“The Play’s the Thing”

Advent 2021 Blogpost

It is Advent, the beginning of a new (liturgical) year. Time to bring my blog up to date to cover the research I have done this last nine months. I’m glad still to be alive and (relatively) well. After I have this serve as a post for my blog, I will turn it into a new blog outline. Those of you who have been following my efforts will know it is in a sense like a two act play with an interlude between.

The play’s the thing/ Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” Shakespeare in Hamlet

Act 1: The Past: The First two centuries CE. The first act is provided by two groups of biblical scholars, the combined work of which have filled in a gap in our knowledge of the history of the church. It has taken scripture scholars two thousand years to finally fill in what the church looked like. and what it saw its mission as, in those first two centuries after Jesus. This is captured in the title of the Westar Institute’s (Jesus Seminar) book which has just been released: After Jesus Before Christianity.

Scene 1: One group of academics consists of those who have been making clear to us the absolute relevance of the Roman Empire in understanding scripture and the church between the time of the crucifixion of Jesus and the crucifixion of the church (Constantine and the third century of the new faith.) Warren Carter, New Zealand Methodist scholar, encapsulates this by saying that “the Empire isn’t the background for understanding the New Testament; it is the foreground.” One cannot interpret the New Testament without identifying it within the empire. The early Jesus people could not escape the political oppression, the economic exploitation, the personal demeaning and social violence of the empire in every aspect of their lives, day in and day out.

Scene 2: If Empire defines the exterior setting for early Christians, then the other group of academics we must plumb are those who introduce us to what takes place when the early Jesus followers gathered. If the reality ‘empire’ was omnipresent in and and omnipotent to their external life, then what the second group of academics termed the Greco-Roman Meal gatherings were what took place when they met indoors. Most of the population of the empire consisted of ‘displaced persons’, people whose nation had been conquered by the Romans and who were dispersed in some other place than where they had lived, often as slaves, and by their scattering could more easily be controlled, and less able to rebel. Though these meals had different names and were the major form of social gatherings, they were used first among the Greeks and then borrowed by the Romans, they had basically the same format. From the time that Plato illustrated in his work “The Symposium”, and for the next 800 years, if you wanted to meet, this was the format of meeting. The early Jesus people gathered in groups of six to seventeen persons for a full evening meal followed by conversation about how to be faithful to the message of non-violence and unconditional divine love in a violent and demanding world.

Interval: The Present: The curtain has come down on the first act of this play dealing with the Roman Empire, Jesus, and the Empire of God. In the lobby, drink in hand, you discuss with friends what you have seen and ponder what will be in act two. Questions come to mind:

  • Is there an empire in our world today?
  • Is it as destructive for our world as Rome was for its world?
  • What attitude or actions did Jesus’ people take to the Empire?
  • What attitude or actions do Jesus’ people today take toward empire?
  • Do we resist as our forebears did in the first two centuries?
  • Or do we comply like the church of Constantine? 

The ringing of the bell calls us back to watch Act 2

Act 2: The Future: As we move into the 21st century and beyond, where do we find the church putting the meat on the bones of the academic research of Act 1? To this point I have found a whole bibliography of books that tell us what ‘they’ did in the first two centuries. So where do we find ‘us’ applying this material within our congregations today?

I shall just briefly refer to the only four books I am aware of which are written to apply our knowledge of Empire to the church’s mission by clergy and lay persons.

The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus, Robin R. Meyers
Robin is minister emeritus of a UCC church in Oklahoma City and a member of the Westar Institute.

Faithful Resistance: Gospel Visions For the Church in a Time of Empire, Rick Ufford-Chase
Rick has been involved in community and social action for years. A Presbyterian lay 
person, he currently is part of an ecumenical interfaith community in N Y state.

Jesus vs Caesar: for people tired of serving the wrong God, Joerg Rieger.
Joerg is professor of theology at Vanderbilt and a German Methodist. He is active around 
issues of working people, socialism, and unions.

Sacred Resistance: A Practical Guide to Christian Witness and Dissent, Ginger Gaines-Cirelli
Ginger is minister of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington D C, long involved in social justice issues.

Scene 1: From the local level: What have I found in looking at congregations and the clergy for specifics? So far, not too much; just those four books One place I haven’t looked is in the seminaries. Often, the pattern has been that a new paradigm (or in this case, the discovery of an old paradigm that has been lost) begins with the scholars, moves to the seminaries where new clergy are inspired, and then makes its way out into the congregations as those clergy begin their ministries.

Scene 2: From beyond the local level: individual authors I will write more in this scene and the next of this theoretical play, as it has been where my research has taken place during the last nine months. It was discouraging to me that I had been able to locate so few resources concerned with applying the two strands of recent biblical research that I lay out in the first act.

1. I did find a number of authors who saw the presence of empire in our time and attempted to relate this, either to the church or to other concerned people. For instance, David Korten, particularly in his book The Great Turning. His subtitle is instructive, From Empire to Earth Community. He sees the present empire, which he calls corporate consolidation, as only the latest of those in the 5000 years of civilization. Differing from previous empires, our present one endangers not only people, but the planet itself. For colleagues in his battle, he turns not to the church but to an enlightened ‘earth community.’

2. Antonio Gonzalez, a Spanish Mennonite theologian, has written from a Christian perspective: to be more precise, the book is called a social theology: God’s Reign and the End of Empires. There is a recognition, like that of Korten, that there has always been an empire exploiting and oppressing those without a voice on the fringe of society. I find it to be an exciting book to read only to find toward the end of it that he does not think the middle class churches will be of any real help to counter today’s empire. Instead, he looks to the pentecostal charismatic churches of Latin America, made up of the poor, for those who will resist empire.

3. To balance Gonzalez’ book’s Liberation Theology leaning analysis, one can turn to another analyzed from the right by an evangelical: Subversive Witness by Dominique Dubois Guilliard. Where Gonzalez says that one does not turn to the middle class western churches to confront empire, this author claims to show how people can leverage their privilege to resist sin and effect systemic change. I’m not sure, given the present political realities, whether one can rely on the evangelical churches dealing with positive systemic change. I would love to be proven wrong.

4. Perhaps we might turn to a former evangelical. Brian McLaren has morphed from his conservative beginnings through the emerging church to where he is now as a popular writer of the middle left. In his Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope, McLaren discovers the reality of empire and its influence on us: he writes of the need to “change the economic, environmental, military, political, and social crises that have overtaken our world”. I think most of the readers of my blog will find this work of his creative mind well worth reading.

5. The next book is transformational for me. It is written by a professor of social ethics in two seminaries in the Bay Area’s Graduate Theological Union. But she is also one of 13 consultant to the World Council of Churches on what I will be covering in the next scene. What is significant about Cynthia Moe-Lobeda’s Resisting Structural Evil: Love a Ecological-Economic Vocation, is that it answers for me what has not been answered so far: where are the fruits of the biblical studies of act 1 seen as relevant to the church of the present day? Where are they being applied?

In chapter 3 she introduces the concept of three ways of moral visioning. How, she asks, can we see and acknowledge the destruction of our present economic forms on humans and the planet without falling into despair? Her answer is to use what she calls Critical Mystical Vision. The three dimensions of moral vision begin with ‘seeing what is’. We then try to see ‘what could be’. Underscoring these two is the vision that there is a Force in the universe that wills abundant life for all.

The second stage includes becoming aware that there are many places where people are struggling to bring into being an alternative. “It is the visionary and practical organizing of little-known groups throughout the world aimed at surviving, resisting, and transforming neoliberal global economic arrangements…These people are constructing viable and vibrant alternatives” This is what I have been looking for!

Scene 3: From beyond the local level: church bodies. Even before I encountered Resisting Structural Evil a Facebook acquaintance had asked if I was aware of the work being done by global church bodies to oppose today’s empire. Tony Addy is part of the United Reformed Church in Britain who is involved in church mission on the Continent. My subsequent researching revealed the following:

For its international assembly in 2004 the World Communion of Reformed Churches had produced a document, The Accra Confession. Meeting at a location where African slaves had been held prior to being put on ships for the fateful trip across the Atlantic, these Christian leaders from both the global north and the global south toured the sites: two ‘castles’ on the coast of Ghana. These facilities held the African slaves in the lower floor dungeons. But above this were the quarters of the enslavers, including a chapel where they held their Christian services.

Appalled by the signs of their religious tradition’s participation in the oppression and exploitation by colonial empires of previous centuries, they called upon their various denominations (Presbyterian, Congregational, United Churches…) of more than 100 million followers to repent of the sin toward their fellow humans of color.

Subsequent documents were written in the following several years by some of their organizations such as the Council for World Mission, and the United Church of Canada. Relevant to my research, a couple of those documents’ titles and content acknowledged today’s presence of empire and for the need of the church to oppose it: Mission in the Context of Empire (CWM), and Living Faithfully in the Midst of Empire (UCCan)

In the meantime, the World Lutheran Federation, composed of more than 80 million adherents, had likewise produced a book length document, Being the Church in the Midst of Empire. Each of the chapters is written by a different Lutheran scholar and covers a wide spectrum of issues concerning empire today.

It is obvious that these church leaders, many with offices in the headquarters of the World Council of Churches at 150 Rue De Ferney in Geneva, must have been in conversation. For in the midst of the aforementioned documents, the World Council of Churches produced their own, AGAPE: Alternative Globalization Addressing Peoples and Earth. In it, not only had AGAPE’s writers acknowledged the presence today of ‘empire’. They went beyond that, first, by giving that empire a name, Neoliberal Globalization or Neoliberal Capitalism, but they then set about spelling out an alternative based not on growth and profit or wealth disparity, but one undergirded by Christian values.

To produce AGAPE, the WCC had sought 13 global ecumenical persons to resource their process. (One of these is Cynthia Moe-Lobeda.) They are now working beyond AGAPE. They continue their work under the rubric of a New International Financial and Economic Architecture (NIFEA). I have had the opportunity to listen in on a couple of Zoom conferences where they were focussing on developing a Law on Ecocide and on De-growth. As a Methodist, I find joy in reporting that the World Methodist Council, representing about 80 million Methodist and Wesleyan adherents, has joined our Reformed and Lutheran brothers and sisters in this project. It is appropriate for Methodists to be involved in this social justice issue. After all, John Wesley’s was one of the first voices speaking out against slavery. In addition, it was the Methodists who, at the beginning of the Social Gospel era, developed the Social Creed.

“Being the Church in the Midst of Empire”

NOTE: In April of 2021 I have added a supplement to my bibliography. In can be found here

I The First Century: My Research of Biblical Scholars

Until the last twenty-five or thirty years, our understanding of the first century church has been next to nothing. Biblical writers and historians have assumed that what we knew about the fourth century church extended back to this earlier period, and that there was a kind of unbroken line from what was written in the New Testament.

But two groups of scholars from the Society for Biblical Literature (SBL) have helped fill in this period from which we have very few written records, other than the New Testament. One, the Greco-Roman Meal group, has pointed to a form of social gathering that was ‘the’ way of groups meeting for eight centuries from the time of Plato into the third century CE. This was likely the gathering format of the earliest followers of Jesus.

Another sub-group of the SBL has focussed on the external reality in which the early ‘Christians’ lived out their lives, the Roman Empire. The life of those earlier followers is encapsulated in the title of one book: “In the Shadow of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance. A bibliography I have assembled from these writers is here. One can sense the conflict of early Jesus communities with the empire by seeing the number of books with such words as ‘subversive’, ‘resistance’ or ’against’ in their titles or their intent. (1) [Footnotes after the chart of Council Documents]

II The Twenty-first Century: Clergy Books and Church Council Documents

After having read what I considered a significant amount of the empire scholarship of the first century, I turned to present writings to see if the insights of the scholars was being used by today’s church. I placed my blog posts on empire to about 35 Facebook religious group pages that I had joined. Though getting some ‘likes’ or ‘follows’, I don’t think I had a single person who said something to the effect of “Hey, we ought to be following the early church’s example of becoming an alternative community in opposition to today’s empire.”

I looked next to parish ministers and other writers of books on the church. There were only about five books that I found. (2) This was a pretty low ratio of practical ministry to the over 100 books I found from the scholars. But the books that I did find displayed the same penchant for words in the title like those in the scholarly output: resistance and subversive.

I was nearly to the point of feeling that my intuition about the value of the work of the Biblical scholars for revitalizing the present church was mistaken, when a colleague introduced me to a couple of documents that came out of church councils. So I began trying to locate more of these documents. The result of my searching can be found in the chart below. Of the several families or traditions of churches, I found that three had published documents, the Reformed tradition, the Lutherans, and, interestingly, a branch of the Orthodox church. I have made bold what I consider the significant works.

The similarity in titles of three of them shows what they saw as vital. Putting them together you have:

a) Being the Church/ Mission/ Living Faithfully   
b) in the Midst/Context   
c) of Empire.

It was exciting to discover that church leaders got to what I had intuited long before I had. Further, I had seen the possibilities for the academic studies for providing a new paradigm for the church- being an alternative community whose loyalty to the Reign of God that Jesus had taught. But they had seen the next stage that I had not: developing an alternative to the present dominant empire.

For this they turned to the World Council of Churches. Under its umbrella, the Lutherans and the Reformed encouraged the WCC to work with them. They had already given a term for today’s empire: neoliberal global capitalism. This has given us not only severe economic disparity, both nationally but also in the Global South. Today’s global empire also requires a growth that our planet cannot sustain without depleting the earth’s resources at the same time as bringing on global warming. The first of the WCC documents relevant here is AGAPE: Alternative Globalization Addressing People and Earth– the beginning scheme for a new, alternate global economy.

III My Proposal: From Both Biblical Scholars and Church Councils- Alternative Congregations

Invigorated by the work of the church councils, I turn back to my plan, as stated beneath the title of my blog, Subversive Church: Helping the 21st Century Church Reflect the 1st Century Church’s Subversive Focus.

I have so far been in contact with the person responsible for promoting social justice in three  denominations in three different countries, all “United” denominations: United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom, United Church of Canada, and my own United Methodist Church in the U. S. The first two have council documents they work with: Mission in the Context of Empire for the URC; Living Faithfully in the Midst of Empire for the UCCan. The Methodist family has no such documents (also true of the Anglicans and Baptists), so I have approached the Methodist Federation for Social Action, which has a tradition in working for social justice in over a century.

Chart of Council Documents on Church and Empire

Hypertext links for the most significant council documents are found as footnote (3).

   World Council         of ChurchesWorld Council Reform ChurchCouncil for World MissionLutheran World FederationOther Traditions

Daily Bread Instead of Greed To Seek Justice & Resist Evil 2000 (UCC)
     Accra Confession

2005         AGAPE: Addressing Peoples and Earth


Accra Confession Covenanting for Justice in Economy & Earth
Being Church in the Midst of Empire Living Faithfully in the Midst of Empire (UCC)

 Poverty, Wealth and Ecological Justice (UCC)

Reviewing Partnership in the Context of Empire (UCC)

 Mission in the Context of Empire 


2012    São Paulo Statement*


2014Economy of Life for All*
Accra Confession: Ten Years Later


Laudato Si (RC)

Church in Public Space

Accra Confession as a response to empire
Unmasking Empire


Fallen is Babylon: Reading Bible in Context of Empire


Fratelli Tutti (RC)

For the Life of the World: Toward the Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church

    *Co-sponsored by WCRC, CWM, & LWF

UCC: United Church of Canada


(1) Books that indicate the First Century Church as an alternative community, an over-against-ness, to the Roman Empire, by words in their titles:

Subversive Meals: An Analysis of the Lord’s Supper under Roman Domination during the First Century,  R. Alan Streett 2013
Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, Trevin Wax 2010
Subverting the Devil’s Kingdom 24/7, Jared Moore 2012
Subversive Christianity Imaging God in a Dangerous Time, Brian Walsh 2015
Subversive Kingdom: Living as Agents of Gospel Transformation, Ed Stetzer  2012
Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, Walsh and Keesmaat 2004

In the Shadow of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance, 
Richard Horsley (ed) 2008
Jesus vs. Caesar: for people tired of serving the wrong God, Joerg Rieger. 2018
Resurrection as Anti-Imperial Gospel:  1 Thessalonians 1: 9b-10 in Context, Edward Pillar 2013
Resisting Empire: Rethinking the Purpose of the Letter to “the Hebrews”,  Jason Whitlark 2014
Solus Jesus: A Theology of Resistance, Emily Swan, Ken Wilson 2018BRomans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice, Sylvia C. Keesmaat and Brian J. Walsh May 21, 2019
Theo-Biblical Reflections on Important Issues from the Margins: Black Lives Matter, Incarceration, & Resistance to Empire, Tyree Anderson, Kurt Clark  2019

God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now, J. D. Crossan 2009
Christ and Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times,  Joerg Rieger, 2007.
Being the Church in the Midst of Empire, Karen L. Bloomquist 2005
To Caesar What Is Caesar’s: Tribute, Taxes, and Imperial Administration in Early Roman Palestine, Fabian Udoh  2005
Empire Baptized– How the Church Embraced What Jesus Rejected: 2nd – 5th Centuries,  Wes Howard-Brook 2016
Come Out, My People! God’s Call out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond, Wes Howard-Brook 2012
World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age, Kavin Rowe 2009

(2) Books by clergy on the Over-against-ness Church for the 21st Century
The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus, Robin R. Meyers, emeritus minister of Mayflower UCC, Oklahoma City.
Sacred Resistance: A Practical Guide to Christian Witness and Dissent, Ginger Gaines-Cirell, pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church.
Faithful Resistance: Gospel Visions for the Church in a Time of Empire, Rick Ufford-Chase, Past moderator of Presbyterian Church (USA), along with 13 mostly Reform colleagues.
The Fall of the Church, Roger Haydon Mitchell, consultant to the faith community, U. K.
A Conspiracy of Love: Following Jesus in a Postmodern World, Kurt Struckmeyer 2016

(3) Hypertext Links for Major Council Documents
Accra Confession: (found here)
Being the Church in the Midst of Empire: (found here)
Living Faithfully in the Midst of Empire: (found here)
Mission in the Context of Empire: (found here
Unmasking Empire: (found here)
AGAPE: Alternative Globalization Addressing People and Earth. (found here)


For several years I have been posting on the issue of the Church and Empire. I began my journey through researching the recent work of biblical scholars on the first century church and its struggle with the Roman Empire. Through those writings and additional ones I became aware that Empire is still with us. What hides this reality is that today’s empire looks different from the Roman one.

More recently I discovered that the church in its councils was developing documents to make the churches today aware of the presence of this empire, its effect on people, and the need for the church to combat today’s empire.

I confess to making an error at this point. Because the council documents started using the term ‘empire’ later than the biblical scholars I made the assumption that the work of the church councils was later than the scholars. I am in debt to Chris Ferguson, General Secretary of the staff for the World Communion of Reformed Churches, for helping me correct my error.

In the chart I prepared of the church documents, the first of those documents referencing empire was the Accra Confession of the WCRC, which was written in 2004. Documents from the Lutheran World Federation, the Council for World Mission, and from the World Council of Churches followed the Accra Confession. What I have discovered, however, is that the WCRC, and its predecessor council the WARC, had been dealing with ‘empire’ for over 20 years before. they just hadn’t called it empire. I count fifteen consultations over a period of about 23 years that went into creating Accra. At the time Accra was adopted, it is important to note that 90% of the books on my ’empire’ bibliography had not yet been written.

What is significant about these meetings is the fact that the WCRC represents churches from both the global south and the global north. Or, as the Accra document put it: “Some of us are descended from those slave traders and slave owners, and others of us are descendants of those who were enslaved.” It is obvious that to come to a consensus required lots of listening as well as speaking.

Here is the pre-Accra history: 

1977 Nairobi, Kenya: WCC launches the “Just, Participatory and Sustainability Society”

1981 Geneva, Switzerland: WARC prepares draft papers

1982 Seoul Korea: WARC General Council “Reformed Faith and Economic Justice”
“ the present world economic order and structures are unjust at their very core. As long as they are maintained, the enormous gap between rich and poor will continue to grow.”

1992 Wellington, New Zealand
“We want to turn to the sources of our faith in order to resist the temptation to accept a status quo which is unbearable for many and unsustainable for all in the long run . . .”

1994 Pittsburgh, USA: Adopted plan forThree Regional Conferences

1995 Manila, Philippines: (Asian churches)

1995 Kitwe, Zambia: (African churches)

1996 San Jose, Costa Rica: (Latin American churches)

1996 Geneva, Switzerland: Evaluate the three conferences results. Prepare for General Council
“the affirmation of life, commitment to resistance against injustice and the struggle for transformation are an inseparable part of Reformed faith and confession today.”

1997 Debrecen, Hungary: General Council: “Break the chains of injustice”
Debated status confessionis or processus confessionis

“We Christians of Reformed churches are aware of our complicity in an economic order that is unfair and oppressive, leading to the misery and death of many people. We participate in attitudes and practices which erode the foundations of the earths livelihood. We want to affirm the gift of life. We consider this affirmation of life, commitment to resistance, and struggle for transformation to be an integral part of Reformed faith and confession today.”

1999 Harare, Zimbabwe: WCC General Assembly: WCC decides to join WARC in its initiative in faith and the problem of globalization.

1999 Bankok, Thailand: “Consequences of Economic Globalisation.” “The main focus was to hear the stories and experiences of people at grass-roots level in the light of the Asian crisis.”

2001 Capetown, South Africa: Purpose: to help the WARC member churches understand the theological basis of the process. “The global economic system justifies itself and seeks to replace God’s sovereignty over life.”

2002 Budapest, Hungary: At this consultation, the emphasis was on the ecological, economic and social consequences of globalization in Central and Eastern Europe.

2002 Soesterberg, Netherlands: Objectives: 
to analyse how economic globalisation and the role of money affect societies in Western Europe;

to develop a response by Western European churches to questions raised by churches in Central and Eastern Europe and in the South.

2003 Buenos Aires, Argentina: Consultation attended by all sections of the South in WARC.
“The neo-liberal model cannot be transformed or adjusted: it has inherent contradictions and has failed again and again to lift the countries, peoples and natural environment of the South out of their misery and towards life.” “This system is structural sin; globalised neo-liberalism is in complete contradiction to the central tenets of the Christian faith.”

2004 ACCRA, GHANA:  Debrecen called on the WARC member churches
“to work towards the formulation of a confession of their beliefs about economic life which would express justice in the whole household of God and reflect priority for the poor and support an ecologically sustainable future.”

For information on the Accra Confession, go here: http://wcrc.ch/accra

Sources for this post include
The historical context of the Accra Confession by Averell Rust, Faculty of Theology, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, writing in Herv. teol. stud. vol.65 n.1 Pretoria Jan. 2009.

 The Accra Confession as a Response to Empire by Jerry Pillay,  Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa, writing in  HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies,  https://doi. org/10.4102/hts.v74i4.5284, Nov 2018

Being the Church in the Midst of Empire

I began this writing project a number of years ago with the thesis that the work of the biblical scholars on empire as the context for the earliest church had relevance for the mission of the church today. This is reflected in my goal statement in the outline of my Subversive Church blog (https://subversivechurch.blog/new-blog-outline/) “TO HELP THE 21ST CENTURY CHURCH REFLECT THE 1ST CENTURY CHURCH’S SUBVERSIVE FOCUS TOWARD EMPIRE”

To restate this as a thesis: “I believe that the new material which biblical scholars have just uncovered in the last quarter century about the mission and role of the church in its context is applicable for a model of the church in this twenty-first century”.

I summarize the two parts of my project in the blog outline:

The first part is about the earliest century of the church: from the time of Jesus death by crucifixion to the middle of the second century. The two elements of this are: what was the nature of the world in which the church was born, and what was the nature and mission of the church in its day.

The second part is the present, the twenty-first century: what is the nature of the world in which we live, and out of that, what should be the nature and mission of the church.

Developing the first part was rather straight forward. It consisted of locating and reading the books that the biblical scholars had written. My bibliography (https://subversivechurch.blog/bibliography/) lists many of those books. I will not here repeat what I have written in laying out the conclusions of the biblical scholars concerning ‘empire’ in the first century. I refer you to the posts I have written in my previously mentioned blog outline.

The second part proved to be more difficult for me. That being the finding of voices in the church today which speak of ‘empire’ as relevant to the issue of today’s church’s mission. My first attempts to find those who believed that the model of mission of the earliest church were applicable to the contemporary church came up with insufficient evidence.

In my blog-post titled “Help!” (https://subversivechurch.blog/2018/12/11/help/) I sought to find clergy or other writers who had written about the church’s mission in the context of empire. There were no voices suggested to me beyond those I had already found. I wrote about those in a blog titled A ( Proposed) Manual for Resisting Empire. (https://subversivechurch.blog/2019/11/28/a-proposed-church-manual-for-resisting-empire/) There didn’t seem to be enough material written about today’s church living in the midst of empire to verify my thesis.

It was not until a ‘friend’ on Facebook pointed me toward documents developed by councils of churches in the last couple decades that my hope for proof of my thesis was revived. By councils of churches I am referring to the likes of the World Council of Reformed Churches (WCRC), the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the Council for World Mission (CWM), and the World Council of Churches (WCC). (Links to these documents may be found in the conclusion of my blog outline.)

The use of the word “empire” to express the context of the contemporary church and its mission seems to have first appeared in council documents in the Accra Confession (WCRC 2004).

“We perceive that the world today lives under the shadow of an oppressive empire. By this we mean the gathered power of pervasive economic and political forces throughout the globe that reinforce the division between the rich and the poor. Millions of those in our congregations live daily in the midst of these realities.” 

These sentiments echo the context of the first century church as discovered by the ‘empire’ biblical scholars about whom I have been reading and blogging.

The LWF document underscores this parallel of the contemporary church with the earliest church: Being the Church in the Midst of Empire (2007). That was closely followed in the same year by a denominational paper by the United Church of Canada, Living Faithfully in the Midst of Empire. That was followed couple years later by the CWM with Mission in the Context of Empire.

At this point the different families of the church, Reformed and Lutheran, involved the umbrella group, the World Council of Churches and together they produced AGAPE, an acronym for an Alternative Globalization Addressing People and Earth. Where the LWF, UCCan, and CWM documents had laid the groundwork for establishing empire as the context for the life and mission of the church, the WCC document took the next step in beginning to lay out the Christian alternative to empire.

The first century church (and the New Testament) referred to the alternative as that which Jesus spoke of as the kingdom of God found also in the Old Testament. Consider the psalmist, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”. It was not the possession of the Roman Empire. The Empire was a rebellion against the will of God.

Returning to the WCC document, whether you consider the central message of Jesus being the proclamation of the kingdom or whether it is divine love, it is expressed in the title. The acronym AGAPE forms the word the New Testament speaks of as God’s unconditional love, as in Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν, love your neighbor as yourself. And the longer title Alternative Globalization Addressing People and Earth, is the WCC’s terminology for the Christian alternative to empire.

If “Alternative Globalization” is a secular way of referring to the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed, the “People and Earth” addressed is a reference to the twin major problems that the contemporary empire has helped greatly to contribute to the world- economic disparity and ecological disaster.

Thus, the church associations have first identified today’s major social problems with ‘empire. Then they have begun to work through the World Council of Churches to develop a Christian alternative. My reading of the books by biblical scholars on the context of the first century and the earliest response of the Jesus communities seem to be a clear parallel to this. See, for instance, the three books on the Pauline communities by Daniel Oudshoorn, Paul and the Uprising of the Dead.

The current turn my project has taken is to discover what has been the outcome in the church due to the documents which have been produced by church agencies focussed on trying to be the church in the midst of empire. Are there communities centered around studying and applying the insights of these documents? Or are the documents, like so many others produced by the church, gathering dust on ecclesiastical shelves?

Mea Culpa!

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Mea Culpa! Recently I posted on this Facebook page seeking Church leaders or congregations who are attempting to be subversive, transformative, alternative communities that are trying to combat today’s expression of Empire. I was disappointed in finding no takers. Now I know why..

But what I had not taken into account is that most congregations struggle with just being a community for its members and perhaps for its neighborhood. And that stretches its leadership. As a pastor for 40 years I should have remembered what it was like. As well, not everybody in your congregation has done theology!

Most often only at the higher levels of our polities have there been the skills and time for a wider vision. I have found this visioning has happened. And so far I have found four places where this has taken place. I am sure now that I will find more.

The graphic above shows you one of the documents I have located. Unmasking Empire is the product of a group of churches I had never heard of: the Council for World Mission. It is made up of 31 denominations across the globe of the Reformed tradition, mostly Congregational and Presbyterian. They are the outgrowth of what was called the London Missionary Society.

Five of these denominations are in Europe; the rest are in majority world countries which were colonies of Europe. Significantly, there are no denominations from either North America or South America. This gives a different perspective from what we in North America usually encounter. These are the descendants of the colonized not of the colonizers. So “Empire” is not a theoretical construct for them. They suffered under empire. They are aware that empire still exists and they are still suffering under it, Another of their documents, Mission in the Context of Empire gives examples in the stories of contemporary people who have been exploited by empire.

I have discovered other judicatories that have produced like documents. I have added them to my Blog Outline (https://subversivechurch.blog/blogs/). You will find links to the articles there if you want to check them out for yourselves.

The Accra Confession Covenanting for Justice in the Economy and the Earth by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. 

AGAPE: Alternative Globalization Addressing Peoples and Earth by the World Council of Churches and

Living Faithfully in the Midst of Empire, by the United Church of Canada.

I am in the process of getting authorization from the different groups to use their material. As well as sharing this on this blog, I am planning to establishing some method of communicating and dialoguing with these documents, perhaps by the means of Zoom. If you are interested in participating in the discussion, email me at
rev dot bud at mac dot com.

Their goal is the same as the one I set out to do through this blog. As AGAPE, the World Council of Churches document puts it:

We, churches and believers, are called to look at the world’s reality from the perspective of people, especially the oppressed and the excluded. We are called to be non-conformist and transformative communities. We are called to let ourselves be transformed by the freeing our minds from the dominating, conquering and egoistic imperial mindset, thus doing the will of God.”


Reading Romans Backwards

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Scot McKnight is a prolific writer on the New Testament. Especially in the last ten years in which he has written fifteen books. Two of these books intersect with my project on the Subversive Church. The first of those is Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies. (2013) I found that book of limited value as it is the only one I have run across that disagrees with the many others in my bibliography.

But a second book of his I have read is really imaginative and useful. That book is Reading Romans Backwards: A Gospel of Peace in the Midst of Empire. (2019)

McKnight makes the intriguing suggestion that we will understand Paul’s letter to Rome much better if we read it backward. Don’t take that literally. What he means is that most scholars see the first 8 chapters as the height of Paul’s attempt to spell out a systematic theology.

“Western Christianity has been shaped by Romans like no other book in the Bible: Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Edwards, Hodge, and Barth….

For decades I have read and listened to scholars and heard preachers on Romans 1–8, and one would think, after listening or reading, that those meaty chapters were written for a theological lectureship rather than to a local church or a set of house churches in Rome in the first century when Nero was emperor and Paul was planning his future mission to Spain.”

And, he continues, most readers when they get to the last chapters, 12 through 16, see this part as Paul moving from the heights of Christian theology down to an add-on to deal with some practical problems that the ‘churches’ in Rome are dealing with.

But McKnight writes, what if you started with these congregational concerns as central to what Romans is all about. Then you read 1 through 8 and 9 through 11 where Paul gives practical theology to support the ecclesial problems that concern him in chapters 12 through 16.

“What follows is an exploration of Romans when one reads it backwards. One might say there are two primary orientations to reading Romans: a soteriological one that finds the message of redemption as the center of the letter and another reading that locates the center in an ecclesial setting—namely, the message of reconciliation and living in fellowship as siblings. The two are related; they are not dichotomies. If the soteriological reading has dominated much of Romans scholarship, there is clearly a trend today to see a shift toward the ecclesial readings. This book is an essay that will side with an ecclesial reading of Romans.”

He sees the central terms in those closing chapters in Paul’s references to the ‘strong’ and the ‘weak. Like what he does with this. He locates the weak as the members of the Jesus gatherings in Rome who are Jews, Jews brought to Rome as slaves and thus are in social status quite low. The strong are the non-Jews in the assemblies, the so called ‘gentiles’. These are not wealthy, but in social status they rank relatively higher in the empire than do the Jews.

“Romans is about Privilege and Power.

Paul’s gospel deconstructs Power and Privilege.

Paul’s lived theology turns power upside down and denies privilege. Paul’s lived theology is about Peace in the empire, and it is a radical alternative to Rome’s famous Pax Romana.

Romans 12–16 is lived theology, and Romans 1–11 is written to prop up that lived theology.

Romans 12–16 is not the application of Paul’s theology, nor is Romans a classic example of the indicative leading to the imperative. What Paul had in focus was the lack of praxis, the lack of lived theology, the lack of peace in Rome, and he wrote Romans both to urge a new kind of lived theology (12–16) and to offer a rationale (1–11) for that praxis.”

I could preach this book! Especially in an age when we are becoming aware of the significance of the issue of White Privilege.


The Need for an Empire Lens

Screen Shot 2020-07-06 at 11.17.36 AMThe new biblical understanding of the 21st century is best described in a quote from Warren Carter, to the effect that the Roman Empire is not to be seen as the background in understanding the New Testament, “it is the foreground.”

Basing their works on this, some of the writers in my bibliography have laid out an understanding of what the empire looked like and its effect upon the citizens of the empire, particularly those 95% who were not of the elite class and who made up the persons in the early Christ associations. The authors include people like the aforementioned Carter. But also there are Richard Horsley pioneer in the empire criticism, John Dominic Crossan and others. As well as these biblical scholars there is sociologist Michael Mann with his four volumes on the four sources of social power.

In addition, there is the growing list of writers who have often concentrated upon a single N T book to show what it looks like to read the N T through its empire context. Brigitt Kahl’s “Galatians Reimagined” is a good example of this.

But none of the 100 plus authors in my empire bibliography has so far done what Daniel Oudshoorn has. On one hand, he looks closely at the structure of the Roman Empire: he analyzes what are called the four cornerstones of the empire: the household, the honor/shame value framework, the system of patronage, and imperial religion. On the other hand, he looks through the lens provided by these four cornerstones at what are considered the seven undisputed letters of Paul.

Oudshoorn gives a granular view of how these four operate in the empire in material of the first two volumes. I’ll cover this in my next post. But the best stuff is found in the third volume where he reads Paul’s letters as they establish an alternative way of life for what he calls the Pauline faction among the early Jesus movement. What he does, in effect, is to use the lens of those four cornerstones by which the culture of the empire can be understood. He uses this perspective to read anew the undisputed seven letters of Paul- I Thessalonians, I and II Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Philemon,and Romans.

To give an example: Patronage.

“The world of the authors and readers of the New Testament, however, was one in which personal patronage was an essential means of acquiring access to goods, protection or opportunities for employment and advancement. Not only was it essential—it was expected and publicized! The giving and receiving of favors was, according to a first-century participant, the “practice that constitutes the chief bond of human society” (Seneca Ben. 1.4.2).””         deSilva, David. Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity (p. 96).

Patronage was the “trickle down economy” of the empire which aided in the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

Paul’s collection from his congregations for the Jesus poor in Jerusalem has usually gotten very little attention from Biblical scholars, even though four of those seven authentic letters of Paul make reference to it. (Gal 2:10; 6:6–10; 1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15; 12:14–18; Rom 15:25–32)

But, according to Oudshoorn, when looked at through the lens of patronage, the collection provides the ‘cornerstone’ of Paul’s economics. Where patronage is the means of the elite controlling the economic goods, Paul’s collection is the means for the poor who are above the subsistence level aiding fellows of The Way who were barely subsisting back in Jerusalem.

It was an economics based upon “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.” I would name the contemporary philosophy from which this quote comes if the “C” word wasn’t subversive today. It is clear that Paul’s economics were subversive in his day.

If patronage is a cornerstone for preserving the Roman way- economics in the control of the elite, an alternative system would undercut patronage. In addition, with Rome controlling its empire consisting of many different conquered peoples by the ‘divide and control’ method, to have different conquered gentile nations supporting economically struggling Jewish Christian people would be seditious. Gentiles are supposed to look down on the Jews like everyone else, not treat them like brothers and sisters who are needy. Money is supposed to be in the hands and control of the elite, not the poor!

The Collection then for Oudshoorn is an “example of sibling-based economic mutualism”.

DAVID A. de SILVA, in his HONOR, PATRONAGE, KINSHIP & PURITY: Unlocking New Testament Culture, with a slight difference in the labelling of the cornerstones, agrees that, looking through the lens of the social realities of the Roman Empire, one finds a different reading of the New Testament than was seen by earlier biblical scholars.

Warning: this won’t be my last post on Oudshoorn’s three books.

SNAPSHOT: “The Sources of Social Power Vol. 1”, M. Mann

From Publisher

Distinguishing four sources of power in human societies – ideological, economic, military, and political – The Sources of Social Power traces their interrelations throughout human history. In this first volume, Michael Mann examines inter-relations between these elements from neolithic times, through ancient Near Eastern civilizations, the classical Mediterranean age, and medieval Europe, up to just before the Industrial Revolution in England. It offers explanations of the emergence of the state and social stratification; of city-states, militaristic empires, and the persistent interaction between them; of the world salvation religions; and of the particular dynamism of medieval and early modern Europe. It ends by generalizing about the nature of overall social development, the varying forms of social cohesion, and the role of classes and class struggle in history. First published in 1986, this new edition of volume 1 includes a new preface by the author examining the impact and legacy of the work.

Volume 1 A history of power from the beginning to AD 1760, Michael Mann, 2012 (Agrarian Societies)

Distinguishing four sources of power in human societies – ideological, economic, military and political – The Sources of Social Power traces their interrelations throughout human history. In this first volume, Michael Mann examines interrelations between these elements from neolithic times, through ancient Near Eastern civilizations, the classical Mediterranean age and medieval Europe, up to just before the Industrial Revolution in England. It offers explanations of the emergence of the state and social stratification; of city-states, militaristic empires and the persistent interaction between them; of the world salvation religions; and of the particular dynamism of medieval and early modern Europe. It ends by generalizing about the nature of overall social development, the varying forms of social cohesion and the role of classes and class struggle in history. First published in 1986, this new edition of Volume 1 includes a new preface by the author examining the impact and legacy of the work.

Vol 2 Industrial Societies The Rise of Classes and Nation-States, 1760–1914

Distinguishing four sources of power in human societies – ideological, economic, military and political – The Sources of Social Power traces their interrelations throughout human history. This second volume deals with power relations between the Industrial Revolution and the First World War, focusing on France, Great Britain, Hapsburg Austria, Prussia/Germany and the United States. Based on considerable empirical research, it provides original theories of the rise of nations and nationalism, of class conflict, of the modern state and of modern militarism. While not afraid to generalize, it also stresses social and historical complexity. Michael Mann sees human society as ‘a patterned mess’ and attempts to provide a sociological theory appropriate to this, his final chapter giving an original explanation of the causes of the First World War. First published in 1993, this new edition of Volume 2 includes a new preface by the author examining the impact and legacy of the work.

Vol 3 Global Empires and Revolution 1890-1945

Distinguishing four sources of power – ideological, economic, military and political – this series traces their interrelations throughout human history. This third volume of Michael Mann’s analytical history of social power begins with nineteenth-century global empires and continues with a global history of the twentieth century up to 1945. Mann focuses on the interrelated development of capitalism, nation-states and empires. Volume 3 discusses the ‘Great Divergence’ between the fortunes of the West and the rest of the world; the self-destruction of European and Japanese power in two world wars; the Great Depression; the rise of American and Soviet power; the rivalry between capitalism, socialism and fascism; and the triumph of a reformed and democratic capitalism.

Vol 4 Globalizations 1945-2011

Distinguishing four sources of power – ideological, economic, military and political – this series traces their interrelations throughout human history. This fourth volume covers the period from 1945 to the present, focusing on the three major pillars of post-war global order: capitalism, the nation-state system and the sole remaining empire of the world, the United States. In the course of this period, capitalism, nation-states and empires interacted with one another and were transformed. Mann’s key argument is that globalization is not just a single process, because there are globalizations of all four sources of social power, each of which has a different rhythm of development. Topics include the rise and beginnings of decline of the American Empire, the fall or transformation of communism (respectively, the Soviet Union and China), the shift from neo-Keynesianism to neoliberalism, and the three great crises emerging in this period – nuclear weapons, the great recession and climate change.

Table of Contents

Preface to the new edition page vii
Preface xxv
1 Societies as organized power networks 1
2 The end of general social evolution: how prehistoric peoples evaded power 34
3 The emergence of stratification, states, and multi-power-actor civilization in Mesopotamia 73
4 A comparative analysis of the emergence of stratification, states, and multi-power-actor civilizations 105
5 The first empires of domination: the dialectics of compulsory cooperation 130
6 “Indo-Europeans” and iron: expanding, diversified power networks 179
7 Phoenicians and Greeks: decentralized multi-power-actor civilizations 190
8 Revitalized empires of domination: Assyria and Persia 231
9 The Roman territorial empire 250
10 Ideology transcendent: the Christian ecumene 301
11 A comparative excursus into the world religions: Confucianism, Islam, and (especially) Hindu caste 341
12 The European dynamic: I. The intensive phase, A.D. 800–1155 373
13 The European dynamic: II. The rise of coordinating states, 1155–1477 416
14 The European dynamic: III. International capitalism and organic national states, 1477–1760 450
15 European conclusions: explaining European dynamism – capitalism, Christendom, and states 500
16 Patterns of world-historical development in agrarian societies

No Notes yet

SNAPSHOT: “The Great Turning”, Korten

(Warning: this is a long post!)

The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, David Korten

From Publisher

In his classic international bestseller, When Corporations Rule the World, David Korten exposed the destructive and oppressive nature of the global corporate economy and helped spark a global resistance movement. Now, he shows that the problem runs deeper than corporate domination—with far greater consequences.

Here, Korten argues that corporate consolidation of power is merely one manifestation of what he calls “Empire”: the organization of society through hierarchy and violence that has largely held sway for the past 5,000 years. Empire has always resulted in misery for the many and fortune for the few, but now it threatens the very future of humanity. Korten points to global terrorism, climate change, and rising poverty as just a few of the signs that the burdens of Empire now exceed what people and planet will bear.

The Great Turning traces the roots of Empire to ancient times and charts the long evolution of its favored instruments of control, from monarchies and bureaucracies to the transnational institutions of the global economy. Korten also tells the parallel story of the attempt to develop a democratic alternative to Empire, beginning in Athens and continuing with the founding of the United States of America. But this remains an unfinished project—Korten documents how elitists with an imperial agenda have consistently sought to undermine the bold and inspiring “American experiment,“ beginning in the earliest days of the republic and continuing to the present day.

Empire is not inevitable, not the natural order of things—we can turn away from it. Korten draws on evidence from sources as varied as evolutionary theory, developmental psychology, and religious teachings to make the case that “Earth Community”—a life-centered, egalitarian, sustainable way of ordering human society based on democratic principles of partnership—is indeed possible. And he details a grassroots strategy for beginning the momentous turning toward a future of as-yet-unrealized human potential. The Great Turning illuminates our current predicament, provides a framework for grasping the potential of this historic moment, and shows us how to take action for the future of our planet, our communities, and ourselves.


Prologue: In Search of the Possible

1: The Choice
2: The Possibility
3: The Imperative
4: The Opportunity

5: When God Was a Woman
6: Ancient Empire
7: Modern Empire
8: Athenian Experiment

  9: Inauspicious Beginning
10: People Power Rebellion
11: Empire’s Victory
12: Struggle for justice
13: Wake-Up Call
14: Prisons of the Mind

15: Beyond Strict Father versus Ageing Clock
16: Creation’s Epic Journey
17: Joys of Earth Community
18: Stories for a New Era

19: Leading from Below
20: Building a Political Majority
21: Liberating Creative Potential
22: Change the Story, Change the Future

My Rough Notes

In its simplest terms, the theory underlying corporate-led economic globalization posits that human progress is best advanced by deregulating markets and eliminating economic borders to let unrestrained market forces determine economic priorities, allocate resources, and drive economic growth. It sounds like decentralization, but the reality is quite different. A market without rules and borders increases the freedom of the biggest and most economically powerful players to become even bigger and more powerful at the expense of the freedom and right to self-determination of people and communities. Corporations and financial markets make the decisions and reap the profits. Communities are left to deal with mounting human and environmental costs. 238-242

Break the trance, replace the values of an inauthentic culture with the values of an authentic culture grounded in a love of life rather than a love of money, and people will realign their life energy and bring forth the life-serving institutions of a new era. The key is to change the stories by which we define ourselves. selves. It is easier said than done, but I have found it to be a powerful strategic insight. 303-306

My intention in writing The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community is to provide a historically grounded frame for understanding the possibilities of the unique time in which we live and thereby enable able us to envision the path to a new era. Failing such understanding, we will continue to squander valuable time and resources on futile efforts to preserve or mend the cultures and institutions of a system that cannot be fixed and must be replaced.  321-324

Note that throughout The Great Turning I use the term Empire with a capital E as a label for the hierarchical ordering of human relationships based on the principle of domination. The mentality of Empire embraces material excess for the ruling classes, honors the dominator power of death and violence, denies the feminine principle, and suppresses realization of the potentials of human maturity. Similarly, I use the term Earth Community as a label for the egalitarian democratic ordering of relationships based on the principle of partnership. The mentality of Earth Community embraces material sufficiency for everyone, honors the generative power of life and love, seeks a balance of feminine and masculine principles, and nurtures a realization of the mature potential of our human nature. 324-328
[This last sentence sounds like a modern equivalent to Paul in his letter to the Galatians 3:28: ‘in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female’.]

SYNOPSIS OF THE ARGUMENT The human species is entering a period of dramatic and potentially devastating change as the result of forces of our own creation that are now largely beyond our control. It is within our means, however, to shape a positive outcome if we choose to embrace the resulting crisis as an opportunity to lift ourselves to a new level of species maturity and potential. The outcome will depend in large measure on the prevailing stories that shape our understanding of the traumatic time at hand-its causes and its possibilities. Perhaps the most difficult and yet essential aspect of this work is to change our stories. 332-336

[The church does not need to come up with a new story. It needs to recapture its original story, which is about Jesus who proclaims a rule of justice, love, and equality against the forces of domination. It is because we have lost that story that Korten feels the need to look elsewhere for a different sort of community than the church]

THE CULTURAL TURNING. The Great Turning begins with a cultural and spiritual awakening. Economic and political turning can only follow a turning in cultural values from money and material excess to life and spiritual fulfillment, from relationships of domination to relationships of partnership, from a belief in our limitations to a belief in our possibilities,, and from fearing our differences to rejoicing in our diversity.

THE ECONOMIC TURNING. The values shift of the cultural turning calls us to turn from measuring well-being by the size of our yachts and bank accounts to measuring well-being by the health of our families, communities, and natural environment. It leads us from economic policies that raise those at the top to policies that raise those at the bottom, from economic plutocracy to economic democracy, from hoarding to sharing, and from the rights of ownership to the responsibilities of stewardship.

THE POLITICAL TURNING. The economic turning creates the necessary conditions for a turn from a democracy of money to a democracy of people, from passive to active citizenship, from competition for individual advantage to cooperation for mutual advantage, from retributive justice to restorative justice, and from social order by coercion to social order by mutual responsibility and accountability. 349-356

The Great Turning is presented in five parts. Part I, “Choosing Our Future,” explores the choice at hand and the nature and implications of the distinctive imperatives and opportunities now before us.

Part II, “Sorrows of Empire,” reviews the conditions that led humans in an earlier time to turn away from a reverence for life and the regenerative power of the feminine to pursue the path of violence and domination. A synopsis of the imperial experience illustrates the self-replicating social dynamics of Empire, charts the transition from the institutions of monarchy to the institutions of the global economy as the favored instruments of imperial rule, and reveals the costs of Empire’s often overly idealized accomplishments. It also draws lessons from the early Athenian experiment in popular democracy and the insights of the great Athenian philosophers.

[Turning to the Athenians for an alternative is his substitute for turning to religion. Reason rather than faith.]

Part III, “America, the Unfinished Project,” turns to the United States and the history of the challenge now before us as a nation. In an effort to dispel the myths underlying a dangerous complacency about our institutions and global intentions, it takes a sober look at the reality that we have never been the democracy we imagine ourselves to be and we have always had imperial ambitions. It concludes with a look at the actions of a particularly corrupt and incompetent administration as a national wake-up call to confront the reality of our history and engage a popular mobilization to build the democratic society of our founding ideal.

Part IV, “The Great Turning,” outlines the scope of the work of the Great Turning by contrasting the stories and deep assumptions underlying lying the values and relationships of Empire and Earth Community that legitimate a hierarchy of domination and wealth concentration on the one hand, and networks of partnership, sharing, and mutual learning on the other. It draws on the deeper insights of both science and religion to make the case that learning and partnership are integral not only to life, but as well to the whole of Creation.

Part V, “Birthing Earth Community,” outlines a strategic framework for bringing forth a new era of Earth Community. It describes how self-organizing processes of citizen action, based on grassroots leadership, can advance an agenda of cultural, economic, and political democratization that roots power in people and liberates the creative potential of the species. It further makes the case that the foundation of a majoritarian political consensus based on family and community values and a concern for children is already in place. 369-379

Part I, “Choosing Our Future”

CHAPTER 1 Our Choice
The Choice
Life hostile & competitive Life supportive & cooperative
Humans flawed & dangerous Humans have many possibilities
Order by dominator hierarchy Order through partnership
Compete or die Cooperate and live
Love power Love life
Defend rights of the self Defend rights of all
Masculine dominant Gender balanced

Competing Narratives Empire and Earth Community flow from sharply contrasting worldviews.’ The narrative of Empire, which emphasizes the demonstrated human capacity for hatred, exclusion, competition, domination, and violence in the pursuit of domination, assumes humans are incapable of responsible self-direction and that social order must be imposed by coercive means. The narrative of Earth Community, which emphasizes the demonstrated human capacity for caring, compassion, cooperation, partnership, and community in the service of life, assumes a capacity for responsible self-direction and self-organization and thereby the possibility of creating radically democratic organizations and societies. These narratives represent two sides of a psychic tension that resides within each of us. One focuses on that which divides us and leads to fear and often violent competition. The other focuses on that which unites us and leads to trust and cooperation. 464-468

Relationships of Empire

Empire, which gives expression to the authoritarian impulse, features a drive for dominator power, to use Eisler’s term: the power to take, control, and destroy by coercive means. It organizes every relationship at every level of society according to a hierarchy of power, control, status, and privilege. The ever present focus is on attaining more power by coopting and monopolizing the power of the many below, often at great cost to the whole.’ Males have been socialized to specialize in the cultivation of dominator power. The cultural and institutional systems of Empire support a monopolization of resources by the ruling elites, whose lives become consumed in competing with one another for the top positions in the dominance hierarchy. Because power struggles are continuous and often treacherous, relationships commonly feature a substantial element of distrust, fear, and duplicity. Fear is Empire’s friend, as it creates a psychological need for certainty, control, and structured relationships that motivates acquiescence by those below.

Empire routinely extends rights and freedoms to those at the top of the hierarchy that it denies those on the bottom. By the logic of Empire’s narrative, the smartest, toughest players have the right and the duty to seize and hold power by whatever means are available to impose peace and order on an unruly world in the interest of all-a service for which they believe themselves to be rightfully rewarded with even greater power and wealth. The legitimating culture extols the virtues of the powerful winners, attributes the condition of the hapless losers to incompetence or a lack of character, and communicates a message that the only alternative to the power elite’s domination is chaos-along with a scornful insinuation that trust, compassion, and cooperation are for or be killed. Be a winner or be a loser. Rule or be ruled. Empire has its own golden rule: “He who has the gold rules.” So “Go for the gold,” and be sure you get more of it than your neighbor.

Once the basic winner-take-all dynamic is in place, it creates what political analyst Jonathan Schell calls an “adapt or die” system- more accurately a “compete or die” system- from which it becomes extremely difficult for either individuals or societies to break free, as thousands of years of human history demonstrate. Commit to the winner-take-all competition and submit to its draconian rules, or suffer the loser’s fate of oppression and exclusion.’ The high stakes create a powerful incentive to win by any means and exert a strong downward pressure on ethical standards, a pattern endlessly repeated at all levels of imperial societies. Once the cultural and institutional dynamics of Empire are in place, the generative choice of Earth Community is off the table.

The dynamics and consequences of Empire are documented in detail by Andrew Schmookler in his social science classic The Parable of the Tribes.’ In the parable, a number of peaceful tribes live together harmoniously for many generations, until one day a tribe with an aggressive warrior culture appears, begins to overrun the peaceful tribes, and forces them to embrace the ways of the violent tribe, run away, or be decimated. The pathology of Empire spreads from one society to another through this dynamic. The culture and institutions of the infected society undergo a gradual transformation from supporting and rewarding relations based on partnership to supporting those based on domination. Rulers are reduced to a choice: conquer and absorb the territory of their neighbors, or risk being conquered and absorbed by them. 478-502

Empire offers a Faustian bargain even for the winners. Wealth and power come at the expense of the qualities that make both winners and losers fully human. Empire is a psychological, as well as a social, affliction that is at once both cause and consequence of our collective failure to actualize the potential of our humanity. This failure presents a crucial barrier to making a collective human transition from the dominator relationships of Empire to the deeply democratic partnership relationships ships of Earth Community, because the successful negotiation of the transition will require the creative contribution of every person. 508-512

The cultural principles of Earth Community affirm the spiritual unity and interconnectedness of Creation. They favor respect for all beings, nonviolence, service to community, and the stewardship of common resources for the benefit of generations to come. The economic principles of Earth Community affirm the basic right of every person to a means of livelihood and the responsibility of each person to live in a balanced relationship with their place on Earth without expropriating the resources of others. They favor local control, self-reliance, and mutually beneficial trade and sharing. The political principles of Earth Community affirm the inherent worth and potential of all individuals and their right to a voice in the decisions that shape their lives, thereby favoring inclusive citizen engagement, cooperative problem solving, and restorative justice.  525-529

Victor Frankl quote:

There were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate…. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.’ 1  535-538

Empire and Earth Community are generic names for two models of organizing human relationships at all levels of society, from relationships among nations to relations among family and work-group members. Empire orders relationships into dominator hierarchies that monopolize power in the hands of elites to expropriate the life energy, and thereby suppress the creative potential, of the rest. Earth Community orders relationships by partnership networks that distribute power equitably to nurture the well-being and creative potential of each individual and the whole of the community. Each model is within our means, and ultimately it is ours to choose between them.  547-550

Ch 2 The Possibility

According to conventional wisdom, hierarchies of dominance are required to bring order to human societies because we humans are by nature an inherently unruly and self-centered species prone to violence and lawlessness. We therefore require the discipline of a ruling class and the competition of an unregulated market to impose order. By telling only part of the story, this conventional wisdom becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,

Below I set out a five-stage map of the developmental pathway from the least mature to the most mature orders

First Order: Magical Consciousness The Magical Consciousness of a young child of two to six years of age experiences the world as fluid and subject to the whims of magical beings

Second Order: Imperial Consciousness The transition from Magical to Imperial Consciousness normally occurs somewhere around the age of six or seven, when the     discovery of order, regularity, and stability in the world     conforming to the expectations of authority figures

Third Order: Socialized Consciousness The transition from Imperial Consciousness to Socialized Consciousness normally begins around eleven or twelve. Coinciding with the onset of teenage rebellion against parental authority, it marks the transition to the internalization of the cultural norms    Socialized Consciousness defines itself by its relationships with others whose acceptance becomes a primary criterion for assessing self-worth.    ability to see one’s self through the eyes of another.

Fourth Order: Cultural Consciousness Adulthood commonly brings encounters with people who have cultural perspectives and beliefs different from those of one’s own identity groups. The initial reaction to such encounters is commonly a chauvinistic sense of cultural superiority and possibly an embrace of cultural absolutism: “The way of my people is the only right way.”    may come to recognize that culture is itself a social construct, that each culture has its own logic,   A Cultural Consciousness is rarely achieved before age thirty, and the majority of those who live in modern imperial societies never achieve it, partly because most corporations, political parties, churches, labor unions, and even educational institutions actively discourage it.     Persons who have achieved a Cultural Consciousness have an “Inclusive World” view that sees the possibility of creating inclusive, life-affirming societies that work for all.

Fifth Order: Spiritual Consciousness The Spiritual Consciousness, the highest expression of what it means to be human, manifests the awakening to Creation as a complex, multidimensional, dimensional, interconnected, continuously unfolding whole. It involves coming full circle back to the original sense of oneness of the womb experience, but with a richly nuanced appreciation for the complexity and grandeur of the whole of Creation    acquired by relating to diverse people and situations in search of an ever deeper understanding of life’s possibilities.

      Spiritual Consciousness is the consciousness of the elder states-person, teacher, tribal leader, or religious sage that supports an examined morality grounded in the universal principles of justice, love, and compassion common to the teachings of the most revered religious prophets.     The Spiritual Consciousness simply transcends the exclusiveness of conventional group loyalties to embrace an identity that is inclusive of the whole and all its many elements. 619-643

This creates a difficulty. Cultures and institutions afflicted with the addictions of Empire throw up active barriers to the acquisition of a mature consciousness and favor leaders who act from an Imperial Consciousness.. The Imperial Consciousness is a normal and essential stage in the developmental processes of children. In adults, however, it is sociopathic.

many of our most powerful institutions are in the hands of ethically challenged human beings.

Moral Autism For all the efforts of the corporate media to portray the scandals as the work of a few bad apples, it became clear that the corruption was on a grand scale and carried out by profoundly ethically challenged individuals.

When such adults appear among the lower socioeconomic classes, the ruling establishment commonly identifies them as sociopaths and confines them to a prison or mental institution. By contrast, when they appear among the higher socioeconomic classes, the ruling establishment is prone to judge them especially suited for positions of leadership in the political and corporate institutions of imperial power. 687-693

Those who lead an examined life grounded in a mature worldview understand complexity, identify with the well-being of the whole, have no interest in acquiring arbitrary power, and are unlikely to succumb to the manipulations of advertisers, propagandists, and demagogues.

Competing for the Swing Vote

Socialized Consciousness, which is the consciousness of most American adults, adapts to the values and social roles of the prevailing culture. It represents the swing voters, and it is pivotal to the cultural politics of the Great Turning


Chapter 4 points to evidence that the number of people operating from these higher orders of consciousness is growing rapidly

Empire’s Advantage Empire’s well-established cultural and institutional hegemony gives it a decided advantage. Empire also enjoys another important advantage: anyone who has reached the level of the Socialized Consciousness has experienced the world through the lens of the Imperial Consciousness and thus is familiar with its organizing principles. By contrast, only those who have moved beyond the Socialized Consciousness to a Cultural or Spiritual Consciousness can understand fully the deeply democratic possibilities of Earth Community.

Earth Community’s Advantage 

First, the drive to realize the fullness of our humanity is inherent in our nature. Second, a substantial majority of people have achieved a Socialized Consciousness or beyond and are therefore capable of understanding the concept of a public good that transcends narrowly defined individual interests and requires cooperation to achieve. Third, as elaborated in chapter 3, we face ecological and social imperatives distinctive to this moment in the human experience

Contrary to those who maintain that we humans are destined to lives of violence and greed, our nature embodies a wide range of potential. The possible levels of achievement range from the criminal sociopath who is unable to consider any need or interest other than his own to the profound social and spiritual sensibility and vision of a Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, or Martin Luther King Jr.

The lower orders of Magical and Imperial Consciousness produce a culture of Empire. The higher orders of Cultural and Spiritual Consciousness produce a culture of Earth Community. The Socialized Consciousness, from which the majority of people operate, is capable of adapting to the values and expectations of either Empire or Earth Community, 741-743

CHAPTER 3 The Imperative

Far removed from the realities of the rapidly changing human context, conditioned by the beliefs of imperial culture, and constrained by the imperatives of imperial institutions, those who rule from the clouds attribute the growing threat to life, civilization, and the existing institutions of social order to external enemies and to those who question established authority.  757-759

During the twentieth century, the speed at which we humans acquired new technological powers to reshape our relationship to one another and the planet accelerated to a blur, arguably exceeding the sum of the technological advances of the previous twenty-six thousand centuries.


Just since 1950, in barely more than fifty years, the global human population more than doubled from 2.6 billion persons in 1950 to 6.4 billion in 2005.

By 2002, humans were consuming food, materials, and energy at a rate of about 1.2 Earth-equivalent planets.’ The difference between human consumption and the regenerative capacity of Earth is made up by depleting the natural capital of the planet-both nonrenewable capital, like minerals and fossil fuels, and renewable capital

The twentieth century has been Empire’s most profligate period of excess. We are poised to pay a terrible price.

(scanned this section)

CHAPTER 4 The Opportunity.

We are now experiencing a moment of significance far beyond what any of us can imagine…. The distorted dream of an industrial technological paradise is being replaced by the more viable dream of a mutually enhancing human presence within an ever-renewing organic-based Earth community. Thomas Berry

Perhaps nature’s most powerful metaphor for the Great Turning is the story of the metamorphosis of the monarch caterpillar to the monarch butterfly, popularized by evolution biologist Elisabet Sahtouris.

Until the last half century before the new millennium, it did not occur to people that they could have anything to do with creating their worldview. All through history, people thought the way they saw the world was the way the world really was – in other words, they saw their worldview as the true worldview view and all others as mistaken and therefore false.4

For five thousand years, successful imperial rulers have intuitively recognized that their power rests on their ability to fabricate a falsified culture that evokes fear, alienation, learned helplessness, and the dependence of the individual on the imperial power of a great ruler. The falsified culture induces a kind of cultural trance in which we are conditioned to deny the inherent human capacity for responsible self-direction, sharing, and cooperation that is an essential foundation of democratic self-rule. The trance creates an emotional bond with the leader, alienates us from one another and the living Earth, erodes relations of mutual self-help, help, and reduces us to a state of resigned dependence  1003-1006

From a recognition of the interconnectedness of life it is only a short step to an encounter with the yet deeper truth that all life flows forth from the same spiritual source and that Empire’s war against life is a war against ourselves. This awakening of a spiritual consciousness has profound practical implications, as it is the foundation of the cultural turning:

  • From a belief that Earth belongs to humans and is ours to consume as suits our fancy to an understanding that Earth is our sacred home and that it is our responsibility to be respectful partners.
    • From a belief that we humans are by nature incapable of responsible self-governance to an understanding that our nature embodies many possibilities, including the potential for responsible self-governance and democratic citizenship.
    • From a belief that those who differ from us pose a threat to our security and way of life to an understanding that all persons are born of the same sacred sprit with an equal right to respect and the pursuit of happiness and that cultural and racial diversity is a source of learning and creative potential.
    • From a self-justifying belief that those who align with us are the champions of good and those who oppose us are evil enemies to an understanding that we are all both victims and perpetrators of the violence inherent in the structures of Empire.

surveys showing that a growing segment of the U.S. adult population is embracing a new culture that values social inclusion, environmental stewardship, and spiritual practice. They call the holders of the new culture Cultural Creatives

Ray and Anderson estimate that roughly half of all Cultural Creatives combine a deep commitment to social and environmental values with some form of spiritual practice- embracing an integral spirituality that connects them with the whole of Creation in both its inner and outer manifestations.

Spiritual Creatives are not only leading the growing resistance against the global violence and economic injustice of Empire. They are also leading the proactive work of growing the imaginal buds of Earth Community. Leadership in the pro-democracy, peace, environmental, human and civil rights, economic justice, gender equality, holistic health, gay rights, organic agriculture, and voluntary simplicity movements comes from within the Spiritual Creative ranks. 1050-1052

the People’s Earth Declaration: A Proactive Agenda for the Future. It ends with the following commitment:

We, the people of the world, will mobilize the forces of transnational civil society behind a widely shared agenda that bonds our many social movements in pursuit of just, sustainable, and participatory human societies. In so doing, we are forging our own instruments and processes for redefining the nature and meaning of human progress and for transforming those institutions that no longer respond to our needs. We welcome to our cause all people who share our commitment to peaceful and democratic change in the interest of our living planet and the human societies it sustains.1111-15

Modern humans have been around for some two hundred thousand years. It is only during the most recent five thousand years that a drive for dominator power brought forth the era of Empire and its reckless squandering of lives, resources, and human possibility to support the privilege and extravagance of the few.

Slavery and poverty are not, however, acts of nature. They are social constructs that create an intentional and pervasive condition of exclusion. No ruling class in five thousand years has delivered on a promise to eliminate either poverty or slavery and its equivalents, because to do so would mean the elimination of elite privilege.

There is no elite class without a servant class. The maintenance of a dominator system depends on violence or the threat of violence to maintain the extreme class division.

Part II Sorrows of Empire

By the accounts of Empire’s historians, civilization, history, and human progress began with the consolidation of dominator power in the first great Empires. Much is made of the glorious accomplishments and heroic battles of the rise and fall of subsequent imperial civilizations. Rather less is said about the years of democratic reform. The deeper human truth is that Empire marked a destructive and self-limiting detour from the path to realizing the possibilities of our human nature.

To liberate ourselves from Empire’s self-limiting patterns of domination we must understand their dynamics, acknowledge their destructive consequences, and embrace the truth of the human possibilities that Empire has long denied. We must also recognize the limitations of the contemporary human experiment in democracy and the process by which the institutions of imperial states have morphed into the institutions of imperial corporations to present a more benign appearance while leaving the underlying structures of domination in place.

A brief historical survey is in order to remind ourselves of how brutally destructive Empire has been for all but the favored elites who rule from their perches high in the clouds and to deepen our understanding of the nature, dilemmas, and possibilities of the mature democracies of Earth Community. This review is also a useful reminder of how difficult it is to break free from Empire once its play-or-die dynamic is established.

5: When God Was a Woman
 [Skipped making notes on this chapter.]
  Settled Agriculture
  Temples of the Goddess
  Rejecting the Feminine
  Domesticating People
  Small Is Equitable
  Beyond Kinship
  Perils of Coercive Power
  Security in the Service of Life
  Spiritual Identity

6: Ancient Empire

Even as Empire invented the technologies to construct great works, it also invented the technologies to destroy them more quickly and completely. Even more troublesome is Empire’s propensity to impose a cultural context that suppresses the development to maturity of the human man consciousness.

In short, the benefits of Empire have been as overstated as its costs have been understated. Beneath Empire’s carefully constructed myth of beneficent progress lies a dark truth of five thousand years of diminished human progress.

The focus of my concern is on the ancient empires of the Middle East and Mediterranean and the modern empires of western Europe and North America to which they gave way, for these are the empires that have shaped the modern human experience and brought the species to the brink of self-destruction.


As they consolidated their power, the kings of the rival city-states began gan to compete for dominance. The region was unified under a single king around 2800 BCE, but the competition for power continued, leaving the region divided and vulnerable to external conquerors. Over the centuries, succeeding imperial dynasties rose and fell. Some were the creations of foreign invaders and others of local revolts. The greatest of the rulers of this period set new standards for both grandeur and ruthless brutality as successive waves of invasion, revolt, and conquest built great cities, destroyed them, and rebuilt them again at an enormous cost in lives and resources.

  The Republic
  Myth of the Roman Peace
  Historic Irony

7: Modern Empire
  Chartered Corporations
  Institutional Sociopaths
  End of Monarchy
  End of Colonialism
  Grand Plan
  Easy Credit
  Adjusting the Poor
  Deeper in Debt
  The Ultimate Con
  Money from Money
  Pervasive Bias
8: Athenian Experiment
  Rise and Fall
  The Good Society
  The Republic
  Civil Society
  Collective Wisdom
  For Men like Me
  Enduring Principles

Part III America, the Unfinished Product

SNAPSHOT: “Galatians Re-Imagined”, Kahl

Galatians Re-Imagined: Reading With the Eyes of the Vanquished, Brigitte Kahl 2010

From Publisher

Brigitte Kahl brings to this insightful reading of Galatians a deep knowledge of the classical world and especially of Roman imperial ideology. The first wave of scholarship on the Roman imperial context of Paul’s letters raised important questions that only thorough treatments of individual letters can answer.


Introduction: The Critical Re-Imagination of Paul and of Justification by Faith

a Re-Imagining Paul

b Law Criticism and Empire Criticism

1 Jewish Torah or Roman Nomos?

2 Law as Power Construct (F. Nietzsche)

3 Law as Imperial “Compromise Formula” (J. Taubes)

4 Torah Criticism as Affirmation of Roman Nomos

c Re-Imagining justification by Faith

1 Constructing the Protestant Other (M. Luther)

2 “Final Solution”

3 Galatians and the Occidental Semiotics of Combat

4 Pauline Binaries Revisited

5 The Annihilation of the Antinomies (J. Louis Martyn)

6 The Politics of the New Creation

d Overview of the Book

e A Methodological Postscript

1. Remapping Galatia: In Search of a Displaced Context

2. Dying Gauls/Galatians Are Immortal: The Great Altar of Pergamon

3. Creating the World Out of Dead Gauls: Imperial Monotheism, Virgil, and the Arena

4. Roman Galatia: The Imperial Resurrection of the Dying Gauls/Galatians (189 B.C.E.-50 C.E.)

5. Under the Eagle’s Wings and (C)laws: Messianic Insurrection among Dying Gauls and Jews

6. Amen and Anathema: Galatians at the Great Altar of Pergamon

Epilogue: Dying Gauls, Jews, and Christians and Rome’s Three Great Fires (60-75 c.E.)

My Rough Notes

Introduction: The Critical Re-Imagination of Paul and of Justification by Faith

for he [Nero] noticed a monument on which was sculpted the defeat of a Gaul warrior by a Roman cavalryman,

As we shall see, from Nero’s perspective in the West, Galatians (or Gauls), Jews, and Christians as well had one thing in common: all were suspected of subverting law and order.

Visually, they long occupied the Roman imagination as archetypal enemies, quintessential barbarian intruders, remaining dangerous even after their defeat.

We can no longer keep first-century Gauls and Galatians as neatly separated from each other as we have long been accustomed to do.

Rather I seek a more comprehensive understanding of the letter by locating Gaul/Galatia in the Roman imagination, in the world of the eidos (form, shape) and eidolon (image, idol)-that is, at the intersection section of ideology and idolatry. On the ideological map of the Roman Empire, Gaul and Galatia were twin provinces, clearly recognized by their common Celtic origin as antitopoi of Roman law, order, and religion.

Roman authors frequently used the Latin term terror when they discussed Gauls/ Galatians. We should understand the Gallic War not as a singular event under Julius Caesar but as part of an ongoing, multistage Greco-Roman campaign against a Galatian “global terrorism;”

Paul: How do we see him, how do we read him on the blood-soaked terrain of Western war-making history?

A Re-imagining Paul

This book is a new effort to set Paul in the context of his world. It engages in the scholarly endeavor of a critical re-imagination that pays attention to two issues still widely neglected in Galatian studies. First is the power of Rome

It draws into the dialogue between biblical text and its historical context a range of disciplines

the major burden of this exploration is the visual reconstruction of the Galatian world behind Paul’s letter through the lens of ancient sources, images, buildings, spaces, and performances.

Second: this book seeks to re-imagine the historical context in which Paul and the Galatians met, not as an end in itself but as an element of a comprehensive historical-critical critical rereading (relectura) of the letter that has been handed down through history as the material imprint of their encounter.

Galatians is arguably the most influential letter Paul wrote. It became the core document of the Lutheran Reformation.

it has also played a formative and often lethal role with regard to dominant constructions of self and other, of identity and opposite, of ally and enemy, throughout Western civilization and war making.

It is Paul of Tarsus, rather than Jesus of Nazareth, who is most often quoted to confirm the political status quo and to silence voices for social change as faith-less and dogmatically incorrect.` Perhaps more than any other letter, Galatians has contributed to the image of Paul as the theological protagonist of a triumphant Christian Self on the archetypal battleground of Galatia; the fierce fighter engaged in relentless dogmatic struggle with a hostile and inferior Other, his “Judaizing” opponents; and as the authoritarian spokesperson of a normative world order. Is there a new way to read and hear Paul as we have not read or heard him before? Can we re-imagine a “liberating (of) Paul;’ in contrast to his prevailing representation as a misogynistic, homophobic advocate of a disembodied social conservatism and anti-Judaism-a representation firmly rooted in two millennia of Christian-occidental interpretation? Are we at a moment in history when we need to turn “scripture” against tradition”

Critical re-imagination seeks to recover the precious seeds of an alternative meaning that never took root within the dominant history of occidental Pauline interpretation, especially after the emperor Constantine set in motion a history that would convert the Roman Empire to Christianity and conform form Christianity to the empire.

Over the past decades, Pauline interpretation itself has become a battleground.

two directions

uncompromising deconstruction of hitherto established Pauline readings and of Paul himself, on the one hand, and, on the other, toward a more adequate historical-critical reconstruction of Paul in his historical context.

the latter in one way or another tries to liberate Paul from the “iron cage” built around him by occidental and Christian frameworks of interpretation-the legacy of Aristotle, Constantine, Augustine, Luther, and the Enlightenment.

Not infrequently such analysis has indicted the figure of Paul himself as a co-architect of the oppressive binaries between Self and Other.’

I am convinced that scripture is re-imaginable outside the confines of the occidental pattern, that history matters, and most of all that Paul matters,

B Law Criticism and Empire Criticism

A major point of departure from the prevalent paradigm of Pauline studies was the emergence in the early 1990s of empire-critical studies, under the guidance of Richard Horsley,

The letter to the Galatians up to now has not been subjected to a thorough exegetical exploration that considers the Roman Empire as a major textual and contextual factor.

The primary focus of empire-critical studies so far has been much more on Paul’s world than on his words, on history rather than on theology. The result has been that Galatians and the doctrine of justification by faith have remained relatively untouched as the traditional strongholds of Protestant dogmatic theology, both being understood predominantly in abstract and timeless language far above any concrete historical realities.

This is a task driven as much by contemporary urgency as by historical interest. We live in a precarious time, when imperial globalization extends its grip…

Whether Paul’s theology can (again) become a source of spiritual, social, and ecological restoration, whether the “universalism” of his world mission can be reconceptualized in terms of border-transgressive peace building and justice seeking rather than the aggressive justification of the Western Self and a mentality of conquest, has become a pressing theological question.

Pursuing that question requires first and foremost a reexamination of the core concept at the center of everything Paul says and does: justification by faith rather than by works of the law.

1 Torah or Roman Nomos?

We all know how much our interpretation of a text depends on how we imagine its context. Traditionally, what we had imagined as the context of Galatians was a dispute between Jews and Christians (or, more precisely, between Jewish Christians and non-Jewish “Gentile” Christians) as to whether circumcision was a religious requirement for non-Jews among the Jesus followers.

The Roman Empire, in Paul’s time the most basic reality of life for both Jews and non Jews of all kinds, is programmatically obscured in this theological reading. Yet long before Paul argued with the Galatians about law and freedom from the law in the Jewish “key” of circumcision, the polarity of law versus lawlessness was firmly established in the Greek, then Roman rhetoric of civilized warfare against the barbarians, and especially against the Gauls/Galatians. (Part of the public discourse of the time. She presents the box diagram here.)

A crucial result of the critical re-imagination offered here will be insight into the inseparability of the political, the ideological, and the theological threads that are interwoven in Paul’s confrontation with the Galatians and his rejection of “law.”

A strongly law-critical critical letter addressed to the “civic assemblies [ekklesiai] of Galatia” (Gal 1:2) would hardly have been read in exclusively Jewish terms by the majority of non-Jews in the audience.

whatever the subject of contention between Paul and his “stupid Galatians” regarding Jewish law and Jewish affiliation, it was Roman law that ultimately defined and enforced what was licit or illicit.

2 Nietzsche: Law as Power Construct

3 Taubes: Law as Imperial Compromise Formula 

Paul does not abandon Jewish law but, on the contrary, wrestles, from a rigorously Jewish perspective, with a practice of Torah that has at least partly been “hijacked” and desecrated by Roman imperial law and religion.

Paul’s radical commitment to the first and core commandment of Torah: the Oneness and Otherness of the God of the exodus whose “universal singularity” (to borrow a term from Alain Badiou) opposes the universal oneness of the divine Caesar.”

4 Torah Criticism as Affirmation of Roman Nomos

(N T study has focussed on questions of Paul’s Jewishness or anti-Jewishness and on his Greekness or non-greekness. It has not focussed on his Romanness or anti-Romanness)

It has hardly ever been seen in antithesis to Roman law and its self-justification through war, victory, and power, or through meritorious “good works” attributed within the system of benefactions and euergetism that depended so heavily on competition for honor and social distinctions based on shame

The eclipse of the Roman context of Paul’s text has inevitably channeled the full force of his law criticism to Judaism alone.

Arguably, such concealment of the empire-critical implications of Paul’s gospel was the only way it could survive in a canonized form agreeable to a Christianized empire.

It means that Paul more or less fell prey to a major “identity theft” and that the concepts of law and disorder, of Self and Other, and of male and female that we have come to conceive and confess, or to criticize and condemn as Pauline are highly deceptive. Instead, our misconceptions of Paul’s gospel depict the world as ordered in the image of Caesar, the eidos (form, shape) and eidolon (image, idol) of a master order that the historical Paul himself opposed as idolatrous.

(A) second “conversion” in the Christian imagination, one that turned him posthumously into the mouthpiece of the very imperial order that had originally executed him as enemy

C Re-imagining Justification by Faith

Justification by faith and grace, the innermost core of Paul’s teaching, was turned into the Magna Carta of Christian anti-Judaism. Once expressed in the deadly binary logic of Us versus Them, this doctrine could resurface with a ghostly versatility as a powerful ideological weapon in subsequent warfares conducted by the Christian occident against its “Others;’ including the “other” religion, the “other” race or class, the “other” sex or sexual orientation, the “other” faith regarded as “deviant” in its social vision or way of life.

1 Constructing the Protestant Other (M. Luther)

His [Luther’s] self-confessed love affair with Galatians as his “dear epistle” proved seminal for the Reformation. Yet his description of the theology of justification in the introduction to his 1531 commentary appears less as a love message than as a sword irrevocably and irreconcilably dividing humanity into two categories: saved and lost:  Jews Turks, Papists, sectarians.

It is striking that, for Luther, the highly diverse social practices and identities of completely disparate antagonists-like Jews, Catholics, or heretics (including the rebellious commoners of the German peasants’ war)-became entirely irrelevant when measured against the supreme criterion of faith versus works.

Once Paul’s antithesis of grace-and-faith versus law/works righteousness was taken out of its concrete historical context and turned into a totalizing construct, justification by faith could be transformed into an abstract idea, a disembodied principle of “universal truth” behind and above contingent reality.

[Western idealism is older than Luther’s use of it.]

Western appropriations of Paul have extended the ancient dichotomies of spirit/flesh, good/evil, and active/passive to incorporate such diverse groups as Jews, women, savages (whether “natives” or “foreigners”), slaves, people of color, the lower classes, and homosexuals under the broad rubric of Otherness, construing all these groups alike in terms of their inferiority, their materiality, their passivity, their sheer differentness, as measured against the dominant Christian male.29

2 “Final Solution”

And twenty centuries after Paul, this paradigm eventually played a role in what was called the final solution of the judenfrage, the Jewish question, a solution implemented with technological perfection in a Christian nation as the six-million-fold murder of Jewish men, women, and children.

3 Galatians and the Occidental Semiotics of Combat

Irreconcilable polarities-between law and faith, between Jews and Christians seem inextricably woven into the fabric of justification theology and mark the heart of the problem. Galatians is not only the most influential but also the most polemical letter Paul wrote.

On the one hand, it contains the outstanding declaration of unity in Gal 3:28, a declaration that programmatically bridges the gap between One and Other-Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female-and that has had a lasting influence on egalitarian movements throughout church history. On the other hand, Paul consistently develops his argument in Galatians by means of antithetical binaries: faith versus works; grace versus law; Christ versus law; justification by faith versus justification by law or works (see Gal 2:15-21).

Paul hurls an anathema against his opponents (1:9).

The Galatians themselves- or rather, their circumcision-preaching renegade teachers- have become the raw material for countless dogmatic re-makings, being transplanted and re-embodied innumerable times.

Already in antiquity, images of Galatians (Gauls) were prolifically exploited for the perennial ideological (re)production of the hostile Other.

found its most powerful expression at the Great Altar of Pergamon. Altar represent precisely the bifurcated “semiotics of combat”

This structure of hierarchical dualisms was seen as the innermost building principle of the world in its entirety, the foundational order of kosmos itself.

Despite their striking diversity, all these identities had one feature in common: they represented the “wrong religion” and the Other.

How did Paul’s messianic justification of the vanquished Galatian Other become the justification of the victorious occidental Christian Self?

4 Pauline Binaries Revisited

Philosophically speaking, this antithetical way of framing the world as Self over against the Other is based on the ancient conception of binary opposites.

superior -inferior     finite-infinite     odd-even      one-many      right-left       male-female        rest-motion           straight – crooked      light-darkness       good-evil

On this pattern, any of these polarities could be linked to other sets of dualisms, for example, form versus matter, soul versus body, active versus passive, substance versus accident. Male thus became tied to form, soul, active, and substance; on the other hand, female to matter, body, passive, and accident.

This structure of hierarchical dualisms was seen as the innermost building principle of the world in its entirety, the foundational order of kosmos itself.

Air, fire, water, earth

Superior: Male form-soul-active-substance-One/same/Self

Inferior: Female-matter-body-passive-accident-Other

This worldview, which orders everything and everyone into a series of binary polarities, ties, undeniably has become the substructure of occidental Christian philosophy and civilization. Consequently it has had a profound impact on biblical interpretation as well. But how should we position Paul on this hierarchical and dualistic conceptual battlefield?

5 The Annihilation of the Antinomies (J. Louis Martyn)

He comes to the threefold conclusion that the “elements” in this text are synonymous with law and that the phrase stoicheia tou kosmou refers specifically to air, fire, water, and earth, or more precisely to these four elements in their oppositional structure, which is seen as the foundational order of the world. Martyn contends, however, that Paul wipes these binaries out and, with them, the old cosmos.

The new creation that is the centerpiece of Paul’s apocalyptic theology is “marked by anthropological unity in Christ … [it] does not have pairs of opposites.” This statement refers in particular to the oppositions between law and not-law, circumcision and foreskin. “The gospel of the cross announces the end of the elemental antinomy that formerly consisted of the law/not-law.

The “slavery” involved in these binary oppositions is both spiritual and physical, since it results from a systemic politics of conquest and is based precisely on the nexus between Roman religion, Roman law, and the Roman construction of Self and Other.

One of the most fundamental insights for our investigation is the recognition that the supposedly “Pauline” semiotics of Christianity versus Judaism that has so powerfully shaped the identity of Western Christianity and its constructions of power is, in fact, not a part of Paul’s language at all: it did not even exist at his time. Throughout out his letters Paul never calls himself or his congregations “Christian.”

Both Paul and his uncircumcised, Christ-believing Galatians were still part of Judaism.

In particular, the Paul of Galatians thinks in terms of Jews versus Gentiles/nations (ethne), not Jews versus Christians.

We must take account of how disturbing the Roman imperial repercussions of just the integration that Paul advocates would have seemed to some of his contemporaries.

As we will see, the Paul-opposing circumcision party in Galatia was driven much more by concrete sociopolitical concerns than by purely religious anxieties.

6 The Politics of the New Creation

At this point, the colorful picture of Paul as primeval Christian warrior, defending the purity of the Christian gospel against the onslaught ofJewish law and otherness, begins to fade.

Another oppositional configuration emerges, however, in which the oneness of Abraham’s God is posed over against the idolatrous oneness of the divine Caesar.

This means that Paul’s gospel is not the erasure of just any polarity, but is rather the emergence of a new polarity that marks the simultaneous existence of old cosmos and new creation in the time “that remains.”

To the contrary, Paul’s “war” against the existing world order that has crucified the Messiah is an “anti-war:’ a war of the wounded warriors and thus a war not to be fought in the old way.

Instead of heroes, it mobilizes, as Nietzsche already perceived, the losers, the crippled and limping, the never-victorious, who are branded on their bodies and souls with the stigmata of the Dying Gauls/Galatians-or of a dying Jew like Paul himself (Gal 6:14-17).

If one needs to call this “war;” one must add that this conflict subverts any established semiotics of war-making.

The powerful and all-pervasive hierarchical polarities of the imperial cosmos remain as the “last enemy” to be conquered (see 1 Cor 15:24-28), but their erasure means the erasure of the principle of enmity itself.

for this evil order is located primarily in the dominant representation of the Self over against the Other.

In this way the abandonment of the old binaries does not create a new “Christian” binary but produces a nonbinary space where the old cosmos and its meanings, including the old Self with its identities, prides, antagonisms, and alliances, is put to death and turned into Nothingness.

(Battle cry is ‘peace’. Method is love.)

It is the practice of Selves who no longer try to vanquish their Others.

D Overview of the Book

1. Remapping Galatia: In Search of a Displaced Context

addresses the visual presence of Dying Gauls/Galatians in classical antiquity.

confronts the “Christian” construct of Galatia and Galatians with a historical exploration that traces the ancient perception of the Gauls/Galatians-and and the ideology behind that perception-over half a millennium.

(Attacked Rome in 387 BCE)

2. Dying Gauls/Galatians Are Immortal: The Great Altar of Pergamon

presents a semiotic analysis of the Great Altar of Pergamon as a paradigmatic image of the Dying Galatians/Gauls within the imperial law and religion of Western civilization.

3. Creating the World Out of Dead Gauls: Imperial Monotheism, Virgil, and the Arena

deals with Roman imperial religion. Contrary to the prevailing description of that religion in terms of “polytheism” and religious tolerance, I trace a peculiar Roman “monotheism” that integrated polytheism but always (and often tacitly) placed the emperor and Rome at the center.

The imagery of Aeneas’s shield in Virgil’s Aeneid and the public spectacle of the Roman arenas are explored

4. Roman Galatia: The Imperial Resurrection of the Dying Gauls/Galatians (189 B.C.E.-50 C.E.)

turns to the province of Roman Galatia in Paul’s time, the actual destination of his letter. It explores the imperial “resurrection” of the Dying Gauls/ Galatians as Sebasteni Galatai (that is, “Augustan” Galatians) through a whole set of devices that reinscribed the Galatian body. These included the building of imperial roads, cities, temples, and dynastic power structures among the vanquished, the integration of the Galatians as soldiers into the war machine of empire, and most of all the performances and public rituals of imperial religion centered around the koinon, the provincial assembly, and the temple to Rome and Augustus at Ancyra, the provincial capital.

5. Under the Eagle’s Wings and (C)laws: Messianic Insurrection among Dying Gauls and Jews

deals with the specific issue at stake in Paul’s letter, the issue of circumcision and foreskin. I decipher Paul’s messianic community practice as a radical subversion of those Roman principles that governed the “ordering” of associations among the vanquished nations through relation to Rome.

6. Amen and Anathema: Galatians at the Great Altar of Pergamon

moves at last from context to text and offers a “critical re-imagination” of the letter at the foot of the Great Altar of Pergamon. The first lines of Paul’s letter in particular are read, on the one hand, in terms of a visual intertextuality with the Pergamene imagery and, on the other, in terms of scriptural intertextuality with the biblical root narratives of exodus and exile.


considers the two decades following the Galatian correspondence. It traces visual and textual clues that establish the imagery of Dying Gauls/Galatians, dying Jews, and dying “Christians” (including the image of “Christ crucified”) as three strands of Roman imagination woven together into a single fabric during the Neronian massacre and the carnage that ended the Jewish War.

E A Methodological Postscript

Critical re-imagination is a method that supplements the traditional set of historical-critical and ideological-critical methodologies.

Critical re-imagination seeks to restore Paul, his Galatian congregations, and their dissention about justification by law or faith to their specific material, sociopolitical, and historical context.

Historically speaking, the Galatia of Paul’s time was not first and foremost the place Christianity had to conquer from Judaism, but a region where Galatians and other nations had already been conquered by Rome.

Images are, to use an expression of art historian Natalie Kampen, the “mental wallpaper” of the ancient world that shows what was before everybody’s eyes-but what we unfortunately can no longer see when we read an ancient text.

  1. Remapping Galatia: In Search of a Displaced Context

Focusing on the three pivotal locations of Rome, Delphi, and Pergamon, I will trace four centuries turies of dramatic clashes between the Greco-Roman world and its Galatian Other that culminated in the establishment of the Roman Empire and Roman law across the Mediterranean.

Celtic counter-nation. Paul’s letter gives away no info about Galatia or any Galatians.

The debate about North or South Galatia is at best relevant for the data of Paul’s biography and his missionary itinerary, but its impact on the actual interpretation of Galatians as a text and the much-needed clarification of its sociohistorical context has been marginal.

One would not know from the standard New Testament textbooks that the Galatians paid taxes and tributes to Rome, or walked on Roman roads, or assembled at Roman temples; nor that they fought in the Roman legions or attended Roman meals and games.

Pale and abstract figures, they remained faceless and disembodied-except for the one striking male physical feature at the heart of the whole debate: their foreskins.’

“methodological docetism”

One concern in the present work will be to challenge that implicit docetism by emphasizing the concrete historical-material contextuality of the Galatian correspondence. If the North-South controversy was not primarily about interpreting Galatians in its sociohistorical context, the dominant concern to reconcile Galatians with the apostolic itinerary of Acts, on the other hand, has allowed for Lukan themes to influence our perception of Paul and Galatia even more than Paul’s letter itself. Luke’s protrayal of Paul and his travel narrative in Acts has seeped almost imperceptibly into what has subsequently become the dominant image of the apostle. Thus, Paul has been turned into an entirely agreeable and politically correct model Roman citizen;

The ideological pro-Romanization of Paul went hand in hand with his theological de-Judaization and historical decontextualization. Not all of this can be blamed on the narrative in Acts, of course. But the ultimate result is that Galatia is usually not seen as part of Caesar’s empire.

William Ramsey actually looked at the ? of Galatians

Yet for Ramsay there was not the slightest doubt that Paul not only spoke within a Roman imperial setting but also spoke as its uncompromising advocate and ally.

The second challenge to a reinterpetation of Galatians (as observed above in the introduction) is the “combat semiotics”

Paul’s harsh polemic against his “opponents” nents” and the strongly antithetical structure of his argument seems inevitably to turn every reading of Paul’s letter into a weapon to be used against the “Other,

A third challenge is that it seems always to be the “Other” as defined by imperial culture that is the object of Paul’s most passionate polemics-not the empire itself. Thus, it has come to seem almost self-evident that Paul is at once anti-Jewish and pro-imperial. This, too, is a myth of Pauline interpretation in need of revision.


first, that the proper historical context and hermeneutical key to understanding Paul’s justification by faith is not the desperate struggle of an individual with sin, but Paul’s practical concern with holding a community of Jews and Gentiles together; and, second, that Paul’s Damascus experience was not a “conversion” to a new religion, Christianity, but a prophetic “call” to a new mission within Judaism toward the Gentiles. Paul subsequently did not fight against Jews or Judaism but worked to justify the status of uncircumcised Gentiles as “honorary Jews.”

the imposition revealed the individualistic and self-absorbed concerns of the “introspective conscience” of the West.22

In the place of a “combat semiotics” pitting Christianity against Judaism, Stendahl insisted that Paul’s concern was how Jews and Gentiles could live together in a new community. Reconciliation, not combat, was central.24

These questions bring us back to the concern at the heart of this book: What is it that Paul opposes as “law” and “works”? Valuable as the insights of the New Perspective tive are, they do not go far enough in contextualizing the argument of Galatians in its real-life world. Recovered Paul’s Jewishness, but failed to see it in a Roman context.

his wrestling with the community of Jews and Gentiles/nations under the watchful eyes of a colonial superpower.

In stark contrast to the somewhat nebulous Christian imagination of Galatians, the Greco-Roman world at Paul’s time had a surprisingly vivid, if hostile, picture of how Galatians/Gauls looked and behaved. Quoted Roman authors. Diodorus

Some of them go into battle naked and they cut off the heads of their defeated enemies, later nailing them as trophies to their houses (5.29). They practice human sacrifice and some of the most beastlike of their tribes living far in the north and on the borders of Scythia probably even eat human beings (5.31, 32). They are also sexually promiscuous and transgressive, men and women alike. The men “rage with lust, in outlandish fashion, for the embraces of males;’

Diodorus had in mind. For him, Galatians were a worldwide ethnic group that included the European Gauls and the Celts in general.

“The Romans, however, include all these nations [ethne] together under a single name, calling them one and all Galatians [Galatas hapantes]”

Rather, they used terms that made clear that the Gauls/Galatians were one and the same phenomenon in the history of the world that Rome now dominated: a single people of warlike and uncivilized barbarians who had ultimately been tamed and subjugated by Rome.

Celts Originally settling in central Europe, in numerous migrations they conquered new dwelling places as far west as Iberia in Spain, as far north as Britannia (Scotland and Wales), as far south as the Po Valley in Italy, and as far east as Macedonia, Thrace, and Asia Minor,

The Galatians had grown in the Roman imagination into an enemy of mythological stature ure who represented the primeval threat to Rome per se. Were in conflict with them for over 400 years.

Greeks decided to hang up the shields of the defeated Celts next to those of the defeated Persians in the temple of Apollo at Delphi.”

They were an enemy that Rome repeatedly encountered, in more places around the Roman world and throughout out more centuries than any other antagonist.

Caesar’s Gallic wars.  All together, over one million Gauls were killed and a similar number enslaved.

Of the original estimated population of Gaul, only one-third remained.

It seems noteworthy thy that the birth of the empire and the death of its last grand-style Gallic/Galatian opponent-whose victory would have prevented Caesar’s triumph in Gaul and thus his takeover of Rome, reversing the course of history-happened simultaneously.

Rome’s global war on Galatian terror.

The more monstrous, lawless, and ubiquitous the enemy is portrayed, the more salvific, justified, and universal its victor’s power. If Brennus and his Celts who attacked Rome and Delphi, if the pillaging and ravaging Galatians of Asia Minor had not existed, one would have needed to invent them. Rome could not rule without them. Livy’s report demonstrates that at the threshold of Paul’s era the Celtic myth was very much alive and one of the foundational great narratives of the Roman Empire.

World-wide wide Galatia was the prototypical battlefield of the Roman ideology of domination that derived its law and legitimacy from the triumph over the barbarian Other,

2. Dying Gauls/Galatians Are Immortal: The Great Altar of Pergamon

3. Creating the World Out of Dead Gauls: Imperial Monotheism, Virgil, and the Arena
He immediately pledges the dedication of no fewer than three hundred mighty temples to the gods of Italy all over the city as his “immortal votive gift” (8.715-16). While the figure of three hundred seems somewhat overstated-at the end of his life Augustus will report in the Res Gestae the no less impressive number of eighty-two temples rebuilt or restored (Res Gestae 20)-it makes a crucial statement: piety and religion are foundational practices for Augustan Rome.

Augustus is the center and climax of everything: victor in the cosmogonic world battle, world ruler who implements law and order on a global level, the one who establishes the world city-and the founder, prime devotee, and supreme god of an imperial world religion.

with Augustus sitting in front of Apollo’s temple looking ing at the gifts of the nations and watching the march of the vanquished not only signals the dawn of the Roman imperial world order, but also the birth of a new imperial world religion.

The nations of the world parading in front of him are submitting both to the Roman world order and to Roman world religion.

In fact, the divide between mortals and gods does break down as traditional religion has to come to terms with a new chief deity that completely remodels the old religious universe, though under the pretense that everything stays the same

The bestowal of this title [Augustus] on Octavian thus right from the outset comes close to a kind of deification; it implies supreme piety and supreme power at the same time.

The divine and human power pyramids are remodeled in such a way that they intersect in the person of Caesar as the supreme power in both realms.

Explanation: Both human and divine spheres are hierarchically ordered as pyramids of power.

The construct of an imperial monotheism is not without precursors. a kind of Zeus monotheism in Stoic thinking.

One could also say that Jupiter/Zeus as active principle of the cosmos has in reality been replaced, or displaced, by Augustus, who acts as the present defender of Rome.

(Alexander was deified, but after he died; whereas, Augustus was made a dety during his life time. This was a change.)

The de facto imperial monotheism of the 40s and 50s c.E., which celebrated Caesar as the dominant divine figure through the various channels of imperial religion and ideology, constituted a fundamental challenge that Paul confronted fronted in his Jewish-messianic theology of the One God-a god who is Other than Caesar.

Prior to S. R. F. Price’s influential study of rituals and power, scholars tended to describe the Roman emperor cult primarily in terms of its shortcomings compared to proper religion. It was seen mostly as only a ritual, political, and external observance without deeper religious gious meaning in terms of true individual faith and religious feelings. Based on the work of Clifford Geertz, Price strongly challenged this concept and its underlying-mainly mainly Protestant-individualistic and antiritualistic presuppositions.

it showed how inseparably religion and politics, “ritual and power” were linked in an imperial context like that of Asia Minor. Imperial ritual was seen as a powerful way to “conceptualize the world” in public and for the public, most notably with regard to the position of the emperor and the relationship between emperor and subjects. Imperial ritual, second, not only reflected the political reality of the Roman Empire; it also constructed it by universally inscribing it on time, space, and concrete human bodies:

The core issue was not primarily what someone really believed but what was embodied, depicted, monumentalized in stone and marble, and collectively practiced by concrete human actors. As Price states, “A Christianizing theory of religion which assumes that religion is essentially designed to provide guidance through the personal crises of life and to grant salvation into life everlasting imposes on the imperial cult a distinction between religion and politics.” This distinction, however, obscures the basic similarity between politics and religion: both are a way of systematically constructing power…. the cult was a major part of the web of power that formed the fabric of society.”

However, the way imperial religion spread its “web of power” needs further consideration. No matter how modest the disguise under which Caesar attached and assimilated lated himself to existing temples, festivals and cults, he was the chief deity.

Within the framework of imperial religion, an individual’s understanding and acceptance of the way the world was built and functioned would start with an indispensable faith act on the most personal level. The term faith/faithfulness here renders the notion of Greek pistis and Latin fides as defined by the socioreligious and political dictionary of Paul’s time-namely, as a mutual bond of responsibility between rulers and ruled. Its essence is the same on the Shield as it is at the Great Altar: with a faithful pledge of allegiance, an act of subjection.

the “small” individual self submits to the “big” victorious Self of the divine power(s) and their human representative(s). In return for this faithful subjection, the dominant promise faithful protection.

acknowledgment of victory-based law as the righteous, divinely ordained, and cosmic order that is embodied in the legitimate ruler. This act of submission elevates the ones/us far above the rebellious and lawless others/them that stay out and down as dying and dead,

As we submit ourselves to him and his law we enter into the family of the civilized under god-father Caesar. A new master race stands in irreconcilable opposition to the seditious counter-race below that violates the law and order of patriarchy:

Yet the space where this emerging imperial worldview in its totality and in every single one of its individual aspects would unfold its most formative and transformative power among the masses of the empire, was not the books of the writers nor the temples and altars of imperial religion, but the arenas.

Human beings in the image of caesar: Arena, Self, and the Other’s Blood

Although we are inclined not to see any political or religious implications connected to this term, games in the Roman Empire were neither secular nor nonpolitical events.

The arenas were the training ground for an imperial worldview and self-perception that restaged the order and piety of the Great Altar with enormous visual effect and propagandistic efficiency.

One of the great innovations that Augustus and his successors brought to the sphere of mass entertainment was a new way to stage hunts, executions, and gladiatorial combats,

Something fundamentally changed, however, when Augustus came to power.

In the first two centuries C.E. amphitheaters were built throughout the empire, with the Colosseum in Rome eventually emerging as the most famous. The arenas, that is, the sand-covered round or elliptical space at the bottom,’ became the space where in every part of the Roman world more or less the same sequence of events would unfold:

wild beast hunts and fights (venationes) in the morning, involving the display and slaughter of fierce and exotic animals;

public execution of criminals by animals, fire, or crucifixion around noon; Jesus 6th hour]

gladiatorial contests (the actual munera) in the afternoon.

When games took place over a longer period, this same sequence was probably followed lowed every day.

The provision of eight gladiatorial shows with no fewer than ten thousand men confronting each other in single combat, as well as twenty-six fights with `African wild beasts;’ which left thirty-five hundred animals dead, was proudly proclaimed by the emperor when he listed his lifetime achievements in the Res Gestae

superior way for the provincials to express their newly won Romanness and loyalty to the emperor.

The arena was one of the most compelling places where imperial ideology was generated and enacted through the power of images: living images that were images of dying and of imposing death.

The poet Martial in a set of epigrams dedicated to the Roman emperor under the title Liber de spectaculis (“About the shows/games”) celebrated the Colosseum as the most wonderful of all the wonders of the world, more magnificent than the pyramids of Egypt, the walls of Babylon, the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, or the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

Spectators from all over the world are present in Caesar’s city and amphitheater, theater, even members of the most remote and barbarous races. The arena integrates and creates unity.

[games were given- paid for- by the elite.]

The recognition of the person at the top of the human power pyramid, with unlimited power over life and death, is the recognition of his divinity too.

Neither Caesar’s presence nor the elbow rubbing and camaraderie among the audience would by itself have had the power to integrate social diversity and polarities into the new imperial one-self, if it were not for the magical object that drew all eyes to the sand-covered circular floor at the center and that was collectively consumed: the blood of the Other.

It was as agents and partakers in the supreme sacrifice that all were becoming one and self: the life of the Other.

victims fall into three basic categories:

Nature to be subdued [venationes]

Lawless criminals to be punished and eliminated

Gladiators Gladiators are mainly prisoners of war, criminals, or slaves sold into gladiatorial schools as punishment for certain (less severe) offenses.

beastly, barbarian, rebellious, hostile, criminal, and liminal otherness that makes them archetypal and prototypical enemies of the Roman imperial city and of civilization as such.

division of humanity into deserving and undeserving.80

The decision to attach oneself to the victorious ones, against the vanquished others, is presented as natural, moral, and without alternative.

The death shown in the arena was death required by law and therefore right; watching ing it with approval meant moral steadfastness and submission to law and emperor. Compassion toward the suffering fellow creature was to be avoided at all costs and was instead to be rechanneled into the fun of watching and participating in the lawful events of a slaughterhouse.

The segregation of humanity and the dehumanization of the other was at the core of the arena production.

The blood of the other drenching the sand of the arena becomes the magical substance that gives birth to the civic self.

The rules of the game

Being transformed into the likeness and oneness of the imperial body, the participants of the games also had to accept domination and subordination as constitutive of this body-for it reflected cosmic law and order.

Everyone else-senators, boys and their tutors, married men-had to sit in precisely determined areas and rows according to social ranking.86

The arena taught people that this strictly hierarchical, competitive, and violence-obsessed obsessed order of inclusion and exclusion is not only universal but also beneficial: after a day of games even the lowest ranking and most marginalized spectator had been elevated above someone more inferior and outcast: the victims of the arena.

The arenas as ‘Megachurches’ of Imperial Religion.

Cross and Arena

Over a distance of about two hundred kilometers the six thousand survivors of Spartacus’s army were nailed to crosses on the road between Capua and Rome after the defeat of the gladiators’ rebellion in 71 B.C.E.

two thousand crucifixions took place in Judea under Varus to quell unrest after the death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C.E.

five hundred Jewish fugitives were crucified per day in front of besieged Jerusalem under Titus in 70 C.E. so that “there was not enough room for the crosses and not enough crosses for the bodies”

in Luke’s passion narrative, where the crucifixion of Jesus is called a theoria, that is, a spectacle

What needs to be shown is not just the execution of a criminal but the elimination of a rebellious, transgressive other and the restoration of the proper order of the world

In this context, the earliest Christian message of the crucified messiah demonstrated the “solidarity” of the love of God with the unspeakable suffering of those who were tortured and put to death by human cruelty.”‘

Salvation and justification, damnation and moral exhortation, communion and excommunication, law and works-all the theological and ecclesiological concepts that we have come to perceive as part of a largely disembodied and dehistorized discourse in Paul’s Galatian correspondence were alive in the arena, embodied in images of flesh and blood rather than words.

What if the primary mary clash took place not between Christ and the Jewish God in Galatia, but between Paul’s Jewish God-in-Christ and the imperial god-in-Caesar?

What if the Galatian controversy does not primarily concern Jews and Christians at all, but rather Jewish-messianic monotheism disputing the claims of imperial monotheism?

4. Roman Galatia: The Imperial Resurrection of the Dying Gauls/Galatians (189 B.C.E.-50 C.E.)

5. Under the Eagle’s Wings and (C)laws: Messianic Insurrection among Dying Gauls and Jews

6. Amen and Anathema: Galatians at the Great Altar of Pergamon

Epilogue: Dying Gauls, Jews, and Christians and Rome’s Three Great Fires (60-75 c.E.)

“For these I set no bounds in space or time; but have given empire without end…. The Romans, lords of the world, and the nation of the toga. Thus it is decreed” (1.278–83).

Crossan, John Dominic. God and Empire (p. 16). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.