It has become in vogue for many NT scholars to read Jesus’ life in terms of historical “facts”.  Some see him as an ordinary peasant.  Others see him as part of a fringe group and so on.  I would say that “facts” are both selective and interpretive.  I’m going to select one fact to discuss in this blog: the number of people Jesus fed in Mark 6.30-44 and 8.1-13.  People usually cast some doubts as to how Jesus had been able to feed so many and so on.  I’m not going to dwell on the possibility, but want to focus on what Mark was trying to portray in his message about Jesus in terms of the historical “facts” we do know from someone like Josephus.

Let me say a few words more about the historical Jesus here in light of historical data of the area or any other city around that area.   This, of course, is common knowledge in those days, but not so much today.  We simply can’t read the number of people fed in terms of our modern football game or rock concerts because the area of Galilee (and possibly Decapolis per Mk. 7.31) was much less populate then.   Let us, for the moment, suppose that Mark was telling the truth based on historical facts about the two feedings.  Jesus had accomplished something that most leaders of his day did not.

Jesus was extraordinary just by the sheer number of people he attracted.  If the 5000 fed were men, and if entire families were there, the figure could easily double.  The same goes for the 4000 feeding.  According to research of the Galilean area, some big cities such as Sopphoris or Tiberias (both intentionally developed and urbanized by the Romans) numbered about ten thousand in population.[1]  We are unsure where Jesus was exactly when he did the feedings. We can assume that Jesus did it in the countryside.  In other words, people had to come out from different areas to listen to him and he ended up gathering an audience population of a sizeable Galilee city.  Jesus was no ordinary peasant.  No wonder he attracted the attention of the Pharisees and quite possibly the Romans.  Josephus’ account shows Josephus to be a powerful leader who could summon several thousand men to defend his cause, but this educated and powerful man, Josephus, was no match for Jesus.  Jesus did not get involved in Jewish or Roman politics, but stood outside of it while critiquing both.  No ordinary peasant could do that.

[1] Jonathan Reed, “Instability in Jesus’ Galilee,” JBL 129 (2010): 315.