Original Research - Special Collection: UP Faculty of Theology Centenary Volume One

Poverty in the first-century Galilee

Sakari Häkkinen
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 72, No 4 | a3398 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v72i4.3398 | © 2016 Sakari Häkkinen | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 04 March 2016 | Published: 22 September 2016

About the author(s)

Sakari Häkkinen, Department of New Testament Studies, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa


In the Ancient world poverty was a visible and common phenomenon. According to estimations 9 out of 10 persons lived close to the subsistence level or below it. There was no middle class. The state did not show much concern for the poor. Inequality and disability to improve one’s social status were based on honour and shame, culture and religion.

In order to understand the activity of Jesus and the early Jesus movement in Galilee, it is essential to know the social and economic context where he and his followers came. The principal literary source in first-century Galilee is Josephus, who provides a very incomplete glimpse of the political and economic character of the Galilee and his account is both tendentious and selfserving. There is no consensus among the scholars on the conditions of ordinary people in Galilee at the time of Jesus and the early Jesus movement. The evidence can be interpreted either so that first-century Galilee was peaceful and people had somewhat better times economically because of the large building projects, or just the opposite – the building projects demanded a lot more taxes and forced labour and made life even more difficult. In this article it is argued that the latter conditions explain better the birth and rapid increase of the early Jesus movement in Galilee.


poverty; First Century; Galilee; inequality; early Jesus-movement; Herod; social context


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