Judea in Jesus's time: 1) percentage of non-Jews? 2) Different levels of religious "observance"

See subjects. And there are two of them goddmamnit, even though the second one is interesting relative to the first. So no getting on my case for bad OP. [You know who you are.]

Basically, born of a Jewish mother. The “who’s a Jew” problem could still apply, but nothing like today, which leads to the second subject in this OP:

“Observance” could be, I don’t know, making sure to show up in Jerusalem and do your thing at the Temple, to Essene and other cults, to the way-Hellenized (Romanized?–I really don’t know) who doesn’t give a damn except for what may be necessary to negotiate with the theocratic nomenklatura.

A contemporary sort-of parallel, I think, would be the population of Saudi Arabia, from the rural peasant to the governing class. The split between “religion”/culture Judaism and “nation”/government today obviously is different than the many Islamic cultures still operant today–and I wonder how similar even that is to Judea at that time.

There were enough either non-Jews or unobservant Jews to have people raising herds of swine, as evidenced by Jesus driving demons into the herd.

In the Jerusalem Museum exhibit on Herod, there’s the quote by the roman governor, “It’s safer to be a pig than a family member in Herod’s court” assumed to be a reference to the fact that (a) he observed kosher and (b) had his son killed when the uppity heir decided to try and knock off dear old dad. Herod as I understood was only Jewish on his mother’s side but acted observant to try to gain legitimacy as a king.

OTOH, the group that Saul was preaching to was the Jewish communities in the eastern mediterranean (Damascus and various towns around the shore of Turkey). These guys would try to make it to the temple every so often from what I understood of th history of the time - so moderately observant but not significantly so… lax enough perhaps that Saul/Paul could try to persuade them observance was no longer necessary.

One of the disputes as to who was a Jew was between the regular Jews and the Samaritans. The regular Jews were descended (in their minds) from those who returned from the Diaspora. The Samaritans were a mix of Jews who were left behind, and local populations.

I have read speculation that they were being raised for sale to Romans and other non-Jews, but you are correct that no observant Jew would work as a pigherd.


That didn’t take place in Judea. It happened near the city of Jerash (Gerasa in the New Testament), which was one of the cities of the Decapolis in Roman Syria. The Decapolis was a collection of ten Greek colonies that were semi-autonomous.

Happy to be corrected by someone with more knowledge, but I’m not so sure that “goes to the Temple” was a particularly signficant thing for 1st-century Jews, or that it’s a useful metric for “observance”. We tend to regard attendance at church as a (somewhat) meaningful metric for observance by Christians, but I think for Jews a much more pertinent question would be adherence to dietary codes, sabbath observance, etc. Am I wrong?

It’s complicated. At one time, Judaism was very much centered around worship at the Temple - that was the central aspect of the faith.

But in the sixth century BC, the Babylonian Empire conquered the Jews, destroyed their Temple, and forced many Jews to relocate several hundred miles away. As a result of this, Temple worship was impossible and the new focus of Judaism became studying the Jewish scriptures and obeying the Jewish law.

After a few decades, the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland and began building a new Temple. But now their religion was divided. Some Jews wanting to go back to the old Temple-based religion but others were now more interested in the newer Scripture and Law-based religion. But it wasn’t a huge divide because most Jews could follow both ideas and just focus on the aspect they preferred. This was the state of affairs in Jesus’ time.

This changed again in the late first and early second centuries AD, when there was a series of Jewish revolts against the Roman Empire and the Romans responded by destroying the second Temple and once again many Jews were sent or chose to go into exile. Unlike the previous period without a Temple that lasted only about seventy years, this period has continued through the present day. As a result, the focus on the Temple in Judaism has been pretty much completely replaced by the Scripture and Law.

This is apparently an element of the parable of the prodigal son. Jesus’ parables were generally told to Jews, and featured characters that were also Jews (at least in the cultural sense). The idea of a good son of Judea reduced to tending pigs (and seriously thinking about helping himself to the slops) emphasized how deeply fallen and degraded the prodigal son’s state really was.