corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.20.02.26
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Palestine

Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

PALESTINE.—The tendency, represented by historians like Buckle and his school, to write history in terms of environment, is one of those remarkable exaggerations of a valuable truth in which the 19th cent. was prolific. Every age which produces elemental theories and sweeping changes in the most widely accepted and venerable views, is liable to this kind of exaggeration. New ideas first stagger and then captivate men’s minds, and the new names which these theories introduce assume magic powers for a time. The next generation smiles at the omnipotence of the catchwords of the first years of evolutionary doctrine, and remembers that other words—‘sympathy’ and ‘perpetual motion’ among the rest—had a similar vogue in their day. Most of all has the power of environment received undue emphasis and been credited with an influence far in excess of the facts, in the case of Jesus Christ. There is nothing which has doomed the work of His purely naturalistic biographers to premature obsoleteness so much as this. Nowhere was Carlyle’s protest in favour of the effect of great personalities so applicable as here. If anything in history is certain, it is that here we have a case in which a unique personality is seen mastering circumstances, rather than one in which circumstances are seen creating a conspicuous personality.

Yet the influence of Palestine on Jesus is equally unquestionable.

‘We must not isolate the story,’ says Dr. Dale, ‘from the preceding history of the Jewish race … Many people seem to suppose that they may approach the subject as if the Lord Jesus Christ had appeared in Spain or in China, instead of in Judaea and Galilee’ (Living Christ and the Four Gospels, 89). ‘If, negatively,’ says Hausrath, ‘it be self-evident that Jesus’ mission would have assumed another character had He grown up under the oaks of Germany instead of under the palms of Nazareth, that the subject of Arminius or Maroboduus would have been different from that of Antipas, that the opponent of the Druids would have differed from the opponent of the Rabbis, so, positively, it is indisputable that for Jesus Himself the facts of His consciousness were given Him under those forms of viewing things in which Jewish thought in general was cast. Only by a freak of the imagination can it he supposed that an historical personality becomes conscious of the facts of its own inner life by conceptions other than those in which the thought of the age in general finds expression’ (Hist. of NT Times, ii. 225).

Thus we may take it that there is no sentence in the Gospels which can be fairly understood if it be regarded merely as the remark or question of a member of the human race who might have belonged to any nationality. Every word derives something of its significance from the place and time at which it was spoken. Jesus is the Son of Man, but He is also a Syrian teacher. It is Syrian landscape, Syrian history, and Syrian human nature with which the Incarnation works; and we of the West are confronted at every turn by the need to Orientalize our conceptions as we study these records.

In this article we shall consider the influence on Jesus (1) of Syria as a whole; (2) of the Gentile elements in the land; (3) of the open field and of Nature as seen in Syria; (4) of the town and village life with which He was familiar; (5) of the city of Jerusalem.

1. Syria as a whole.—Syria is an Eastern land, and the relations and differences between East and West are the first aspects of this subject which demand attention. No phenomenon of the kind is so remarkable as the combination of Eastern and Western characteristics in the thought and work of Jesus. Such books as Townsend’s Asia and Europe and Fielding Hall’s The Soul of a People (to mention two out of many popular accounts of East and West), though their generalizations are not always convincing, are full of suggestive illustrations of this. ‘Though Asiatic in origin,’ says the former writer, ‘Christianity is the least Oriental of the creeds.’ To find lives most typically Christian, we have to look chiefly to Western nations, France and Germany, Britain and America. Indeed, the astonishing fact is evident that in certain respects we have in Jesus an Oriental too Western for Asiatics, so that to a certain extent they have to Occidentalize their conceptions in order to become Christian. This strange fact has commonly been brought as a charge against the methods of Christian missionaries in the East. But there can be no doubt that in some measure it is due to the mind of Jesus Himself. His doctrine of personal immortality, e.g., and still more the triumphant and glad spirit in which He proclaimed it, have a far more congenial appeal to the West than to the East. ‘Eternal consciousness!’ exclaims Townsend: ‘that to the majority of Asiatics is not a promise but a threat.’ Similarly, the prominence given in Christianity to the command to love our neighbour as ourself, in the West will always find at least a theoretical assent, for it will be backed by the sentiment or at least the conscience of sympathy between man and man as such. The East, whose religion is fundamentally a matter of saving one’s own soul, or at widest a matter of tribal loyalties, will find that a hard saying, and indeed has always so found it. Again, everyone must have noticed that in the battles of Jesus against the unintelligent and conventional doctrines of the Pharisees, His constant appeal was to commonsense and the facts of the case obvious to every unprejudiced observer. But that in itself was an instance of the Western type of intellect pitted against the Oriental.

Yet, at the depths, Christianity rests upon distinctively Oriental foundations. The very publicity of Eastern life has had its effect upon the Gospels. The whole ministry of Jesus was performed among crowds, in public places of assembly and on thronged highways. His thoughts were flung at once into the arena of public discussion, and even His protests and His disregard of ritual in such matters as hand-washing, fasts, etc., were made under the scrutiny of innumerable eyes. The whole Gospel shows traces of this lack of privacy, and the emphasis of its teachings is often fixed by the angle at which its detail was seen by the onlookers. Again, the great Christian doctrine of renunciation is essentially an Oriental doctrine, typical of Hebraism as contrasted with Hellenism; so much so, that it is to the surprise with which that doctrine broke upon the West that its conquest was in part due. The Oriental has been kept from perceiving how Divine self-sacrifice is, by his familiarity with it as a commonplace of human life. ‘The qualities which seemed to the warriors of Clovis so magnificently Divine, the self-sacrifice, the self-denial, the resignation, the sweet humility, are precisely the qualities the germs of which exist in the Hindu’ (Asia and Europe, 69). Consequently, ‘the character of Christ is not … as acceptable to Indians as to Northern races,’ the former seeking in the Divine a contrast rather than a complement to their human thoughts. Again, that free play of imagination touching even the most everyday subjects, that direct statement of truth, unguarded by qualifications and unbuttressed by proofs, are Eastern rather than Western characteristics. These are but random instances, a few out of very many, and varying in importance from the most casual to the most fundamental, yet they are enough to prove that the thought of Jesus was cast in an essentially Oriental mould.

The geographical features of Palestine are strongly marked; and they include, in a very small field, mountains, rivers, plains, lakes and sea-coast. The story of Jesus brings Him in contact with each of these; but the only ones which can be said to have left very distinct traces are the mountains. The Bible is full of mountain scenery, and it owes much to that. The religious thought of the great plains of the world is one thing, that of sea-girt islands is another, and that of mountain-land is a third. The long ranges of Lebanon throw off their southern spurs in Galilee, and the range ends suddenly in the line of steep mountain-side which runs along the northern edge of the Plain of Esdraelon. Not far from this edge, nestling in hollows or crowning heights, lay the towns and villages among which Jesus spent His early years. Hermon is the one great mountain which Anti-Lebanon rises to, standing off to the south, and detached from the continuous range by the deep-cut gorge of the Abana, but sending on the ridge again unbroken, though rugged in outline, past the Sea of Merom on the eastern side, to the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Samaria lies to the south of Esdraelon, a region of finely sweeping valleys and hills of soft and rounded outline. But these hills grow less distinct as the road strikes southward through Judaea. The general level rises to a bare and lofty table-land, from which, near Bethel, rounded heights rise like huge breasts of grey stone from the upheaved bosom of the land. South of that, sheer gorges (geological faults, or the work of flooded winter-torrents) slash across the land from east to west, and open grim and sombre through precipices upon the sunken valley of the Jordan, where Jericho lies steaming in the heat, 6 miles west of the Jordan’s channel-groove, chiselled deep below the level of the valley. Soon Jerusalem is seen, like a round nest among low mountains—a city thrust up from the summit of the land, and moated by deep valleys on two sides. South of that, through the pasture-lands about Bethlehem and the wilderness of Judaea to the east of them, the land slopes down the rolling ‘South Country’ to the Arabian desert.

The traveller to-day is often disappointed in the emotions he had expected at sacred sites. The belief in miracle is nowhere so difficult as on the spot, where every detail of the scene seems so uncompromisingly earthly. If, however, he will follow the example of the Psalmist, and ‘lift up his eyes unto the hills,’ he will find the realization of Christ an easier matter. The great sky-lines are for the most part unchanged, and the same edges and vistas are to be seen which filled the eyes of Jesus. This is not merely the result of the fact that local tradition and foolish ways of honouring sacred places have disfigured and stultified so many spots of Palestine. It recalls the fact that Jesus came from the highlands of Galilee, and that He chose to associate many of the most outstanding events of His life with mountains. From the hill above Nazareth He looked abroad on an endless field of mountain tops. Hermon dominated the landscape on the north-east, and Tabor thrust its irrelevant cone, conspicuous and unique, over the undulating sky-line of the mountains between Nazareth and the Lake—a gigantic intruder which had reared its huge head to look down into Nazareth from over the wall of mountains. It was there, with countless mountain summits of familiar name about Him, that the Youth first encountered those tremendous thoughts which finally led Him to the Jordan. Driven thence by the Spirit into the wilderness, He fought His long fight with rival schemes of greatness, in the tract which Judaea thrusts high into the air from the depth of the Jordan Valley, and holds balanced upon the edge of cliffs. Jericho looks up at that mountain of Quarantania, and sees its angular and tilted platform of a summit as a black space cut out of the brilliance of a living, starry sky. From the edge He looked down on Jericho (Matthew 4:1 etc.), and knew the power of worldliness as He saw the palacelife of Herod there, and the glimmer of festive lamps among the palm-groves that had been Cleopatra’s. Mountains were the congenial places for His great utterances in which the Old Law changed to the New, and the freshness as well as the exaltation of these words remind us from beginning to end of them that they are a Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1). Similarly, by a sure instinct, it was to the heights that He went to find by night the fullest sense of converse with His Father (Matthew 14:23 etc.). Probably it was on some of the slopes of Hermon that such a season of communion brightened to the wonder of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1 etc.). Hermon’s summit is always white, and many a ‘bright cloud overshadows’ it, until it shines upon the plain for miles around, in a white glory of frosted silver. It is not without significance that Matthew gives as the trysting-place between Jesus and His disciples ‘a mountain of Galilee’ (Matthew 28:16). There is a perceptible air of relief in the words, as if after all those stifling days in Judaea—days of judgment-halls and shut doors in upper rooms, of clouded cross and sealed sepulchre—an irresistible longing had seized Him for the sunlight and the wind-swept heights of His happier early days. Nothing fostered the patriotism of Israel so much as her mountains. From time immemorial they had been her defences in war, and the platforms of her worship. In the story of Jesus they are seen in both these uses, and the feel of the heights is upon much that He has said.

Palestine is a little and compressed country, where not only geographical features, but the facts and associations of national history are gathered, so close as to force themselves upon the attention at every step. While travelling there, it is a constant source of wonder that so much could have happened in so small a place. These continual reminders of the past history of the nation, which thrust themselves upon Israelites everywhere, and kept patriotism vehemently alive, had their effect also upon Jesus. The heroes of the past were much in His thought, and His journeys from place to place reminded Him of them continually, Elijah and Elisha, Solomon, David, and Isaiah, were figures not merely remembered from reading in the sacred books. They were the unseen inhabitants of the places where once they dwelt in the flesh, peopling for Him tracts over which He led His disciples. His patriotism is evident continually (Luke 19:9; Luke 13:16). It was a great thing in His eyes to be a son or a daughter of Abraham. Jerusalem, for Him as for the Psalmist, is the ‘city of the great King’ (Matthew 5:35). The waysides are hallowed by the footsteps of the dead. The tombs of the prophets are conspicuous monuments to His imagination (Matthew 23:29). He lived among the dead, and they lived unto God and unto Him in the land where their bones had long crumbled to decay. He receives and is taunted with the title ‘King of Israel’ (John 1:49, Matthew 27:42 etc.). The accusation on the Cross is ‘Jesus, the King of the Jews’ (Matthew 27:37 etc.).

Two aspects of the land, taken as a whole, must be remembered, especially if we would understand what it meant to Jesus—Palestine as an oasis, and Palestine as a focus.

Palestine as an oasis.—It is shut off from the rest of the world by a complete ring of natural barriers. Mountains on the north; a vast desert on the east, with the deep and long trench of the Jordan Valley set as a second and inner barrier like a moat; desert again on the south; and the west wholly bounded by the alien sea which so few understood—these are the boundaries of Israel. And there was also a double ring of national barricades. At a distance had stood the great empires of the East, the Parthians having taken in His time the place of ancient Nineveh and Babylon. To the south-west lay Egypt. An inner ring of wild Arabian tribes wandered over the eastern desert, and now and then raided the land. Formerly an unbroken belt of neighbouring heathen enemies encircled Israel, and even cut her off from the sea by the Philistine wedge driven along her western coast, stretching from the Pillar of Egypt to the Phœnician seaports. All this was modified, and much of it broken up, in the time of Jesus; but the religious meaning of it all was thus being only the better understood.

The whole meaning of the land in OT times had been the isolation of Israel for religious ends. For her, ‘to act like men’ (i.e. to imitate the nations round about her) was denounced by her prophets as a betrayal (Hosea 6:7). As a matter of fact, every experiment which she made in such imitation of ‘men’ was a failure. Under Solomon she had adopted the ‘Policy of Orientalism’ of the great world-empires. Under Jeroboam she had sought to conform to the secular ideas of ritual then fashionable, and had even attempted something in the way of a democratic system of government. Under many kings she had sought greatness in aggressive wars. Under Omri she had, by her alliance with Phœnicia, tried for the position of a great commercial power. In every one of these attempts she had found herself defeated, and driven back on the one thing she could do as no other nation could. That one thing was religion, and the meaning of Israel’s isolation was that worship of Jehovah which grew up with her institutions, and of whose revelations she was the destined recipient and repository.

For Jesus also Palestine was an oasis. It is indeed true that the Palestine of His time was no longer the ‘garden enclosed’ which the prophets had striven to keep it. All its hedges were by this time broken down and driven through by the resistless march of Rome. In the heart of the invaded country Jerusalem remained bitterly exclusive and hostile to all the world, so far as the Pharisees could keep it so. Galilee was much more open to the wider thought of the time than Judaea, and Jesus was in sympathy rather with the Galilaean than with the Judaean spirit. Yet, so far as His own work went, He retained and utilized the oasis view of His land. His three temptations were an epitome of the nation’s temptations—‘to act like men’ for bread, or for fame, or for power. In resisting them He was thrusting from His Kingdom the ideals of commercial prosperity, military conquest, and political empire, just as the prophets of Israel had fought against these as national ideals. He remained, and set His speech and His works, among those relationships where God had placed Him. He confined His own ministry and the earlier ministry of His disciples to the land of Israel (Matthew 10:5); and that land was still sufficiently isolated from the thought and life of the world to provide a true cradle and fostering-place for those thoughts which formed the nucleus of the Kingdom of heaven. Thus, in the earliest years, they were sufficiently aloof to gain intensity.

Palestine as a focus.—If Palestine was no longer an oasis in the full sense in which it had been so in OT times, it was more a focus than it had ever been before. In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a little hollow place with a flattened ball in it is still exhibited to the incredulous visitor as the centre of the world. The cosmography of the Middle Ages took this as serious science, Jerusalem being the antipodes of the island of Purgatory at the other pole. No doubt some such conception was in the minds of many who looked in early Christian times for new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem. Such thoughts were true in a wider sense than the thinkers knew. At the time of Jesus, Palestine was the meeting-point of East and West.

For many centuries Israel had been a buffer State between the conflicting powers of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Now instead of Egypt there was Rome, at the height of its military power, and armed also with the spiritual weapons of Greece, whose national power it had destroyed and by the deed had set free its spirit. The eastern empires of Nineveh and Babylon were gone, and instead of them were those changing hosts of Persian and Parthian warriors who were soon to dispute the world with Rome. And behind them, more clearly visible since the campaigns of Alexander the Great, though still dim in the mists of vast distances, lay India and the Far East.

The Roman conquest of Syria had brought into immediate and hostile contact two nationalities whose whole history and thought placed them irreconcilably apart. Rome’s ideal of secular empire confronted the Jewish hope of the universal reign of Messiah. Down to the minutest detail of life the two ideals were opposed. To Rome tribute was the obvious consequence of conquest; the theatre was at once a politic and a generous enrichment of the life of the conquered State. To Israel tribute was a sacrilege, and the theatre which rose in Jerusalem a blasphemy. So hateful was the Roman to the Jew, that Jews were a worthless commodity in the Roman slave-market. So unintelligible was the Jew to the Roman, that Tacitus speaks of the nation as ‘given over to superstition, disinclined to religion’ (Hausrath, i. 173–86). These facts are but illustrations of the wider principle, that when a nation with intense national sentiments encounters a nation with strong imperial sentiment, trouble of the most violent kind always ensues. For confirmation of this, one has only to remember the history of Switzerland, of Ireland, or of the Transvaal. In Israel the struggle was only the more acute and inevitable, because the Romanizing policy of the Herods had lent to it the additional aspect of a civil war. Nothing could be imagined more explosive than this state of affairs—a fact which was very clear to the enemies of Jesus (John 11:48).

That Jesus also saw this clearly there can be no question; and this, among other things, must have been in His mind when He spoke of Himself as sending a sword (Matthew 10:34), and scattering fire on the earth (Luke 12:49). Towards the Roman power He, in contrast with such revolutionaries as Judas of Galilee, maintained a strictly neutral attitude. It is probable that no words ever uttered showed such consummate diplomatic skill as those in which He answered the question about the tribute money (Matthew 22:17 etc.). His prophecies (Matthew 24:2 etc.) show how patent to Him was the coming explosion of the forces then at play. His policy was to set the word of the Kingdom so fully at the explosive centre, that when the crash came it would send Christianity across the whole world.

For that diffusion everything was ready. Great roads had long been open by land and sea for trade and commerce. Even then the Romans were laying down those indestructible causeways by which they united land with land. The Sadducees, who in some respects read skilfully the signs of their times, did all they could to encourage trade in Syria, and to break down the Pharisaic restrictions which hampered it; and in this Jesus was their powerful ally. From the heights of Nazareth He had seen the march of the legions on the Roman road across Esdraelon from Acre to the Jordan, and watched the long lines of laden camels moving slowly from the coast to Damascus and back, along the road that lies like a flung ribbon along the hillsides to the north. When in after years St. Paul utilized the Roman roads for the spread of the gospel, he was but carrying out the work which Jesus initiated when He placed that gospel within the charged mine of Palestine.

In the light of one further consideration we see the extraordinary Providence which watched over the situation then. It is a commonplace of history, that civilization and all higher developments of human life spring forward at a bound at the meeting-point of national currents. ‘The great civilizations have always arisen in the meeting-places of ideas’ (Martin Conway, The Dawn of Art, 76). The Norman Conquest offers one of the most conspicuous illustrations, but it is only one of many. The supremely influential meeting of national forces has always been that between the East and the West. ‘The contact between East and West has always been the prolific source of the advancement of humanity’ (op. cit. 59, 60). It was from this contact, induced by the Pilgrimages and the Crusades, that the Renaissance arose. But Christianity itself had arisen at that earlier point of contact, when the Eastern factor was the Hebrew religion, and the Western was Greece and Rome. At the focus of the world Jesus set the light of the world.

2. The relations of Jesus with Gentiles.—Not only was Palestine in close proximity with Gentile neighbours in the time of Jesus; the land itself was overrun with Gentiles, and no account of the meaning of Palestine for Jesus can ignore that fact.

His home in Galilee must have given from the first a very different outlook on the Gentile world from any that would have been possible in Jndaea. Far from the centre of Jewish exclusiveness, crossed by great high roads from the sea to the east, and actually inhabited by multitudes of Gentiles from various lands, Galilee was the most open-minded and tolerant part of the land. Commercial and other interests made the Galilaeans acquainted with foreigners, and established much friendly human intercourse. Thus at the outset it must be borne in mind that Jesus was from His childhood accustomed to a more or less cosmopolitan world, and to the ideas current in such a society. The temptation of ‘the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them’ (Matthew 4:8), indicates no new discovery of worldly grandeur, but a knowledge which had been gathering during the experience of thirty years.

One fact of great significance in the life of Palestine was that it had to be lived in constant view of the desert tribes to the east of it. Kinglake has described the Jordan as the boundary-line between roofs and tents; and besides the tents of nomad tribes there were also those cities of Edom and the Hauran, where, in a rude kind of civilization, Arab kings ruled their kingdoms. The terror of the desert Bedawîn and the barbaric splendours of these kingdoms both contributed a romantic element, which was enforced by the eternal mystery of the desert, in which all things are seen in a strong light which magnifies their significance and fascinates the imagination. Most of Jesus’ parables of kings and their wars (Matthew 18:23 etc.), and certainly His picture of a strong man armed guarding his house against a stronger (Luke 14:31; Luke 11:21-22 etc.), tell of just such a condition of unsettled government and expectation of surprise as existed on the borderline between Arabian and Israelite territory.

In this border region stood the cities of the Decapolis, in which a wealthy and strongly defended Greek life held its own, by force of Roman garrisons, against the desert and the south. The marvellous ruins of J, the two theatres and ornate tombs of Gadara, and the débris of carved stones above the dam which retained water for the naumachiai at Abila, tell an almost incredible tale of luxurious and ostentatious grandeur. The blend of civilization and savagery which such places produce is a phenomenon of the most startling kind. The fact that Jesus visited the Decapolis (Mark 7:31; cf. Matthew 4:25 and Mark 5:20), bearing His high and pure spirituality into that region of the Syrian world, suggests some of the strongest and most dramatic situations which it would be possible to conceive. In this light we see the extraordinary realism of the story of the Gadarenes and their swine and their devils (Matthew 8:28 etc.). It was inevitable that they should have besought Him to depart out of their coasts. And the reaction on His own thought was equally inevitable. He saw the ideals for which He lived and was to die, not as spiritual visions remote from the actual world, or as an advance on its honest endeavours after holiness, but against the background of a life whose gilded swinishness threw it up in all the high relief of the holiness of heaven against earth at its most sordid. And yet it was to this region that He often retired for refuge from the Galilaeans of the western shore, and through this region that He chose to travel on His last journey to the Cross. The relief He sought in it was not wholly that of solitude. Even these degenerate races called for His sympathy; and being unprejudiced by religion, they at least let Him be alone.

The sea-coast comes little into the story of the Gospels, Afterwards, in the lives of Peter and Paul, Joppa and Caesarea were to assume an important place. But, so far as we know, Jesus visited it only once, when He retreated to the coasts of Tyre and Sidon from the Pharisees who had followed Him from Jerusalem. The few references which He made to the sea appear to be all subsequent to that visit. They are in every case characteristic of the inland Israelite’s thought of the sea as a place of horror rather than of beauty (Matthew 18:6; cf. art. Poet below, p. 375b). It was natural that the part of the sea-coast to which He went for concealment should have been that of Tyre and Sidon. We are not, indeed, told that He visited those towns, and the word ‘coasts’ may even refer to the landward district near them. Yet, obviously, no place could offer Him better hiding than a manufacturing: seaport town, where He would be easily lost in the crowds of workmen which came and went about the dye-works and the glass-works and the shipbuilding yards, or in the many-coloured throngs of native and foreign sailors on the quays, It is characteristic of Jesus that the record of that visit ignores the whole splendour of the wealthy life of Phœnicia; its temples with their sun-pillars, its markets, and its ships might have been non-existent for all the notice given to them. The one fact that has been found worthy of commemoration is that story where, in inimitable sprightliness and vivacity, we see for a moment the foreign mother, and hear her tale of human sorrow assuaged.

Samaria (wh. see) divided Galilee from Judaea by the alien race that is supposed to have originated in a cross between Mesopotamians and Israelites after the first captivity. During the centuries that had intervened there had been time for this nation to settle into a fixed and distinct type of its own, but the race still bore all the marks of its bastard origin. Luxurious and soft morally, with the fertility of the land encouraging the effeminacy, they seem to have relaxed their standards of purity in all directions, and the life of the woman of Sychar (John 4:18) was probably typical of current views of sexual relations. The palace life of Herod at the central city of Samaria, and his intercourse with Rome at Caesarea, upon which he had spent fabulous sums, must have intensified the Bohemian and foreign elements in the national character. The tragedies of the palace, the wild story of the murder of Mariamne and what happened after it, and the subsequent strangling of her two sons in that same palace, were matters within the memory of living men. These, and the whole effect of Herod upon the place, must have been all on the side of those primitive and half-savage elements which entered largely into the Samaritan character. In religion the Samaritans had adopted a kind of blend of heathen and Israelitish worship, in which the centre of enthusiasm was a rival group of holy places set over against those of Jerusalem, and a passion for relic-hunting which, in Christ’s time, took the form of a search for hidden treasure in Gerizim. This, too, reveals the primitive, in its frank blending of the greed of gold with worship, and it took so deep a hold as to draw the vengeance of Pilate upon a Samaritan religious assembly (Keim, ii. 334). The claims of Samaritan religion, and its compromise with relaxed morality, are reflected in the conversation of the woman at the well (John 4:16 ff.).

The Jews of the time were always ready for vigorous hatreds, and in their relations with the Samaritans they showed that extreme rancour which religious bigots keep, not for opposition, but for compromise. The attitude of Jesus to Samaritans is one of the most illuminative of all the sidelights thrown upon His mind and character by the Gospels. On more than one occasion He took the unpopular direct route through Samaria while journeying between Jerusalem and Galilee (John 4:4). In religion, when it comes to be a question of localities, He holds by Jerusalem, and refuses to admit that any other shrine can rival its claims (John 4:22). Yet the error calls for no anger in Him, inasmuch as His thought of worship transcends all place-limitations, and is as wide as the human spirit and truth (John 4:23). He allows for the unthinking brutality of inhospitable villages, and sharply rebukes disciples who would meet it in a like spirit (Luke 9:54). There is a most pleasant sense of tolerant and kindly interest in the alien Samaritans and their ways of thinking, which, while it asserts the higher morality (John 4:17) and the higher worship, is yet ever friendly and gentle. He even goes out of His way to show how much nobler as a man a Samaritan may be than those Jews who professed superior nobility of faith. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:33), and Jesus words about the grateful leper (Luke 17:17 f.), are direct protests in the name of fairness against the common judgment and attitude of His countrymen.

A few words on the attitude which Jesus assumed to Rome and the Romans are necessary to complete the view of Palestine as He knew it. Rome thrust itself then upon the inhabitants of Palestine in two forms. In such governors as Pilate it was seen directly, as the hostile imperial power governing the province of Syria. From Antioch its roads and armies had subdued the land, yet had never broken the spirit of its people, or quenched their fierce hopes of reprisals and of deliverance. At every centre its tax-gatherers had their stations. Its Praetorium in Jerusalem was occupied by the palace of the hated Pilate, whose cruelties were held in check only by his fear of the still more cruel emperor, and whose desire to quell revolutions was hindered by the fear of complaints on the score of his financial crimes. On the other hand, there were the Herods, Idumaean princes whose policy was that of Romanizing. With them, to a great extent, were the Sadducees, and under them the outward face of the country had rapidly assumed the appearance of a Western land. Architecture, commerce, amusements, and worship all showed the work of Rome through the Herodian house. There was a Roman theatre in Jerusalem, with lavishly appointed games; and a Roman eagle was set up on the Temple gates. Fortresses had risen along all the frontiers and in every part of the land, and it was Herod the Great who had cleared out the robbers from the Valley of Doves in Galilee, and so had opened Gennesaret and created Capernaum, thus unconsciously building the platform for a great part of the ministry of Jesus. At Jericho the palace-life was unrestrained in its luxury and licentiousness; in Jerusalem, Herod’s palace overlooked the city from the Jaffa gate. Tiberias rose by the shore of the Galilaean sea; but as it was built on an old graveyard it was avoided by religious Israelites, and Jesus never visited it, so far as our records tell. But all round the lake, villas had been built, and the shores of Galilee seem to have been a fashionable watering-place for Romans, a development which every Herod must have found to his own heart. The disciples, who were Galilaean fishermen, must have found a market for their fish in many a Roman household.

The attitude of Jesus towards Rome is very clearly depicted in the Gospels. From first to last every point at which His life touches any of the Herods shows hostility of relations (Mark 8:15, Luke 13:31-32; Luke 23:9, etc.). He appears studiously to have avoided Tiberias, Caesarea, and the city of Samaria. Herodism and its effects He accepted without further protest as the actual state of the world in which He had to live; but for that Herod with whom He had most to do He showed open contempt. To the popular mind, Herod was the murderer of John, who would also kill Jesus unless He sought escape (Luke 13:31). To Jesus he was but ‘that fox,’ by no means of sufficient importance to make Him change His plans (Luke 13:32). He manifested no admiration for the great stones and buildings of Herod the Great in the Temple which he had erected (Mark 13:1-2). This scorn of Jesus reached its climax in His silence under Herod’s examination at Jerusalem, and the contemptible revenge of the purple robe and crown of thorns (Luke 23:9).

Towards the actual Roman Empire Jesus assumed another attitude. Galilee in Jesus’ time was full of revolution. Along with its tolerant cosmopolitanism there always were elements of the most violent fanaticism there,—a combination by no means unusual in the history of nations. Judas of Galilee was the popular patriot and hero, and the sons of Judas, who grew up as boys near Jesus, were to perish on crosses after Him, for vain attempts against the Roman sway. Thoughts of such revolution may have been involved in the third temptation; but if so, they were immediately rejected. Pilate’s eager question, ‘Art thou a king?’ (John 18:37), met with no response which could be used against Jesus as a serious charge. His payment of tribute, and the words He spoke about it on various occasions, show no sense of resented injury (Matthew 22:21). His absence of bitterness towards the tax-gatherers, and His calling of one of them to be a disciple, were among the bitterest sources of the hatred borne to Him by the Pharisees (Matthew 9:9-11). He saw the publicans as human beings, and not as renegades and traitors. The absence of prejudice which enabled Him to adopt this attitude has been explained on the ground that He took ‘no interest whatever in the burning questions of the times’ (Hausrath, ii. 210). It would be more accurate to say that, so far as the political conditions were concerned, He accepted the facts and their inevitable consequences. He saw the coming destruction of Jerusalem with deep emotion (Matthew 23:37), and He spoke of it as about to be trodden down by the Gentiles (Luke 21:24), but He put forth no effort politically to change the course of events. The words in which He spoke of Pilate’s slaughter of the Galilaeans, who were no doubt a band of revolutionary patriots, are certainly very remarkable. Not only did He refrain from any comment on the tragedy, or any tribute to their daring or their sacrifice; all He had to say of them was that they were not sinners above other Galilaeans (Luke 13:4).

By gathering these and other considerations together, we may gain a fairly accurate idea of the feeling of Jesus towards the Gentiles, who played so important a part in the Syrian world of His time. Around Him there was the Herodian attitude of Romanizing, and the Pharisaic and patriotic attitude which delighted in branding Gentiles with such names as ‘dogs’ and ‘swine’; while between these two a considerable mass of the general opinion of the time regarded them neither with emulation nor with hatred, but simply accepted them as facts—‘uncomfortable, unaccountable works of God,’ as the Hindus are said to regard the English (Asia and Europe). To none of them all had it ever occurred to say, ‘Suppose I were a Gentile?’ and to try to look upon the world earnestly from the Gentile point of view—a quite different matter from imitating Gentile ways in the Herodian manner.

Was this the attitude adopted by Jesus? Whatever answer we give to that question, it is quite clear that His attitude was a different one from any of the three above indicated. Unlike the Herodians, He showed no interest in Gentile architecture or commerce, literature or art. He accepted their institutions in so far as these formed part of the ordinary life of the land, but He passed no judgment either of approval or of disapproval on them. He almost exclusively, and evidently with deliberation, confined His ministry, and that of His disciples during His lifetime, to Israel. While not going out of His way to avoid Gentiles, He did not cultivate them. On almost every occasion they came to Him, not He to them. On the other hand, He expressly forbade His disciples to go into ‘the way of the Gentiles,’ i.e. to utilize for the spread of the gospel, as St. Paul afterwards did, those great roads in which the ends of the earth met. He even forbade them to enter any village of the Samaritans (Matthew 10:5). In His initial words to the Syrophœnician woman He contrasts the children of the Promise with the Gentile dogs (Matthew 15:26), though probably there was that in His manner which encouraged her to her clever repartee. To the woman of Samaria He pointedly asserted that ‘salvation is of the Jews’ (John 4:22). He saw the failings of the Gentiles, and spoke of them as a warning to Christians. His disciples were to avoid their vain repetitions in prayer (Matthew 6:7), their greedy search and labour for food and clothes (Matthew 6:32), their servility with princes, and their desire of honour (Matthew 20:25). There is little doubt that His words (regarding John) about those who are clothed in soft raiment and who live in kings’ houses, were meant to be understood in scorn of Herod (Matthew 11:8).

On the other hand, it is equally clear that He refused to countenance the virulent spirit of antagonism, either religious or patriotic. Nothing met with more frequent or more unsparing condemnation than the sanctimonious exclusiveness of the Pharisees, who made a religion of avoiding their fellow-men. Nor did He intermeddle with the revolutionary politics or methods of His day. On the contrary, He paid tribute; and when the servants of the high priest came to seize Him, He strongly condemned the use of weapons even in defence, and with a quiet request permitted Himself to be bound. The general impression which the narratives give is certainly one of kindly feeling for Gentiles. His interest and appreciation were always frank and open. He shielded His Roman judge from ‘the greater sin’ in His condemnation (John 19:11), and pleaded the ignorance of His actual murderers in His dying prayer (Luke 23:34). He evidently liked to point out cases of Gentile superiority to Jews. At the outset of His ministry He offended the Nazarenes by His words about Naaman and the widow of Sarepta (Luke 4:26-27); and on a later occasion He made the men of Nineveh and the queen of Sheba a foil to the unbelief of His generation (Matthew 12:41-42). The phrase which He used on several occasions of Gentile believers has become proverbial, ‘I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel’ (Matthew 8:10 etc.). The impression which such conduct must have produced was certainly one of strong Gentile sympathies, and Matthew aptly quotes regarding Him the words of Isaiah, ‘in his name shall the Gentiles trust’ (Matthew 12:21).

From this it is already evident that Jesus cannot be placed in the third class, with those who merely accepted the Gentiles as facts in the situation. Politically, that was His attitude towards them, but as individuals He often delighted in them. He appreciated their broader outlook and want of Pharisaic narrowness. He was frankly relieved by their unconventionality and naturalness, which gave Him air to breathe after the stifling atmosphere of Rabbinism. To Him, in general, they stood for human nature, plain and unsophisticated.

When we inquire into the reasons for that Jewish exclusiveness against which Jesus thus protested, we come upon a fact of far-reaching significance. The Pharisees had much to justify their narrow views and practices in the fear of heathenism. The dearly won victory of the prophets over idolatry seemed to be in danger of being undone by the Graeco-Roman invasion of a new heathenism. The old struggle renewed itself, and in Jesus’ time the religious men of Israel were keeping back the encroaching worship of idols with both hands. In Samson’s country the new Philistines (for so the followers of Epiphanes seemed to the faithful) had built an altar to Zeus (Hausrath, i. 29). Herod was known to have taken part in the completion of Jupiter’s temple at Athens (ib. ii. 4). Much of the modern style, with its pictured art, must have savoured of idolatry to men who still took the Second Commandment literally, and the religious men of Israel were filled with the gravest apprehensions as they watched the advancing tide. In the whole speech of Jesus there is no attack upon heathenism to be found, nor any sense of serious danger from it. At Caesarea Philippi He had seen the temple raised by Herod to Augustus, and the rock-cut niches dedicated to Pan and the nymphs where Jordan issued from its cave, yet no word of His is recorded in protest. True, He might upon occasion use such a current expression as ‘Let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican’ (Matthew 18:17), but His own attitude to publicans would be sufficient commentary upon that for His enemies. Evidently He was not in the slightest degree afraid of heathenism as a real danger, and He set Himself systematically against those maxims and practices as to clean and unclean things in which the Pharisaic spirit saw one of its best safeguards.

The explanation must be found in His further doctrine of the Kingdom of God, and the methods of its coming. There are two ways of opposing heathenism. The Pharisaic way was the negative one of denouncing it and withstanding its encroachment. Jesus chose the positive method of supplanting it by the Kingdom of heaven. That strong leaven He cast into the lump of humanity, well knowing that it must work eventually far beyond the Jewish regions. This is the ultimate point in His relations with the Gentile world. When He spoke to Pilate of His Kingdom, the Roman was relieved to hear that it was ‘not of this world,’ and at once set Him down as a dreamer. But Jesus was no dreamer. He was deliberately setting an actual Kingdom over against the existing empire, and history was soon to show that this was in the region of the practical and effective forces of the world. The consequences of this Leaven of the Kingdom could not possibly be confined to the sphere of religion. They must eventually take political shape, and indeed affect every department of human life and interest, and spread throughout every nation of the world.

All this was in the mind of Jesus. The Book of Jonah was a favourite with Him, and it is the OT manifesto of the imperial and world-wide power of faith. His parable of the judgment of the nations (Matthew 25:32), and His prophecies of the coming of the East and West and North and South to the Kingdom of God (Matthew 8:11), showed plainly His ultimate designs upon the Gentile world. He spoke of other sheep beyond those of the Israelite fold (John 10:16), and finally commanded His messengers to go out into all the world and teach all nations (Matthew 28:19). When He spoke of Himself as the Light of the world (John 8:12), and of His life as given for the world (John 6:51), it was the world that He was speaking of, and His hearers understood that it was so (cf. also Matthew 16:21; Matthew 13:38; Matthew 5:5; Matthew 5:13-14).

At times there may have crossed His mind a thought of making the wider appeal in person before His death. The most striking instance is that of the coming of the Greeks shortly before the end (John 12:20). It may be, as has been held by high authorities, that He saw in that event the invitation to address to the Greek world the message which the Hebrew world was rejecting. He refused it, proclaiming, in the wonderful saying about the corn of wheat (John 12:24), His knowledge that it was through death that life must come. Yet He rejoiced in it with a sudden glory (John 12:23), and recognized in it the fulfilment of His life’s far-reaching purpose. He rejected it only that He might attain it. His own light, like that of His disciples, must be set upon a candlestick if it was to give light to all that were in the house; and He reached the Gentiles most effectually by concentrating His ministry upon Israel.

3. The open field.—In order to estimate the influence of Nature upon the mind of Jesus, it is necessary, first, to distinguish between the various ways in which Nature has been conceived in relation to humanity. At the two extremes stand materialistic realism and the purely spiritual and idealistic views. The former sees in nature mere masses of living or dead matter, arranged in various shapes, quantities, and combinations, and moved by forces variously conceived. The latter sees in it the visual and sensuous revelation of the Divine life. It is ‘the garment of God,’ whose line drapery at once hides and reveals the Spirit of the universe.

Between these extremes there are three main points of view. Art, searching for beauty, has discovered landscape, in which the detailed objects are grouped into larger unities invested with a larger and more composite character of their own. The experience of individuals and the history of nations have added to the facts of landscape or of single objects certain associations which give them their human interest. Thought, emotion, and imagination have discovered (some would say invented) a mysterious spirituality in Nature, variously described or confessed to be indescribable, but perceived or felt as in some way a haunting presence, a ‘something more’ than meets the eye or ear.

Often we find more than one of these ways of regarding Nature combined in the mind of a single thinker. St. Paul, e.g., seems to have had singularly little feeling for Nature in the modern sense. There is no landscape and hardly any reference to detail in his writings, though his travels had showed him much of the finest scenery of the Mediterranean and of Asia Minor. For him the open field apparently represented nothing but a set of distances to be traversed before reaching cities. Yet at times the mystery comes upon him, and he invests Nature with a.dim life of her own, groaning and travailing in pain towards some grand event (Romans 8:22). Dante, amid much of the grandest scenery of Europe, sees only obstacles to the foot of the traveller. But for him every place has historical associations, in whose light it lives in his mind. Gray is the poet who discovered English landscape. Wordsworth reaches the highest point in spiritualizing nature:

‘Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan, suckled in a creed outworn,

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathéd horn.’

Wordsworth, Miscellaneous Sonnets.

The age of Jesus was divided between the Greek and the Hebrew view of Nature, and both of these must have been familiar in Syria. The Greek view was devoid of landscape properly so called. It saw brilliant and well-defined masses of detail—the temple white on its hill, reeds in the river-bed, the numberless laughter of waves. Greece not only saw but felt these, as charged with a spiritual significance which could be apprehended only in fragmentary hints and glimpses, with more wistfulness than understanding. She sought to capture and retain that spiritual significance in the exquisite imagery of her mythological creations of nymph and faun, the dryad of the forest and the goddess of the fountain. Yet these delicate incarnations did not suffice for her expression of Nature. Behind them lay those unaccountable moods of delight and misgiving which Nature awoke in her soul. The unsolved mystery of ‘the beauty and the terror of the world’ emphasized in the main the misgiving, and produced ‘the melancholy of the Greeks.’ Death and change oppressed her spirit, and seemed to be ever the last word that Nature strove to say. The voice heard by the steersman had been heard by Greece before—‘Great Pan is dead.’

How much of this may have directly presented itself to Jesus, we cannot tell. His answer, however, to the Greeks who came to Him in Passion Week, seems to be an answer to the spirit of their nation (John 12:4). It is to Nature that He leads them in His reference to the corn of wheat, and to the element of death in Nature. But He reveals in Nature what they had not strength to find, the promise of resurrection, and the assurance of life enriched and fructified by death.

The Hebrew view of Nature differs from the Greek somewhat as Browning’s differs from Wordsworth’s. To the Greek, Nature has a spirituality which is no doubt reflected, in part, from the soul of her observer, yet is conceived as residing in herself in one or other of many fashions of personification. To the Hebrew, Nature in herself is dead, and has no soul of her own. She is the tool of Jehovah or His weapon, according as He is working or warring against His enemies; or she is visible as a background over against human life, or at least as accessory to man and his needs or works in some way. In either case the point is that Nature for the Hebrew has no independent life or spirituality of her own. She shines ever in the borrowed light of human or Divine interest.

The Hebrew view of Nature, in its three main aspects, has been admirably described in the three expressions—(1) A stage for God, the ‘place of His feet’; (2) a home for man; (3) the assessor at the controversy between God and man (Isaiah 1:2, Micah 6:2), a view in which the solemnity and austerity of Nature found a fitting metaphor to express them. Of each of these three aspects many instances might be quoted; but at present it concerns us only to remark that in none of them is Nature seen in herself, but always dependent on an inhabitant, Divine or human, who gives her soul. The third view, indeed, seems to conceive of Nature as independent, her mountains judging between God and man. But the personification does not go deep, nor is the consciousness of its figurativeness lost. The mountains, the heavens and the earth, are witnesses in much the same sense as a pillar set up by one who has made a vow. They are called upon to listen, to rejoice, to break forth into singing, not because they are conceived as living an independent life, but because the human or Divine event is conceived as of such vast import that even dumb Nature must feel its thrill, and for once awake from her inertness to do homage to the higher forms of being.

There is, properly speaking, no landscape in the Bible. Objects are seen in detail, or groups of objects, in connexion with the events or circumstances narrated. Through a cleft fissure in a mountain range a glimpse is caught of a ‘land that is very far off’; but it is as a destination rather than as a picture that it is seen. The language spends its strength on those sharp and clear-cut names for natural phenomena which express so much—Jordan, the down-rusher; Ghór, the scooped-out; Gilgal, the circular, and so on. The Song of Solomon is full of exquisite detail, with the aromatic scents of the East lingering about its voluptuous gardens and glades. But that is pre-Raphaelite art, of the same sort as those descriptions which are so common in the OT of a single tree or plant, a vine, an olive, or a gourd. It is characteristic of the Hebrew view of Nature that the Feast of Tabernacles, with its booths and illuminations, seemed to the Hebrew mind satisfactory as a piece of genuine rural life.

The life of Jesus was much spent in the open air, and His thought was full of the breezy freshness of the hills and fields; but they were Syrian and not European hills and fields, and their effect is that of Eastern nature, not Western. Samaria and Lebanon strike the traveller from England as most familiar. But there is no word of Lebanon in the Gospels, and Samaria was seen but casually in passing through. It was in one of Samaria’s richest and broadest valleys that He told His disciples to lift up their eyes and look upon the fields white already to the harvest (John 4:35). The regions with which He was most familiar were the hills and Sea of Galilee, and the rocky heights of Judaea. These are the very regions where the scenery is most typically Oriental. The main difference between a Syrian and an English landscape is that in Syria there is none of that ‘atmosphere’ which softens outlines and tones down a wide stretch of country into a unity of vision. The colouring is faint, in delicate shades of grey and brown and lilac, broken by the most violently brilliant splashes of high colour, where a water-spring flings a patch of lush green vegetation upon the pale mountain side, or where in springtime a long thin flame of oleander blazes along the winding depth of a washed-out river-bed. The general impression of wide views either in Judaea or Galilee is that of a land sculptured out of tinted stones. In Judaea the hills are bare grey limestone, whose stoniness is intensified rather than softened by sparse and dingy olives. Along the sides of many valleys the strata run in many-coloured parallel bands, giving the effect of a gigantic but faded mural decoration; while the plateau on the heights round Jerusalem and on to the north lies bare in whitish grey. Galilee has more woodland, and some thin remains of what may once have been forests, but it also owes its general effect to rock rather than to vegetation. Allowing for the denudation caused by so many centuries of war and neglect, it is likely that even at its best the prevalent note of the land was that of sharp outline in faint colour, and its general impression that of huge-scale sculpture-work. Arriving from the West upon the edge of the hillside above Tiberias, the traveller catches his first sight of the Sea of Galilee. The writer may be permitted to quote a former description of his impression:

‘This is not scenery; it is tinted sculpture, it is jewel-work on a gigantic scale. The rosy flush of sunset was on it when we caught the first glimpse. At our feet lay a great flesh-coloured cup full of blue liquor; or rather the whole seemed some lapidary’s quaint fancy in pink marble and blue-stone. There was no translucency, but an aggressive opaqueness, in sea and shore alike. The dry atmosphere showed everything in sharpest outline, clear-cut and broken-edged. There was no shading or variety of colour, but a strong and unsoftened contrast. To be quite accurate, there was one break—a splash of white, with the green suggestion of trees and grass, lying on the water’s e


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Palestine'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/p/palestine.html. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, February 26th, 2020
Ash Wednesday
There are 46 days til Easter!
ADVERTISEMENT
Search for…
Enter query in the box:
 or 
Choose a letter to browse:
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M 
N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  Y  Z 

 
Prev Entry
Palace
Next Entry
Palm
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology