One of the curiosities of the New Testament revelation is its focus on Galilee. The region of Galilee was given to Asher, Zebulun, Naphtali, and Issachar, and the events of Judges 4-8 occurred there, so it had some importance in Israelite history. But when the tribe of Ephraim led the northern tribes to secede from the south, Galilee naturally was part of the northern kingdom. God eventually took all of Northern Israel into captivity, and then Southern Israel as well.
Those who were faithful in captivity came to be called Judahites, contracted in English to “Jews.” This meant that they were counted as part of Judah, the Southern Kingdom, no matter what tribe they were originally from. After the exile, those who came back were called Jews, Judahites, no matter what tribe they were from.
The Jews who settled Galilee after the exile were no different from any others, but over the course of time, the Judeans in the south came to feel contempt for the Galileans, who were regarded both as hayseeds and as compromised by too close an association with gentiles. The region was historically known as “Galilee of the gentiles,” and it was still called by that name (Is. 9:1; Mt. 4:15).
Jesus evidently called all His apostles from Galilee, and none from Judea. We can be certain of all but Judas Iscariot (Ish-Kerioth, man of Kerioth), whose name and location may indicate Judean origin. If this is true, then the one apostate was a Judean!
God called the Hebrews out of the nations. God called Abram out of the Hebrews. God called Israel out of Abraham’s seed, leaving behind Ishmael and Isaac. God called Judah out of Israel. Now it seems that God called Galilee out of Judah. In each case, the sub-group that is called out becomes the kernel of the new creation.
Galilee was “of the gentiles,” and symbolically at least was an appropriate middle ground for the Christian era to begin in. Their accent was sufficiently different to be immediately recognized (Mk. 14:70). We recall Isaiah’s prophecy that the word of God would come in disagreeable tongues to the Jews.
James Jordan is Scholar-in-Residence at Theopolis.