The Religious Climate in Christ’s Time

Rabbis in Christ’s time used the following saying to express their disdain of Galilee. They proudly viewed southern Judea, with its traditional lore and religious academies, as far superior to the north. And could find no words strong enough to express their arrogant dislike of their northern Galilean cousins, from Nazareth in particular. 

If any one wishes to be rich, let him go north; if he wants to be wise, let him come south.

We see this in John 1:46 with Nathanael’s query, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” and Philip’s response of, “Come and see.” And sneering remarks such as the Pharisees made to Nicodemus,  “Are you from Galilee too? Search, and see that no prophet arises from Galilee” (John 7:52), were all too common.

But there was more to it than the mere superiority that townspeople sometimes feel over their country cousins.

It was characteristic of the uncharitable spirit of the Pharisees, full of mocking and contempt. And also full of their own self-righteousness, as shown by the Pharisee’s prayer in Christ’s parable of the proud Pharisee and the humble tax collector (Luke 18:9-14).

The Rabbis, convinced of their own superiority as teachers of the law, believed that the unlearned (because they didn’t know the law) were under God’s curse.

An attitude clearly depicted in the following story (paraphrased) from a Rabbinical work:

A certain Rabbi, while travelling by the way, formed acquaintance with a man, whom he at first thought his equal. Presently his new friend invited him to dinner, liberally setting before him meat and drink. But the Rabbi had by then started seeing his host as greatly inferior. So he began to test him with questions on the Jewish Talmud (or Hebrew Bible). But alas, the poor man could not answer the questions satisfactorily.

By the time dinner was over, the Rabbi had displayed all the hauteur and contempt of a regular Rabbinist towards the unlettered. Yet, he called upon his host, as customary, to take the cup of thanksgiving, and return thanks. But the poor, unlearned man was, by then, sufficiently humiliated to merely reply, with a mixture of Eastern deference and Jewish modesty, “Let the learned Rabbi himself give thanks in his own house,” [meaning my house is your house].

“Very well, but you can join with me,” consented the Rabbi. And when his host had agreed to this, the Rabbi prayed in contempt, “A dog [referring to his host] has eaten of my bread!”

Such was the religious climate our Lord entered.

No wonder the people marveled at his teaching! His life, and indeed his very being, exuded love and acceptance. A complete contrast to the religious hypocrisy of the day.

Unlike the religious leaders around him, he took little children on his knee, and reached out in love, even to the untouchables of society. And he lifted contrite hearts up from the dust of sin and bondage. No wonder they said, “No one has ever spoken like him!”

And he can help us to love in the same way, but we must first root out our pride.

“You can fill an empty jug with clear water from the spring; but it would be foolishness to bring to the spring a jug already full. The Lord has no blessing for the heart that is full of haughtiness; that he reserves for the heart emptied of self.” — The Sunday School Times, in the Public Domain

The Lord fills those who are emptied of pride and egotism. So let us go to him as empty jugs!


[Image courtesy of LUMO Project (Big Book Media) via FreeBibleImages.org; All Rights Reserved – Educational Use Only.]

*Source of quote and story: Sketches of Jewish Social Life by Alfred Edersheim, chapter 3; both in the Public Domain.

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