Ramos, Alex. Torah, Temple, and Transaction: Jewish Religious Institutions and Economic Behavior in Early Roman Galilee. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 2017.
My dissertation examines the regional economy of Galilee in the Early Roman period. It re-evaluates models and assumptions traditionally used to assess economic transactions and socioeconomic conditions in this region and time. Drawing on insights from scholars in Religious Studies who have demonstrated the artificiality of modern distinctions between religious, political, and economic spheres, I consider the ways that political and religious institutions and frameworks could have shaped the boundaries and incentives of economic behavior among Jews in Early Roman Galilee. Most crucially, I examine the vital role that religious rules and norms—namely the Torah commandments that govern cult practice at the Jerusalem Temple, pilgrimage for the festivals, and assorted aspects of agricultural production and consumption—could play in defining the parameters of economic necessities, structuring incentives for economic behavior, and defining a “bounded” economic rationality for Galilean Jews. By highlighting the role of religion in shaping the traditionally compartmentalized sphere of economy, this study indicates the value of integrating analysis of religion and economy not only for Early Roman Galilee, but also for ancient Mediterranean history and for Religious Studies more broadly.
In chapter 1, I survey the numerous reconfigurations of Roman and Herodian administration over Galilee from 63 BCE to 66 CE. I consider the possible ramifications of Roman and Herodian institutions of governance and tax collection under these shifting conditions and how strongly these might have defined the parameters of economic behavior. While political institutions have typically been the focus of institutional analyses of ancient economies, I argue that these would have had only marginal impacts on the average Galilean for much of this period. Outside the reign of Antipas—who established tetrarchic capitals in Galilee and invested modestly in building up the region—Galilee was a relative backwater, far from the centers of administration in Caesarea and Jerusalem. Most administrators barely invested resources in Galilee and rarely visited it. Moreover, the administrations that governed Galilee were all infrastructurally weak: the minimalist administrative staff, underdeveloped bureaucracy, and reliance on local infrastructures for tasks like tax assessment and collection left Galilean subjects with a considerable degree of autonomy and latitude to mitigate or even evade impositions from on high. I thus argue that the effects of political administration were indirect at best.
In chapter 2, I assess the economic network in which Galileans would have participated. I argue that the prevailing scholarly emphasis on urban–rural relations (whether parasitic or reciprocal) does not accord well with what we can discern of settlement and demographic patterns in Galilee. The modestly sized Galilean “cities” do not fit well into the paradigm of the “consumer city,” modeled on the large poleis of regions like Greece and Asia Minor. I argue that Sepphoris and Tiberias did not place great resource pressures on the countryside, were not the sole locus of the wealthy, and were not the sole—or perhaps even primary—hubs of economic interaction. Instead, I argue that Galilee in this period is more aptly described as a web-like “small world network,” in which many economic transactions were conducted villages-to-village along lines of interpersonal connections. I also argue that Galilee was a fairly circumscribed, closed regional economy, meaning that most economic interactions were primarily directed inward among fellow Galilean Jews. The one exception to the insularity of Galilee was trade with Jerusalem, which I posit was a consequence of the laws of the Torah discussed in subsequent chapters.
In chapter 3, I analyze some of the Mosaic laws pertaining to agricultural production, consumption, and exchange. Namely, I consider the biblical prescriptions for sabbatical year produce, sewing mixed kinds, first fruits, and tithing, as well as related food purity concerns evidenced in Second Temple texts and material culture. These religious laws and norms helpfully demonstrate that religious institutions are in many cases inseparable from the economic framework that they reflect and shape—in these cases, by constraining the manner and timing of agricultural production and consumption and by placing demands on the allocation of resources. Insofar as Jews sought to adhere to the Mosaic Covenant, these rules defined the goals of economic behavior and the tactics appropriate to meet those goals. Literary sources strongly suggest that many Jews in Early Roman Palestine took their religious commitments to God and the Law quite seriously and thus viewed the commandments as imperatives, not merely suggestions or secondary goals considered by those in a state of financial security. The very economic notions of “subsistence needs” and “financial obligations” can only be reckoned in a social context, and for Galilean Jews, I argue, the Law of the Torah was among the most important institutions that defined this context.
Chapter 4 focuses on the three pilgrimage festivals that drew Jews from Galilee and elsewhere to Jerusalem on a regular, seasonal basis. Since the Torah demands the presence of male Jews at these festivals, and since many obligatory offerings can only be fulfilled in Jerusalem, this festival calendar would have fundamentally defined the temporal rhythms of the economy. Three times a year, Jerusalem’s served as a hub linking the Galilean regional economy into a larger transregional Jewish economy, creating transactional links that might not have existed were it not for the Temple. In this chapter, I consider not only the direct costs of attending these festivals and meeting the associated obligations, but also less obvious ways that the festivals defined economic incentives and constraints: logistical costs of travel and lodging, differential prices between Galilee at harvest and crowded Jerusalem, compressed harvest schedules, and the dangers of leaving settlements largely uninhabited, among others.
This project is but a first step toward a more thoroughgoing investigation of the ways the economic decision-making was shaped by the constraints and incentives of religious institutional structures. In my conclusion, I muse about the avenues of inquiry I hope this study will open up for future research: continued study of the economic ramifications of other Torah laws; analyses of how these laws would shape economic behavior in other regions with differing ecology, settlement patterns, etc. (e.g., Judaea); or investigation of the role of other religious institutions (e.g., Christian, Egyptian, Roman) in defining economic rationality among other populations.
Alex Ramos is Production Editor at The Pennsylvania State University Press