Jesus' Early Galilean Ministry - Part 5

Course: Introduction to the New Testament: Gospel and Acts

Lecture: Jesus' Early Galilean Ministry - Part 5

This lecture or supplement includes slides of places mentioned in the study of the Gospels and Acts. This first slide provides a picture of the south end of the Sea of Galilee where a display of lush foliage is shown, uncharacteristic of the country of Jordan. As we move into Jesus parables, we will see how they draw on much that was common and familiar in the typography as well as customs of Galilee.

The next slide shows a picture of the north end of Galilee, and across toward the east of the Jordan reminds us of the section that forms the bread basket in Israel. So we should not be surprised to find good grass lands for sheep herding and grazing and to understand why Jesus composed a parable about lost sheep. At nighttime, one sees the full moon across from Tiberius, the largest modern city of Galilee which was also the capital city where Herod Antipas made his political center of jurisdiction in Jesus’ day. It’s interesting, like Tiberius, the second largest city of Galilee, though now in ruins for archeologists to uncover, never appear by name in the Gospels or anywhere else in the New Testament. These were the two most gentile oriented cities; the most political important cities in the Roman provincial division of its empire in the first part of the first century in Galilee.

Is it that Jesus deliberately avoided these locations because he was sent to the Jew first? Or is it simply an accident of Biblical narration because nothing distinctive occurs or worthy of special mention in the evangelist eyes. Short of evidence, we will not be able to determine the answer to this with any certainty. Mary Magdalene, the well-known companion of Jesus and the Apostles in the New Testament Gospels, means Mary of Magdala or the Hebrew ‘Midgal’ and this is (on the slide) the approximate site, due west on the Sea of Galilee, where Magdala probably existed in first century times, a small fishing village. Here is a tile prosaic (another slide) unearthed from the first century of Magdala and we can see the style of one form of boat as well as pottery and other common products of the day.

Also, prominent throughout Jesus’ ministry, in and around the Sea of Galilee, that which includes his ministry in and around Capernaum and the synagogue there. Ruins of which still stand and remain a major tourist attraction on the northwestern shore to this day. Another slide and view of the synagogue and a close up of the relief work of the Ark of the Covenant, a visual symbol and reminder, though no longer in existence in Jesus’ day, a portion of the original furniture in the Holy of Holies. Here, set up for tourists to see in the foreground, is a mill stone. Of such, a donkey would have been hitched to a large wooden pole attached to the center of the apparatus and as the animal walked around in a circle, this would turn the mill stone and thus crushing the grain. Little wonder that Jesus could declare in Matthew 18 that it would be better that someone would have a mill stone hung around their neck and cast into the sea than to cause a child to fall into sin. In the background, the white cylindrical device is a typical wine press where the grapes were put into the top and then the handle pushed down so that they were crushed; coming out of the bottom and then for good measure, people in bare feet would tread out the wine even further. Of course, then it was subsequently washed and diluted with water to about a third of the strength of most modern day wines. This shows what happens to a mill stone over time which has been set up for tourists to see how it would have worked in the environment of Capernaum.

And then we come to a very clear capital Greek letter inscription on the Capernaum synagogue, reminiscent of the fact that these were often erected in honor to a wealthy patron, local government official of some kind or in this case, with thanks giving to Herod himself and his family, no doubt for at least allowing the presence of Jewish religion and worship in this fashion. Those portions of letters than can most easily be deciphered read, ‘Herodais Mu-chi We-ah-su-ma-toas Tek-noas’, thus some kind of honorific inscription to Herod and his sons. Nearby, also excavated for tourists to view in the environment of Capernaum and near the synagogue in particular, are ruins of foundations of rooms and buildings of the homes in the village nearest the synagogue. In the foreground are the smaller houses, but in the background of this slide is an octagonal shaped house with some inscriptions and artefacts dating from the 4th century AD of a Christian church already by then and believed to be the location of Peter’s home. Here is a picture of that structure from a different angle. In more recent years, the Roman Catholics, who own this particular site, erected a viewing area where one can look through the floor and see the ruins and the modern structure is an edifice, a memorial, as well as a tourist site. But arguably ruining some of the effect from an earlier date when the ruins were more visible, out in the open.

We read in various Gospel texts about homes with thatched roofs. One can see a few pieces of thatch emerging from this stone structure with clear example of the remanence of sticks and boards and thatch that original would have spanned, with mud held in place, over the entire roof. It would have been this kind of roof that the four men carrying the paralytic in Mark 2:1-12 and parallels would have dug through in order to lower the man down into the area where Jesus was teaching. And on an earlier lecture series when we talked about the parable of the friend at midnight in Luke 11:5-8 and reflected on some of the contributions that sociological criticism can make to an understanding about the parable.