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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

POPULATION. —Ancient statistics are proverbially unreliable, and in no department are they less trustworthy than in the reckoning of population. Except for military or fiscal purposes, the inhabitants of a Roman province were not liable to be counted, while, even in such cases, the estimate, when preserved, is at best approximate. The sole information, of any precise and fairly contemporary character, as to the population of Galilee in the days of Jesus, is to be found in Josephus BJ , iii. iii. The historian there observes that the Galilaeans have always been numerous. The fertility of the soil induced the inhabitants to cultivate it, and trading was carried on assiduously. ‘Moreover, the cities lie very thick, and the numerous villages are everywhere so populous, owing to the richness of the soil, that the smallest of them contains over 15,000 inhabitants.’ This is probably an exaggeration, due to the historian’s desire of glorifying the country; but even when one discounts his statements fairly, a residuum of fact remains, corroborated by the occasional allusions of the Gospels to the thickly populated districts in which Jesus lived and preached. If Josephus could muster 100,000 warriors from the province, some thirty years after the ministry of Jesus, and if the larger towns, like Scythopolis, included over 30,000 inhabitants, it is probable that the population of Galilee, during the first quarter of the first century, must have exceeded one million, if not two millions, since it included over 200 towns and villages within an area of about 100 square miles. Certainly, the Galilee into which Jesus brought His gospel ( Mark 1:14), with its cities like Capernaum ( Mark 1:21), its country-towns ( Mark 1:38), and country-districts, was no thinly peopled tract. Crowds repeatedly gather round Him ( Mark 1:45,  Mark 2:13,  Mark 4:1 etc.). His presence is the signal for multitudes to assemble, and although these were naturally drawn from the cities (cf.  Mark 6:33 f.), the same holds true of the rural districts (cf.  Mark 6:53 f.). A motto for the Galilaean ministry might well be found in the words, ‘In those days again there was a great crowd’ ( Mark 8:1), whether Jesus was in the populous cities by the Lake or touring through the inland synagognes. ‘Save in the recorded hours of our Lord’s praying, the history of Galilee has no intervals of silence and loneliness; the noise of a close and busy life is always audible; and to every crisis in the Gospels and in Josephus we see crowds immediately swarm’ ( HGHL [Note: GHL Historical Geog. of Holy Land.] , p. 421).

Eastward, it was otherwise. Gaulanitis, on the opposite side of the Lake, was more bare and wild, and to this quarter Jesus resorted at least once ( Mark 4:35 f.) for some privacy, when pressed by the crowds of Capernaum and the neighbourhood. The population here was thinner. Villages were more widely scattered, and, apart from the southern federation of cities known as the Decapolis, there was a comparative lack of important towns. On the later spread of Christianity in Peraea, see Harnack’s Mission und Ausbreitung des Christentums , pp. 414 f. [English translation ii. 252 f.]. How far the Christian churches in that district were recruited from a mission of Jesus it is difficult to say, since it is uncertain how much St Luke has grouped from other sources under his account of the Peraean journey ( Luke 9:51 etc., cf.  Mark 10:1), and since the outbreak of the Jewish War drove many Christians from the west to the east of the Jordan. In any case, Peraea was less thickly populated than Galilee, though larger in extent. Josephus [ loc. cit. ,) describes it as ‘for the most part desert and rough, and much less adapted than Galilee for the growth of cultivated fruits.’ Samaria, on the opposite side of the Jordan, numbered a larger population proportionately. But if Jesus worked here, it was only en route from Galilee to Judaea.

The crowds which Jesus found at Jerusalem were naturally drawn from the country-districts, so that they afford no reliable clue to the exact population of the capital, although, if we may trust the calculations of Josephus ( BJ vi. ix.), it must have been capable of including, at the Passover season, more than three millions of people. Over two and a half million orthodox worshippers were reckoned at one census under Nero.

Literature.—Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] , ii. i. 2f.; Selah Merrill, Galilee in the Time of Christ  ; Besant, The City and the Land , p. 113 f.; Keim, Jesus of Nazara , English translation vol. ii. p. 6 f.

J. Moffatt.

Webster's Dictionary [2]

(1): ( n.) The act or process of populating; multiplication of inhabitants.

(2): ( n.) The whole number of people, or inhabitants, in a country, or portion of a country; as, a population of ten millions.