The Social Factor: The Geographical Association

How could the place of Christ’s birth be a valuable piece of evidence for the historicity of His resurrection? 

The truth of the incarnation-how God came to earth in the form of man, took upon Himself the corruptible flesh, and walked among us-is a miracle worth exploring time and time again. The Resurrection, in light of Christ’s humanity and, perhaps more astounding, His humility towards sinful man, is something immeasurably beautiful. The humility of Christ as evidence not only His divinity but for His resurrection, is an untapped apologetic that has too long gone unexplored. To understand why this is such a valuable apologetic I must repeat what I stated in the previous post.

The Resurrection cannot be explained as a ruse or a glorified eulogy if, on the same page, the authors note that Jesus was a Jew and a carpenter from Galilee. 

Geographical association was a big deal to the ancients. In an agonistic culture, where you’re from determined how you were perceived in the public eye. Prejudices and stereotypes were rampant in the Greco-Roman world and they were accepted as an agreed upon fact. The clearest example of this line of thinking can be seen in the Cretan prophet Paul quotes in Titus,

One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretans are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. (Titus 1:12)

People in antiquity were nearly always defined by their group/family of origin (i.e. Jesus son of Joseph, Levi son of Alphaeus, Mary of Clopas, etc.), or place of origin (i.e. Jesus the Nazarene, Joseph of Arimathea, Simon the Cyrenian, etc.) and where/who you’re from essentially determined your honour status. Therefore, honourable people were rooted in honourable regions or cities and for ignoble people the reverse was true.

What’s more, in a collectivist society, people saw the difference between ingroups and outgroups as something not unlike aliens. Loyalty, love, and support were reserved for one’s own ingroup (whether that be family, locale, or country), whilst those falling outside of those boundaries were held at arms length, treated with suspicion, and even approached with hostility. Ethnic outgroups were, in every sense of the word, strangers.

What does this mean for Jesus and how does this illuminate His humility? Jesus wasn’t a member of an honourable ingroup. Quite the contrary, Jesus was a member of multiple ingroups, each one bearing their own burden of prejudice.

And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. (Mark 6:2-3 bold mine)

This is a rich apologetic precisely because it undermines one of the critic’s most pressing arguments: The Resurrection, and in turn Christ’s divinity and miracles, were made up or fabricated. Typically, the reason someone would make up such wonders for one person was to venerate them. If someone wanted Jesus to be remembered as a messiah what better way than to twist history to make it so? The problem is that this revised history would have been completely ineffectual to an ancient audience. You cannot add miracles and a resurrection to make someone believe in your messiah without removing the objectionable and unwelcome aspects of His life. Aspects that would prevent anyone from looking at Him as anything more than an ignoble peasant. Our fabricators failed to do this in every conceivable way. 

For example, Philip of Bethsaida, having been told that Jesus was residing in Nazareth asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Indeed, being from a small town like Nazareth and residing in Galilee would have docked major points against Jesus’ credibility unless He was, of course, who He said He was (insinuating that there was clear, undeniable evidence for it). For the Jews Galilee was a city of no account, a place populated by farmers and peasants who didn’t hold much respect for the Torah or Jewish observance. For Rome it was loathed as a country that typically rebelled against their authority, eventually becoming some of the most arduous fighters during the Great Rebellion (66-70 A.D.). As the Jewish historian Josephus states,

“…..for the Galileans are inured to war from their infancy,”

Josephus, Of The War, 3.2.2 

One can imagine then, the amount of suspicion and animosity raised towards Jesus as soon as the Gospel authors told of His place of birth and from where He resided. He would not have had Rome’s favour at all, and admitting that He had suffered the Roman execution of crucifixion would have been the final nail in the coffin for the Jews.

The disciples would not have had it any easier as they, too, were people of low social standing. They were known as “people of the land,” unfit to be credible witnesses and whether fairly or unfairly, your locale determined your social standing and your social standing determined your personal character.

The evidence was stacked against Jesus ever being seen as a revered teacher, let alone the messiah, and even further still YHWH incarnate! And yet, following His death, Jesus was proclaimed as Lord throughout Jerusalem and Rome by people who bore those same names that the ancient world thought so dishonourable.