Posted by: chuckbumgardner | July 8, 2018

Jesus and the Theater

Hmmm. I am always intrigued when someone puts two things together for me that I had never put together for myself. In N. T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God, he describes the pervasive Hellenism that existed in Jesus’s day. To illustrate this, he notes that “by the time of the first century, if Jesus had wanted to take his disciples to see Euripides’ [480-406 BC] plays performed, he might have only had to walk down the road from Capernaum to Beth Shean.”

True, there was a Roman theater at Beth Shean, said to seat 7000 people:

(Photo by AVRAHAM GRAICER – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44134289)

But it would be quite a walk!

capernaum-to-beth-shean

He could also have visited the theater at Sepphoris, just north of Nazareth, and a bit less of a walk from his Capernaum headquarters; that theater seated about 4000-5000 people, and apparently was active at the time of Jesus’s Galilean ministry (“Es wurde bereits im frühen 1. Jh. n.Chr. erbaut,” [http://www.theatrum.de/sepphoris.html]).

(Photo by Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany – Sepphoris (Diocaesarea), Israel, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38328698)

capernaum-to-sepphoris

Much closer, however, was a theater in Tiberias, which would have presumably been an easy journey by ship across the Sea of Galilee. N. T. Wright may not have been aware of the newly excavated Tiberius theater; it appears to have been first recognized as such in 1990, and Wright’s NTPG was published in 1992. The theater would have been relatively new at the time Jesus and his disciples were ministering in Galilee; it was apparently built in three stages from the 1st to the 4th centuries AD, and archaeologists date the first stage of construction to 18 A.D.

Somehow, I had never made the connection of Hellenization in ancient Israel and the possibility that Jesus would have had relatively easy access (it seems) to Greek theater. Whether he ever attended a Greek play is another question altogether, of course, and given the disparity between Greek theater and ancient Jewish custom (cf. ʿAbod. Zar. 18b; Josephus, Ant. 15.268), I strongly doubt he did.

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