Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Galilean life from a peasant's perspective (Bruce Longenecker's book)

I am enjoying an excellent book written by Professor Bruce Longenecker called The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story from the New Testament World.

It is an excellent book that will help you to understand the New Testament. The following recommendation by Professor Stanley Porter tells us what the book is about.

"This fictional correspondence is not true, but it certainly could have been. Longenecker writes a very engaging account of several characters who, in their different ways, came to experience and respond to the risen Jesus Christ through Luke's narrative. I was especially moved by the character of Antipas as he is ennobled by being transformed from a Roman dignitary into a model of Christian self-sacrifice."

The book consists of many letters written by Antipas, Luke, and others. Here is an excerpt from one of the digests, in which Antipas gives an account of what Galilean life was like from a peasant's perspective.

"Like most other sectors of society throughout the empire, Galilean society is marked by two tiers of position: those in secure positions and those in insecure positions. Those enjoying a high degree of security are members of the elite, the ruling class and their high-ranking retainers. Those in an insecure situation include the peasants, most artisans and merchants, along with the unclean, the degraded, and the expendables. Although those in secure positions of wealth and power are few in number, they control the majority of the wealth of the society. The elite enjoy an extremely extravagant lifestyle, while the majority of the peasants live the most meager existence.

The elite have the luxury of establishing profitable relationships with other members of the elite, usually facilitated by means of lavish banquets that parade their wealth and opulence in contests of consumption. A member of the elite continually seeks ways of increasing his influence through investment opportunities, business partnerships, patron-client relationships, currying favor with imperial officials, or serving lucrative ambassadorial function on behalf of his city... The elite portray themselves as favored by the gods and go to great lengths to ensure that the religious institutions of the society promote this claim...

Rural peasants, conversely, expend significant energy simply trying to ensure the survival of themselves and their families. They usually live meager lives at subsistence level, having just enough food and resources to get by. Many fall below that level. Their poor standard of living is not the result of laziness or ineptitude, since a peasant's workday is long and hard. Nor is it the result of poor harvesting techniques, since peasant farmers reap significant gains from agricultural production. Instead, subsistence living is the result of imposed dues, tributes, and taxations, which peasants usually regard as excessively harsh because these expensive burdens extract everything over and above what is required to sustain the peasants' meager existence."

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