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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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ZEBEDEE (Ζεβεδαῖος) is mentioned several times in the Gospels, but always as the father of James and John. Like his sons, he was a fisherman, and he and they were partners with Simon (Luke 5:10). He was with James and John in a boat when they were summoned by Jesus (Matthew 4:21), and their call as disciples left him with the hired servants (Mark 1:20), and broke up the partnership with Simon. There is no record of any direct association of Zebedee with Jesus.

John Herkless.


1. Description.—Our knowledge of the limits of Zebulun are even more indefinite than in the case of Naphtali (wh. see), and for the same reasons. It was bounded on the east by that tribe, while on the south it seems to have touched the northern edge of the plain of Esdraelon, and to have included a portion of it towards the Kishon at the foot of Carmel. On the west the slopes towards the plain of Acre, and on the north the plain of Suchnîn, seem to have been the boundaries. Josephus, indeed, tells us (Ant. v. i. 22) that ‘the tribe of Zebulun’s lot included the land that lay as far as Gennesaret, and that which belonged to Carmel and the sea.’ The latter portion seems to have been implied in the promises of Genesis 49:13 and Deuteronomy 33:18, but it is excluded in Joshua’s (Joshua 19:10-16) division of the land. The seeming contradiction may perhaps be explained by supposing that Zebulun possessed a detached portion in Haifa (חיפא), for the emphasis in the repetition of חו̇ף אֳנִיֹת and חו̇ף נמִּים (Genesis 49:13) clearly assigns that port to this tribe. This would agree also with the statement of the Rabbis: ‘Zebulun was going out to the seas,’ ‘Zebulun was diligent in business (פרקמטיא),’ ‘Zebulun was bringing in merchandise in ships’ (Ber. Rab. §§ 72, 99; Waikra Rab. § 25; Yalkut Shimeoni, § 161; Mid. Tanh.; Pesikta Zutarta and Zohar on Genesis 49:13). Still the main body of Zebulun touched no sea. Apart from the southwest portion in the plain of Esdraelon, the tribal lands consist of undulating hills and narrow valleys, which, however, widen out at places into small but extremely fertile plains, the chief of which are the plain of Toran in the east, the plain of Suchnîn in the north, and el-Battauf or the plain of Asochis in the centre. Zebulun is not so wild in scenery as Naphtali, nor has it the same variety of climate, being wholly situated in Lower Galilee (M. Shebiith, ix. 2). It varies in elevation from 365 feet in the plain to 1780 feet at Tell Jefât. It possesses no perennial stream of any size, and has no lake of any kind except that from the beginning of the rainy season el-Battauf is flooded. It remains in this condition all winter, and often contains a large quantity of water till June or July. This must always have been, and still is, in itself a fruitful source of malaria, as also through the springs it feeds in the direction of Gennesaret. Elsewhere Zebulun is well supplied with springs. The rock of the district is the same soft white limestone we meet with in Naphtali. Of this there are great barren ridges especially to the north of the plain of Toran and west of el-Battauf; but, as we have observed in Naphtali, they might easily be transformed into orchard land. The other hills, which for the most part run east and west, are covered with low prickly oak. There is nothing of the nature of forests now except in the west and southwest—beside Shefâ-‘Amr and el-Hâritîye, still there is abundant evidence to show that in the 1st cent. other places, especially in the north, were well wooded (BJ iii. iii. 2 and vii. 8). The chief business of the population is now and must always have been agriculture. At the present time good crops are reaped in the plains and valleys and on the hill sides. Everywhere we meet with fruits of all kinds, olive trees in the valleys, and around all the villages, orchards and vineyards, with an abundance of figs and pomegranates. On the hills, flocks of sheep and goats are pastured. But, fruitful as the land now is, it was formerly more so. We are told that in the early centuries ‘the land for sixteen miles around Sepphoris flowed with milk and honey’ (Jerus. [Note: Jerusalem.] Biccur. i. 8), and that means the whole tribe of Zebulun. Olive oil was plentiful around Jotapata—Tell Jefât (BJ iii. vii. 28); Araba in the north was a great grain market; while Suchnîn, close by, produced the best wine, and Shikmona in the south was famous for its pomegranates, just as Kefr Kenna is renowned to-day for the size and quality of those it produces. Antoninus Martyr (6th cent.) draws a most enchanting picture of the regions around Nazareth, and he compares the district to Paradise (Itiner. § 5). He was doubtless controlled to a great extent by sentiment, but it must be admitted that even at the present day many of the valleys, especially to the west of Nazareth, and above all that of Seffurieh, justify his description, with their profusion of flowers, fruits, and greenness so pleasing to the eye in contrast to the white rocks.

2. People and historical associations.—As in the rest of Galilee, the Jewish population here had come in during the later days of the Maccabees and the reign of Herod. During the century preceding our Lord’s Advent, Zebulun had passed through more stirring times than any other tribe of Israel. Its chief town, Sepphoris (Dio-Caesarea),—the traditional home of the parents of Mary,—had been repeatedly taken, and immediately after the death of Herod, when the young child Jesus was safe in Egypt, it had been twice besieged and captured, once by Judas the son of Hezekiah (BJ II. iv. 1; Ant. xvii. x. 5), and then by the troops of Varus assisted by a detachment of Arabs (BJ ii. v. 1; Ant. xvii. x. 9). On the latter occasion the city was burned, and many of the inhabitants were sold into slavery. Such an event would be long impressed on the minds of the people, especially those of Nazareth, who from three miles distant would view the scene from the hill tops around their city. They would lament many a friend and brother there, and during the years to come they would be making efforts to redeem their relatives from slavery. When the boy Jesus was ten years old, the land was again to pass through the horrors of war, when Judas and his Zealots held out till overcome by Gessius Florus (Ant. xviii. i. 6; cf. BJ ii. vii. 1). Thenceforward for many years there was peace, industry, and progress. The people of Zebulun are not to be thought of as poor. We learn that the inhabitants of Sepphoris had ample means. It was one of the cities rebuilt and fortified by Herod, who made it again the capital of Galilee (Ant. xviii. ii. 1); and amongst its inhabitants were senators and citizens (Jerus. [Note: Jerusalem.] Horaioth iii. 5). We read also of a city named Zebulun in this district. It is described as πόλις ἀνδρῶν, and was said to have houses like those of Tyre, Sidon, and Berytus, and to possess all sorts of good things (BJ ii. xviii. 9). But whatever may have been the extent of Zebulun’s trade on the sea, the people would be familiar with, and at least engage in the carrying trade on land, for the great Via Maris of ancient and modern times passes along the plains of Toraṇ and el-Battauf westward to the sea, so that, whatever wealth the people may have become possessed of, they would at least be familiar with the sight of earth’s treasures.

Not only would the memories of the events, through which the newly settled Zebulun had passed, influence its people, but their thoughts would also be moulded by the scenes around, which were rich in old historical associations. The tribe had given two judges to Israel, Ibzan of Bethlehem (Judges 12:8) and Elon (Judges 12:11), while 3 miles from Nazareth was Gath-hepher, the birthplace of Jonah, the first prophet to the Gentiles, and his tomb is still shown there. Then to the young Israelite of the 1st cent, no scene in the whole land could be more inspiring than the view from the hills of Zebulun. To the south the plain of Esdraelon, the battle-ground of Israel, lies stretched out—a glorious panorama. Every crisis in the nation’s history had a memory there. Close at hand, by Tabor and Kishon, the men of Zebulun had ‘jeoparded their lives to the death’ (Judges 5:18). Little Hermon—the Hill of Moreh—and Gideon’s fountain (Judges 7:1) would recall the ‘day of Midian’; while Gilboa would bring thoughts of Israel’s darker days, and Jezreel memories of sad declension in the time of Ahab. Shunem, Endor, and Bethshean could also be seen, and Megiddo too,—the scene of Josiah’s heroic fight; while nearer still on the shoulder of Carmel was ‘the place of burning,’—the site of Elijah’s sacrifice, and of Baal’s inglorious defeat before the God of Israel. More distant were Mt. Ebal, with its memories of blessing and cursing, and Pisgah’s peak in the distant haze; while westward there would be a glimpse of the ‘great sea.’ All these and many more historical sites are to be seen, and thoughts of them rise and stir the heart of him who views the scene; and if so to the passing stranger, what must they have been to the young Zebulunite, whose daily food they were, and who, in virtue of His blood, was the heir of all their most glorious memories?

The relationship of this people to the Gentile world is also worthy of note. Josephus (BJ i. iv. 3) tells us of the innate enmity of the Syrian to the Jew; but here such feelings would be less intense. We are repeatedly told of bonds of union between Zebulun and Issachar, and that this latter tribe busied itself with the Torah and made many proselytes (Ber. Rab. § 98); and before such was possible mutual jealousies must have ceased. At the same time the people would become familiar with the ceremonials of admission to Judaism, including that of baptism (Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] Jeb. 46 a, b). It is further to be remarked that, though the text seems doubtful, the town of Nazareth in this tribe is named in the songs of Eliezer Ha-kalîr as one of the meeting-places of the priests, when they assembled to go up to serve in the Temple.

3. Christ in Zebulun.—Although our Lord’s teaching was for the most part given in the tribe of Naphtali, the land of Zebulun takes precedence not only in the prophecy (Matthew 4:15), but also in historical sequence, and it is equally important for a knowledge of the Gospels. If Naphtali experienced most of the brilliancy of the noonday of the Sun of Righteousness, it was in Zebulun that the dawn appeared and shone more and more unto the perfect day. In a city of this tribe the Lord Jesus was brought up (Luke 4:16). As He increased in wisdom and stature, its associations aided in the moulding of His human character. During a period of well nigh 30 Years His life was passed in one of its valleys, broken into only by visits to the Holy City. His earlier years were spent in the midst of its fierce politics, He knew the various party watchwords; He knew what was meant by ‘wars and rumours of wars’; He had come into contact with soldiers from Tabor and Sepphoris, and early learned the terrors associated with the word ‘legion’; He had met returned slaves—redeemed, freed, or fugitive; He had wrought in the villages of this tribe, and we can even think of Joseph taking the young Jesus to work with him at Sepphoris during the busy days of its rebuilding—for there was not the same objection to entering it as the polluted Tiberias. The flowers of Nazareth had fostered His love of Nature, the operations in its fields and the products of its gardens were to be used to teach lessons for eternity. Nathanael, and perhaps other disciples, were from Cana in Zebulun (John 21:2). It was in it too that Christ publicly declared His office in the gracious words He spoke (Luke 4:21), that He performed His first miracle, and ‘manifested forth his glory’ so that ‘his disciples believed on him’ (John 2:11). But when we have studied the power of all these influences, and considered to what they should lead, we only convince ourselves the more ‘that what He was and what He became for the world cannot be explained or grasped by the help of contemporary history or social conditions’ (Delitzsch, Handwerkleben, § 1).

As in the case of Naphtali, the Rabbis have something to say of Zebulun. They discuss the question as to what Jacob saw in vision, in that he blessed Zebulun immediately after Judah (Genesis 49:10-14), and the usual answer they give is that he foresaw the glories of Rabbinism in the presence of the Sanhedrin at Sepphoris before it was removed to Tiberias (Yalkut Shimeoni, i. § 161). It is, however, also recognized that ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, should cause His Shekinah to dwell in Zebulun’ (Shem. Rab. § 1).

Literature.—See under Naphtali.

Wm. M. Christie.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Zebedee'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​z/zebedee.html. 1906-1918.
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