Herod Antipas in Galilee

One of the recent RBL reviews merits attention.

Jensen, Morton
Herod Antipas in Galilee: The Literary and Archaeological Sources on the Reign of Herod Antipas and Its Socio-economic Impact on Galilee
Review by Mark Chancey

Last week I echoed the first sentence of Chancey’s review: “One of the chief insights of the Third Quest for the historical Jesus is that to understand Jesus, one must understand Galilee”. Naturally, the historical Galilee has proven to be as elusive as Jesus. The evidence has been used to argue that Jesus was descended from Gentiles, a multiculturalist cynic-sage (Burton Mack); from Hasmonean settlers, a “common Jew” like the Judeans (Eric Meyers); and from ancient northern Israelites, a distant cousin of the Judeans (Richard Horsley). But a common construct involves Galilee in the throes of economic crisis — thanks to Herod Antipas, the arch-villain who has become the chief factor in legitimating one’s understanding of the region.

Chancey endorses Jensen’s thesis that Antipas wasn’t a particularly remarkable ruler, and that Galilee didn’t suffer the economic crises suggested by scholars like Crossan & Reed, Horsley, and Arnal:

“Far from showing any signs of decline in the decades prior to the First Revolt, the rural communities appear to have been flourishing, with public buildings, upper-class residences, and varied industrial and agricultural activity… Sepphoris and Tiberias were modest in comparison, smaller in size, with fewer monumental public buildings. ‘Antipas, rather than imposing real novelties, brought Galilee up to date with some of the infrastructure already known in the area’. Jensen’s analysis seriously undermines claims that Antipas’ construction programs were massive in scale and led to the economic devastation of Galilean villages by draining away their resources.”

In sum, according to Jensen (and Chancey), the idea that Jesus’ activity was a response to harsh economic conditions created by Antipas lacks foundation. I’ll have to read Jensen’s book, not only since I take the opposite view, but because the significance of his thesis apparently points beyond the question of Galilee by raising broader questions. “It highlights the types of problems that occur when application of theoretical models is not accompanied by extensive review of the actual evidence.”

(See also: Four Views of Galilee.)

One thought on “Herod Antipas in Galilee

  1. If I recall correctly, the redoubtable, scrupulous and reliable E. P. Sanders portrays a Galilee that’s reasonably prosperous, not taxed to excess, and not badly ruled.

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