Class in First Century Palestine

I wrote the following in my sermon and wondering how accurate it is:

"During the time [1st century Judea]. During this time, there was a very small elite, possibly no more than the top 1 to 2 % who owned most of the wealth, and were able to live in comfortable luxury, then below this small percentage, were the vast majority of commoners, most of them struggled with the taxes and debts, but were able at least regularly to meet the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing, these probably was the class where the apostles originally came from, and then below the vast majority of commoners were the underclass, those who for a number of reasons could not work and sustain themselves, these included commoners who were so overwhelmed by the debt and taxation of the empire that they found themselves in utter poverty, these also included the sick and people with disabilities, the Roman Empire had little concept of charity and welfare for those who could not work. "

Is this a fair, although general assessment of class? I avoided using the term 'middle class' to refer to the class of which the apostles came from, because that is problematic.
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Comments

  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    Would the fishermen among the apostles have been men who owned their own boats, or worked on someone else's?
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    I wrote the following in my sermon and wondering how accurate it is:

    "During the time [1st century Judea]. During this time, there was a very small elite, possibly no more than the top 1 to 2 % who owned most of the wealth, and were able to live in comfortable luxury, then below this small percentage, were the vast majority of commoners, most of them struggled with the taxes and debts, but were able at least regularly to meet the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing, these probably was the class where the apostles originally came from, and then below the vast majority of commoners were the underclass, those who for a number of reasons could not work and sustain themselves, these included commoners who were so overwhelmed by the debt and taxation of the empire that they found themselves in utter poverty, these also included the sick and people with disabilities, the Roman Empire had little concept of charity and welfare for those who could not work. "

    Is this a fair, although general assessment of class? I avoided using the term 'middle class' to refer to the class of which the apostles came from, because that is problematic.

    You forgot to mention the slaves. Some slaves were in comfortable positions and able to save up to buy their freedom. The majority were worked very hard but were fed enough to keep them alive because they were valuable. Some educated people who were heavily in debt sold themselves into slavery

    I don't know what the situation was in Judea but in Rome, the poor were given free food and free entertainment...Bread and circuses.

    I suspect that you were really talking about the situation we have today. In modern times the poor in the UK have never been so well off because we have a welfare state
  • @Anglican Brat is specifically referring to 1st Century Judea, not 21st Century England, but I think it's true to say that slaves were indeed a large part of the population back then.

    @Telford said:

    In modern times the poor in the UK have never been so well off because we have a welfare state

    I'm not sure that all those who are poor would agree with you on this one...
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    @Anglican Brat is specifically referring to 1st Century Judea, not 21st Century England, but I think it's true to say that slaves were indeed a large part of the population back then.

    @Telford said:

    In modern times the poor in the UK have never been so well off because we have a welfare state

    I'm not sure that all those who are poor would agree with you on this one...

    I am certain that there are people who would not agree with me
  • Because it's arrant nonsense. We have the rotting near-corpse of a welfare state, artificially stimulated into life occasionally.
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited October 23
    We also have slaves (or as good as, IYSWIM), though I'm not quite sure what point Telford is trying to make.

    I guess it's rather hard to be certain about the situation in 1st C Judaea, but poverty is relative, and conditions then were very different. Human nature doesn't change, though, and I don't doubt that the elite exploited those further down the ladder, just as they do today.
  • I have heard that the fishermen in 1st century Galilee were rather well-off, maybe it's better to consider them the top rung of the common class, rather than 'middle class'.

    Maybe I just find the term 'middle class' problematic when referring to pre-Capitalist societies.
  • Land owning was the marker of wealth in the pre-industrial world. The skilled trades were simply able to charge more for their labour than the menial labourers.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    It occurs to me I know next to nothing about how class worked in that society. For pre-capitalist class I think 'feudalism', but that's anachronistic too.
  • We also have slaves (or as good as, IYSWIM)

    No I am not entirely sure what you mean. It seems quite important to preserve the distinction between "actually being a slave" and "not actually being a slave".

    Although I think @Telford is off the mark with "never had it so good" I disagree much more fundamentally with @ThunderBunk - the welfare state could certainly do with improvement but conditions for the poor throughout most of recorded history have been much, much worse.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    AIUI attempts to reconstruct the distributions of wealth in the Roman Empire range from speculative to highly speculative. There is a bit of evidence but not nearly enough to come to definite conclusions.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    Telford wrote: »
    In modern times the poor in the UK have never been so well off because we have a welfare state
    And food banks. Don't forget we have food banks now.

    The poor were better off fifteen years ago because we had a welfare state then too. We didn't need food banks then.
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    Dafyd wrote: »
    Telford wrote: »
    In modern times the poor in the UK have never been so well off because we have a welfare state
    And food banks. Don't forget we have food banks now.

    The poor were better off fifteen years ago because we had a welfare state then too. We didn't need food banks then.

    My statement actually said, "In modern times the poor in the UK have never been so well off because we have a welfare state
  • Telford wrote: »
    Dafyd wrote: »
    Telford wrote: »
    In modern times the poor in the UK have never been so well off because we have a welfare state
    And food banks. Don't forget we have food banks now.

    The poor were better off fifteen years ago because we had a welfare state then too. We didn't need food banks then.

    My statement actually said, "In modern times the poor in the UK have never been so well off because we have a welfare state

    50 years ago was modern times and the poor were better off, not least because they could get a council house.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, Epiphanies Host
    Going back to first-century Palestine for a moment, the question of class has a number of intersecting dynamics. We're talking about the absence of class consciousness as we would now understand it, a working class in and of itself but not for itself.

    Palestine at this time is a city-state under military occupation -- since about 63BCE, so the Romans are still busy building roads, aqueducts, fortifications, garrisons etc and these are to be paid for by harsh taxation measures. The occupation is characterised by brutal expropriation or requisition -- donkeys, mules, carts can be taken, land confiscated, markets disrupted. It is a society of high surveillance and constraint from a number of perspectives. The influence of Hellenism, more fluid, mobile or culturally diverse, is growing but only in certain places.

    While you have an extensive administrative military Roman ruling class, you also have retainers, merchants, a priestly class or caste and below that itinerant artisans and peasantry with use ownership of the land. And below that , you have those regarded as unclean or degraded, groups excluded from civic life (lepers, petty criminals, sex workers) since Jewish society operates on a cleanliness or purity system of food taboos and ritual sacrifices, and this is closely monitored. The honour system means that family is more important than individuals -- the control and regulation of women's sexuality and reproduction is key -- while debt servitude and taxation make life precarious. Those left destitute by the death of a male householder (widows and orphans) or by disability become beggars dependent on the charity of neighbours. Those not embedded in the family may drift from port to port, town to town, avoiding Roman patrols, checkpoints and blockades, in search of work as a [i tekton[/i], woodworker or stone mason. It is an unstable and unequal society with sporadic insurrections and protests against the forces of occupation, vulnerable to drought, increased taxation, eviction and imprisonment. There's great deal of bureaucratic interference and compliance with record-keeping for the occupied peoples.

    Any pre-industrial agrarian economy is inherently precarious. Famine or simply a poor harvest reduces many day labourers or tenant farmers to destitution and drifting in search of work. By its nature agrarian work is intermittent not regular and so most labour is casual labour, something that hasn't changed much in the developing world. Archaeology indicates that grain storage in Galilee was limited and many of the fields not taken up with grain production had turned to viticulture. Informal foraging or 'gleaning' in fields after harvest is restricted by the complex and detailed dietary laws and proscriptions.

    The relation of the rural village populations to the city is here governed by the obligations and status of the Temple in Jerusalem,, annual pilgrimages, a calendar of fasts, feasts and sacrificial rituals. Subsistence farming or small fishing operations are always threatened by the fear of destitution, punitive actions by the Roman militia or social disgrace.
  • KwesiKwesi Shipmate
    I tend to side with Dafyd on this one: that 'attempts to reconstruct the distributions of wealth in the Roman Empire range from speculative to highly speculative'. What particularly intrigues me is the social situation in Galilee that prompted the religious revival of John and carried on by Jesus. What are we to make of the mass baptisms? What was the social condition and status of those seeking baptism? What sort of people attended the sermon the the mount, and so on? What is known, of course, is that there was to be a Jewish Revolt in the sixties. Perhaps working back from there, examining the social characteristics of its various participants at various organisational levels is the best way to approach the issue of Jewish class structure in the first century.

    At the micro level I'm exercised by questions regarding the role and significance of female traders because they seem to have been important women of independent means in sustaining the ministry of Jesus, (both organisationally and financially?)
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Superb @MaryLouise. The indentured poor masses of Pakistan come to mind.
  • Just because I've been reading up on Ancient Roman wine for an entirely different reason, the Roman Empire drank ridiculous amounts of wine, 180 million litres one year, in varying styles and prices. At one point many of the occupied territories established vineyards to provide enough wine after the Italian vineyards had a problem, which might have been Vesuvius erupting and covering the vineyards on the slopes (that was one of the reasons that wine dried up). There was then overproduction of wine, to which the Romans responded by making vineyards outside Italy, mainly, illegal. So farming under the Romans was precarious - especially as it takes years to establish a vineyard.

    Wine was cleaner than water, so people drank it pretty much universally - a bottle a day per citizen is recorded, but the styles varied. Poor people either drank Lora which was the last pressing of the grapes, which made it high in tannin and bitter, or Posca, which was vinegar mixed with water, salt and maybe herbs - this was the drink of the soldier. Vinegar is just gone off wine in this situation. The most sought after was Falernian, which was an aged white, golden coloured, maybe 15% proof, made from the first pressing of the grapes.

    This all cast quite a bit of light on the turning water into wine story too.

    Sorry, was reading this to find out enough to do something else and not really study it, so the details are a bit vague.
  • Telford wrote: »
    Dafyd wrote: »
    Telford wrote: »
    In modern times the poor in the UK have never been so well off because we have a welfare state
    And food banks. Don't forget we have food banks now.

    The poor were better off fifteen years ago because we had a welfare state then too. We didn't need food banks then.

    My statement actually said, "In modern times the poor in the UK have never been so well off because we have a welfare state

    I think you're right. It seems uncontentious to say that whilst being poor is shit, it has been less shit post-war, than pre-war. I don't quite see why people are disagreeing with you, who also appear (like me) to be welfare-state fans. Anyway, back to the Romans...
  • Thank you, @MaryLouise, that is very helpful in illustrating the economic reality of first century Palestine.
  • We also have slaves (or as good as, IYSWIM)

    No I am not entirely sure what you mean. It seems quite important to preserve the distinction between "actually being a slave" and "not actually being a slave".
    <snip>

    I was referring to *modern slavery* - exploited sex workers, those working in hand car wash places, that sort of thing.
  • BTW, @Telford - if you seriously think that the poor of modern times have never had it so good, have a read of this Guardian article:

    https://theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/oct/14/covid-poor-people-uk-government-tories-died-in-thousands

    I would be more inclined to agree with you, in relative terms, as the meaning of *poverty* changes with time, if we had a government that was actually concerned for the poor.

    This has nothing much to do with the OP, I suppose, other than to reinforce my previous point that the elite exploit the underdogs in every time and place.
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    Is this a fair, although general assessment of class? I avoided using the term 'middle class' to refer to the class of which the apostles came from, because that is problematic.
    The problem is that we really don't know. One of my favorite scholars of this era, the late Prof. David Flusser, became an expert in the New Testament because he found it to be one of the best sources for information on life in the first century levant. ISTM that you can base your characterization on scripture -- if you think that your image of life back then is justified by what you read in the NT, you're on pretty solid ground. If not, you may want to scale it back a bit.
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited October 24
    Several posters have made the same point, that we don't really know, but we do get some information, as you say, from the New Testament (Acts and the Epistles, as well as the Gospels), and there is corroborative evidence, I suppose, from other contemporary (or slightly later) sources.

    Is it really important to try and see 1st C Judaea through 21st C eyes? I guess @Anglican Brat thinks so, hence the sermon and the OP.

    We do have Jesus' own assurance that the poor will always be with us, which suggests that we'll have the rich with us, too...and various implications follow on from that.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Telford wrote: »
    Dafyd wrote: »
    Telford wrote: »
    In modern times the poor in the UK have never been so well off because we have a welfare state
    And food banks. Don't forget we have food banks now.
    The poor were better off fifteen years ago because we had a welfare state then too. We didn't need food banks then.
    My statement actually said, "In modern times the poor in the UK have never been so well off because we have a welfare state

    Depends on what you mean by "modern". Historians will usually date the early modern period as starting sometime in the mid-fifteenth century. Even if you mean the late modern period, that's usually considered starting in somewhere from the mid-eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries. Here, for example, is a literary rendition of the late-modern-era welfare state in action:
    “Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

    “Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

    “Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

    “And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

    “They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

    “The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

    “Both very busy, sir.”

    “Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

    It may seem a little unfair to dump on @Telford for using a vernacular meaning of "modern" in a historical discussion, but it is a historical discussion and some degree of precision is warranted.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    edited October 24
    Just because I've been reading up on Ancient Roman wine for an entirely different reason, the Roman Empire drank ridiculous amounts of wine, 180 million litres one year, in varying styles and prices. At one point many of the occupied territories established vineyards to provide enough wine after the Italian vineyards had a problem, which might have been Vesuvius erupting and covering the vineyards on the slopes (that was one of the reasons that wine dried up). There was then overproduction of wine, to which the Romans responded by making vineyards outside Italy, mainly, illegal. So farming under the Romans was precarious - especially as it takes years to establish a vineyard.

    This gets a bit of mention in Revelation:
    When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “Two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages, and six pounds of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!”

    Making the assumption that the somewhat symbolic language of Revelation was written to address contemporary issues (i.e. it would have meaning for those to whom it was addressed) this is the voice of commercial agriculture (grape and olive cultivation for export as wine and oil) displacing staple subsistence agriculture (wheat and barley), leading to food shortages and famine for those in the regions being transformed.
  • Crœsos wrote: »
    Telford wrote: »
    Dafyd wrote: »
    Telford wrote: »
    In modern times the poor in the UK have never been so well off because we have a welfare state
    And food banks. Don't forget we have food banks now.
    The poor were better off fifteen years ago because we had a welfare state then too. We didn't need food banks then.
    My statement actually said, "In modern times the poor in the UK have never been so well off because we have a welfare state

    Depends on what you mean by "modern". Historians will usually date the early modern period as starting sometime in the mid-fifteenth century. Even if you mean the late modern period, that's usually considered starting in somewhere from the mid-eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries. Here, for example, is a literary rendition of the late-modern-era welfare state in action:
    “Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

    “Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

    “Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

    “And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

    “They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

    “The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

    “Both very busy, sir.”

    “Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

    It may seem a little unfair to dump on @Telford for using a vernacular meaning of "modern" in a historical discussion, but it is a historical discussion and some degree of precision is warranted.

    Yes. I took @Telford to be referring to comparatively recent modern times, given that he referred to the welfare state, by which I take him to mean that set up by the post-WW2 Labour government.

    I wonder what Charles Dickens would make of the way in which the government of our day treats the poor?

  • The current regime takes altogether too much inspiration from Dickens. Its welfare policies have aspirations based on Scrooge (kill the non-productive poor; work the productive poor to the bone) and its education policies are pure Gradgrind (pump facts into children to avoid the appalling prospect that they might learn to think). This, of course, means that they are ignoring the facts that these are supposed to be satires rather than primers.
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited October 24
    O indeed. Mr Dickens would wax very satirical indeed, I'm sure, were he still in the land of the existing living.

    I can't recall which novel it's in, but somewhere he says something to the effect that every party in opposition spends all its time telling the voters what it will do when in power. Once in power, it spends all its time telling the voters why it isn't doing everything it promised...

    I'm not sure Dickens would have much good to say of any of today's major parties, in England, at least.

    Sorry, we're getting off the subject of 1st C Palestine somewhat...
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    Crœsos wrote: »
    Telford wrote: »
    Dafyd wrote: »
    Telford wrote: »
    In modern times the poor in the UK have never been so well off because we have a welfare state
    And food banks. Don't forget we have food banks now.
    The poor were better off fifteen years ago because we had a welfare state then too. We didn't need food banks then.
    My statement actually said, "In modern times the poor in the UK have never been so well off because we have a welfare state

    Depends on what you mean by "modern". Historians will usually date the early modern period as starting sometime in the mid-fifteenth century. Even if you mean the late modern period, that's usually considered starting in somewhere from the mid-eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries. Here, for example, is a literary rendition of the late-modern-era welfare state in action:
    “Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

    “Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

    “Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

    “And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

    “They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

    “The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

    “Both very busy, sir.”

    “Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

    It may seem a little unfair to dump on @Telford for using a vernacular meaning of "modern" in a historical discussion, but it is a historical discussion and some degree of precision is warranted.

    Yes. I took @Telford to be referring to comparatively recent modern times, given that he referred to the welfare state, by which I take him to mean that set up by the post-WW2 Labour government.
    Correct, even though it was started early in the 20th century.
    I wonder what Charles Dickens would make of the way in which the government of our day treats the poor?
    He would be very impressed IMO. Free NHS, Free Education, Pensions, Benefits to the low paid and the unemployed, Housing benefits. Minimum wage etc etc.

  • Yes, it must be just wonderful to be poor these days...the trouble is that the saucy poor persist in believing it to be otherwise.
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    Yes, it must be just wonderful to be poor these days...the trouble is that the saucy poor persist in believing it to be otherwise.

    I don't agree with that. It's never good to be poor.
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited October 24
    What? It must be good, with all the splendid modern-day freebies and benefits you list.

    I'm sure it was otherwise in Our Lord's day, though once again we seem to be drifting from the OP.
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    What? It must be good, with all the splendid modern-day freebies and benefits you list.
    No. It's never good to be poor.
    I'm sure it was otherwise in Our Lord's day, though once again we seem to be drifting from the OP.
    In those days there was no welfare state
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    ... Is it really important to try and see 1st C Judaea through 21st C eyes? ...
    I think it's a lot more important to try ones utmost not to.

  • maybe it's just me, but I'm finding it a bit odd to think of Judea, Galilee, etc. in terms of classes. I have seen from the Ship that the UK is very class conscious, which is odd to me, coming from the U.S. which is rather ... different. But then looking at Judea and etc., should we assume that they had class consciousness? Because it seems to me that the Jews, at least, were lineage-conscious--their primary identifier was the tribe and family you came from. And some of those groups had functions (priestly, royal, etc.) So if you were a poor shepherd of David's lineage, that might take mental precedence over thinking of yourself as part of a group of people characterized by a low standard of living. You would identify yourself more with your glorious forebears than with Joe down the street who is an Asherite, or whatever.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    What? It must be good, with all the splendid modern-day freebies and benefits you list.

    Except that is not what Telford said, by any stretch of the imagination. He said that the poor are better off now, with the post-WW II etc reforms, than they were a century ago. What he is not saying is that they are well off.
  • maybe it's just me, but I'm finding it a bit odd to think of Judea, Galilee, etc. in terms of classes. I have seen from the Ship that the UK is very class conscious, which is odd to me, coming from the U.S. which is rather ... different. But then looking at Judea and etc., should we assume that they had class consciousness? Because it seems to me that the Jews, at least, were lineage-conscious--their primary identifier was the tribe and family you came from. And some of those groups had functions (priestly, royal, etc.) So if you were a poor shepherd of David's lineage, that might take mental precedence over thinking of yourself as part of a group of people characterized by a low standard of living. You would identify yourself more with your glorious forebears than with Joe down the street who is an Asherite, or whatever.

    Hmm. Good points, and yes, the UK is still a rather class-conscious society.

    @Anglican Brat - can you tell us why you thought it necessary to raise this subject in your sermon?
  • DoublethinkDoublethink Purgatory Host
    maybe it's just me, but I'm finding it a bit odd to think of Judea, Galilee, etc. in terms of classes. I have seen from the Ship that the UK is very class conscious, which is odd to me, coming from the U.S. which is rather ... different. But then looking at Judea and etc., should we assume that they had class consciousness? Because it seems to me that the Jews, at least, were lineage-conscious--their primary identifier was the tribe and family you came from. And some of those groups had functions (priestly, royal, etc.) So if you were a poor shepherd of David's lineage, that might take mental precedence over thinking of yourself as part of a group of people characterized by a low standard of living. You would identify yourself more with your glorious forebears than with Joe down the street who is an Asherite, or whatever.

    Class in the British sense is primarily about family, lineage and by extension your likely employment or lack of, rather than money, (though that *may* be starting to shift). It is possible to be upper class and poor living in a squat, for example. But obviously the aristocracy tend to accrue wealth and privilege - as royalty would have done. Though I do agree trying to apply a modern understanding of class in one country, to an entirely different society thousands of years ago is likely to be of limited utility.
  • @Anglican Brat - can you tell us why you thought it necessary to raise this subject in your sermon?

    I basically preached that one rationale for why Bartimaeus was eager to join the Jesus movement and Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom of God, is that because he was on the margins of society, the kingdom of God offered hope, justice and care in a way that the current kingdom did not. Maybe not a full on "class consciousness", but an explanation of eschatological hope.
  • DoublethinkDoublethink Purgatory Host
    Heaven as a sort of posthumous social mobility ?
  • It has always bothered me that despite the much greater material poverty of 1st century Judaea as compared to the modern day, Jesus nevertheless was so often warning his hearers about the dangers of wealth. And it's not as though he was preaching to an audience of particularly rich people. And it's not as though he was warning them about the dangers of other people's wealth.
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    Heaven as a sort of posthumous social mobility ?

    Right. You will not find that in the NT.
  • MooMoo Kerygmania Host
    "Kwesi;c-463273" What sort of people attended the sermon the the mount, and so on?

    A certain percentage came because they had the free time and that was the most interesting thing going on. There was shortage of popular entertainment.

    I don't know what percentage came for that reason, as compared with those who sought genuine religious teaching.

  • PomonaPomona Shipmate
    Enoch wrote: »
    ... Is it really important to try and see 1st C Judaea through 21st C eyes? ...
    I think it's a lot more important to try ones utmost not to.

    Given that we all have 21st C eyes, it's impossible not to. Bias is an inherent part of interpretation and you can't somehow will it away. Recognising how your (general you) own experiences and views influencing your interpretation is important for precisely this reason. It just means reading multiple people's interpretations instead of trying to set aside your own instinctive ones.
  • MaryLouise wrote: »

    Palestine at this time is a city-state under military occupation -- since about 63BCE, so the Romans are still busy building roads, aqueducts, fortifications, garrisons etc and these are to be paid for by harsh taxation measures. The occupation is characterised by brutal expropriation or requisition -- donkeys, mules, carts can be taken, land confiscated, markets disrupted. It is a society of high surveillance and constraint from a number of perspectives. The influence of Hellenism, more fluid, mobile or culturally diverse, is growing but only in certain places.

    While you have an extensive administrative military Roman ruling class, you also have retainers, merchants, a priestly class or caste and below that itinerant artisans and peasantry with use ownership of the land. And below that , you have those regarded as unclean or degraded, groups excluded from civic life (lepers, petty criminals, sex workers) since Jewish society operates on a cleanliness or purity system of food taboos and ritual sacrifices, and this is closely monitored. The honour system means that family is more important than individuals -- the control and regulation of women's sexuality and reproduction is key -- while debt servitude and taxation make life precarious. Those left destitute by the death of a male householder (widows and orphans) or by disability become beggars dependent on the charity of neighbours. Those not embedded in the family may drift from port to port, town to town, avoiding Roman patrols, checkpoints and blockades, in search of work as a [i tekton[/i], woodworker or stone mason. It is an unstable and unequal society with sporadic insurrections and protests against the forces of occupation, vulnerable to drought, increased taxation, eviction and imprisonment. There's great deal of bureaucratic interference and compliance with record-keeping for the occupied peoples.

    Any pre-industrial agrarian economy is inherently precarious. Famine or simply a poor harvest reduces many day labourers or tenant farmers to destitution and drifting in search of work. By its nature agrarian work is intermittent not regular and so most labour is casual labour, something that hasn't changed much in the developing world. Archaeology indicates that grain storage in Galilee was limited and many of the fields not taken up with grain production had turned to viticulture. Informal foraging or 'gleaning' in fields after harvest is restricted by the complex and detailed dietary laws and proscriptions.

    The relation of the rural village populations to the city is here governed by the obligations and status of the Temple in Jerusalem,, annual pilgrimages, a calendar of fasts, feasts and sacrificial rituals. Subsistence farming or small fishing operations are always threatened by the fear of destitution, punitive actions by the Roman militia or social disgrace.

    This is an impressive summary of a massive body of learning. Kudos to @MaryLouise

    @Anglican Brat I was impressed with my Priest's sermon on Blind Bart yesterday. The bit that socked me between the eyes was his reading of "see", which he interpreted as an opening of the mind's eye. Once Bart saw the world one way, but his faith in Jesus caused him to see it in a new way. That echoes my experience of salvific love. I'm a babbling madman who can't stop telling people about this earth-shattering thing that happened to me.

  • tclune wrote: »
    Heaven as a sort of posthumous social mobility ?

    Right. You will not find that in the NT.
    I was thinking more of the Magnificat:

    He has scattered the proud in their conceit.
    He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
    and has lifted up the lowly.
    He has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich He has sent away empty.

  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, Epiphanies Host
    edited October 25
    As I read it, class consciousness isn't something narrow or defined by UK class prejudices. It is primarily about what it means to be poor in any society: to have no access to land, to be excluded from economic advantages, to be unable to benefit from the economy operating in your part of the world.

    The example often given of an oppressed group coming to a self-understanding of their position as an under-class or permanently marginalised group, is the Spartacus revolt where slaves in the Roman Empire come together and (they are from different backgrounds, speak different languages, hold differing beliefs and notions of identity) and recognise that what binds them together is their legal status and oppression as slaves, that they were all born into slavery or made slaves through capture, will die as slaves and that unless they end slavery their children will suffer the same fate. It is impossible for them to enter the slave-owning oligarchy to which they are enslaved. They are an entity or class of people who can only change their status if they can resist and overcome slavery.

    To understand modern class consciousness, most historians look to the industrialisation of the 19th century in Europe and workers suffering alienation from labour, cut off from the profits their work was producing. The history of the 'working-class' poor goes much further
    back though.

    My introduction to American class struggle was the famous and much-loved Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, detailing the unacknowledged and overlooked labour history that shaped America. Who could forget the Wobblies, Emma Goldman, Clarence Darrow or Mother Jones? Tillie Olsen writing about women on the picket lines of meatpacking plants during the Depression or garment workers in New York sweatshops. The drudgery and exploitation of immigrants from Eastern Europe or Latin America that built the US economy.

    Whenever we talk about individual or collective freedom in specific historical contexts, along with questions of social status, income, housing, equality before the law, forced labour, gender struggles, the rights of foreigners to find work or belong, religious tyrannies or power relations, family under patriarchy and what happens in crisis (war, famine, exile), class consciousness is a way to bring together the realities of work and survival for those in precarity or without privilege. The Gospels offer a window into the lives of the poor and where they located hope.
  • stetson wrote: »
    Would the fishermen among the apostles have been men who owned their own boats, or worked on someone else's?

    I get the impression that some disciples had been in a family fishing business -
    As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, Epiphanies Host
    Thank you, @MaryLouise, that is very helpful in illustrating the economic reality of first century Palestine.

    @Anglican Brat my interest in the daily realities of first-century Palestine and especially Galilee started when I spent a week on retreat reading about the healing of the paralytic (Mark 2:4, Luke 5:19). I write on contemporary vernacular architecture and wondered how that roof was constructed and how difficult it would be to tear open a large hole in such a roof. The outside stairway would mean that the flat roof was used by the occupants, to dry raisins, figs or flax in summer. When it was very hot, the family might sleep on the roof at night. Would they shelter on the rooftop under palm fronds to celebrate the Feast of Sukkot in autumn? It would also serve as a lookout point in times of unrest, with watchers crouching behind a parapet.

    Luke talks about 'roof tiles' as keramos. It could mean clay, but there is no archaeological history of clay roof tiles being used in poorer homesteads in Galilee. If the roof beams were cypress, they would be very solid and hard to shift or break. Could the roofing have been made from oblongs or squares of mud mixed with palm fronds or reeds or grass? Or what we in southern Africa call 'latte', thin split poles of wood wedged into place by a plastering of wet clay? Or a lattice of straw mats overlaid with a mud plaster?

    It's possible that builders had made a trapdoor in the ceiling for easy access to lower down dried fruit, sleeping mats or storage vessels of rainwater. The friends of the paralytic would then have just scraped out the dried mud covering this trapdoor, raised it and then asked those seated or standing below to help them lower the invalid into the room. That would have minimised the damage done to a poor householder's dwelling.

    And then I began looking at old maps of Jerusalem, wells and tunnels and Temple courtyards...
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