Review of . . .

K. C. Hanson and Douglas E. Oakman

Palestine in the Time of Jesus:
Social Structures and
Social Conflicts
Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998
Pp. xx + 235. $21.00 (paper).

Jonathan L. Reed
University of La Verne
La Verne, California 91750

The authors' goal is to introduce social scientific methods and models which help bridge the gap between the modern western world and the Palestine of Jesus. Written for seminarians, undergraduates, pastors, and educated laypersons, the book supplements traditional New Testament introductions based primarily on history, linguistics, geography, and archaeology by explaining the social systems, institutions, and values underlying the Gospels. A brief introduction (3-18) and conclusion (161-166) bracket the book's main chapters on four basic social domains: kinship, politics, economics, and religion.

Kinship is the first social domain under discussion in the longest chapter "All in the Family: Kingship in Agrarian Roman Palestine" (19-62). Here the authors persuasively argue that family and kinship relations were interwoven with all other social domains—politics, economics, and religion. The typical ancient Palestinian kinship system, labeled the "endogamous community family," is illustrated with Josephus' descriptions of the Herodian house's drama, laws in the Hebrew Bible, and stories from subsequent Jewish literature. After contrasting this with modern kinship systems in terms of gender, genealogies, inheritance, marriage, and divorce, the authors spell out the implications for understanding Jesus' genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17) and aspects of his peasant family dynamics (e.g. Mark 6:3; 3:21, 31-35 and parallels). The next chapter, "Pyramids of Power: Politics and Patronage in Agrarian Roman Palestine" (63-98), sketches the familiar Lenski-Kautsky model of aristocratic agrarian empires. Roman-backed elite interests kept the social hierarchy intact and prevented the lower classes from expressing displeasure in any meaningful way. The rulers repressed the resulting chronic social banditry and periodic popular movements, at times with public crucifixion. Reading Jesus' trial attuned to political structures in the Roman Empire, the authors argue that Pilate and Jerusalem's priestly elite crucified him as a political threat. The presentation of kinship and politics converge in the next chapter, "The Denarius Stops Here: Political Economy in Roman Palestine" (99-130), which stresses that rulers and elite families in urban settings dominated the production and distribution of goods. Their control of land, labor, and capital, coupled with the oppressive taxation of both the Roman-backed rulers and the Temple, pushed an increasing number of peasants off their ancestral land into tenancy or poverty. This chapter succinctly summarizes much of Oakman's important work (including his dissertation Jesus and the Economic Questions of His Day [Studies in the Bible and Early Christianity 8; Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 1986]), and concludes that the essential ministry of Jesus embodied "a potent critique of political arrangements and through the symbol of God's reign speaks of a reorganization of society through fictive kinship patterns" (128). "Was Bigger Better: Political Religion in Roman Palestine" (131-159) focuses primarily on the Temple, and ties together aspects of the previous three domains. The Herodian family and priestly elites politically enforced a Temple system oppressive to the peasantry, and Jesus voiced a non-elite vision of an egalitarian distributive system during the social solidarity fostered by pilgrimage. Especially after this chapter, readers will no longer neatly compartmentalize ancient life into discrete units—family, public politics, economics, and personal religion, but see the interconnectedness of the various social do mains and how the teachings of Jesus are embedded in them.

Although successful in communicating the social differences between the modern and ancient worlds, Palestine in the Time of Jesus suffers from some basic problems. First, even though the authors seek to describe the society and social structures underlying the life and teachings of Jesus, they rarely focus on the particularities of Galilee in any significant way. The important work of Eric Meyers on Galilean regionalism is almost entirely neglected, and though Sean Freyne's work on Galilee is found in the bibliography, his essential argument that Galilean culture, society, and religion must be reconstructed as its own entity is slighted in favor of a general pan-Mediterranean agrarian society and honor-shame culture. This problem is compounded by another oddity of the book, namely the authors' insistence on translating Ioudaios/oi as "Judean/s," rather than the more traditional "Jew/s," which the authors feel "has specifically 'religious' connotations for modern readers, with different social indices" (176). The resulting labels are certainly more confusing than any clarification of the term "Jew" at the beginning of the book would have been. For example, Herod the Great is described at one point as a "Judean monotheist," (77), the general population is at times described as "Palestinian" (even when referring only to people in Galilee and Judea, 77), the Jews that Flaccus crucified in Alexandria are called "ethnic Israelites" while the Jews crucified by the "Judean" high priest Alexander Jannaeus are called "Judeans" (92-93), and the "Greeks" of John 11 are assumed to be "hellenized Israelites from outside Palestine" (80). An anthropologically oriented definition of Ioudaios/oi, describing ethnicity in terms of socialized patterns of behavior, descent consciousness, and religion would have been welcomed. Aside from confusing the general reader, this reviewer was left unsure about how the authors understand Jesus' identity as a Galilean (read Jewish?), other than that as a Galilean he was subject to an oppressive Judean (also read Jewish?) Temple system. This leads to the third concern, namely the presentation of ancient Palestine solely with a sociology that is conflictual in orientation. While this perspective brings to light political-economic aspects of public religion that are too often neglected in New Testament introductions, it is misleading to approach Jewish religion in the first century almost exclusively in terms of the Herodian Temple and the priestly oligarchy's exploitation of the Jewish peasantry. Although recommended as supplemental reading in an undergraduate or seminary class, Hanson and Oakman's negative view of the Temple should be accompanied by an antidote like E. P. Sanders' more positive description (Judaism: Practice and Belief 63 BCE - 66 CE [Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1993]). The Pharisees' role in shaping Jewish life or even influencing social structures, without undermining the Temple sy stem, also deserved more consideration as an influential social movement alone, not to mention as the chief antagonists in Jesus' teachings.

In sum, the title Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts, captures both the essence as well as the limitations of the book. It takes the reader back to the Time of Jesus by sketching the general Mediterranean world of which Palestine was a part, but not specifically Galilee. It describes the important Social Structures, but confuses with regard to Jewish ethnicity. And its preoccupation with Social Conflicts illuminates much but presents a one-sided picture of Second Temple Judaism.

In spite of these criticisms, the book succeeds in its basic goal of introducing and accentuating the gap between our social institutions and forms and theirs. The style tends to be written with the general reader in mind, and the four chapters on social domains begin with a series of reflection questions, end with well thought out assignments on Gospel texts, and suggest further reading. Throughout the book, terms from life in antiquity, ancient sources, or sociological vocabulary are marked with asterisks and then explained in helpful glossaries (167-204). Bibliographies (205-218) and indices (219-235) round out the work, which is enhanced by several photographs and numerous charts ("pictorial conceptual models").

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