Reed illuminates life in biblical era
Posted March 27, 2009
Rafael Anguiano

“Death and Disease” was the focus of Jonathan Reed’s faculty research lecture on Tuesday in the President’s Dining Room. Reed, professor of religion at the University, focused on the living conditions in biblical times.

Esmeralda M. Cardenas
Staff Writer

Jonathan Reed, professor of religion, shared his work on mortality and morbidity in ancient Galilee on Tuesday in the President’s Dining Room to an audience of students and faculty.

“I think this will force people to recognize that religion connects to reality in a social and political sense,” Reed said.

Reed has published four books on the subject of religion and is an expert on early Christianity and the sayings of gospel Q.

Reed lectured on the demographics of Jesus’ Galilee and read parts of his current work in progress.

Reed began with a simple statement that the writings in Quelle, or 'Q' – which means “source” – are a collection of hypothetical sayings used by Matthew and Luke that were originally written in Aramaic, but came to be translated in Greek.

Reed then analyzed the phrases often found in the bible, such as “our day's bread give us today” and “cancel our debts for us,” that when dealt with in a more realistic way actually brings out the troubles of that time.

The people’s lives centered on agriculture, farming, taxes and high mortality rates that not only became part of their life, but also influenced the moves and choices they made.

At the conclusion of the lecture Reed suggested four propositions to the audience.

They were all based on his essay and the evidence he had on demographics on ancient Galilee.

The first was that there is no evidence for prosperity in Galilee simply on the basis of population growth during the construction of cities.

Second, urbanized Galilee was actually way worse off when it came to mortality and morbidity, though they were better off in wealth and ownership.

Third, migration was fueled by the lower growth rates in the city and near malarial lakes due to the high death rate in those areas.

“This fueled significant internal migration likely in the form of younger male villagers, marginal to be sure, from healthy areas moving to the cities or more malarial areas such as on the lake both of which offered opportunity for menial labor in large part because there was such a high turn over due to morbidity and mortality,” Reed said.

Among these immigrants would be young men who had outlived their fathers, were looking for work and were unmarriageable, which Reed pointed out also described Jesus and his apostles.

Lastly Reed concluded that the unstable living conditions in Antipas created an unstable environment that made the family volatile and made the patriarch weak.

Reed’s lecture left students with a new perspective about the subject of Christianity.

Rather than coming out of a stable household with a well-established patriarchy, he brought out Christianity as more of creation for those who were unable to have the stable household or patriarchy.

“I learned that the spread of Christianity is due in part to the health, and social situation of the region, given the evidence that people were starving, getting sick and they needed to believe in miracles to assure themselves of future well being,” Fatima Suarez, a junior speech communication minor, said.

Reed’s lecture was not only serious in its assumptions.

It also added humor when at one point he compared Jesus to movie character Napoleon Dynamite.

“I learned the importance of historical context in trying to understand religious endeavors.

“One thing that stood out was all the new information, such as Jesus having been in the position of a marginal unmarriageable young man compared to Napoleon Dynamite,” Dylan Haro, a junior psychology major, said.

Reed talked about ideas that may become a future possibility to study.

Among these is Joseph, who seemed to disappear from the Bible; demographic reflex; and the fact that first Christian groups were part of a certain class of people who were abandoned by a patriarchy, including widows and marginal young men at the time of Jesus’ ministry.

Esmeralda M. Cardenas can be reached at

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