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.
Dr Sakari Häkkinen is
participating as a research
fellow in the project ‘Biblical
Theology and Hermeneutics’,
directed by Prof. Dr Andries G.
van Aarde, Post Retirement
Professor, Department of New
Testament Studies, Faculty of
Theology, University of