G is for Galilee
Have you ever wondered why Galilee and Judea were separated by Samaria? How did the Jewish homeland come to be separated like that?
If you’re hoping for a quick answer, you’re going to be disappointed. The evidence is too vague and the opinions to varied to provide a simple or conclusive answer. And yet I wonder.
Here is what my search had uncovered, a simplified explanation of how the regions of Galilee, Samaria and Judea evolved:
In the time of the kings (930-586 BC)
After the rule of Solomon, the tribes of Israel divided into two kingdoms. Jerusalem and the temple were located in the southern kingdom, consisting of the tribal lands of Judah and Benjamin. This is more or less the region referred to as Judea in the New Testament. The remaining tribes became the northern kingdom, which correspond to the New Testament regions of Samaria and Galilee. [The actual regions and boundaries are more complicated, but never mind.] After the two kingdoms divided, they were often at war with each other, so the seeds of animosity between Samaria and Judah began here.
In about 720 BC, the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom and carried much of its population away. Typically, the Assyrians imported people from other regions to resettle a conquered area. These Assyrian imports would have intermarried with the remaining poor Jews, creating a mixed population. This appears to be what happened in the region of Samaria. (Genetic evidence indicates a mixed Jewish-Arab heritage.)
However, archaeological evidence suggests that the region of Galilee was sparsely settled for the next few centuries. Why would a region that is known for its abundant agriculture and fishing be left uninhabited for so long?
We don’t really know.
Persian and Greek rule (586 BC to 167 BC)
What we do know is that the southern kingdom was taken into captivity by the Babylonians around 585 BC. Then, about 70 years later, the Persian king, Cyrus, allows some of the deported Jews to return and resettle. Since these Jews came from the southern kingdom, they returned to the region of Judea, not Galilee. We know almost nothing about who may have been living in Galilee at this time.
We do know that people descended from Jews of the northern kingdom were living in Samaria. When the Samaritans offered to help in the rebuilding of the temple, the returning Jews declined the offer. In response, the Samaritans tried to obstruct the project. Ezra and Nehemiah record several instances where Samaritans and their non-Jewish allies oppose the Jews.
Eventually the Samaritans built their own temple at Mt. Gerizim, near Shechem, and developed their own version of the Pentateuch. (Among other things, the Samaritans claimed that Abraham offered Isaac on Mt. Gerizim rather than on Mt. Moriah–the temple mount.) Both factions claimed that they had the true faith and the other side was wrong. It is easy to see how this led to mistrust and hostilities on both sides.
Meanwhile, all three regions were conquered by Alexander the Great and then controlled by the Greek dynasties that succeeded him. The Samaritans eventually bowed to pressure and rededicate their temple to Zeus. The Jews did not.
Hasmonean rule (167 to 63 BC)
Instead, in 167 BC, the Jews rebelled against their Greek overlords and created an independent Jewish nation. At first this Hasmonean Jewish kingdom encompassed only Judea, but in 110 BC, under John Hyrcanus, the Jews conquered the surrounding territories, including Samaria and Galilee. During this expansion, Jewish forces destroyed the Samaritan temple and devastated Samaritan lands, further increasing Samaritan-Jewish animosity.
It is at about this time that archaeological remains indicate a sudden increase in the population of Galilee. Who were these new settlers?
The archaeological evidence suggests that this new population adhered to orthodox Jewish customs. (For example, animal remains show the Galileans did not eat pork.) In other words, it appears that Galilee was populated by transplanted Judeans, who brought their “proper” Jewish customs with them. Perhaps this influx was part of an intentional Hasmonean attempt to reclaim all the lands that traditionally belonged to Israel. Or perhaps Judean Jews merely saw this as an opportunity to gain land.
In any case, what did not happen was a displacement of the Samaritans, or their mass conversion to orthodox Jewish traditions and beliefs. Despite Jewish expansion and opposition, the pocket of Samaritans remained stubbornly in place.
The Roman era (63 BC through New Testament times)
By the time the Romans took over, the populations and cultures of Galilee, Samaria and Judea were established. Samaritans clung to their unorthodox version of Judaism while the Jews in Galilee and Judea followed the orthodox religion.
Galileans probably faced a greater gentile influence than their Judean counterparts. And the inconvenience of traveling to Jerusalem probably added to the perception that they were not as devout. The urban elite of Jerusalem might have considered Galileans religiously lax, countrified rubes who spoke with funny accents, (Yes, that would include Jesus!) but they nevertheless considered them fellow Jews. And many accounts show the Galileans were staunch patriots. (In contrast, many Samaritans enlisted in the Roman military.)
Does this completely answer the question? No, but I hope it gives at least a partial explanation of how things came to be.
Do you know anything that will add to my understanding? If so, please tell me by adding a comment below.