Jerusalem in Jesus time, socioeconomically speaking, was divided into the rich and the poor class. The rich were few but very powerful and conservative in religion and politics.
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The economic situation in Jerusalem in Jesus time
There are studies about the trades present in Jerusalem that were made in that time of history. It was a major influence on Jerusalem by its distinctiveness.
The trades were of general interest involving household goods (carpets, blankets, textiles, ointments, scented resins) that involved weaving, fulling, and the leather industry.
Foodstuffs required among foodstuffs first and foremost, oil, bread making, and the activity of butchers. Luxury items (ointments and resins) were produced and sold in Jerusalem. The Herodian court absorbed many luxury items. And works due to the craftsmanship of works of art.
Other occupations were the manufacture of seals and the work of copyists. Important was the construction activity, fueled by Herod the Great with his many building ventures, the construction of the new temple first and foremost. Other craft trades were those of doctors, barbers, launderers, and money changers.
How important was the trade?
The city had political and religious importance. It had 25-30,000 inhabitants in Jesus’ time. Trade was needed to import goods. To finance trade, there were immense temple revenues, business occasioned by the presence of foreigners, and tax revenues for the periods of independent rulers.
Jerusalem in Jesus time attracted large capital holders: large merchants, tax collectors, and enriched Diaspora Jews, who sometimes settled there forever out of religious conviction.
Therefore, a singular picture emerges from all this: it is true the city’s situation was entirely unfavorable to the development of trades; nevertheless, specific trades prospered by virtue of their economic, political and religious importance.
The influence on the city of the foreigners
The movement of foreigners to Jerusalem in Jesus time and the city’s influence were very important because of its distinctiveness. The movements of foreigners were from distant countries like Gaul and Germany, Rome, Greece, Cyprus, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia and regions east of it, Syria, Arabia (Nabataean Kingdom, Egypt, Cyrene, and Ethiopia.
However, the internal circulation of Palestine constituted the bulk of traffic to Jerusalem, especially Judea. The geographical situation of the city regarding trade also applies to the movement of foreigners.
Jerusalem had great political and religious importance. It was the ancient capital, the seat of the supreme assembly, the temple attracted pilgrims, and it was a political center that became a Roman. It was a notable center for Jewish education and important for religious currents. Above all, it housed the temple and thus was “the home of Jewish worship, the place of the divine presence on earth.”
People went there to pray, on pilgrimage on the three most important feasts, the first fruits were brought, mothers purified, tax for the sanctuary was sent there from all over the world, the various sections of priests, Levites, and the Israelites took turns going there.
How was the social situation?
The social situation of Jerusalem in Jesus time was divided into two major sections: Rich and Poor.
Still, there was also the middle class consisting of small merchants, the artisans to the extent that they owned workshops and did not work at others as wage earners. There are no factories. Accurate data on the financial situation of these categories are scarce.
Certain exaggerations should not be given credence. These categories came to be in the best economic situation when dealing with the temple and pilgrims.
The priests were part of the middle class. The clergy, scattered throughout the country, were organized into 24 categories. Those living in the city were educated and wealthy people. Regarding the priests’ income, a sharp distinction must be made between prescription and practice. Only certain proceeds are certain to be paid. However, we are ignorant of the extent to which they were paid:
- Portions of the victims
- First fruits of harvested produce
- The tithe of the produce of the land
They are based solely on Mosaic legislation and not on practice. The tithe of the priests is attested, but it is not known until it is paid. Large sections of the population did not pay or underpaid taxes to the priests, and people’s indifference drove them into poverty.
How was the wealthy class?
The former belonged to the court or wealthy, affluent class. The court servants included 500 people. There are the king’s officials, the king’s secretary, the treasurer, and the preceptors of the royal princes. There is the entourage of the kings: intimates, “cousins and friends,” and there is the harem. The court retained oriental connotations. Polygamy reigned.
There were also smaller courts, those of royal princes. Also, the wealthy class lived in luxury among banquets that dictated the law. It mentions the affluent circles of officials or the problem of levirate marriage. The dowries for daughters were large sums, and there was no shortage of great ladies in Jerusalem.
But, among the representatives of the wealthy class should be counted the holders of national capital: the big shopkeepers, large landowners, tax collectors, and income earners. Great luxury reigned over the families of the high priests, who drew regular incomes from the temple treasury (in addition to owning some of the landed properties).
The ordinary priests were in a “miserable situation.” Unbridled was nepotism in appointments to the most influential temple officials’ most lucrative positions, such as treasurers and overseers.
Conclusion about Jerusalem in Jesus time
Also, there was an obvious difference between the social classes in this period. There were poor, rich, and middle classes divided between them.
In the time of Jesus, it was an important internal organization of the individual professions, located at the most appropriate points on the streets and squares (artisans’ stores on the streets, tailors at the gates, art trades in the upper part of the city, where the pagan fullers were also located).
But, let’s remember that it was also important because according to Matthew’s gospel, after Jesus’ birth, the Epiphany occurred, that is, the appearance of a comet star to some Magi-traditionally three and referred to as “The Magi” – who undertook a journey from the Far East to Jerusalem to bring the new king gold and myrrh.
Jerusalem in Jesus time represented an important place on the planet at that point and still nowadays.