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).

Richard L. Rohrbaugh
Lewis and Clark College
Portland, Oregon

The last decade has seen a growing recognition among biblical scholars that the agrarian society of antiquity differed markedly from that of contemporary America. Simultaneously, important studies have appeared demonstrating how language, including biblical language, derives its meaning from the social system in which it is embedded. Language cannot be understood apart from the social context that produced it.
It is in this light that the volume by Hanson and Oakman is designed to provide the reader an overview of the social system in which the Gospels were produced. It begins by enumerating a series of fundamental differences between the social institutions, values, and social patterns of U.S. society and those of first-century Palestine. The first century knew nothing of the separation of church and state, individualism and individual rights, social mobility, career change, or neo-local marriage. We know little about the precariousness of peasant farming, arranged marriages, the evil eye, or limited good.
The book identifies four basic soical domains: kinship, politics, economics, and religion. Hanson and Oakman argue that in agrarian societies, politics and religion are deeply embedded in kinship and politics. The result is that there is kinship religion and political religion, but no such thing as independent religion. There is a kin-based economy and political economy, but no economy that is independent of either. The result is a set of social dynamics that differ markedly from anything we know today.
The book illustrates the ways in which economics and religion emerge and are played out inside the realms of kinship and politics. Given contemporary interest in the religious meaning of Jesus, this is where we get the real payoff in the "systems" approach the book advocates. Both the actions and the teachings of Jesus are shown to derive their meaning from the social system in which they are embedded.
Undergraduates, seminarians, pastors, and the generally educated reader will appreciate the extensive glossaries (thematically organized), charts, figures, and bibliographies. The net result is the best (and most accessible) overview of the social system of ancient Palestine currently available for the general reader.

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