No Prophet out of Galilee?
“GO NORTH for riches, go south for wisdom.” So advised a Jewish proverb in the time of Christ. Why was this proverb coined? Because, although Galilee in the north of Palestine was the most prosperous part of it, the temple, the Sanhedrin and the educated classes were to be found in the south, in Judea and Jerusalem.
The point of the proverb, however, was not altogether true. Yes, Galilee, with its many wealthy cities and flourishing towns, with its fertile soil and productive lake, abounded in material riches. But Judea and Jerusalem, in spite of their pretensions, could not lay claim to excelling in wisdom. Since we read in God’s Word that “the fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom,” and that “he will cause the meek ones to walk in his judicial decision and he will teach the meek ones his way,” it was in Galilee, rather than in Judea, where true wisdom was manifested, for its people were far more meek and teachable, manifesting far more of the fear of Jehovah, which are prerequisites for divine wisdom.—Ps. 111:10; 25:9.
None were more mistaken than the smug Pharisees, who, upon hearing Nicodemus say of the Galilean Jesus Christ: “Our law does not judge a man unless first it has heard from him and come to know what he is doing, does it?” replied with a taunt and a sneer: “You are not also out of Galilee, are you? Search and see that no prophet is to be raised up out of Galilee.” How sadly mistaken those highly conceited Pharisees were! The greatest Prophet this earth ever saw or ever will see was a Galilean. Besides that, of the twelve apostles that that Galilean prophet chose, the eleven that continued faithful were also Galileans and the one who turned traitor was a Judean.—John 7:51, 52.
What caused the Pharisees to speak in such a vein about Galilee? Was there such a striking difference between Judea and Galilee as their remark seems to indicate? Indeed there was, and in ever so many ways. Judea and Galilee, the two main theaters of Jesus’ preaching and teaching, differed in climate, in appearance, in natural resources, in fruitfulness, in the temperament and learning of the people and, most important of all, in the response each accorded to the ministry of Jesus Christ and his apostles. To note these differences will enhance our understanding and appreciation of much that appears in the inspired Record regarding Jesus’ life. Additionally, this information has a vital lesson in it for all who are seeking for the truth.
GALILEAN VERSUS JUDEAN*
Galilee at the time of Christ was the garden spot of Palestine if not of the whole world. Its climate was one of perpetual spring. It had a rare beauty and an unusually prolific productivity; all manner of fruits and nuts, as well as honey and grain, were abundant and excelled in quality. Its cities were many and prosperous.
All this was in striking contrast to Judea, which at that time had the least attractive and least fertile land in all Palestine and many of whose cities were decaying or already in ruins. Its summers were hotter, its winters colder than those of Galilee. And whereas the Sea of Galilee contained a superabundance of fish, the Dead Sea, which bordered on Judea, quickly killed all fish that reached it by means of the Jordan River.
There was almost as great a difference between the Galileans and the Judeans as there was in their lands. The Judeans regarded the Galileans with more or less open contempt. This attitude on their part most likely was due, in part, to the fact that the Galileans were not of such pure stock as the Judeans, among them being the descendants of those who had been forcibly circumcised by the Maccabeans a century previous, as well as the fact that the Galileans as a whole were not as well educated as the Judeans.
The Judeans were haughty, reserved and considered themselves the real keepers of the Law. Were not the Hebrew Scriptures in the main written as well as copied in Judea? True, Pharisees and Sadducees quarreled with each other continually, but they were united in their attitude toward the lowly Galileans. The scribes and Pharisees, who “seated themselves in the seat of Moses,” who said but did not do according to their words, and who would ‘bind up heavy loads and put them upon the shoulders of mankind, while they themselves were not willing to budge them with their finger,’ were primarily Judeans, and the Galileans smarted under their religious yoke.—Matt. 23:2-4.
In contrast, the Galileans were a warmhearted, friendly, wholesome and enthusiastic people, though with a somewhat rough exterior. Impulsive Peter, and James and John the two “sons of thunder,” were typical. It was said of these Galileans that they were “healthy as their climate, cheerful as their own sky.” Even when moved by religious intolerance, they proceeded differently from those of Judea. When incensed at the plain talk of Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth, they did not procure false witnesses and scheme for Jesus’ death, but impulsively, in the heat of anger, sought to hurl him from the precipice of their city.—Mark 3:17; Luke 4:28-30.
The religious leaders of Jerusalem looked down upon the common folk, the farmers, fishermen and others who engaged in honest manual toil, which is what most of the Galileans were. The latter cared more for a good name; the former, for riches. While not sticklers for the niceties of the law, the Galileans nevertheless took their worship of God seriously. Galileans stressed the written law; the Judeans, the tradition of the older men.
The Galileans faithfully went to Jerusalem for the annual feasts, and, whereas the Judeans were inclined to dedicate things to the priests, the Galileans more frequently dedicated their offerings to Jehovah God. With the Judeans religion was largely a matter of form; with the Galileans, a matter of the heart, of personal relationship with God, as emphasized by the prophets. With the Judeans freedom from the Roman yoke was largely a matter of politics; with the Galileans, freedom and the triumph of righteousness.
JESUS’ GALILEAN MINISTRY
Jehovah God in his wisdom saw to it that Jesus was born in Judea, at Bethlehem, to fulfill his prophecies and in keeping with Jesus’ royal ancestry and future role as King of kings. At the same time he maneuvered matters so that Jesus was reared in Galilee, the territory having the most favorable environment for Jesus’ youth as well as the most favorable soil for his preaching and teaching once he had begun his earthly ministry. Even as John the Baptist found a favorable reception in Galilee, so did Jesus. But in his zeal for righteousness John spoke out against the misconduct of Herod Antipas, with the result that Herod had John imprisoned.
“Now when [Jesus] heard that John had been arrested, he retired into Galilee. Further, after leaving Nazareth [where he had been reared], he came and took up residence in Capernaum [Galilee’s largest city] beside the sea [of Galilee] in the districts of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, ‘O land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, along the road of the sea, on the other side of the Jordan, Galilee of the nations! the people sitting in darkness saw a great light, and as for those sitting in a region of the shadow of death light dawned upon them.’ From that time on Jesus commenced preaching and saying: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.’”—Matt. 4:12-17.
Being themselves lowly and mild-tempered and earnestly looking for the coming of the Messiah and God’s kingdom, no wonder the Galileans responded to the message and the manner in which Jesus presented it as he went “preaching in their synagogues throughout the whole of Galilee,” after which “he again entered into Capernaum,” his home. It is not at all likely that in Judea his sermon on the mount, with its plain speech as to what was truly important, would have been received the way it was in Galilee, where Jesus gave it. There they not only heard Jesus through but were greatly impressed: “The effect was that the crowds were astounded at his way of teaching; for he was teaching them as a person having authority, and not as their scribes.” As a result, “after he had come down from the mountain great crowds followed him.”—Mark 1:39; 2:1; Matt. 7:28 to 8:1.
Jesus’ teaching was simple, not involved, abstruse or complex; his homely illustrations appealed to these Galileans. Not that he here did not also meet with indifference and opposition. We have already noted the time his home townfolk wanted to hurl him over the cliff on which the town was built. It was of this very home town that Jesus said: “A prophet is not unhonored except in his native territory and in his own house.” And it was of three other Galilean cities and towns that Jesus exclaimed: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! because if the powerful works that have taken place in you had taken place in Tyre and Zidon”—where he did, nevertheless, give a token witness—“they would long ago have repented sitting in sackcloth and ashes. . . . And you, Capernaum, will you perhaps be exalted to heaven? Down to Haʹdes you will come!” And all three of these did come down to Haʹdes, for they no longer exist today. However, those were not his strongest words of denunciation. Those he saved for Jerusalem: “It is not admissible for a prophet to be destroyed outside of Jerusalem.”—Matt. 13:57; Luke 10:13-15; 13:33.
JUDEA NOT NEGLECTED
Because the synoptic Gospels deal chiefly with Jesus’ Galilean ministry some have jumped to the conclusion that Jesus neglected Judea, but not so. Not that he could not have ministered to the Judeans without going to their district, for the record tells that great crowds came up from Judea to hear Jesus, as did many scribes and Pharisees.—Luke 5:17.
Still Jesus taught at length and repeatedly in Jerusalem, as John shows in telling of Jesus’ trips to Jerusalem to celebrate the passover. Besides, did not Jesus, in pronouncing woe upon Jerusalem, state: “How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks together under her wings! But you people did not want it”? And did he not say, when on trial before the Sanhedrin: “Day after day I used to sit in the temple teaching, and yet you did not take me into custody”?—Matt. 23:37; 26:55.
In fact, Jesus would not have been justified in his strong denunciation of Jerusalem and her religious leaders had he not borne them thorough witness. Further, his friendship with Lazarus, Mary and Martha, who lived in Judea not far from Jerusalem, would indicate that he was their frequent guest and so must also frequently have preached in Judea. No, Jesus was sent to all the lost sheep of the house of Israel and he did not neglect any of them. In the last year of his ministry he did spend more time in Galilee, but only because he knew his time had not yet come: “Now after these things Jesus continued walking about in Galilee, for he did not want to walk about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.”—John 7:1.
Then did the synoptists, Matthew, Mark and Luke, give us a one-sided picture of Jesus’ ministry? Not necessarily. Even as today the extent to which one has preaching experiences to relate depends more on the number of hearing ears found than upon the actual time spent preaching, so with those who have recorded for us the experiences Jesus had in his ministry. The straightforward, warmhearted, honest, humble and plain Galileans simply responded more readily to Jesus’ ministry than did the haughty, rich and learned people in Judea and especially in Jerusalem.
Since Jews out of Judea followed Jesus in Galilee and Jews from Galilee followed Jesus in Judea, it may well be that the crowd that hailed Jesus as king five days before his death was composed largely of Galileans who had been following Jesus or came up for the feast of the passover. It may well have been mostly because of these that the leaders in Jerusalem feared to apprehend Jesus in broad daylight. The fact that, after Jesus’ body had been removed from the torture stake, it was “women who had come with him out of Galilee” who were concerned about embalming his body would seem to indicate this. Quite likely, too, the crowd that clamored for Jesus’ death at his trial was largely composed of Judeans, those more readily influenced by the clergy of Jerusalem.—Luke 5:17; 23:55; Matt. 27:20-25.
No question about it, the Pharisees who spoke so disparagingly about Galilee had permitted prejudice to blind them to the truth and the facts. They find their counterpart in the pharisaical clergy of today. Thus a criticism that appears time and again in religious publications is that among the Christian witnesses of Jehovah in the New World society there are comparatively few university graduates or men of higher learning. To whatever extent this is so is entirely irrelevant to the message Jehovah’s witnesses bring. In fact, it is an argument in their favor, for did not the apostle Paul, himself a learned man, write that not many wise in a fleshly way, or powerful and noble were called; and was not this exactly the case in Jesus’ day?—1 Cor. 1:26.
Therefore do not let caste or culture, race or learning rob you of your ability to examine with open mind and heart the message brought to you by Jehovah’s witnesses. Compare it with your Bible and then act upon what you find to be the facts. Let all bear in mind that with God a good heart counts more than a full head!
Supplementing the Scriptural record for this information are such historical works as Galilee in the Time of Christ by Merrill, The World Christ Knew by Deane, Where Jesus Walked by Field, The Life of Christ by Neander, and The Life of Jesus by Goodspeed.
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THE GREAT SEA
SEA OF GALILEE