The historical Jesus was born in the rural province of the Galilee, a fertile land which exported fish and olive oil around the Roman Empire. Then, just as now, there was a prejudice against the rural folk, and the historical Jesus might have experienced it.
The historical Jesus and his gruff country accent
In the Talmud (c. 200 ce), an incident is preserved of a rural Galilean being ridiculed in the cosmopolitan marketplace of Jerusalem for his rough country accent:
“You stupid Galilean, do you want something to ride on [hamar: a donkey]? Or something to drink [hamar: wine]? Or something for a sacrifice [immar: a lamb]?” (Mishnah Erubin 53b)
Even in our times city types are known to poke fun of the country yokels and the same was happening back then. Another incident recorded in the gospels supports the idea of a gruff Galilean accent. A servant girl asks Peter whether he was with the group of Jesus’ followers, saying “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” (Matthew 26:73)
We can certainly imagine how the historical Jesus would have been perceived when he was active in Jerusalem. That Christians would proclaim Jesus of Nazareth, a mere Galilean, as the messiah was perhaps understandably lamented. “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Cries Nathaniel in the Gospel of John (1:46).
The messiah was meant to be a kingly character and not a simple peasant from the backwaters of Israel with an ugly accent.
The Galilean troublemakers
There was also an impression that these farmers and fishermen were little more than troublemakers. Rabbinic texts, such as the Misnah, records Galileans being an aggressive people who were happy to squabble amongst themselves and who did not strictly observe Judean standards of ritual purity when worshipping. Indeed, one Yochanan ben Zakai, a Jewish sage, complains that during all his years in the Galilee he was only asked twice about the Jewish law, causing him to practically cry in despair (Mishnah Shabbat 15d). It’s also interesting to note that the historical Jesus criticised the Pharisee’s overreliance on observing the more mundane aspects of the Jewish law.
The Galileans were renowned for their violent attitude too. When the Romans ordered a census in 6 ce to gauge how much taxes they could squeeze out of their newly acquired lands of Judea, a rebellion was sparked. The head of this movement was Judas the Galilean. Later when it was clear the rebels could not defeat Rome, the native Judeans were ready to accept terms, yet the Galileans urged them to fight until the bitter end.
This brief sketch of Galileans allow us to imagine what it was like when the historical Jesus came into Jerusalem to overturn the tables at the Temple. The historical Jesus probably spoke gruffly, was perceived as a trouble maker and ultimately was executed for causing trouble in Jerusalem.
Anyway, in my book I attempt to reveal the historical Jesus, but of course the historical Jesus and the theological Jesus are two different things. So, it’s a great resource for people who are interested in challenging the Christian faith. Help a hungry author and buy it. Thanks.