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 ( 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.

SNAPSHOT: “And Forgive them their Debts”, Michael Hudson

Hudson, Michael : …and forgive them their debts: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption From Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year (THE TYRANNY OF DEBT Book 1)  2018

From Publisher

Hudson, Michael. …and forgive them their debts: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption From Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year 2018

In …and forgive them their debts, renowned economist Michael Hudson – one of the few who could see the 2008 financial crisis coming – takes us on an epic journey through the economies of ancient civilizations and reveals their relevance for us today. For the past 40 years, in conjunction with Harvard’s Peabody Museum, he and his colleagues have documented how interest-bearing debt was invented in Bronze Age Mesopotamia, and then disseminated to the ancient world. What the Bronze Age rulers understood was that avoiding economic instability required regular royal debt cancellations. Professor Hudson documents dozens of these these royal edicts and traces the archeological record and history of debt, and how societies have dealt with (or failed to deal with) the proliferation of debts that cannot be paid – and their consequences. In the pages of ...and forgive them their debts, readers will discover how debt played a central role in shaping ancient societies, and how it continues to shape our world – often destructively.

The Big Question: What happens when debts cannot be paid? Will there be a writedown in favor of debtors (as is routinely done for large corporations), or will creditors be allowed to foreclose (as is done to personal debtors and mortgagees), leading to the creditors’ political takeover of the economy’s assets – and ultimately the government itself? Historically, the remedy of record was the royal Clean Slate proclamation, or biblical Jubilee Year of debt forgiveness.

The Real Message of Jesus: Jesus’s first sermon announced that he had come to proclaim a Clean Slate debt cancellation (the Jubilee Year), as was first described in the Bible (Leviticus 25), and had been used in Babylonia since Hammurabi’s dynasty. This message – more than any other religious claim – is what threatened his enemies, and is why he was put to death. This interpretation has been all but expunged from our contemporary understanding of the phrase, “…and forgive them their debts,” in The Lord’s Prayer. It has been changed to “…and forgive them their trespasses (or sins),” depending on the particular Christian tradition that influenced the translation from the Greek opheilēma/opheiletēs (debts/debtors).

Contrary to the message of Jesus, also found in the Old Testament of the Bible and in other ancient texts, debt repayment has become sanctified and mystified as a way of moralizing claims on borrowers, allowing creditor elites and oligarchs the leverage to take over societies and privatize personal and public assets – especially in hard times. Historically, no monarchy or government has survived takeover by creditor elites and oligarchs (viz: Rome). Perhaps most striking is that – according to a nearly complete consensus of Assyriologists and biblical scholars – the Bible is preoccupied with debt forgiveness more than with sin.

In a time of increasing economic and political polarization, and a global economy deeper in debt than at the height of the 2008 financial crisis, …and forgive them their debts documents what individuals, governments and societies can learn from the ancient past for restoring economic and social stability today.

Table of Contents

The Rise and Fall of Jubilee Debt Cancellations and Clean Slates

What were Debt Jubilees?

Social purpose of Debt Jubilees

How well did Debt Jubilees succeed?

Why did debt Jubilees fall into disuse?

Archaic Economies versus Modern Preconceptions

Widespread misinterpretation of Neolithic and Bronze Age society

The International Scholars Conference on Ancient Near Eastern Economies (ISCANEE)

What makes Western civilization “Western”?

A legacy of financial instability

The Major Themes of this Book

Part I:  Overview

1. Babylonian Perspective on Liberty and Economic Order

2. Jesus’s First Sermon and the Tradition of Debt Amnesty 32-57
The meaning of Biblical deror (and hence “the Year of Our Lord”)
From Judaism to Christianity
The Dead Sea Scroll 11QMelchizedek
Debt in the Biblical laws, historical narratives and parables

3. Credit, Debt and Money: Their Social and Private Contexts

From chieftain households to temples

Anachronistic views of the Mesopotamian takeoff and its enterprise

Growing scale of the temple and palace economy leads to monetization

Creating markets for commodities, and as a fiscal vehicle for tax debts Land tenure

What Sumerian commercial enterprise bequeathed to antiquity

Classical antiquity privatizes credit and stops cancelling agrarian debts

How the modern financial and legal system emerged from antiquity’s debt crisis

A Chronology of Clean Slates and Debt Revolts in Antiquity

Mesopotamian Debt Cancellations, 2400–1600 BC

Allusions to Debt Cancellations in Canaan/Israel/Judah and Egypt  1400–131 BC

      Debt Crises in Classical Antiquity: Greece and Rome 650 BC–425 AD

Part II: Social Origins of Debt

4. The Anthropology of Debt, from Gift Exchange to Wergild Fines

The reciprocity of gift exchange

How classical moneylending differs from gift exchange

Fine-debts for personal injury catalyze special-purpose proto-money

Debts called into being monetary means to pay them

Cattle as a denominator of debts, but not of commercial exchange or interest

Debt collection procedures originally preserved economic viability

Collecting debts from borrowers who committed no offenses

5. Creditors as Predators: The Anthropology of Usury

A misleading theory of how usury began

Failure of physical productivity or risk levels to explain early interest rates

Most personal loans are for consumption, not to make a profit

Paying interest out of the surplus provided by the debtor’s own collateral

The polarizing dynamics of agrarian usury, contrasted with productive credit

6. Origins of Mercantile Interest in Sumer’s Palaces and Temples

How the social values of tribal communities discourage enterprise

Temples of enterprise

The need for merchants and other commercial agents to manage trade

The primary role of the large institutions in setting interest rates

Nullification of commercial silver debts when accidents prevented payment

Diffusion of Near Eastern finance and commercial enterprise

7. Rural Usury as a Lever to Privatize Land

How debt bondage interfered with royal claims for corvée labor

Fictive “adoptions” to circumvent sanctions against alienating land to outsiders

The contractual clause “sold at the full price”

Royal proclamations to save rural debtors from disenfranchisement

Part III:  The Bronze Age Invents Usury, But Counters Its Adverse Effects

8. War, Debt and amar-gi in Sumer, 2400 BC

City-state rivalries and the rise of urban dynasties

Lagash’s water wars with Umma, and the ensuing tribute debts

Enmetena’s proclamation of amar-gi, economic freedom from debt

9. Urukagina Proclaims amar-gi: 2350 BC

Palace domination of the temples

Urukagina’s reform text c. 2350 BC

Cancelling debts and freeing bondservants

Sumerian amar-gi as an ideological Rorschach test for translators

The timing of amar-gi and subsequent clean slates

10. Sargon’s Akkadian Empire and Its Collapse, 2300–2100 BC

Sargon’s conquest of southern Mesopotamia

Gutian Domination of Sumer: c. 2220–2120

Descent of the Gutians into Mesopotamia, and the First Interregnum

11. Lagash’s Revival Under Gudea, and his Debt Cancellation, 2130 BC

12. Trade, Enterprise and Debt in Ur III: 2111–2004 BC

Privatization of trade and agriculture

What Ur-Namma’s laws meant by níg-si-sá

13. Isin Rulers replace Ur III and Proclaim níg-si-sá: 2017–1861 BC

Lipit-Ishtar’s laws and the fall of the Isin dynasty

14. Diffusion of Trade and Finance Via Assyrian Merchants, 2000–1790 BC

Commercial and personal debts in Kanesh

Assur’s trade strategy and andurārum proclamations

The archaeological context for Assur’s andurārum inscriptions

Assyrian monopolistic commercial policy

15. Privatizing Mesopotamia’s Intermediate Period: 2000–1600 BC

Property rights as an independent dynamic

Economic entropy and indebtedness

Amorite takeover of the temples

A financial market in rentier shares

Tensions between local headmen and the palace

How wide a sphere did royal debt amnesties affect?

The nomadic takeover of Southern Mesopotamia

Larsa’s period of dominance, 1932‑1763 BC

Rim-Sin’s debt cancellations

16. Hammurabi’s Laws and mı-šarum Edicts: 1792–1750 BC

Retaining the loyalty of Babylonia’s cultivators by proclaiming mı-šarum

The scope of Hammurabi’s laws

The importance of record keeping as a check on abuses

Physical punishment for lawbreakers too poor to pay

Growing palace power over the temples and landed communities

The rate of interest on silver and barley debts

Enforcement of Hammurabi’s laws in practice

17. Freeing the Land and its Cultivators from Predatory Creditors

How the palace saved subsistence land from being privatized

Limits on creditors aggressively taking crops

Laws saving citizens from debt bondage

How Hammurabi’s laws preserved economic balance

Hammurabi’s philosophy of deterrence regarding creditor abuses

18. Samsuiluna’s and Ammisaduqa’s mı-šarum Edicts:  1749 and 1646 BC

Hammurabi’s son Samsuiluna takes the throne, 1749‑1712 BC

Ammisaduqa’s mı-šarum edict closes legalistic loopholes

19. Social Cosmology of Babylonia’s Debt Cancellations

Military conflict and land pressure make mīšarum proclamations more frequent

Restoring the (idealized) order

The end of the Old Babylonian Period

20. Usury and Privatization in the Periphery, 1600–1200 BC

Decentralization and grabitization gain momentum

The Kassite Age in Babylonia, 1600–1200 BC

Creditor stratagems in Nuzi, 1450–1400 BC

How indebtedness led to a dependent labor force

The Hurrian-Hittite “Song of Release” extends the application of andurārum

Expropriation of cultivators from the land

The Middle Assyrian epilogue

21. From the Dawn of the Iron Age to the Rosetta Stone

Debt amnesties in the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian empires

The Inscriptions of Sargon II (722 to 705) and his grandson Esarhaddon (681 to 669)

Egypt’s pharaonic amnesties

Part IV:  The Biblical Legacy

22. Judges, Kings and Usury: 8th and 7th Centuries BC

The anti-royalist spirit of Biblical law

Land tenure threatened by debt foreclosure

The prophets lead a revolt

How the Ten Commandments pertain to the usury problem

23. Biblical Laws Call for Periodic Debt Cancellation

Lending and interest in the Covenant Code of Exodus

The Priestly Code of Deuteronomy

Jeremiah depicts the Babylonian captivity as divine retaliation for violating the Covenant

24. The Babylonian Impact on Judaic Debt Laws

Ezekiel’s apocalyptic message in the face of Judah’s defeat by Babylonia

From Ezekiel to Third-Isaiah

The reforms of Nehemiah and Ezra

Egypt substituted for Babylonian oppression

Recasting Babylonian andurārum proclamations in a Yahwist context

25. From Religious Covenant to Hillel

The twilight of economic renewal and the Jubilee

Creditor misbehavior in the story of Job

The post-exilic prophets, psalms and proverbs

From royal to Levitical rhythms of economic renewal

The implicit conflict underlying Judah’s first Jubilee

Judah revolts and a new oligarchy emerges

How Hillel’s prosbul yielded power to creditors and land appropriators

26. Christianity Spiritualizes the Jubilee Year as the Day of Judgment

Jesus’ teachings on debt forgiveness

From the Jubilee Year to the Day of Judgment

From redemption to charity

From Stoic Philosophy to the Church Fathers

The Virgin Mary replaces Nanshe and Nemesis

The End Time and the Day of Judgment

Redemption, the arrow of time and the Christian Millennium

27. Byzantine Echo

Roman fiscal reform from Diocletian to Justinian

The Novels of Basil and Romanus protecting smallholders from the dynatoi Romanos’

Novel of 934 barring dynatoi from acquiring village land

28. Zenith and Decline of Byzantium: 945–1204

Tax exemption for Church property

The fight by Basil II (976–1025) against the dynatoi

Land monopoly leads to fiscal and military dismantling


29. Western Civilization is Rooted in the Bronze Age Near East

How creditor appropriation turned land into “private property”

The meaning of economic liberty

Bronze Age money as a means of palatial production and trade accounting

The inherent inability of personal and agrarian debts to be paid over the long run

My Rough Notes

The Rise and Fall of Jubilee Debt Cancellations and Clean Slates

Hudson, Michael. …and forgive them their debts: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption From Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year (THE TYRANNY OF DEBT Book 1) (Kindle Locations 244-245). Kindle Edition.

The idea of annulling debts nowadays seems so unthinkable that most economists and many theologians doubt whether the Jubilee Year could have been applied in practice, and indeed on a regular basis. A widespread impression is that the Mosaic debt jubilee was a utopian ideal. However, Assyriologists have traced it to a long tradition of Near Eastern proclamations.

Instead of causing economic crises, these debt jubilees preserved stability in nearly all Near Eastern societies. Economic polarization, bondage and collapse occurred when such clean slates stopped being proclaimed.

What were Debt Jubilees? Debt jubilees occurred on a regular basis in the ancient Near East from 2500 BC in Sumer to 1600 BC in Babylonia and its neighbors, and then in Assyria in the first millennium BC. It was normal for new rulers to proclaim these edicts upon taking the throne, in the aftermath of war, or upon the building or renovating a temple. Judaism took the practice out of the hands of kings and placed it at the center of Mosaic Law.i By Babylonian times these debt amnesties contained the three elements that Judaism later adopted in its Jubilee Year of Leviticus 25. The first element was to cancel agrarian debts owed by the citizenry at large. Mercantile debts among businessmen were left in place.

A second element of these debt amnesties was to liberate bondservants – the debtor’s wife, daughters or sons who had been pledged to creditors.

A third element of these debt jubilees (subsequently adopted into Mosaic law) was to return the land or crop rights that debtors had pledged to creditors.

Commercial “silver” debts among traders and other entrepreneurs were not subject to these debt jubilees. Rulers recognized that productive business loans provide resources for the borrower to pay back with interest, in contrast to consumer debt. This was the contrast that medieval Schoolmen later would draw between interest and usury. Most non-business debts were owed to the palace or its temples for taxes, rents and fees, along with beer to the public ale houses.

As interest-bearing credit became privatized throughout the Near Eastern economies, personal debts owed to local headmen, merchants and creditors also were cancelled.

In addition to preserving economic solvency for the population, rulers thus found debt cancellation to be a way to prevent a financial oligarchy from emerging to rival the policy aims of kings.

The common policy denominator spanning Bronze Age Mesopotamia and the Byzantine Empire in the 9th and 10th centuries was the conflict between rulers acting to restore land to smallholders so as to maintain royal tax revenue and a land-tenured military force, and powerful families seeking to deny its usufruct to the palace. Rulers sought to check the economic power of wealthy creditors, military leaders or local administrators from concentrating land in their own hands and taking the crop surplus for themselves at the expense of the tax collector. By clearing the slate of personal agrarian debts that had built up during the crop year, these royal proclamations preserved a land-tenured citizenry free from bondage. The effect was to restore balance and sustain economic growth by preventing widespread insolvency.

Debt jubilees were designed to make such losses of liberty only temporary. The Mosaic injunction (Leviticus 25), “Proclaim liberty throughout the land,” is inscribed on America’s Liberty Bell. That is a translation of Hebrew deror, the debt Jubilee, cognate to Akkadian andurārum. The liberty in question originally was from debt peonage.

These proclamations enabled society to avert military defeat by preserving a land-tenured citizenry as the source of military fighters, corvée labor and the tax base. The Bronze Age Near East thus avoided the economic polarization between creditors and debtors that ended up imposing bondage on most of classical antiquity.

So popular was the demand for a debt jubilee that the 4th-century BC Greek general Aeneas Tacticus advised attackers of cities to draw the population over to their side by cancelling debts, and for defenders to hold onto the loyalty of their population by making the same offer. Cities that refrained from cancelling debts were conquered, or fell into widespread bondage, slavery and serfdom.

That ultimately is what happened in Rome.

Why did debt Jubilees fall into disuse? Throughout history a constant political dynamic has been maneuvering by creditors to overthrow royal power capable of enforcing debt amnesties and reversing foreclosures on homes and subsistence land. The creditors’ objective is to replace the customary right of citizens to self-support by its opposite principle: the right of creditors to foreclose on the property and means of livelihood pledged as collateral (or to buy it at distress prices), and to make these transfers irreversible. The smallholders’ security of property is replaced by the sanctity of debt instead of its periodic cancellation.

Archaic restorations of order ended when the forfeiture or forced sale of self-support land no longer could be reversed. When creditors and absentee landlords gained the upper political hand, reducing the economic status for much of the population to one of debt dependency and serfdom, classical antiquity’s oligarchies used their economic gains, military power or bureaucratic position to buy up the land of smallholders, as well as public land such as Rome’s ager publicus.iii

Violence played a major political role, almost entirely by creditors.

Within Judaism, rabbinical orthodoxy attributed to Hillel developed the prosbul clause by which debtors waived their right to have their debts cancelled in the Jubilee Year. Hillel claimed that if the Jubilee Year were maintained, creditors would not lend to needy debtors – as if most debts were the result of loans, not arrears to Roman tax collectors and other unpaid bills. Opposing this pro-creditor argument, Jesus announced in his inaugural sermon that he had come to proclaim the Jubilee Year of the Lord cited by Isaiah, whose scroll he unrolled. His congregation is reported to have reacted with fury. (Luke 4 tells the story). Like other populist leaders of his day, Jesus was accused of seeking kingship to enforce his program on creditors. Subsequent Christianity gave the ideal of a debt amnesty an otherworldly eschatological meaning as debt cancellation became politically impossible under the Roman Empire’s military enforcement of creditor privileges.

A study of the long sweep of history reveals a universal principle to be at work: The burden of debt tends to expand in an agrarian society to the point where it exceeds the ability of debtors to pay. That has been the major cause of economic polarization from antiquity to modern times. The basic principle that should guide economic policy is recognition that debts which can’t be paid, won’t be. The great political question is, how won’t they be paid?

There are two ways not to pay debts. Our economic mainstream still believes that all debts must be paid, leaving them on the books to continue accruing interest and fees – and to let creditors foreclose when they do not receive the scheduled interest and amortization payment.

Today’s legal system is based on the Roman Empire’s legal philosophy upholding the sanctity of debt, not its cancellation. Instead of protecting debtors from losing their property and status, the main concern is with saving creditors from loss, as if this is a prerequisite for economic stability and growth. Moral blame is placed on debtors, as if their arrears are a personal choice rather than stemming from economic strains that compel them to run into debt simply to survive.

Archaic Economies versus Modern Preconceptions

Our epoch is strangely selective when it comes to distinguishing between what is plausibly historical and believable in the Bible, and what seems merely mythic or utopian.

Today the idea of annulling debts seems so unthinkable that not only economists but also many theologians doubt whether the Jubilee Year could have been applied regularly in practice. The widespread impression is that this Mosaic Law was a product of utopian idealism. But Assyriologists have traced it to a long tradition of royal debt cancellations from Sumer in the third millennium BC and Babylonia (2000–1600 BC) down through first-millennium Assyria. This book summarizes this long Near Eastern tradition and how it provided the model for the Jubilee Year.

Hammurabi’s Babylonian laws became instantly famous when they were discovered in 1901 and translated the next year. Less familiar is the fact that nearly each member of his dynasty inaugurated his rule by proclaiming a debt amnesty – andurārum, the source of Hebrew cognate deror, the Jubilee Year, which has the same root as its Babylonian model. Personal agrarian debts were cancelled, although commercial “silver” debts were left intact. Bondservants pledged to creditors were returned to the debtor’s family. And land or crop rights pledged to creditors or sold under distress conditions were returned to their customary holders. These rules are so far at odds with the creditor-oriented ideology of our times that the instinctive response is to deny that they could have worked.

Wouldn’t the economy be disrupted when credit dried up? This criticism is anachronistic, because most agrarian debts did not stem from actual loans. They mounted up as unpaid bills, starting with fees and taxes owed to the palace.

Their bills were put on the tab, to be paid on the threshing floor at harvest time.

Another modern objection to the practicality of debt cancellations concerns property rights. If land is periodically returned to its customary family holders, how can it be bought and sold? The answer is that self-support land (unlike townhouses) was not supposed to be sold as a market commodity.

It was customary for Near Eastern rulers to proclaim amar–gi or mīšarum upon taking the throne for their first full year, and also on the occasions when droughts or floods prevented crop debts from being paid. Cancelling debts and restoring land rights reasserted royal authority over creditors engaging in usury to obtain the labor of debtors at the expense of the palace.

By the time Roman creditors won, the Pharisee Rabbi Hillel had innovated the prosbul clause in debt contracts, whereby debtors waived their right to have their debts annulled in the Jubilee Year. This is the kind of stratagem that today’s banks use in the “small print” of their contracts obliging users to waive their rights to the courts and instead submit to arbitration by bank-friendly referees in case of dispute over credit cards, bank loans or general bank malfeasance. Creditors had tried to use similar clauses already in the Old Babylonian era, but these were deemed illegal under more pro-debtor royal law.

Most history depicts our civilization as starting in Greece and Rome, not in the preceding thousands of years when the techniques of commercial enterprise, finance and accounting were developed.

There is a problem of cognitive dissonance and outright ideological rejection in dealing with the ancient Near East, precisely because its organizing principles and economic dynamics are so far at odds with those of today’s mainstream economics and popular opinion.

Today’s Assyriological mainstream have come to accept the idea that debts were annulled and financial clean slates proclaimed with more lasting effect again and again.

Part of this turnaround was catalyzed by a series of colloquia that I organized with the Peabody Museum

Land was the most important asset to be privatized, and debt was the major lever prying land away from communal tenure.

The most popular treatment of debt in its broad perspective was the anthropologist David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011).

What made classical antiquity “modern” – and in the minds of many historians, “Western” – was the privatization of credit, land ownership and political power without the more or less regular Clean Slates that had been traditional in the Near East.

The concept of private property permitting creditors to expropriate mortgage debtors that is widely accepted today, already throughout antiquity led to a cry for debt cancellation – as late as Kings Agis V and Cleomenes III in Sparta (late 3rd century BC) and Mithridates in his three wars against Rome (88 to 63 BC). The absence of royal, religious or civic debt amnesties made classical Greece and Rome different from the Bronze Age Near East. Our own civilization inherited Rome’s pro-creditor legal principles that helped the oligarchy impoverish its citizenry.

Mainstream economic models assume that financial trends are self-correcting to restore balance. The reality is that debts growing at compound interest tend to polarize and impoverish economies, if not corrected from “outside” the economy. Sumerians, Babylonians and their Near Eastern neighbors recognized the need for this action. Today’s “free enterprise” model-builders deny that debt writeoffs are needed. Modern ideology endorses chronic indebtedness as normal, despite debt service drying up the internal market and forcing a widening range of debtors into financial dependency.

At the outset of recorded history, Bronze Age rulers relinquished fiscal claims and restored liberty from permanent debt. That prevented a creditor oligarchy from emerging to the extent that occurred in classical antiquity.

Today’s world is still living in the wake of the Roman Empire’s creditor-oriented laws and the economic polarization that ensued.

The Major Themes of this Book

All economies tend to polarize between creditors and debtors if not counteracted by writing down debts in line with the ability to pay without widespread default and forfeiture of land and property. Failure to write down debt arrears creates a creditor class at the top of an increasingly steep economic pyramid, reducing much of the population to debt clientage or worse.
1.Charging interest on debts was innovated in a particular part of the world (Sumer, in southern Mesopotamia) some time in the Early Bronze Age, c. 3200–2500 BC. No trace of interest-bearing debt is found in pristine anthropological gift exchange, or even in the Linear B records of Mycenaean Greece 1600–1200 BC. The practice diffused westward to the Aegean and Mediterranean c. 750 BC.

2. A major task of Babylonian and other Mesopotamian rulers upon taking the throne was to restore economic balance by cancelling agrarian personal debts, liberating bondservants and reversing land forfeitures for citizens holding self-support land.

3. The easiest debts for rulers to remit were those owed to the palace, temples and their collectors or professional guilds. But by the end of the third millennium BC, wealthy traders and other creditors were engaging in rural usury as a sideline to their entrepreneurial activities. Enforcing collection of such debts owed to the palace, its bureaucracy and private lenders would have disenfranchised the land-tenured citizen infantry and lost the corvée labor service and military duties of debtors reduced to bondage.
4. Debt cancellations were not radical, nor were they “reforms.” They were the traditional means to prevent widespread debt bondage and land foreclosures. Bronze Age rulers enabled economic relations to start afresh and in financial balance upon taking the throne and when needed in times of crop failure or economic distress. There was no faith in inherent automatic tendencies (what today is called “market equilibrium”) to ensure economic growth. Rulers recognized that if they let debt arrears mount up, their societies would veer out of balance, creating an oligarchy that would impoverish the citizen-army and drive populations to flee the land.
5. Palace collectors and merchant entrepreneurs acted increasingly as creditors on their own account. A political tug of war ensued as nomadic tribesmen conquered southern Mesopotamia and took over temples and turned them into exploitative vehicles while trying to resist customary checks on the corrosive effects of debt.
6. Classical antiquity replaced the cyclical idea of time and social renewal with that of linear time. Economic polarization became irreversible, not merely temporary. Aristocracies overthrew rulers and ended the tradition of restoring liberty from debt bondage. This brought “modern” land ownership into being as debtors forfeited their land tenure rights or fell into bondage with little hope of recovering their free status.
7. Without Clean Slates, creditor oligarchies appropriated most of the land and reduced much of the population to bondage. Creditors translated their economic gains into political power, casting off the fiscal obligations that originally were attached to land tenure rights. The burden of debt and its mounting interest charges led to the foreclosure of land as the basic means of self-support and hence the loss of the debtor’s liberty.
8. Livy, Plutarch and other Roman historians described classical antiquity as being destroyed mainly by creditors using interest-bearing debt to impoverish and disenfranchise the population. Barbarians always stood at the gates, but only as societies weakened internally were their invasions successful. The invasions that ended the fading Roman Empire were anticlimactic. In the end, the only debts that Emperor Hadrian could annul with his fiscal amnesty were Rome’s tax records, which he burned in 119 AD – tax debts owed to the palace, not debts to the creditor oligarchy that had gained control of Rome’s land.
9. Archaic traditions of restoring order, originally legally enforceable, were given an otherworldly eschatological meaning as the social order collapsed under the burden of debt. Losing hope for secular revival, antiquity felt itself to be living in the End Time.
10. The Qumran scroll 11QMelchezedek wove together Biblical texts concerning debt cancellations with apocalyptic texts about the Day of Judgment. Although many of Jesus’ sermons used images and analogies associated with debt, the idea of redemption and forgiveness was spiritualized to the point where it lost its basis in fiscal and debt amnesties that had released debtors from bondage.
11.  Byzantine rulers revived the Near Eastern practice of returning land tenure to smallholders, nullifying foreclosures, “gifts” and even outright purchases as constituting stealth takeovers by the wealthy. Takeovers via antichresis (taking the land as ostensibly temporary collateral to pay the interest due) also were annulled.
12. The common policy denominator spanning Bronze Age Mesopotamia and the Byzantine Empire was the conflict between central rulers acting to restore land to smallholders so as to maintain royal tax revenue and a land-tenured military force, and wealthy or powerful families seeking to concentrate land in their own hands, denying this usufruct to the palace. When royal power to preserve widespread land tenure waned under assertive oligarchies, the result was economic shrinkage and ultimate collapse.

Babylonian Perspective on Liberty and Economic Order

Modern American society retains many iconographic references that can be traced back to ancient Babylonia. Our nation’s two most familiar symbols of freedom, the Statue of Liberty and the Liberty Bell, recall vestiges of an ancient tradition that has been all but lost since imperial Roman times: liberty from bondage and from the threat of losing one’s home, land and means of livelihood through debt.

A farmer claims that he does not have to pay a crop debt because the ruler, quite likely Hammurabi (who ruled for 42 years, 1792–1750 BC), has “raised high the Golden Torch” to signal the annulling of agrarian debts and related personal “barley” obligations.[

The Babylonian ruler’s ceremonial gesture of holding aloft a flame to signal mīšarum, clearing the slate of debts, seems to have marked the transition to a new reign by the new ruler upon the death of his predecessor after the period of mourning had ended.

Should our Babylonian visitor proceed to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, he would find further vestiges of the idea of absolution from debt bondage. The bell is inscribed with a quotation from Leviticus 25.10: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, and to all the inhabitants thereof.” The full verse refers to freedom from debt bondage when it exhorts the Israelites to “hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land and to all the inhabitants thereof; it shall be a Jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his family” (and also every woman, child and house slave who had been pledged).

The Hebrew word translated as “liberty” in the Leviticus text is deror.

Proclamation of these clean slates became so central a royal function that the phrase “to issue a “royal edict” (ṣimdat šarrim) usually referred specifically to a debt cancellation.

By the first millennium BC, however, kings had lost the power to overrule local aristocracies. Where they survived, they ruled on behalf of the wealthy. From Solomon and his son Rehoboam through Ahab and most subsequent rulers, the Bible depicts most Israelite kings as burdening the people with taxes, not freeing them from debts or palace demands. That is why the Biblical prophets shifted the moral center of lawgiving out of the hands of kings, making debt cancellation and land reform automatic and obligatory as a sacred covenant under Mosaic Law, handed down by the Lord.

Today’s readers of the Bible tend to skim over the Covenant Code of Exodus, the septennial šemittah year of release in Deuteronomy and the Jubilee Year of Leviticus as if they were idealistic fine print. But to the Biblical compilers they formed the core of righteousness.

“Land must not be sold in perpetuity, for the land belongs to me and you are only strangers and guests. You will allow a right of redemption on all your landed property, and restore it to its customary cultivators every fifty years” (Leviticus 25: 23–28).

The broad theme of this book is how the modern concept of economic liberty has stood the original meaning of liberty on its head. Today’s pro-creditor “market principle” favoring financial claims by holding that all debts must be paid, reverses the archaic sanctity of releasing indentured debt pledges and property from debt bondage.

Central to any discussion of this inversion is the fact that Mesopotamia’s palaces and temples were the major creditors at the beginning of recorded history. To enable them to perform their designated functions, communities endowed them with land and dependent labor. Neither temples nor palaces borrowed from private creditors (although their functionaries and entrepreneurs acting for them did). Nowhere in antiquity do we find governments becoming chronic debtors. Debts were owed to them, not by them. Today’s world is the opposite. When the U.S. Congress discusses ways to reduce the federal budget deficit, the most untouchable category of expenditures is payment to bondholders on the public debt. The same is true for Third World countries negotiating with banks and the International Monetary Fund – creating the recent debt-ridden austerity and economic collapse imposed on Greece.

From the Biblical prophets to Roman Stoic historians a central theme was the accusation that what tore their society apart was the failure to cancel debts.

The legacy of lawgivers proclaiming clean slates is commemorated at the entrance to the United States House of Representatives. Grouped around Moses in the center, with Hammurabi on his right, are “23 marble relief portraits of ‘historical figures noted for their work in establishing the principles that underlie American  law.’”[


2. Jesus’s First Sermon and the Tradition of Debt Amnesty

In the first reported sermon Jesus delivered upon returning to his native Nazareth (Luke 4:16 ff.), he unrolled the scroll of Isaiah and announced his mission “to restore the Year of Our Lord.” Until recently the meaning of this phrase was not recognized as referring specifically to the Jubilee Year. But breakthroughs in cuneiform research and a key Qumran scroll provide a direct link to that tradition. This linkage provides the basis for understanding how early Christianity emerged in an epoch so impoverished by debt and the threat of bondage that it was called the End Time.

Jesus was both more revolutionary and more conservative than was earlier recognized. He was politically revolutionary in threatening Judaic creditors, and behind them the Pharisees who had rationalized their rights against debtors. Luke 16: 13–15

Jesus’s call for a Jubilee Year was conservative in resurrecting the economic ideal central to Mosaic Law: widespread annulment of personal debts. This ideal remains so alien to our modern way of thinking that his sermons are usually interpreted in a broad compassionate sense of urging personal charity toward one’s own debtors and the poor in general. There is a reluctance to focus on the creditor oligarchy that Jesus (and many of his contemporary Romans) blamed for the epoch’s deepening poverty.

“The religious feeling against usury [found in Exod. 22.25, Lev. 25.35f., and Deut. 23.19f. with regard to foreigners] was entirely absent from the Sumero-Babylonian world where payment of interest upon a loan is regarded as a normal and respectable phenomenon.”

Lev 25:(8-11)

13 July 19

When I studied Biblical history at seminary the curriculum covered the idea of the Year of Jubilee (Lev 25:8-13)

SNAPSHOT: “Come Out, My People!”, Howard-Brook

“Come Out, My People!” God’s Call out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond

From Publisher

Wes Howard-Brook presents the Bible as a struggle between two competing religions: not Judaism and Christianity, but the religion of creation versus the religion of empire. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, these two religions battled for the hearts and minds of the people in claiming radically divergent views of who YHWH is and what it looks like to be YHWH’s people. Though Jesus was killed by the upholders of empire, his resurrection was the definitive vindication of the religion of creation. As a consequence, those who follow his path can accept no violence or domination toward people or creation in his name. While many recent scholars have studies the imperial context of the New Testament, this is the first book to trace this theme throughout the entire Bible.



Introduction: “Is God on Our Side?” The Two Religions

  1. “Then God Said, ‘Let there be light!’” (Gen. 1) The Bible as Story and as History
  2. “By the Sweat of Your Face You Shall Eat Bread” (Gen. 2-3)
  3. “And He Built a City”

4. Making One’s Name Great “Let Us Make a Name for Ourselves”:

The Tower of Babel (Gen. 11)

“I Will Make Your Name Great”: YHWH’s Call to Abram to Come Out of Empire (Gen. 12)

5. The Well-Watered Plain of Sodom

Turning to Egypt for Food (Gen. 12)

Choosing for Oneself (Gen. 13-14)

Entertaining Angels… or Not (Gen. 15-19)

6. Fulfilling YHWH’s Promises

7. The Price of Settling Too Soon


8. Entering the “Exit Story”

9. Solomon’s Wisdom

10. Finding the “Way Out” Jeroboam’s Rebellion Birthing Israel, the People of YHWH The Revenge of the Shilonites

11. Kissing Calves

12. “I Have Found the Book of the Torah in the House of YHWH!”

13. What Was “Israel” before the Monarchy?


15. “In the Wilderness, Prepare the Way of YHWH”: Envisioning a Way out of Exile

16. The Struggle over Jerusalem’s Restoration

17. Seeking “Wisdom” under Greek Rule, Part One: The Ptolemaic Empire

18. Seeking “Wisdom” under Greek Rule, Part Two: The Seleucid Empire

19. From Greece to Rome: Longing for God’s Reign to Come


20. Enlightenment and Empire: Reading Jesus from the Locus Imperii in the Light of the Resurrection

21. The Gospel of Jesus Christ against the Gospel of Empire

22. “The Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ”: The Gospel of Mark

23. “Strive First for the Kingdom of God”: Matthew’s Gospel

24. Proclaiming Jubilee: Luke’s Gospel and Acts of the Apostles

25. “Savior of the World”: The Gospel of John

26. “Christ the Power of God and the Wisdom of God”: Paul’s Counter-imperial Gospel

27. “Come Out, My People”: The Book of Revelation

Conclusion: Hearing and Responding to God’s Call: “Come Out, My People!”


Introduction Why Should We Care about Ancient History? The Question of “Writing Christian History” and How This Book Is Organized A Personal Note

1. The Roman Imperial Context and the “Religion of Empire”

2. Alexandria and Carthage: Urban Laboratories for Brewing “Christianity”

3. How Should Christians Read the Hebrew Scriptures?

4. “Christianity” Moves Closer to the “Religion of Empire” (150– 220 CE)

5. “Christianity” up to and in Response to the Decian Persecution (220– 255 CE)

6. “Christianity” Becomes the Official Religion of the Empire: The Roman Empire in the Late Third Century

7. “Christianity” Embraces Empire: After Constantine: The Roman Empire in the Late Fourth and Early Fifth Centuries

No Notes

SNAPSHOT: My Review: “In the Shadow of Empire” Horsley ed

In the Shadow of Empire, edited by Richard Horsley provides the best book to begin an investigation of the Roman Empire and it’s relation to Scripture.

First, it covers the whole of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. It shows how empire was a constant presence through the course of Biblical history, influencing the lives of not only the writers of the biblical books but also the faithful through the many years that the biblical record covers. The book’s title reminds us that there was always an empire the people of faith had to deal with as they tried to live lives of faith. The metaphor of shadow reminds us of the continued pervasiveness of the power and demand of the empire’s political, economic and religious realities.

There was always the shadow of some empire standing between them and God, blocking out the light of the Lord, so they needed to be reminded who was the true light and true power of the universe.

Second, this book is significant in its coverage of a swath of the Bible and in its selection of a significant number of the writers well versed in empire scholarship who cover this new form of biblical criticism. It consists of an introduction and nine chapters.

I believe the subtitle of the book: “Reclaiming the Bible as a history of faithful resistance,” calls us to what role the church needs to play in the 21st century.

Introduction: The Bible and Empires by Richard A. Horsley

Richard Horsley, professor of the study of religion at the University of Massachusetts, has been an early and most prolific writer in the field of relating the Bible to the effect of Empire on the biblical peoples and its writers. He sets the stage for the rest of the book by relating how both the Bible and the idea of America as empire have been central issues to American history from the time of the first settlers until the present day.

1 Early Israel as an Anti-Imperial Community by Norman K Gottwald

Norman Gottwald is the author of a controversial theory concerning the beginnings of Israel. He dismisses the biblical account of a massive exodus of former slaves from Egypt. Instead he posits that Israel arose out of a peasant revolution within Canaan between 1250 and 1050 BCE. In his own words, “Early Israel was born as an anti-imperial resistance movement that broke away from Egyptian and Canaanite domination to become a self-governing community of free peasants.”

I think this is one of the weaker chapters in the book. Though his theory is clearly controversial when it was proposed in the 1970s in his monumental “The Tribes of Yahweh: A Sociology of the Religion of Liberated Israel 1250-1050 B.C.E”, its critique was made at the zenith of the historical critical approach.

2 Faith in the Empire by Walter Brueggemann 

Walter Brueggemann is the major voice in Old Testament in our time. He is the author of over 70 books. In this chapter he reminds us that Israel lived under a succession of ambitious empires which threatened its existence. He spells these out: when it wasn’t the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans, it was the memory of slavery under the Egyptians and even oppression under their own Hebrew kings, from David and Solomon on. There was another voice against what he calls the ‘dominant narrative’ of empire power. This was the voice of the prophets who continuously reminded the leaders and the people that they had made covenant with God (YHWH) to be his people and follow his commands for justice and equity.

Applying this to the present day he says: “In the long history of the United States, there has been a much-too-easy equation of “the American dream” and the promises of gospel faith, and they are presently equated in much current religious talk.” The church, he says, must rethink its life in and amidst empire. 1 It must rethink its identity through remembering who it is and Whose it is. 2 It must develop disciplines that help it to stand apart from the empire and not be co-opted. 3 “The church, as a community that stands apart from and over against empire, must recover its public voice that attests to an alternative rule in the world.”

3 Resistance and Accommodation in the Persian Empire by Jon L. Berquist

In my first reading of this book, I passed by this chapter thinking it had less to offer. However, in eventually reading it, I discovered a gap which is in my understanding of the Old Testament and the history of the Jewish religion and Jewish people. This gap is found in other clergy. In our study of the Scriptures we learned about the Hebrew people and how they became the Israelites and we read about the Jews at the time of Jesus.

That gap included the time of the Persian Empire and its affect on the Jews and their religion, the so-called Judaism of the Second Temple. That is a great gap and includes the changes to Judaism over the years in Exile. Before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, their religion was centered in the temple worship, led by the Temple priesthood. During the Exile they began developing their Scripture, certainly the first five books, the Torah, was produced.

But one startling fact was that the period of time that the Jews were under the thumb of the Persian Empire was almost 300 years and the Second Temple, its rebuilding encouraged and to an extent underwritten by that empire, lasted nearly 600 years. Differing from the controlling empires before and after them, the Persians did not require their Jewish subjects to adopt the language, culture, or religion of their Persian overlords.

4 Roman Imperial Theology by John Dominic Crossan

Dom Crossan was the first writer where I encountered the perspective of reading the New Testament through the eyes of Empire. His book, God and Empire is particularly significant in its stressing the empire as a religious alternative to the message both of Jesus and Paul.

“What was most novel in the Roman attitude to their empire was the belief that it was universal and willed by the gods.”

His chapter centers then, not on Roman civilization or mythology, and not even on Roman religion but on Roman ideology. “I understand Roman imperial theology as the ideological glue that held Roman civilization together.” We see this first in terms that are used in reference to Augustus: Divine, Son of God, God, and God from God, Lord, Redeemer, Liberator, and Savior of the World. “When those titles were taken from him, the Roman emperor, and given to a Jewish peasant, it was a case of either low lampoon or high treason.”

No wonder that Jesus was seen as such a great threat to the Roman empire that crucifixion was all but inevitable. Which leads us to Horsley’s chapter.

5 Jesus and Empire by Richard A. Horsley

The prevailing view has been, says Horsley, that Jesus’ crucifixion must have been a mistake. After all, it says that Jesus was really innocent of the charges of being a threat to the Empire. Didn’t he say pay taxes to Caesar? Didn’t he advocate turning the other cheek and loving your enemy? Didn’t Jesus teach a religious message, not a political one?

All of these, says Horsley, are based on our modern conception that religion and state are separate. But if the emperor was divine as well as the head of the empire, and if the ‘chief priests and temple authorities’ were local enforcers for the empire as well as religious leaders, then our fine modern distinctions make no sense. Every action and saying within the empire were seen as having both religious and political implications and were therefore scrutinized by the empire.

Jesus’ opposition is most clearly seen in his choice  of the term ‘kingdom of God’ for his central message. If God is king, Caesar is not, if Caesar is ruler, God is not. “No man can serve two masters.”

“Forty years ago the question of Jesus’ opposition to Roman rule was couched in simplistic terms: if Jesus did not lead or advocate overt forcible rebellion against Rome, he must have been politically quiescent. We now recognize that resistance can take forms other than insurrection…In the earliest Gospel sources Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God means not just the renewal of Israel, but also the renewal of Israel in opposition to the rulers.”

6 The Apostle Paul and Empire by Neil Elliott 

Age of Empire: “Since the 1990s, interpreters have increasingly sought to understand the apostle Paul in the context of Roman imperial culture. This surge in interest is part of a new awareness of the role of empire in biblical studies generally, of which this volume is one expression. Increased attentiveness to the dynamics of empire is not simply the latest academic fashion, however. We have seen a wave of decolonization movements throughout the world in the 1960s and 1970s; the emergence of the United States as an unrivaled superpower following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1980s; and the exertion by the United States of its great military, economic, and political power throughout the world up to the present day.”

“Taking empire seriously also requires examining how contemporary imperial ideology shapes our perceptions of the interpretative task itself. We must ask to what extent the inexorable logic of global capitalism, designed in the United States and enforced by its military power, determines the priorities of churches. Sociologists of religion call attention to the “production of the sacred” as a market-tailored commodity for consumption. If we ask where and in what ways Paul’s letters are “consumed” today, the answer must include air-conditioned, big-screen suburban mega-churches, comfortable espresso-lounge bookstores, and hushed academic libraries.” (Kindle location1467-70)

“We must note the tremendous cultural distance between the small “tenement churches” that Paul gathered and prosperous congregations meeting today in large, expensive buildings. The Corinthian assembly was made up of “not many” who were powerful or nobly born; they were rather the “low and despised in the world” (1 Cor. 1:26-29). Paul called for mutualism, the ground-level sharing of resources, as “a matter of equality,” where the abundance of some served the needs of others (2 Cor. 8:13-14 RSV). He insisted that the replication of status divisions within the congregation, and the scandalous persistence of hunger among the assembly, disqualified their meals from being “really” the Lord’s Supper We gain one measure of the distance between those first congregations and propertied churches in the global North today by asking whether the observance of the Lord’s Supper, as Paul understood it, is even a contemporary possibility.” (Kindle location 1471-76)

7 Matthew Negotiates the Roman Empire by Warren Carter 

“Matthew’s Gospel portrays the Roman imperial order as standing under divine condemnation. In the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings, as well as in his actions, Matthew’s Jesus outlines practices for an alternative society that his followers are to enact.”

But, says Carter, because of the strong control the empire imposes on its subjects, Jesus’ followers needed “to be self-protective as they negotiate the imperial environment.”

This Gospel is filled with examples of the presence of the power of Rome. At Jesus’ birth Herod, agent of Rome in Palestine, displays his power to dominate in the act of killing the intent children to eliminate a possible future rival. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Antipas uses his Rome given power to rid himself of the gadfly, John the Baptist. During his ministry, Jesus is seen as a threat by the Temple leaders, who act on behalf of Rome for collecting taxes and preventing any sign of revolt. And, of course, at the end of Jesus’ ministry he is brought before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, and condemned to die in the way they used for political threats, crucifixion.

The Empire is exploitative as well. Carter estimates that “2 to 3 percent of the empire’s population consumed some 65 percent of its production.” All the rest lived near or on the margin. Hunger and sickness was the lot of the common people and slaves. Hence, it is instructive that feeding and healing were at the centre of Jesus’ ministry.

“Matthew’s Gospel, then, offers Jesus’ followers various strategies for negotiating the elite-dominated sociopolitical Roman imperial order”.

8 Acts of the Apostles: Pro(to)-Imperial Script and Hidden Transcript by Brigitte Kahl 

Luke’s Acts of the Apostles has been for centuries the go-to source for the history of the early Church. It has also been, in effect, our source for what little biographical understanding we have of Paul. But biblical scholars have long been aware of inconsistencies between Luke’s picture of Paul and the picture we get from his epistles.

Interestingly, Brigitte Kahl has covered both sides of this. In “Shadow”, she has been chosen to cover the chapter on Acts. She has also written a book on Galatians, which will be the subject of a coming blog post.

The two biblical sources differ on matters such as whether Paul is an Apostle (Paul says he is; Acts never uses that term for him.) Also they differ on what the Jerusalem Council agreed concerning Paul’s mission to the gentiles. But Acts also portrays Paul as a Roman citizen. “His [Luke’s] narrative of Paul’s so-called “Gentile mission,” for example, presents a picture of Paul conforming closely to the Roman imperial order”. “There … seems to be a puzzling ambiguity in Luke’s attitude toward the imperial order.”

Kahl proceeds to explore Luke’s ambiguity through an ‘empire-critical lens’. “We begin with the historical context of Acts in the Empire following the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 CE. We then look briefly at some of the literary settings Luke creates to reconcile the pre-70 narrative world of his protagonists, mainly Paul, with the new realities after 70. Finally we consider reading strategies that might help unearth the “hidden transcripts” behind Luke’s pro (or proto)-imperial “script.””

Luke’s portrait of the nascent Christian movement and its expansion among the non-Judean peoples under Roman rule became the foundational document of a pro-empire reading of Paul and the New Testament as a whole. The accommodation to empire articulated in Acts was strongly reinforced three centuries after Luke when the Christian message had finally reached Caesar’s throne, as envisioned in Acts 25:12, and the emperor Constantine converted. Still today the dominant view of Paul comes through the Lukan portrait. Acts thus remains a major stumbling block for those who would be more critical of the Roman Empire in their reading of the New Testament, especially of Paul’s letters. Is there a way to read Acts differently, more subtly? Is Acts more complex and ambiguous in its impact on subsequent history? The rest of her article is concerned with showing there is.

9 The Book of Revelation as Counter-Imperial Script by Greg Carey

Differing from the preceding ones, I didn’t find this chapter helpful. There was too much space spent on explaining and too little on interpreting. “Empire in the New Testament” covers Revelation along with Hebrews and the General Epistles in a chapter they call “Running the Gamut: The Varied Responses to Empire in Jewish Christianity”. Maybe they felt it was better not handled on its own.

On the positive side, among the many words, Carey points out “Revelation is the most explicitly counter-imperial book in the New Testament. It pronounces God’s condemnation of Rome and its empire and looks for the future establishment of a new society in the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven. It calls in the meantime for faithful endurance of persecution by the forces of empire, anticipating that it may lead to martyrdom.

There are seven books on Revelation’s relation to empire in my bibliography. I would suggest reading either Warren Carter’s 2011 book or Howard-Brook and Gwyther’s 2013 one.

SNAPSHOT: “Jesus and Empire”, Horsley

From Publisher

Building on his earlier studies of Jesus, Galilee, and the social upheavals in Roman Palestine, Horsley focuses his attention on how Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God relates to Roman and Herodian power politics. In addition he examines how modern ideologies relate to Jesus’ proclamation.


  1. Roman Imperialism: The New World Disorder
    The Emergence of a Single Superpower
    Roman Imperialism
    Indirect Rule through Kings and High Priests

2. Resistance and Rebellion in Judea and Galilee
The Persistence and Social Roots of Revolt in Roman Palestine
   Protest, Resistance, and Terrorism by Scribal Groups
   Popular Protests and Distinctive Israelite Movements

3. Toward a Relational Approach to Jesus
Multiple Aspects in Considering a Historical Leader
Historical Conditions and Cultural Traditions
Discerning Jesus-in-Movement in Gospel Sources
Taking the Gospel Whole

4. God’s Judgment of the Roman Imperial Order
The Conditions of Renewal: Judgment of Rulers
Jesus’ Prophetic Condemnation of the Temple and High Priests
Jesus’ Prophetic Condemnation of Roman Imperial Rule

5. Covenantal Community and Cooperation
Healing the Effects of Imperialism
Working in Village Communities
Renewing Covenantal Communities
Jesus’ Alternative to the Roman Imperial Order
Epilogue: Christian Empire and American Empire
Christian Empire
American Empire

My Rough Notes

Introduction: American Identity and a Depoliticized Jesus

America’s Ambiguous Identity Separating Religion and Domesticating Jesus

it portrays a depoliticized individual teacher uttering isolated aphorisms that pertain only to an individual counterCultural Cultural lifestyle in no particular political-economic context and with no political implications. It is difficult to understand why the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, would have bothered to crucify such a figure.

1. It is simply impossible to separate a religious dimension from political-economic life in traditional societies.

2. Individualism is a Western ideology,

they also tend to depoliticize the immediate Galilean and Judean context in which he operated.

When Jesus comes into conflict, therefore, it does not have to do with political-economic matters. Rather he comes into conflict with “religious leaders” over basically religious issues:

The peoples of Palestine at the time of Jesus appear as a complex society full of political conflict rather than a unitary religion (Judaism).

Investigating Jesus and the Empire

Introduction: American Identity and a Depoliticized Jesus

America’s Ambiguous Identity Separating Religion and Domesticating_Jesus

Investigating Jesus and the Empire

  1. Roman Imperialism: The New World Disorder
    The Emergence of a Single Superpower
    Roman Imperialism
    Indirect Rule through Kings and High Priests

2. Resistance and Rebellion in Judea and Galilee

    The Persistence and Social Roots of Revolt in Roman Palestine

    Protest, Resistance, and Terrorism by Scribal Groups

     Popular Protests and Distinctive Israelite Movements

3. Toward a Relational Approach to Jesus

Multiple Aspects in Considering a Historical Leader

Historical Conditions and Cultural Traditions

Discerning Jesus-in-Movement in Gospel Sources

Taking the Gospel Whole

Even from this summary outline, but especially from a reading/hearing of the whole story, it is clear that the dominant theme running throughout out the Gospel is (the presence of) the kingdom of God.


1:15-kingdom of God is at hand, theme of whole story
(3:22-27-kingdom of God is implicit, declared happening in Jesus’ exorcisms)
4:11-secret of kingdom of God; plus parables of kingdom of God, 4:26, 30
9:1-kingdom of God coming in power
9:47-enter kingdom of God
10:14-15-belong to/receive kingdom of God
10:23, 24, 25 enter kingdom of God
(11:10 coming kingdom of David)
12:34-not far from kingdom of God
14:25-drink cup of renewed covenant in kingdom of God
15:43–waiting expectantly for kingdom of God

3:7-9, 16-17-john (as prophet) announces coming prophet to baptize with Holy Spirit and fire
6:20-49 (20)-Jesus (as prophet) announces kingdom of God as covenant renewal
7:18-35 (28)-Jesus (as successor to John) is indeed coming prophet bringing renewal = kingdom of God

9:57-10:16 (9:60, 62; 10:9, 11) Jesus sends envoys to heal and curse = kingdom of God as renewal and judgment
11:2-4, 9-13 (2)-prayer for kingdom of God, which is renewal, but with testing
11:14-20 (20) Jesus’ (as prophet’s) exorcisms = manifestations of kingdom of God (implied judgment of critics)
11:29-32 Jesus (as prophet) declares something greater than Jonah or Solomon is here
11:39-52 Jesus (as prophet) utters woes against Pharisees
12:2-12-Jesus exhorts hold confession when hauled before authorities
12:22-31 (31)-Jesus reassures that subsistence materializes in single-minded minded pursuit of kingdom of God

12:49-59 Jesus’ (as prophet’s) fiery mission (crisis) means divisions, but resolves conflicts
13:18-21 (18, 20)-Jesus (as prophet) declares two kingdom of God parables
13:28-29, 34-35 + 14:16-24 (29)-Jesus (as prophet) pronounces kingdom of God banquet, both positive and judgmental
16:16-Jesus (as prophet) says kingdom of God suffers violence
17:22-37 Jesus (as prophet) warns of day- of Son of Man = judgment positive and negative
22:28-30 (30)-Jesus (as prophet) constitutes twelve representatives realizing justice for Israel in banquet of kingdom of God

It seems clear that the theme of the sequence of speeches that comprise Q is the kingdom of God. Moreover, closer inspection of the issues or concerns of the individual speeches suggests that the overall concern of Q and the concrete meaning or program of “the kingdom of God” is the renewal of Israel.

The kingdom of God is the overarching theme that encompasses Jesus’ prophetic condemnation of oppressive rulers as well as his prophetic renewal of Israel-the subjects of the next two chapters.

4. God’s Judgment of the Roman Imperial Order

The Conditions of Renewal: Judgment of Rulers

Jesus’ Prophetic Condemnation of the Temple and High Priests

Jesus’ Prophetic Condemnation of Roman Imperial Rule

5. Covenantal Community and Cooperation

Healing the Effects of Imperialism

Working in Village Communities

Renewing Covenantal Communities

Jesus’ Alternative to the Roman Imperial Order

Epilogue: Christian Empire and American Empire

Christian Empire

American Empire