character of ancient [512] economics." The definition of economy that is used here would not have occurred to a person in the ancient context. Scholars of antiquity must define the economy in their own terms, while being very aware that they do so, so that the overall workings of ancient societies can be made comprehensible in the present.

For purposes of surveying recent developments in the study of ancient economies and the social sciences, Carney (1975: 140) defines an economy as "that complex of activities and institutions through which a society manages the production and allocating of goods and services, and organizes and maintains its workers.... 'The economy' is not just an aggregate of individuals' actions. Groups, and overall societal interests, are involved." Politics, power and social structures are closely related to the nature of the economy since specific groups in a society may attempt to maximize society's utilities, production and distribution to their own advantage over against other groups. In connection with this, the economic situation of specific groups in society, whether groups of peasants or aristocrats, tenants or landowners, hired laborers or craftsmen, will be important...."

"...In surveying the secondary literature on the economy of Palestine, several ongoing issues of concern and debate stand out. These include 1) the agrarian nature of the economy; 2) the relative significance of trade; 3) the distribution or ownership of land; and, 4) the social-economic conditions of the peasantry, including the impact of taxation. Through a discussion of agreements and disagreements among scholars in these areas, we will gain a better picture of the state of our knowledge on the economics of Palestine around the beginning of the common era. The economy of Palestine should not be understood in isolation; despite [515] regional peculiarities that may be identified, this region was part of the larger economic world of the Roman empire, and social-economic conditions in the region have their counterparts elsewhere in many respects.

First, the ancient economy of Palestine was an under-developed, agrarian economy based primarily on the production of food through subsistence-level farming by the peasantry. The peasantry, through taxation and rents, supported the continuance of a social-economic structure characterized by asymmetrical distribution of wealth in favor of the elite, a small fraction of the population. Peasants made up the vast majority of the population in the social-structure of Palestine (over 90%; see Kreissig 1970:17-87; Fiensy 1990:155-76). The peasantry included small landowners who worked their own land for the subsistence of their families; tenants who worked the land of wealthy landowners and paid rent; and a variety of landless peasants who either worked as wage laborers on large or medium-sized estates or resorted to other activities such as banditry. The elites, consisting of the royal family, aristocrats, religious leaders and some priests, drew their primary source of income from medium-sized and large estates. Absentee landlords, living in the cities and benefiting from production in the countryside, were common in this social-economic structure.

Production in Palestine centered on the labor of the peasant household to produce essential foods. The principal products included grain (wheat, barley, millet and rice), vegetables (onions, garlic, leeks, squashes, cabbages, radishes and beets), fruits (olives, grapes, figs and dates), legumes (lentils and beans), spices (salt, pepper and ginger), and meat (fish, cows, oxen, lambs, goats; cf. Klausner 1975 [1930]:180-86; Hamel 1990 [1983]:8-56). The peasant's diet consisted mainly of bread and salt, along with olives, oil, onions and perhaps some grapes (Hamel 1990 [1983]: 34-35). Distribution of produce and wealth was unequal. And, as emphasized by Oakman (1986) and Halvor Moxnes (1988), the type of exchange or distribution within the economy of Palestine seems best characterized in terms of Polanyi's model of redistribution through a central institution. That is, wealth in the form of rents, taxes, and tithes flowed toward urban centres, especially Jerusalem (and the Temple) and was redistributed for ends other than meeting the needs of the peasantry, the main producers. The city's relation to the countryside in such an economy, then, would be parasitic, according to this view.

This overall agrarian quality of the Palestinian economy coincides with the general character of economies in other parts of the Roman Empire as portrayed by ancient historians. According to Rostovtzeff (1957 [1926]: 343) one of the most striking features of the economic and social life of the Empire

is the capital importance of the part played by agriculture. It is no exaggeration to say that most of the provinces were almost exclusively agricultural countries. . .  [We] may safely affirm that the largest part of the population of the Empire was engaged in agriculture, either actually tilling the soil or living on an income drawn from the land.

Yet, despite the general recognition that agriculture was of prime importance, there are several theoretical debates directly pertaining to the agrarian nature of the Roman economy. In particular, considerable scholarly discussion centers on the degree to which ancient economies were qualitatively and/or quantitatively similar to or different from later medieval, early modern and modern economic arrangements. Closely linked with this issue is the relative importance of trade or commercial activity alongside agriculture. This "modernist" vs. "primitivist" debate provides a context for our discussion of scholarly work on Palestine's economy.

On the one hand is the "modernizing" model or approach of Rostovtzeff. He believed that "the ancient world experienced, on a smaller scale, the same process of development which we are experiencing now...The modern development [including capitalism]...differs from the ancient only in quantity and not in quality" (cited by Reinhold 1946: 363-64). Hence his free use of terminology drawn from modern capitalistic economies (e.g. "capitalism", "bourgeoisie", "proletariat", "mass production") to speak of the ancient Roman economy, as well as his emphasis on trade or commercial enterprise as a principle source of wealth (cf. Reinhold 1946: 362-368; D'Arms 1981: 11-13).

The "primitivist" model of economy was developed, in part, as a reaction to this "modernizing" approach, but it also draws heavily on insights from economic anthropology. For Finley (1984 [1973]), who is quite representative and influential here, the ancient economy was fundamentally different from subsequent economies (e.g. medieval) not only in quantity but also in quality; it was primitive in line with what we know of other peasant economies. So much so that we are at a loss to make sense of the ancient situation in modern terms. According to this model, as Donald Engels (1990: 1) explains,

the classical world was innocent of many market values and institutions. Classical peasants lived at the margin of human existence and had little or nothing left over after they paid their taxes, rents, and maintenance. Therefore, classical cities could not have been supported by the voluntary exchange of peasant surplus for urban goods and services, since the peasant had little or no surplus at his disposal and no knowledge of a market.

In such a primitive economy, the city's relationship with the countryside was, primarily, a negative, parasitic one; this is the model of the "consumer city" drawing on resources of the countryside through taxation and rents. The primitivist model [517] has become the dominant view within scholarship in recent years, largely due to Finley's influence (cf. Garnsey and Saller 1987).

Naturally there is a range of scholarly opinion regarding the merits of these two models. Several recent studies propose a more nuanced approach to the question, challenging the primitivist model of the ancient economy as proposed by Finley while also rejecting the modernizing approach of Rostovtzeff (cf. D'Arms 1981). H.W. Pleket and his students, for instance, point out shortcomings in Finley's stark differentiation between ancient and other economies, suggesting that we "may have made the ancient economy too primitive and pre-industrial Europe too modern" (Pleket 1984:35; cf. Pleket 1983; van Nijf 1997:11-18). Engels' (1990) recent case study of the economy of Corinth criticizes the widespread acceptance of Finley's primitivist model, particularly regarding the dominant notion of the "consumer city." Instead he proposes further case studies testing alternate models, such as the notion of the "service city," which was "supported by the voluntary exchange of peasant surpluses for urban goods and services" (Engels 1990: 1-2). In light of such debates, scholars of Palestine's economy should keep in mind John H. D'Arms caution: "Granted that the Roman Empire was a preindustrial economy--it nonetheless exhibits signs of complexity, order, and system in its institutions, to an extent which makes labels like 'primitive' inappropriate unless they are carefully qualified." This theoretical debate concerning the nature of ancient economies brings us to the next key issue raised in studies of Palestine's economy.

Although the Palestinian economy centered on agriculture, trade was also important. Part of the difficulty in assessing the role of trade in Palestine, as with other aspects of the economy, deriving from the fact that our sources lack the qualitative and quantitative information necessary to evaluate the extent and level of trade on a local or "international" scale. Some scholars such as Grant (1926: 72-75) and S.W. Baron (1952: 250-55) tend to downplay involvement in external or foreign trade based partially on isolated references or prohibitions in the literature (cf. Hamel 1990 [1983]: 97-99 for critique). Josephus, for instance, states the following:

As for ourselves...we neither inhabit a maritime country, nor do we delight in merchandise, nor in such a mixture with other men as arises from it; but the cities we dwell in are remote from the sea, and having a fruitful country for our habitation, we take pains in cultivating that only (C. Ap. 1.60).

We need to remain attentive to the difficulties in moving from rhetoric to reality. Josephus' statement regarding Palestine's lack of foreign trade and later rabbinic restrictions on foreign trade may not be fully reflective of reality. Josephus is writing with an apologetic purpose in mind, and the rabbinic prohibitions should be understood  as representing the ideals of the rabbis rather than the real situation with respect to trade, which, evidently, was common enough to warrant the prohibitions. Those who take Josephus' reference at face value fail to recognize the apologetic motive in describing Palestine exclusively in terms of agricultural activities. There is a common favorable inclination among ancient authors who discuss agricultural activities, including Cato (Agr. 1.2-4), Cicero (Off. 1.150-51), Varro (Rust. 2.10.1-3) and Columella (Rust. 1.1-17); "treatises on agriculture and morality... manifest hostility in differing degrees to trade as a source of income" (Garnsey and Saller 1987: 45). D'Arms' study, Commerce and Social Standing in Ancient Rome (1981), for instance, shows how attitudes among, or statements by, elite authors (concerning the need for aristocrats to remain aloof from trade) are quite distanced from the social realities of actual conduct (contra Finley); there is considerable evidence that equestrians and even senators were participants in trade to various degrees (cf. Pleket 1983, 1984 on elite businessmen in the Greek East). So actual trade in Palestine would likely be more significant than Josephus' rhetoric would lead us to believe, as we shall see further below.

In contrast to those who consider trade negligible, scholars such as Klausner (1975[1930]:199-200), Kreissig (1970:57-74) and Applebaum (1976) give more attention to evidence that foreign trade was a significant, though not predominant, aspect of economic activity in Palestine. A distinction should be made between evidence of trade within Palestine and of trade on a more international scale; it is the degree of international trade that is most debated.

Applebaum's survey of archeological and literary evidence for imports and exports, for foreign or international trade, is illustrative of the situation, though his conclusion that "[e]conomic activity was predominantly internal" is debatable (1976:669-680, largely followed here). Regarding imports, Egyptian grain was, from time to time, imported in times of shortage or famine (e.g. Josephus, Ant.15.299-316 [25 BCE], 20.51-52 [46-47 CE]), but Palestine was largely self-sufficient for such food staples. The Temple cult required considerable imports, as I discuss below. With respect to clothing, later references in rabbinic literature to sandals from Tyre and Laodicea, goat-hair from Cilicia, and fine linens from Pelusium and India are suggestive of possibilities in the 1st century. Among the most common items in daily use in antiquity was pottery, so it is significant that archeological excavations at Samaria, Schechem, Ptolemais and Ashdod uncovered red glaze both from the east (in the Hellenistic and Roman eras) and from Italy and Gaul (in the Roman era); a stamped jar from Colonia Hadrumetum in North Africa found at Joppa (2nd century or earlier) is also suggestive of such imports. As Applebaum notes, Palestine was lacking in metals (except copper) and we can assume the import of all necessary metals. The principal exports from Palestine were olive oil (cf. Josephus, B.J. 2.591; Vita 74-76), dates, opobalsam and spices. The [519] Jericho region was renowned for its dates and date-wines, which were in high demand in Rome (cf. Strabo, Geogr. 16.763.41; Pliny the Elder, Nat. 13.44-49). Products from the opobalsam bush, grown in the Dead Sea area, were exported, including the sap, twigs and bark, which were used as medical remedies for headaches and problems with eye-sight (cf. Pliny the Elder, Nat. 12.111; Strabo, Geogr. 16.763). By the 4th century, Gaza and Ascalon became well-known for their wines. Long-distance luxury items from East Africa, Arabia, India and the Far East would also pass through Palestine following the usual trade routes.

After surveying this evidence for imports and exports, Applebaum concludes that, although there are indications of limited trade, economic activity in Palestine was "predominantly internal." We need to be more cautious, however, in generalizing from partial and fragmentary evidence; it is often difficult to know whether a particular item among the limited evidence we have should be viewed as representative or exceptional. I would suggest that we need to leave open the possibility that future archeological work and regionally-focused studies may show that trade, including international trade, was more significant than scholars have often thought.

There are other indications of the significance of trade that are worthy of mention here. In many respects, Jerusalem and the Temple were the hub of commercial activity and trade in Judea. Heavy demands for sacrificial victims for the temple cult meant that cattle and sheep would have to be imported from elsewhere when local supplies of livestock were short, and incense, consisting of ingredients from various localities (including Ethiopia and India; cf. Applebaum 1976: 674) would also need to be imported. Peter Richardson notes the demands for goods, both domestic and international, associated with the Temple:

There was heavy traffic from pilgrims to Jerusalem at the major festivals, probably in increasing numbers through the first century BCE and CE as the pax Romana brought easier travel, more disposable income, and fewer border problems. This meant that Judeans had very large demands made upon them for good roads, lodgings, food, water, and sacrificial victims such as pigeons (doves), sheep, and cattle. Jerusalem was...the economic center for taxation, trade, and international links. (Richardson 1996: 135)

The influx of large numbers of Jews from cities throughout the Mediterranean diaspora would likely bring with it important social and business network connections to other regions of the empire.

Furthermore, some of Herod's large-scale constructions were designed to foster an increase in trade of a more international character. Richardson (1996: 188-91) notes several potential areas where Herod's attention was drawn to commerce and trade, including the area north of the Winter Palace at Jericho; but most significant was the artificially constructed harbor at Caesarea Maritima, with its harbor installations, warehouses, and stores. This was Herod's "showpiece city;  it was a major outlet to the Mediterranean, home for the Judean navy, the largest harbor in the Mediterranean. Produce, trade, and people flowed in both directions" (Richardson 1996: 178). Projects and activities of this sort would set the stage for an increase in international trade to, from and through Palestine in the 1st century. Trade was likely more significant than often recognized.

But why was international trade not even more predominant in such an economy? The answer appears to lie in the subsistence orientation of much agricultural production in Palestine as in other areas of the empire. According to a qualified primitivist model of economy, the majority of the population lived from the produce of the land with little surplus to sell. As well, the economic situation of the peasantry was not conducive to the regular purchase of imported goods, which would be purchased mainly by the wealthy. Much of the produce extracted by large landowners would be sold to the non-agricultural populations of the city on a local basis if possible rather than exported. Once again, this characteristic seems reflective of other provinces in the Roman Empire, as Garnsey and Saller (1987:44) note, where "agricultural areas inevitably aimed at subsistence rather than the production of an exportable surplus.... In general, the backwardness and expense of transport and the relatively low level of demand limited opportunities for profitable investment in commerce." This statement should be qualified somewhat in connection with our earlier discussion of the primitivist model. Still, in light of this picture of the empire generally, the suggestion that Palestine is a special case in regard to limited trade due to religious factors or prohibitions, as Grant and Baron suggested, is unnecessary.

Returning to the characteristics of the agrarian economy, a third issue addressed by scholars relates to trends in land ownership. Many scholars argue that there was a tendency toward the concentration of more land in Palestine into the hands of fewer large landowners at the expense of peasants.(3) Grant (1926: 66) identifies lack of land as a cause of economic distress in the years preceding and during the 1st century, and Klausner (1975[1930]:188-89) identifies forfeiture of land due to indebtedness as a main cause of peasants losing their land and of larger landowners increasing the size of their estates. Kreissig (1970:26-27, 31), too, points to the trend toward large estates and an increasing gap between small and large landowners, though he is hesitant to identify any of the large estates as official "royal lands" (i.e. lands in the possession of the current monarch or emperor, often inherited from the preceding dynasty). Applebaum (1976:633-38, 660-61), Freyne (1980:165) and, above all, Fiensy (1991:21-73) convincingly argue that large estates were prominent and on the increase in the years preceding the 1st century and that they included both royal lands, some of which were given to loyal aristocrats as gifts, and aristocrats' large estates. Fiensy does a good job of plotting out the locations and extent of royal estates known from archeological and literary information. He identifies royal estates in the Jericho region; the Plains of Esdraelon; western Samaria; Batanea, Gaulanitis and Trachonitis; the coastal regions; and in Idumea and Perea. According to many scholars, the main consequences of this direction in land tenure included an increase in landless peasants and hence of tenancy, day labor, and banditry (cf. Horsley 1999 [1985]: 48-87; Hamel 1990 [1983]:151-163; Oakman 1986:72-77; Fiensy 1990; on banditry in Palestine and the empire see Richardson in this volume; Isaac 1984; Shaw 1984).

Once again, this concentration of land ownership within Palestine was part of the larger picture of the Roman Empire as identified by several ancient historians, including Rostovtzeff, MacMullen and Finley. Rostovtzeff (1957 [1926]:344), for instance, notes that there was a

general tendency throughout the Empire towards the concentration of land in the hands of a few proprietors who lived in the cities...The land was owned by men who were not themselves experts in agriculture but were townsmen for whom land was a form of investment.

The issue of peasant landlessness brings us to a fourth main point regarding the economy: namely, the social-economic conditions of the peasantry in Palestine. It is generally acknowledged by most scholars that the economic situation of the peasantry was a precarious one due to subsistence-level farming and various expenses including taxes, rents and seed, as well as the threat of natural disasters and famine.

The fragmentary nature of the evidence when it comes to quantifiable estimations of taxation, rents and other expenses helps to explain the difficulty in assessing the economic situation of the peasantry and the varying results of scholars on the extent of the tax burden. In general, Grant, Klausner, Horsley, Applebaum and Freyne tend to emphasize the extremely burdensome economic situation of the peasantry. New Testament scholars following the lead of Grant, including Horsley and Hanson (1999 [1985]:52-63), are inclined to provide, without explanation, a high estimate of as much as 40% or more of produce going for taxation and religious dues. On the other hand, scholars such as E.P. Sanders, Hamel, and Oakman are more explicit in stating the calculations behind their estimates. In Sanders' (1992:146-69) calculation, which seems reasonable, the estimated total burden on the average peasant (assuming a 12.5% yearly land tax including taxes and tithes) was no more than 28% in most years and, in the worst case scenario, a total of about 33%, considerably less than Horsley's calculation of well over 40% for the average peasant each year.

Oakman's (1986:68-72) calculation of taxation is similar to Sanders', ranging from 20% to 35%. Oakman suggests that the average amount of produce remaining for subsistence may have ranged from one-fifth to as low as one-thirteenth [522] of the produce based on a yield of 1:5. Oakman (1986: 61) provides some useful estimates regarding the peasant family's various expenses, including rents and seed, and regarding the land that would be necessary to fulfill a peasant family's expenditures and food needs. By his estimate (Oakman 1986: 61-66), a minumum subsistence plot would have been 1.5 acres per adult, not including land that would lie fallow (an additional 1.5 acres per adult) and not including land for the added expenditures of seed, taxes and rents.(4) Oakman suggests that the average seed-to-yield ratio for the Palestinian peasant would have been about 1:5 (cf. Heichelheim 1938:128; Hamel 1990 [1983]:127-29). One-fifth of unit production (of each year's yield), therefore, would go toward the seed replacement fund of the next year. Oakman checks his original estimate of 11 bushels of wheat necessary for subsistence per person per year against these hypothetical yield ratios and finds that the calculation is about the same: 1.8 bushels of seed per acre (amount of seed known to have been used in planting) x 1.5 acres (subsistence plot per person) x 5 (fivefold yield) = 13.5 bushels - 1.8 bushels (seed replacement fund) = 11.7 bushels available per year. However, further expenses would be drawn from this amount, including fodder for the peasant's livestock, a reserve for bartering and purchasing various goods and services, and the Temple tithe of 1/10. These expenses, together with seed replacement, would equal approximately 3/10 of the harvest not including rents and taxes, which would range from 20-35% of total produce by Oakman's estimate. Having outlined these conditions for peasants, it is important to point out that Palestine was not exceptional in its subsistence-level farming and in the various expenses including taxation and rents, which were also faced by peasants in other provinces of the empire....".

"Future directions for research
Although a considerable amount of study has been done on economics in Palestine (particularly in the 1st century but also in rabbinic times), there are several areas that deserve more attention. First, archeological findings need to be more fully integrated into our understanding of the economy (cf. Applebaum 1976:631). [526] Some scholars tend to focus on literary evidence to the neglect of artefactual evidence, and when archeology is used there is a tendency to interpret it in light of literature (e.g. Finley 1984[1973]; see the critique by Frederiksen 1975: 170). Artefactual evidence should be considered on its own terms and may, instead, provide alternate perspectives on social and economic life to those we encounter in the literature. Archeological finds may, for instance, provide important clues regarding the degree to which international trade was important in particular localities of Roman Palestine. Regionally-focused case studies of particular cities, villages and regions may provide a more nuanced picture of local and international trade and commerce.

Second, further research of economic issues in Palestine should be done on macro- and micro-levels and on relating the results to historical developments. On the macro-level, further steps can be taken, along the lines of the research of scholars such as Oakman and Fiensy, to conceptualize the overall structures of the economy and social-economic arrangements in Palestine, particularly with help from the social sciences. Developing explicit models of the ancient economy in Palestine in light of research on the nature of economic arrangements in other ancient Mediterranean societies and in view of the specific economic aspects of Palestine may assist in making sense of disparate economic "facts"; this may be helpful in drawing attention to some of the otherwise less visible dynamics of the economy and of social-economic activities.

On the micro-level, further research into economic aspects of daily village life or the "economy" of the average peasant, along the lines of Hamel's research on food and clothing, will shed further light on the activities and situation of the vast majority of the population. A deeper knowledge of the economic situation of the peasantry will also assist in understanding various phenomena such as banditry, which was also quite common in other areas of the empire.

A third main area requiring further research is comparison of the economy and social-economic situation of Palestine with other regions of the Roman Empire. The economic situation of the peasantry deserves comparative attention since some scholars, such as Kreissig and Horsley, appear to place considerable importance on the social-economic plight of the peasantry in explaining social and religious movements particular to Palestine, as well as the Jewish war itself. Such comparative study would help to place the economy of Palestine as we understand it into the overall economic arrangements of the empire, shedding light on both the unique and the typical in regard to economic issues in Palestine.

Finally, the majority of studies on the economy of Palestine concentrate primarily on the situation in the 1st century and take a synchronic approach to their study. Several scholars utilize their synchronic analysis of economic conditions in explaining key events of the time, especially the Jewish war. Still needed, however, [527] is a more broadly based diachronic analysis of the economy of Palestine, making note of the key points in the history of that region which shaped social-economic arrangements. Such an attempt, though admittedly difficult due to the fragmentary nature of our evidence, may help to show how changes in economic aspects influenced other socio-historical developments over time, again in relation to trends in the empire as a whole."

"...3. Scholars are not always clear on the meaning of their terminology for the size of plots of land. H. Dohr's definition of plots is useful (see Fiensy 1991:24): small = 6-50 acres; medium = 50-315 acres; large over 315 acres.

4. This figure can be compared with Ben-David's (1974:44) estimate of 16.8 acres for a family of six to nine people, which, unlike Oakman's figure, includes half the land as fallow as well as produce from the land necessary to pay taxes and rent while subsisting comfortably (cf. Hamel 1990 [1983]:134-36). Fiensy (1991:94-95), on the other hand, is more inclined toward the more modest estimate of S. Dar who, based partially on archeological findings, suggests that peasant (freeholder) families sometimes owned just 6 acres of land. Fiensy suggests that many peasant families would be required to seek supplementary income from other sources in order to subsist.


Applebaum, S.
1976 "Economic Life in Palestine." In S. Safrai and M. Stern, eds.: The Jewish People in the First Century: Historical Geography, Political History, Social, Cultural and Religious Life and Institutions. Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum, 1. Assen: Van Gorcum & Comp., pp. 631-700.

Fiensy, D.A.
1991 The Social History of Palestine in the Herodian Period: The Land is Mine. Queenston: Edwin Mellen Press.

Freyne, Sean
1980 Galilee from Alexander to Hadrian. Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier.

Goodman, Martin
1983 State and Society in Roman Galilee, A.D. 132-212. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Allenheld.

Grant, F.C.
1926 The Economic Background of the Gospels. London: Oxford University Press.

Hamel, Gildas
1990 [1983] Poverty and Charity in Roman Palestine, First Three Centuries. Berkeley: University of California Press.

1981 "Ancient Jewish Banditry and the Revolt Against Rome, A.D. 66-70." Catholic Biblical Quarterly 43:409-432.

1999 [1985] Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press.

1986 "The Zealots: Their Origin, Relationships and Importance in the Jewish Revolt." Novum Testamentum 28:159-192.

1987 Jesus and the Sprial of Violence. San Francisco: Harper and Row.

Moxnes, H.
1988 The Economy of the Kingdom: Social Conflict and Economic Relations in Luke's Gospel. Overtures to Biblical Theology. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Oakman, Douglas E.

1986 Jesus and the Economic Questions of His Day. Queenston: Edwin Mellen Press.

Pleket, H.W.

1983 "Urban Elites and Business in the Greek Part of the Roman Empire." In Peter Garnsey, Keith Hopkins and C.R. Whittaker, eds.: Trade in the Ancient Economy. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 131-144, 203-207.

1984 "Urban Elites and the Economy in the Greek Cities of the Roman Empire." Münsterische Beiträge zur antiken Handelgeschichte 3:3-36.

Richardson, Peter

1996 Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

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The Economy of First-Century Palestine: State of the Scholarly Discussion (Philip A. Harland)

his is a bleaker view of first century Galilee than Jensen's, also an earlier view.

Many important source materials and methodological discussions have been deleted but are retained behind the link.
I have shortened the bibliography to include only references to first century Galilee.
"...In historical context that region was always a contested region.... From very early times... there were always a mixture of peoples in the northern region of Palestine, especially when one moves to the coast....

Galilee had a tradition of political autonomy. The northern traditions that go into the Hebrew Bible are informed by this political sensibility of autonomy. It's a kind of quasi-anarchistic ideal, that this loose tribal confederacy is ruled directly by God. And those ideas and that ideal continues to be alive and well in northern Palestine... a centuries old tradition of political autonomy under the God of Israel. And so this makes foreign imperialism a very problematic proposition in northern Palestine. Because people, I think, have almost a collective consciousness of this ancient Israelite ideal. Not shared by all Israelites, not all over Palestine. But I think a very good case can be made for reconstructing this consciousness in the north. And I think that's the major element by which we can explain the unusual political restiveness in northern Palestine, in the area of Galilee.

And how did it manifest itself?

This word bandit is very problematic. It has all kinds of pejorative connotations in English. And one man's banditry may be another man's terrorism. And it's difficult to tell under certain economic and political conditions where banditry as we usually define it leaves off and where terrorism begins. If you're just rolling people on the highway, I mean that's banditry, as most people define it. But if you're robbing from the rich to give to the poor, that's not quite banditry. Or at least that's banditry with a political edge to it, that means it just can't be dismissed as a problem of law and order per se. And I think this is the difficulty that we enter when we try to historically reconstruct what was going on there. I mean some people were engaged in violent resistance against the status quo and that means under this regime, as most, certain kinds of lawbreaking.

So what the Romans or the authorities might have defined as lawbreaking might have had a social or political content to it?

I think the Romans were perhaps even more astute than many scholars and historians after the fact.... Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us a number of stories about characters whose career could be crudely summarized as [the] following: some guy wakes up in the morning and he thinks he's the Messiah or something. Or he's a prophet and he gets a group of people to follow him. He says we're going to go out in the desert and we're going to an empty place. We're going to go out there and we're going to wait for God to do something for us. So a whole bunch of people may go with him, maybe thousands, go with him out to this deserted, unsecured place, and they wait for what Josephus calls "the tokens of their deliverance." And the Romans send a vicious police action out there and kill everybody.

Now I think it's important for us to understand the political logic at work. When that kind of police action is perpetrated against what we might consider harmless fanatics, the Romans are really giving us a very good historical lesson in how domination works. They didn't honor the right of assembly, as we might call it, in the provinces. Any group of people that large, even if they were out there for a picnic, constituted a threat to Roman security, and the Romans responded accordingly....

And I think that Josephus has a number of motivations for telling us this, but one of Josephus' motivations and one of his apologia for these stories, ostensibly, is that he wants to show that there were a bunch of fanatics in Palestine who were running around causing trouble, whipping up the local yokels. And that these people were irresponsible and they weren't representative. And that the Romans could deal with them and dispatch them quickly. Josephus' point is that they are fanatics; they're not responsible people. They're not people, for example, like Josephus.

Eric Meyers:
Professor of Religion and Archaeology Duke University
The Galilee, which becomes the true locus for a good deal of Jesus' ministry and which is the heart and soul of Jewish learning from the first and second century onwards..., is one of the most beautiful landscapes of the entire Middle East region. And we can divide it easily because there are only three major trans-Galilean routes that link it east-west and only several roads that go north-south. The great Jordan rift, of course, is the major north-south dividing line, and that goes all the way up to Mount Hermon in the northeastern corner of the land of Israel, and that is the north, the northernmost border of Galilee. The major east-west route that divides upper Galilee from the lower Galilee runs from Haifa/Acco, ancient Ptolemais in this period, over to Capernaum, over by the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. And there is a Roman road there that separates north and south, upper from lower Galilee at the Beth Ha- Kerem Valley, and Josephus is very explicit to tell us about the two Galilees.

The upper Galilee has no cities in it. It's rural, it's remote. It's located in the highest hills of the land of Israel..., a very remote area along the borders and frontiers of modern Lebanon, and high mountains and very, very treacherous terrain, very isolated by reason of topography and the nature of the land itself.

Coming down from this first trans-Galilean route, Capernaum, Acco, roughly going across the map, down south you get to the gentle lower hills of lower Galilee. And this is an area that has two cities: Sepphoris and Tiberius, both founded by Herod Antipas. Tiberius he founded anew, the only city founded de novo in the first century. And they become the anchors of the Jewish population of the Galilee, and really a lot of activities that we associate with all the important events of the first century can be located in them. One of the most significant differences between the upper Galilee, the more remote area to the extreme north, and the lower Galilee, which borders the Sea of Galilee on the east, and the Mediterranean Ocean on the west, aside from the topography, is that in the north, the people were speaking Aramaic and Hebrew and in the south, both Aramaic and Hebrew but a lot of Greek. In addition, there was a much more lenient attitude towards the second commandment, towards making images and decoration in the south, than in the north. In the north, we get candelabra, minarot, and we get other symbols, but we don't get pictorial symbols as we find them so much in the south.

These two Galilees certainly give a picture in miniature of the diversity that we find in Roman period Judaism of that time. Surely the north of Israel was more conservative and lower Galilee less conservative and more open to change, and that is reflected by the road system and all the other traffic that's going on there.

L. Michael White:
Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin
Galilee, throughout the time of Jesus, was ruled by one of Herod's sons. So it was ruled much as his father's kingdom had been, as a kind of small client kingdom. This means that local politics in Jesus' home region were a little different than those in Judea under the Roman Governors.

...In a client kingdom, the King, himself, is the absolute overlord. He's given a lot of freedom by Romans, insofar as all he has to do, basically, is raise his own taxes. And then he's in charge of everything else. So the control of the north was, in some ways, more independent, and indeed the trade and commerce that we see in this northern region shows us the degree to which the intersection of the different cultures of the north were really starting to become very important in the developing life of that region.

People use the word Galilean in a special way. What was the connotation of being a so-called Galilean?

The term Galilean seems to have been used in a variety of ways in this period. To some, it just might mean an outsider, or someone who's not really an old Jew of the traditional sort. Precisely because the Galilee had traditionally not been Jewish at the time of the Maccabean Revolt a hundred or 150 years before Jesus. But from another perspective, "Galilean" also took on the coloration of being rebellious, or insurrectionist. Precisely because we know of some people in that region who resisted first, Herod's rule, and then that of his sons and the Romans themselves. So for some, the term Galilean might also mean something political.

Social dissent?

... Because of its position away from Jerusalem, Galilee may have become a center of, not only social dissent, but economic protest. There seems to be a rise of what we might describe as social banditry. One of the most famous characters this sort is a fellow by the name of Judas the Galilean.

What happened to him?

Judas the Galilean, himself, was eventually captured and executed by Herod's sons, but his own family continued his tradition. We hear of two more of his sons in the mid-40's A.D. who were captured and crucified by the Roman Governor, Tiberius Julius Alexander. This is kind of an ironic story. Here is this ongoing tradition of protest against Roman rule, but the Governor, himself, Tiberius Julius Alexander, is actually a Jew by birth. He is the nephew of Philo, the Jewish philosopher of Alexandria. And yet, he's the one who orders them executed because of their political rebellion.

[Who was] The Egyptian?

We hear of a number of other characters during this period who reflect this growing social banditry and political protest. One of the most interesting, and famous cases is a character known as The Egyptian. We don't know his real name. He seems just to have come from Egypt. But according to Josephus, he's someone who had magical powers and garnered an enormous following among the popular folk. It seems that at one point he led a mass of people up on the Mount of Olives, literally looking down into the Temple from across the way. And Josephus says that as a kind of false prophet ... and that's Josephus' favorite way of putting it ... as a kind of false prophet, this Egyptian promised them that he would lead these common people into Jerusalem, to take the Temple. They would make him their King, and they would, in turn, become his royal honor guard.

And what happened to him?

Well, the Romans have a fairly standard response to this kind of individual. They immediately dispatch the cavalry, and any support units of the military that are at hand. Their response is quick and certain. Go first for the leader, and disperse the rest. The leader is usually arrested, or executed on the spot. The rest of the mob, as they appeared to be to the Romans, would have been dispersed, in some cases with a great deal of brutality.

Is that what they did to the Egyptian?

The Egyptian seems to have escaped in this case. Most others did not. And so, the Egyptian is a kind of a namesake of someone who lives on in the memory for a number of years, precisely because he wasn't executed.

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A Portrait Of Jesus' World - Galilee | From Jesus To Christ - The First Christians | FRONTLINE | PBS

Galilean Fishing Economy

"The man is like a wise fisher who, having cast his net into the sea, pulled the net up from the sea full of small fish. The wise fisher, upon finding among them a fine large fish, threw all the little fish back into the sea, choosing the big fish without difficulty." (Gos. Thom. 8)

"And the most shameful occupations are those which cater to our sensual pleasures: 'fish-sellers, butchers, cooks, poultry-raisers, and fishermen,' as Terence says." (Cicero, On Duties 1.42)


Both the physical and social geographies of Galilee are heavily impacted by an inland waterway known by various names in antiquity, but most commonly as the Sea of Galilee. This body of water is currently approximately 7 miles wide and 12.5 miles long, but the dimensions may have been slightly different in antiquity (Freyne 1992:900; Josephus, War 3.506). The importance of fish in Palestinian society is signaled by several geographical names (Wuellner 1967:28-33). Jerusalem had a "fish gate" (Neh 3:3). The capital of Gaulanitus was Bethsaida ("Fishing Village" or "Temple of the Fish-God"), located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee (Mark 6:45). And the Greek name for the town of Magdala on the western shore of Galilee was Tarichaeae ("Processed-Fishville").

Since the synoptic gospels are agreed that Jesus' activity was centered in Herod Antipas's tetrarchy of Galilee, and specifically in the harbor village of Capernaum, this lake could not fail to affect his words or deeds. The following analysis is an attempt to provide a window on part of the political-economic and domestic-economic context for the Jesus tradition, specifically as it pertains to the fishing enterprise on the Sea of Galilee. Significant data-gathering on ancient fishing was carried out by Wuellner (1967), who built on Rostovtzeff's work (1941). What I am pursuing here is a more systemic approach to how the activity of fishing operated as a web of relations within the political and domestic environment of the early first century along the lines of the systemic analysis proposed by Elliott, who adapted earlier macrosociological models (Elliott 1986:13-17). The present study will include not only materials assembled by Wuellner and Rostovtzeff, but also recent Galilean archaeology and inscriptional material from around the Roman Empire on taxation and fishing associations.

Based upon the studies of my colleague Douglas Oakman (1986, 1991; Hanson & Oakman, forthcoming), it is my observation that biblical scholars commonly tend to misconstrue the Galilean economy (and ancient economies in general) by assuming a market economy similar to a modern European or North American industrialized economy. This general observation connects to a second, more specific, observation: scholars of the Jesus traditions have seriously underplayed the role and significance of the physical and social geography of Galilean fishing on Jesus' development of his network. This lack needs to be addressed. In fact, none of the contemporary treatments of the "historical Jesus" has a single significant thing to say about Galilean fishing beyond the fact that four of the Twelve are identified as fishermen in the tradition (e.g., Borg 1987; Mack 1988; Crossan 1991; R. A. Horsley 1993). Only Rousseau & Arav have even bothered to bring together some of the basic data (1995 :19-30, 93-97, 189-90). Further, even works focused on the history and society of Galilee have virtually nothing of importance to say about Galilean fishing in general or its relationship to Jesus (e.g., Freyne 1980, 1988, 1994; R. A. Horsley 1996). In his most recent work, however, Freyne does briefly acknowledge the economic role fishing played in Herodian Galilee (1995:35).
II. An Embedded Economy: Politics and Kinship

Fishing was an important part of the Galilean economy in the first century. But it was not the "free enterprise" which modern readers of the New Testament may imagine. Even fishers who may have owned their own boats were part of a state regulated, elite-profiting enterprise, and a complex web of economic relationships. These are symptoms of an "embedded economy." That is to say, economies in the ancient Mediterranean were not independent systems with "free markets," free trade, stock exchanges, monetization, and the like, as one finds in modern capitalist systems. Rather, only political and kinship systems were explicit social domains; economics and religion were conceptualized, controlled, and sustained either by the political hierarchy or kin-groups (Polanyi, et al. 1957; Dalton 1961; Polanyi 1968; Finley 1985; Malina 1986; Garnsey & Saller 1987:43-63). For an overall assessment of the setting of Jesus' activity, it is essential to understand the mechanisms of political economies in the ancient Mediterranean in terms of the flow of benefits upward to the urban elites, and especially the ruling families.

It will not be possible here to analyze the complexity of the first-century Galilean embedded economy as a whole ( Oakman 1983:17-91; Hamel 1990; Freyne 1994, 1995; R. A. Horsley 1995; Hanson & Oakman, forthcoming). Suffice it to say, the largest part of the population was composed of peasant farmers, and the family functioned as both a producing and consuming unit. This means that relatives normally worked together, and that kinship ties were fundamental for "guild" or trade relations. This local, domestic economy was often in tension with the larger political economy. Galilee of the first century was ruled by Herod Antipas, a Roman client, and was therefore a form of what Kautsky calls an "aristocratic empire." Furthermore, it was an "advanced agrarian society" in terms of its form of production and technology. I mention here a few of the basic characteristics of political economies and infrastructures of such societies:
The primary functions exercised by aristocratic families are tax-collection and warfare: both of these functions serve the urban elites' interests (Kautsky: 6, 79).
While the small number of elites compete for honor and the right to control and tax peasant families, peasant families remain at subsistence level, reinforced by a sense of "natural" hierarchy (Lenski : 210-20).
These empires are "exploitative" in that peasants have no say in their control or taxation (Kautsky: 6, 112; Lenski : 210-20); and while the peasants are cognizant of their place in the rather rigid social hierarchy, they develop strategies to evade control through a variety of means (e.g., lying, hiding, protest) (Scott 1977, 1985).
Since much of the peasant families' produce (the so-called "surplus") is extracted by the aristocratic families in the form of labor, produce, and money (through the instruments of tithes, taxes, tolls, rents, tribute, and confiscation), technological progress is impeded, minimizing change; the exception to this is the technology of warfare, since it is subsidized by the aristocratic families to protect their power, privilege, and possessions (Kautsky: 7, 103; Lenski : 210-20).
Improvements in the infrastructure (e.g., roads, aqueducts, harbors) are for the increased benefit of the aristocratic families, not for the benefit the peasant families in return for their taxes (Kautsky: 114).

III. Galilean Fishing as a Social Sub-System

The various families in this political-economic and domestic-economic network of relationships—we must avoid imagining individuals who "go to work"—are not equally well documented for Galilee during the first century; some of the relationships are inferred. But I suggest this scenario as a beginning in order to imagine real people involved in real occupations which require a very real network of relationships and transactions. The evidence for the scenario depicted in Diagram #1 is as follows.

1. The Roman emperors became wealthy beyond imagination because of their patronage position with regard to client-kings such as the Herodians (e.g., Suetonius, Twelve Caesars, "Augustus" 60). These clients contributed to the imperial coffers first of all through annual tribute of two primary types: on land and on persons (e.g., Mark 12:13-17; Josephus, War 2.403, 405). Secondly, they profited from indirect taxes of various kinds, including customs fees at ports and roads (Pliny, Natural History 12.32, 63-65). And lastly, they were beneficiaries of their clients' wills. .

Another basic way the Romans benefitted from their provinces was through monopolies. Certain trades and industries were essentially "owned" by Rome and contracted to the workers. In Palestine after the First Judean Revolt (66-70 CE), Rome controlled the balsam trade (Pliny, Natural History 12.54, 111-13; Strabo, Geography 16.2.41). ... The net profits from these industries, consequently, went to the Imperial treasury.

2.....Josephus estimates the annual revenue of Herod Antipas from his tetrarchy at 200 talents = 1.2 million denarii (Ant. 17.318). Compare this to the annual revenues of his ruling relatives (Table 1; note that Salome is often overlooked because of her subordinate status to Archelaus):
Salome             Jamnia, Ashdod, and Phasaelis          60 talents      Ant. 17.321
Philip                northern territories                           100 talents      Ant. 17.319
Herod Antipas   Galilee and Perea                           200 talents       Ant. 17.318
Archelaus         Idumea, Judea, and Samaria           600 talents       Ant. 17.319-20
Agrippa I           all Palestine                                2000 talents       Ant. 19.352

Extracting revenues from the land was consistent with earlier periods, for example under Pompey (Josephus, Ant. 14.74, 78) and Julius Caesar ( Ant. 14.202-3). And the people of Roman-era Palestine clearly considered them a heavy burden, as protests demonstrate (Josephus, War 2.4; Tacitus, Annals 2.42).

In a story about the bid by Demetrius (the Seleucid king) for the loyalty of Jonathan (the Hasmonean), both 1 Maccabees and Josephus quote a letter from Demetrius (c. 152 BCE) listing the following taxes he was willing to suspend (1 Macc 10:29-31; 11:34-36; Josephus, Ant. 13.49-51):

a. salt tax
b. crown tax
c. grain tax: one-third of the produce
d. tax on fruit and nut trees: one-half the produce
e. poll tax
f. tithe
g. tribute
h. imposts/duties 
Presumably, the remission of these taxes and tribute previously paid to the Seleucids would subsequently be paid to the Hasmonean rulers and then the Herodians. An important anecdote in Josephus that illuminates imperial tribute (under the Ptolemies), bidding for collection rights, and the like is told about a Judean from Egypt named Joseph:
Now when the day came on which the collection rights of taxes on the cities were sold, and those that were the principal men of dignity in their several countries were to bid for them, the sum of the taxes together of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia, and Judea, with Samaria came to 8,000 talents. Hereupon Joseph [the Tobiad] accused the bidders of colluding to undervalue the taxes; and he promised that he would himself give twice as much for them. But for those who did not pay, he would send the king [Ptolemy] home their whole substance, for this right was sold together with the taxes. The king was pleased to hear that offer; and, because it augmented his revenues, he said he would confirm the sale of the taxes to him; but when he asked him this question whether he had any securities that would be bound for the payment of the money, he answered very pleasantly, "I will offer good and responsible persons, and ones which you shall have no reason to distrust." And when he asked him to name them, he replied, "I give you no other persons, O king, than yourself and your wife; and you shall be security for both parties." So Ptolemy laughed at the proposal, and granted him the collection of the taxes without any sureties (Ant. 12.175-78).
That taxes were often paid "in kind" rather than in money can be seen in several ancient documents. Referring to earlier days in Greece, Athenaeum quotes Philomnestus: "For the sycophant got his name from the fact that in those days the fines and taxes, from the proceeds of which they administered public expenditures, consisted of figs, wine, and oil, and they who exacted these tolls or made declaration of them were called, as it appears, 'sycophants' (sykophantas), being selected as the most trustworthy among the citizens" (Deipnosophists 3.74-75). And the same was true of Hasmonean-era Palestine: ". . . in the second year they shall pay the tribute at Sidon, consisting of one-fourth the produce sown . . ." (Josephus, Ant. 14.203). This is consistent with an Egyptian papyrus from the same period (Papyrus Tebtunis no. 5; Hunt and Edgar 1934:60-61; 118 BCE). Rabban Gamaliel (first century CE) is quoted as saying: "By four things does the empire exist: by its tolls, bathhouses, theatres, and crop taxes" (The Fathers according to Rabbi Nathan 28; Goldin 1955:116).

And this brings us to those collectors who controlled the roads and bridges. The imperial customs duties were based on crossing from one Roman tax district into another; and during the reign of Tiberius, the Empire had ten districts. The duty-rates were 2%, 2.5%, or 5%, depending upon the goods (Lewis and Reinhold 1990:64-65); and this rate of 2% (more or less) is exemplified by one of the technical terms for customs collectors: pentêkostologos ("collector of the one-fiftieth"; Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 2.49; 11.481). The toll-fees for roads varied considerably; they also charged for animals (at different rates for camels and donkeys) and wagons. I have not yet found any documentation for Galilean road-tolls, but presumably Herod Antipas collected from the local traffic on roads and bridges within Galilee. In a toll-list from Coptus, Egypt (90 CE), toll-rates do appear, providing some idea of first-century rates of toll in a Roman province. They cover different classifications of people based on gender, status, and profession (e.g., 5 drachmas for a sailor, 20 drachmas for a sailor's woman); and different animals and conveyances (e.g., 1 obol for a camel, 4 drachmas for a covered wagon; Orientis Graeci Inscriptiones Selectae no. 674; Lewis and Reinhold 1990:66-67). The import duty for bringing processed fish into Palmyra in 137 CE was 10 denarii per camel load (Corpus Inscriptionum Selectae II.3, 1 [1926] 3913; Matthews 1984:174-80).

The abusiveness of tax collectors is a well-attested phenomenon from the Roman era, as suggested in the Zacchaeus story (Luke 19:2-8) and the Mishnah (m.B.K.; m.Ned. 3.4; m.Toh. 7.6; Jeremias 1969:303-12). Philo's characterization of the common first-century attitude toward them is apt:
. . . for cities usually furnish them [taxes] under compulsion, and with great reluctance and lamentation, looking upon the collectors of the taxes as common enemies and destroyers, and making various excuses at different times, and neglecting all laws and regulations, and with all this obfuscation and evasion do they contribute the taxes and payments which are levied upon them (Special Laws 1.143).
Philo also tells a harrowing story of a tribute collector who harassed those in arrears and their families. The mistreatment even extended to public torture in the marketplace (Special Laws 3.159-63). From Arsinoe, Egypt (in 193 CE), we have an official complaint lodged with the local Roman centurion by a farmer and his brother against two collectors of the grain-tax and their scribe who physically assaulted the complainants' mother. The attack was precipitated because they had only paid nine out of the ten arbate that were due (Berlin Griechische Urkunden no. 515; trans. Hunt and Edgar 1934:277).

The records also indicate that there were (at least in some ancient locations) fishing police (epilimnês epistatês; or what we might call anachronistically "game wardens"), who made sure no one was fishing illegally (viz. without a fishing contract) or selling to unauthorized middlemen (Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 2 [1925] 747; an epitaph from Lake Egridir in Pisidia; G. H. R. Horsley 1989:105).

4. Fishermen could form "cooperatives" (koinônoi) in order to bid for fishing contracts or leases; this is the conclusion of Wuellner (1967:23-25), based on Rostovtzeff's model for Egypt and Syria (1941:297, 1177-79). One of the most interesting observations the gospels make about the Yonah and Zebedee families is Luke's comment that they were a small-scale collective/cooperative:
. . . they signaled to their partners [metachoi] in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats . . . . For he [Simon] was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so too were James and John, Zebedee's sons, who were cooperative-members [koinônoi] with Simon (Luke 5:7, 9-10a).
Since it appears only in the Gospel of Luke, this description may be due to the evangelist's own experiences or interests rather than those of these fishermen. Yet evidence for fishing guilds in Palestine does exist for a slightly later period (j.Pes. 4.30d; j.M.K. 2.81b; b.M.K. 13b; cited in Heichelheim 1959:230n). An ancient Egyptian fishing lease from the Roman era is analyzed by Parássoglou (1987). An Egyptian papyrus from 46 CE identifies a fishing collective of thirteen fishermen and their scribe who all took an oath by the Roman emperor (Tiberius) concerning not catching sacred fish (Pubblicazioni della Societa italiana 901.7-16; Hunt and Edgar 1934:373-75). And a fishing cooperative in Asia Minor left an impressive stele dedicating the toll-house for which the cooperative paid in 54-59 CE (Die Inschriften von Ephesos Ia [1979] 20; 54-59 CE; G. H. R. Horsley 1989:18-19). This cooperative (or guild?) in Ephesus included both fishermen and fish-sellers, so that room must be made in the model for cooperation between Galilean fishing families and fish-sellers. The sureties for tax-collectors/brokers are mentioned in the Josephus quote above; but sureties given to these brokers are also mentioned in the Palmyrene "Edict on Sureties" (Matthews 1984).

Concerning the Yonah—Zebedee cooperative, G. H. R. Horsley concludes that: "the families of Peter and Andrew, and of James and John, must have been of at least moderate means, since each owned a boat and other fishing equipment; furthermore, these families were able to release two sons for a three-year period (Mark 1.16-20)" (1989:110-11). But the evidence does not require any of this reconstruction. First, given the evidence of the Hellenistic and Roman-era fishing industries, it is at least possible that the boats were actually owned by the brokers and used by the cooperative. Secondly, "moderate means" is a useless and misleading category in a peasant society without a mercantile "middle class." Even if the families owned boats, this would say no more about them than it would about a peasant farmer who owned a yoke of oxen or a flock of sheep. Thirdly, how long the Twelve were "on the road" with Jesus is manifestly unclear in the gospels. The Synoptic story line encompasses a period of one year requiring no more than six months of activity, excluding the rainy season from October to March.

I also disagree with Wuellner's analysis and conclusions about the social status of Galilean fishers. He perceives two "classes" of fishermen: those who did the actual work, and those who owned the boats and made the deals with the brokers (1967:63). He refers to members of this latter group as the "professional middle class fish catcher and fish trader" (24), prosperous from their marketplace deals (45). While he rightly points out that there are "hired laborers," I see no reason to conclude that they were in a different "social class" than the fishing families who owned boats. We see both working alongside each other in the gospels (e.g., Mark 1:20). I conclude that both of these groups were "peasants" in the broad sense, since they both live from their work in the boats. The hired laborers are in a more precarious position because their work was likely seasonal; but that does not make the members of the fishing cooperative "middle class" entrepreneurs (45-63)! Jeremias was also fond of the term "middle class" for anyone above a beggar, but the term is simply anachronistic. The ancient Egyptian observation that the fisher was "more miserable than any (other) profession" was based on the combination of physical hazards (in Egypt, storms and crocodiles) in combination with fulfilling the fishing lease ("The Satire on the Trades"; trans. Wilson 1969:433-43; also Plautus, Rudens 290-305 for fishers as low status).

Fishing techniques in the Hellenistic era were of four basic types: a) angling—a rod with hooks on flaxen line; b) casting with flaxen nets; c) fish traps; and d) pronged tridents (Wuellner 1967:17-19; Nun 1989, 1993). While angling is mentioned in the gospels (Matt 17:27), the most common mode of fishing in Galilee seems to have been with nets. Besides the generic word for "nets" (dictua; Mark 1:18 19), two different types are mentioned in the New Testament: the casting net (amphiblêstron ), used either from a boat or along the shoreline (Matt 4:18); and the much larger dragnet (sagênê), used from a boat (Matt 13:47). Greek authors, such as Oppian and Aelian, mention as many as ten different types of nets, but we are no longer able to distinguish between all of them. Nets required a great deal of attention: fishers and their hired labor ers not only made the nets, but after each outing the nets had to be mended, washed, dried and folded (Mark 1:19).

5. If there were not a sufficient number of family members in the cooperative, the fishermen had to hire laborers to help with all the responsibilities: manning the oars and sails, mending nets, sorting fish, etc. These laborers represent the bottom of the social scale in the fishing sub-system... . Both farming and fishing made use of these laborers, which might be day-laborers (e.g., Matt 20:1-16) or seasonal workers (e.g., John 4:36; Jas 5:4). That hired laborers were a necessary and important part of the Galilean economy seems inescapable if the gospels are any indication at all (e.g., Matt 9:37-38; 10:10; 20:1-16; John 4:36; 10:12-13).

6. For their work, the fishermen needed resources from farmers and artisans, including (but not limited to): flax for nets, cut stone for anchors, wood for boat building and repairs, and baskets for fish. Both the gospels and Josephus speak of boats on the Sea of Galilee for fishing and transportation. In 1986 an ancient fishing boat was discovered in the mud along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, just north of Migdal (ancient Magdala/Tarichaeae) (Raban 1988; Wachsman 1988, 1995; Wachsman, et al. 1990). Its dimensions were: 26.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and 4.5 feet deep; a variety of woods were used in its construction, but it is primarily constructed of cedar and oak. Archaeologists have concluded that the boat was built between 40 BCE and 70 CE, based upon the type of construction, carbon-14 test ing, and adjacent pottery. This means that it was the type possibly used by the Yonah—Zebedee cooperative (including their sons: Peter, Andrew, James, and John). This boat originally had a sail, and places for four oarsmen and a tillerman. Boats of this size could accommodate a load in excess of one ton, which means the five crew members and their catch or cargo, or the crew and about ten passengers (Mark 6:45).

7. The fishing trade also entailed the processing of fish. During the Hellenistic era processed fish had become a food staple throughout the Mediterranean, in city and village alike. The result was the development of trade distinctions between those who caught fish, those who processed fish, and those who marketed fish. But as the Ephesus stele demonstrates, fishers and fish-sellers might work cooperatively. The distribution of the catch was also controlled by government approved wholesalers. While fish processors are not explicitly referred to in the gospels, processed fish is mentioned (John 6:9 11; also Tob 2:2).

Fish were processed for preservation and transportation as cured and pickled or dried and salted (e.g., m. Ned. 6.4); and wine could be mixed in with fish brine (m. Ter. 11.1). The Bible and the Mishnah also speak of eating fish in a variety of ways: broiled or roast ed (Luke 24:42; John 21:9; Tob 6:5), minced (m. Abod. Zar. 2.6), cooked with leeks (m. M. Sh. 2.1), with an egg (m. Betz. 2.1), or in milk (m. Hull. 8.1). Fish oil could also be used as fuel for lamps (m. Shab. 2.2) and as a medicine. The writer Athenaeus (c. 200 CE) waxes eloquent on the variations and the uses of processed fish (Deipnosophists 3.116a-121d). He also mentions "processed-fish-dealers." In the work Geoponica (a Byzantine compilation of earlier sources) we find the following recipes:
Garum, also called liquamen, is made in this way. The entrails of fish are placed in a vat and salted. Also used are whole small fish, especially smelts, or tiny mullets, or small sprats, or anchovies, or whatever small fish are available. Salt the whole mixture and place it in the sun. After it has aged in the heat, the garum is extracted in the following manner. A long, thickly woven basket is placed into the vat full of the above-mentioned fish. The garum enters the basket, and the so-called liquamen is thus strained through the basket and retrieved. The remaining sediment is allec.

The Bithynians make garum in the following manner. They use sprats, large or small, which are the best to use if available. If sprats are not available, they use anchovies, or lizard fish or mackerel, or even old allec, or a mixture of all of these. They put this in a trough which is usually used for kneading dough. They add two Italian sextarii of salt to each modius of fish and stir well so that the fish and salt are thoroughly mixed. They let the mixture sit for one night and then transfer it to a clay vat which is placed uncovered in the sun for two or three months, stirring it occasionally with sticks. Then they bottle, seal, and store it. Some people also pour two sextarii of old wine into each sextarius of fish...

V. Conclusions

1. Literary sources, inscriptions and stelae, and archaeological evidence confirm that fishing was an important and organized part of the economy throughout the Roman Empire. Despite the fact that our evidence for Galilee is fragmentary, the model advanced here is at least a beginning for understanding the complex web of participants and arrangements involved in such a complex enterprise.

2. The fishers could hardly be classed as "entrepreneurs" in such a highly regulated, taxed, and hierarchical political-economy. While the boat owners/fishers may or may not have also been involved in fish processing, this would not have made them wealthy, and certainly not "middle class," as many authors have contended, since the whole conceptualization of a middle-class is anachronistic relative to Roman Palestine. The "surplus" went to the brokers and the ruling elite. The importance of fish is further highlighted by the references in the gospels to people who eat fish and carry fish with them. That some of these references appear as metaphors or in non-historical stories does not diminish their importance as believable scenarios in a Galilean context.

3. The hostility of the general population in both Judean and early Christian sources against the telônai may have stemmed originally from the conflict in the economy: the ancient sources stereotype them as inequitable and liable to unjust treatment of the population.

4. With regard to the Jesus tradition, it seems to me that the role of Galilean fishing has been severely underrated for its impact on Jesus' network, locations of operation, aphorisms, parables, and "acts of power." It does not seem an overstatement to say that Jesus' proclamation of God's Reign had its primary audience in Galilean fishing-villages and towns. This at least partially accounts for his avoidance of Galilean cities (notably Tiberias and Sepphoris) and the snide view of his ministry by Jerusalemite elites. It may also account for the tradition of Jesus drawing crowds from the fishing regions of Tyre and Sidon. Because Jesus made his residence in the fishing village of Capernaum during his ministry and traveled up, down, and across the Sea of Galilee, the lives of these real fishing families became the fabric from which he wove many of his metaphors and told his stories. Moreover, it was his sitting in a boat, crossing the Sea, and healing and exorcising in fishing-villages which were the stories vividly told in the earliest Jesus-groups. This hardly seems tangential to our modern attempts at recapturing the dynamics of Jesus' career in his own setting.

Galilean Fishing Economy

alilean peasants were burdened by numerous and onerous taxes, they were poor.  Jesus and his disciples were poor.  Fishing (on the sea of galilee) was not a "business" in any modern sense of the word. It was another aspect of the agrarian economy.

Methodologies and some evidence and references are eliminated above (but retained at the link).  Further paring of the text will occur.



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