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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

City and Country

The division between rural and urban societies was sharp in the minds of many persons in antiquity, but that division was quite different from the separation between rural and urban people in modern industrial societies. The economy of the Roman empire was overwhelmingly agrarian. The wealth that counted most was invested in land, and the ownership of more and more was concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Ancient cities were much smaller than ours; no one was very far from the land. In the smallest cities a large part of the population worked farms outside the city. The institutions of modern commodity markets did not exist to separate urban consumer from rural producer. Nevertheless, there were strong emotional divisions between city and country people—the results of differences in wealth, status, language, and style. For the elite the cities were the places for learning and displaying the culture of privilege. Cities were thus the focal points of Hellenization and Romanization of the provinces, and the citizens looked down their noses at the more “backward” rustics. Rural people, on the other hand, had good reason to feel exploited by the city folk. Agents of an absentee landlord sent to collect the owner's share of the harvest—like those in Jesus' parable (Mk. 12.1–9 )—frequently met a violent reception. The world of Jesus may have been mostly rural (so Mark portrays it), but the Christian movement quickly established itself in the world of the Greek-speaking cities.

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