Religion Today

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why Did Joseph Live in Galilee?

    When Caesar Augustus decided a census of the Roman Empire should be conducted, he did not send interviewers door-to-door to count each village's residents, as is the practice in the United States' census taking. Instead he required each man to return "to his own city." In Luke's gospel, chapter two, this accounts for why Joseph leaves his northern home in Galilee and undertakes a week-long journey with his wife to the town of Bethlehem, which is in southern Judea.

    But why is Joseph in Galilee in the first place? If his ties to Judea are so strong that he must return there for the census, what could have motivated him to ever leave it? Although we cannot give a definite answer, there is a sequence of historical events that may indicate why Joseph, a descendant of David's royal house, a house identified with Bethlehem of Judea, lived in Galilee. In short, the answer is that a century or less earlier, Joseph's ancestors took part in a mass migration of Judeans to settle in Galilee.

    The story actually begins in 732-722 B.C., when the Assyrian Empire conquered the northern Israelite kingdom of Israel, which included the regions of Galilee and Samaria. The book of Second Kings relates in chapter 17 how the inhabitants were carried off to Assyria in exile. A few years later, residents of other regions of the empire were brought to Samaria and settled there.

    Galilee's situation after the conquest has long been unclear. Was it treated like Samaria, which 2 Kings specifically mentions, or was it treated differently?

    Archaeologist Zvi Gal has recently discovered that Galilee was emptied of population by the Assyrian conquest and essentially remained desolate until the beginning of the first century B.C. His on-the-ground examinations of the occupation history of 80 different Galilean sites showed a six-century break in habitation. Other archaeological investigations confirm this conclusion.

    So where did the Galileans of Jesus' day come from?

    The ancient historian Josephus indicates that in 104-103 B.C., the Hasmonean king of Judea, Aristobolus, took control of Galilee on his way north to conquer the Itureans who lived west of Mt. Hermon. His successor, Alexander Janneaus, sent thousands of Judeans north to settle Galilee and farm its rich agricultural land during his 25-year reign. Not only did this give Judeans access to an increased amount of agricultural products, it also solved an apparent crisis of over-population in Judea.

    Archaeological evidence also makes it clear that these new inhabitants were from Judea, for the excavated finds from the first centuries B.C. and A.D. follow the same characteristics as those of Judea. In particular, Galilean finds reveal the same concern for ritual purity with regard to the Jerusalem Temple typical of Judea. The finds characteristic of Judea and Galilee that differ from the surrounding regions include: Immersion pools for purification baths, stone drinking vessels which protect from impurity, the practice of ossuary burial, and an absence of pig bones in the waste heaps.

    If Joseph's family came to Galilee by this scenario, then it is quite possible that it was his grandfather who migrated from Judea to Galilee in the early decades of the first century B.C. Or, it could have been his great-grandfather. In addition, the same scenario may apply to Mary, but her engagement to Joseph caused the gospels to record only his family lineage, and leave hers out.

    The implications of this repopulation of Galilee during the first century B.C. are quite significant, for it indicates that the people called Galileans had lived in that area for less than a century at the time of Jesus' birth; they did not represent a centuries-old population of that area. Their identity was still primarily Judean and had not yet been transformed into a Galilean distinctiveness.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Update on Stonehenge

On the Salisbury Plain in southwest England stands a circular structure of large sandstone rocks known as Stonehenge. The monument has altered little in recent centuries, apart from a few fallen or removed stones.
Despite this changelessness, Stonehenge has recently been a happening place, with archaeological excavations providing extensive new information to help us understand its original character.
Since the 1960s, Stonehenge and the surrounding plain have attracted repeated archaeological explorations. These have revealed the history of Stonehenge itself and its place in the settlements and structures nearby. Discoveries have occurred at a rapid pace, with the Stonehenge Riverside Project announcing in October that they discovered a 33-foot diameter "mini-Stonehenge" less than two miles to the northeast. This find is the most dramatic evidence, although not the first, indicating how Stonehenge was connected to its environs.
Archaeologists now know Stonehenge was constructed in three phases over a period of 1,500 years, from approximately 3000 B.C.-1500 B.C. In Phase I, a large henge (330 feet in diameter) was dug. A "henge" is a circular trench with a raised bank outside it built from the excavated earth.
Phase II, from approximately 2900-2500 B.C., wooden structures within the henge were built on large tree trunks sunk into the ground. These may have been buildings or arrangements of posts in significant patterns. Unfortunately, not enough of the post-holes have been identified to be able to determine their specific use.
During both phases, the henge site was used as a burial ground rather than daily living. Several dozen buried cremations have been found, but remains from residential life are almost non-existent.
Phase III of Stonehenge lasted roughly from 2500-1500 B.C. At this time, stone circles replaced the wooden structures. The massive stones were arranged and rearranged until they took the pattern represented today. There were two circular structures of large Sarsen sandstone rocks with raised lintel stones on top of them separated by a ring of smaller, Welsh Bluestone boulders. Burials of cremated corpses continued during this period.
It was also at this time that Stonehenge's builders connected the shrine to the surrounding countryside by building a wide avenue, about 1.75 miles long, to the nearby Avon River. The recently discovered mini-Stonehenge stands on the Avon's banks where the road meets the river.
The Stonehenge road's first straight stretch is oriented with the rising sun on Midsummer's day and the setting sun on Midwinter's day. Stonehenge is built at the exact latitude where these points stand 180 degrees opposite each other.
Less than three miles north on the Avon River lies the Durrington Walls site, the largest henge in England. Unlike Stonehenge, this is a residential site where migratory peoples lived during the winter months. It was occupied primarily during Stonehenge's third phase. If estimations prove correct, it is the biggest Neolithic village in Britain identified to date.
Durrington Walls' inhabitants connected the village to the river by a short avenue, built in a manner similar to Stonehenge's road. This straight avenue runs in the direction of the sunrise on Midwinter's day.
Professor Michael Parker Pearson of Sheffield University, one of the leaders of the Stonehenge Riverside Project, hypothesizes that the three sites were connected by an annual burial ritual. At dawn on Midwinter's morning, he suggests, the corpse of a high-status person would be carried in procession down the avenue from the Durrington Walls settlement towards the river. Symbolically, it would be carried toward the rising sun.
The corpse would then be placed on a boat and ferried south to "mini-Stonehenge." Here, the corpse would be cremated during the day.
Toward dusk, the ashes would be gathered and another procession would bear them to Stonehenge itself. As the sun began to set, the parade would proceed directly toward it, symbolizing the final presence of the dead individual on Earth. As the light faded, the ashes would be buried. The day's procession symbolized the deceased's movement from the land of the living to the realm of the dead.
Thanks to the ongoing archaeological excavations, our understanding of Stonehenge and its surroundings is beginning to move from baseless speculation to explanations founded on solid information concerning its own time. In coming years, the newly discovered and analyzed data will lead to further knowledge of this important, ancient site.