02.03.10 Occupations and Trades

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 18, 2016  -  Comments Off on 02.03.10 Occupations and Trades

02.03.10 Occupations and Trades. While most of the Jewish people were involved in agriculture, some were active in other endeavors. Residents along the Sea of Galilee were involved in fishing or in salting fish for the caravans that frequently passed through the region. By the first century, there were so many various occupations that in major cities like Jerusalem, labor guilds were formed.[1]

These guilds often formed their own synagogues. Synagogues were sometimes a form of labor unions. For example, a synagogue may have been started by a group of butchers, and the wool dealers belonged to another synagogue, etc.[2] An example of this is found in Acts 6:9 where the Libertines had their own synagogue. Some sources say there were 460 synagogues in Jerusalem; others say the number was 480.[3]  Both could have been right, depending when the counts were made. However, some scholars believe, considering the size of Jerusalem, that both figures are exaggerated. Nonetheless, there were many schools that were frequently were run by a single rabbi, and when he died, the school either closed or continued by one of his students. Craftsmen had their shops along the main street of the city, that the Romans called the Cardo Maximus.  Some streets were known for their wool merchants, others for butchers, others for wood workers, etc.[4] Residents would go to the street and barter for their goods. Some scholars believe that Joseph and Jesus, who were carpenters, sold their wooden goods along the Cardo Maximus in Sepphoris, a Greek city that was only an hour’s walk from Nazareth.

The ancient Jews were so highly productive, that many of their products were shipped overseas, especially wine, olive oil and wheat. The ancient Phoenicians may have originated merchant trade on the Mediterranean Sea, but King David and his son Solomon expanded it. Not only did they have merchant trading ships, but also caravans that traveled to distant lands to buy and sell various goods. In the Inter-Testamental Period, the Greeks dominated the international trade of the Middle East.  However, after the Maccabean Revolt, Greek shipping gave way to Hasmonean rulers who proudly erected a ship’s mast on their monuments.  In later years, when the Romans conquered the Jewish state, they boasted in their triumph that they vanquished “Judea Navalis” – Juda, the sea-power.[5] One of the reasons Herod the Great built an artificial seaport at Caesarea Maritima, was to increase international trade.

[1]. For further study on commerce, labor, trades, and occupations, see Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus.


[2]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 1:80.


[3]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 1:78-79; Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 1:185.


[4]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 1:76.


[5]. Golub, In the Days. 142.


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