chapter  4
12 Pages


A cross-cultural study of the subsistence ethic
ByMilton Moreland

This essay focuses on analogical method and its application in the reconstruction of ancient societies and groups with special attention to the description of the culture and lifestyles of ancient rural populations. With a sparse, though expanding, collection of data from the field of archaeology, and with limited literary information about the majority rural population of ancient Galilee, several scholars have recently turned to ethnographic and anthropological studies of modern agrarian-based groups in order to facilitate the process of describing the rural population of subsistence farmers and village peasants of Early Roman (ER) Galilee. This essay incorporates this type of comparative research to answer an often neglected issue from the field of Christian origins: why Christianity so quickly became part of the ER urban setting (Jerusalem, Antioch, Damascus, Caesarea, etc.), while our evidence suggests that the movement was virtually unknown in the rural context of Galilee (Taylor 1993).1 I first examine the idea of a protective “moral economy” among modern peasant groups, and illustrate how the same ideological agenda could be relevant in the village settings of ER Galilee. The eventual failure of Christianity to establish a viable community in Galilee in the first century, I suggest, can be found in the intense opposition among peasant populations to disruptions in their protective social fabric. If Christianity was seen as a threat to the essential safety mechanisms of the peasant subsistence ethic, this helps explain why the movement did not attract a membership among the majority of the ancient Galileans.