On the Galilee of the first century

"The lake as Jesus knew it must have been one of the busiest and most cosmopolitan districts of Palestine. Greek, Latin, and Aramaic were spoken in its towns. Its people were immersed in the affairs of the moment, and were, in fact, a part of that vivid, variegated world balanced between the East and the West: the world of the Gospels and the early Church.

"When Jesus walked the roads of Galilee, He met the long caravans working southward across the fords of the Jordan; He saw the sun gleam on the spears of Roman maniples and cohorts; He met bands of Phoenician merchants travelling into Galilee; encountered the litters and chariots of the great, and saw the bands of strolling players and jugglers and gladiators bound for the gay Greek cities of the Decapolis.

"The shadow of this world falls across the pages of the New Testament. Jesus, walking the roads of Galilee, is walking the modern world, with its money-changers and its tax-collectors, its market-places and its unhappy rich men. When we think of Him beside the Sea of Galilee, we must not imagine Him as retired from the world, preaching His Gospel to a few faithful, simple souls: we must realise that He had chosen to live among people of many nations and upon one of the main highways of the Roman Empire."

This excerpt is taken from pages 220-221 of In the Steps of the Master, by the popular journalist and travel-writer Henry V. Morton (Methuen and Company Ltd., London, 1937-48). The importance of such observations as this is that they are quite contrary to the imagery of the life of Christ that has been fed to Western society, since the nineteenth century at least, of a semi-deserted Galilee, almost a peaceful backwater of the Holy Land. In reality, as Morton says, Christ lived at a cross-roads of one of the most successful cosmopolitan empires of ancient times.