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

Epilogue

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.

Contents

PART I IN THE BEGINNING

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

PART II FROM EXODUS TO EXILE: THE TWO RELIGIONS IN CONFLICT AMID GOD’S PEOPLE

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?

PART III FROM EXILE TO THE EVE OF EASTER: FALLEN JERUSALEM, FALLEN BABYLON 14. The First Fall of Jerusalem: Jeremiah and Ezekiel

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

PART IV FROM EASTER TO THE ESCHATON: JESUS’ FULFILLMENT OF THE RELIGION OF CREATION AND DEFEAT OF THE RELIGION OF EMPIRE

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!”

EMPIRE BAPTISED

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.

Contents

  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.

KINGDOM OF GOD AS THEME OF GOSPEL OF MARK

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

Q= SEQUENCE OF JESUS-SPEECHES (WITH KINGDOM OF GOD THEME) ADDRESSING JESUS MOVEMENT ISSUES
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

SNAPSHOT: “Faithful Resistance”, Ufford-Chase

From Publisher

“Is it possible for a church that has been at the heart of Empire for as long as we have to make a course correction and move intentionally from the center of Empire to the margins?”

Rick Ufford-Chase has touched the deep longing that exists in so many of us who are Christian in the United States, and responded with ideas that offer a future we know God has in store for us but can’t seem to imagine is really possible. This is a book we should read and discuss with friends who share our longing and are ready to take a risk. If this book stays in our heads, it fails and we fail. If we use it as a springboard for daring, it is quite likely to change everything about being church in the heart of Empire.

Fourteen contributing authors offer their own ideas for ways to move the Christian church to a place of faithfulness in the midst of the empire, and Rick adds his own observations about the compromised condition of our church institutions with concrete suggestions for bringing us home to the heart of the gospel. Contributors: Annanda Barclay, Michael Benefiel, Aric Clark, Linda Eastwood, Alison Harrington, Rabia Terri Harris, Jin S. Kim, Alex Patchin McNeill, Brian Merritt, Ched Myers, J. Herbert Nelson, II, John Nelson, Laura Newby, Germán Zárate. Foreword by Carol Howard Merritt.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Carol Howard Merritt     7

Introduction     11

Part One: Church in the Heart of Empire

Chapter 1: Confronting Empire at the Border     25

Can Anything Good Come From Nazareth, by Alison Harrington

A Church of the Third Slave, by Rick Ufford-Chase

Chapter 2: Dismantling White Supremacy     41

Black. Lives. Matter., by Annanda Barclay

The Fight for the Soul of the Church, by Rick Ufford-Chase

Chapter 3: Reimagining Ecological Theology     57

Watershed Discipleship, by Ched Myers

Inhabiting the Land, by Rick Ufford-Chase

Chapter 4: Learning Nonviolence in a Multifaith World     71

Mutual Dependence or Mutual Destruction, by Rabia Terri Harris

Coming Down from Our Pedestal, by Rick Ufford-Chase

Chapter 5: Resisting the Seduction of Silence     87

Welcome Is More Than a Statement, by Alex Patchin McNeill

The Courage of Our Convictions, by Rick Ufford-Chase

Part Two: Gospel Visions

Chapter 6: The Local Congregation as the Locus of Resistance    103

What is Worship?, by Brian Merritt and Mercy Junction

Be Not Afraid, by Rick Ufford-Chase

Chapter 7: Theological Education as an Act of Subversion     110

Taking Back The Church, by Laura Newby, Jin S. Kim, and John Nelson

A Pedagogy of Resistance, by Rick Ufford-Chase

Chapter 8: Mission as a Move to the Margins     139

Standing With El Tamarindo, by Linda Eastwood and Germán Zárate

To The Edge of The Empire, by Rick Ufford-Chase

Chapter 9: Institutional Church as an Expression of Solidarity    158

Beyond Connectionalism, by Aric Clark

There Is No Fear In Love, by Rick Ufford-Chase

Chapter 10: Dismantling the Corporate Church as a Step Toward Liberation      175

A New Way Forward, by J. Herbert Nelson

Small But Fierce, by Rick Ufford-Chase

Conclusion: Everything In This Story Is True                   196

Bicycle Quilt Village, by Michael Benefiel

Our Jubilee Moment, by Rick Ufford-Chase

Acknowledgments     209

Contributor Bios     210

Author Bio     219

Ufford-Chase, Rick. Faithful Resistance: Gospel Visions for the Church in a Time of Empire  Kindle Edition.

My Notes to do

SNAPSHOT: “Fall of the Church” Roger Hayden Mitchell

From Publisher

This book prepares the way for the practice of kenarchy: a humanity-loving, world-embracing, inclusive approach to life and politics. It does so by identifying two conflicting streams in Christianity: the love stream that the stories of Jesus portray and many of us desire to follow, and the sovereignty system that much of theology, church, and mission represents. Explaining how the two streams arose in early Western history, The Fall of the Church demonstrates that far from being complementary expressions of Christianity, the sovereignty stream embodies the very system that the Jesus of the gospels opposed. The fall of the church is described in terms of its embrace of the sovereignty system and the subsequent history of the West is explained as the story of the resulting partnership. If transcendence is truly like Jesus, then, rather than abandoning the empire system, God has remained within the church and empire in order to empty it out from the inside. Mitchell argues that this divine strategy has continued throughout the history of the West and is coming to a head, right now, in our contemporary Western world, and that the time is ripe for an incarnational politics of love.

Table of Contents

1 A Contemporary Conundrum

(A) INTRODUCTION: SETTING OUT THE CONUNDRUM

(B) FOUR STAGES IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CONTEMPORARY PUZZLE

(1) Christian faith and political power

(2) The subsumption of transcendence by sovereignty

(3) The circumstances and effects of the fall of the church

(4) Modernity, postmodernity, and the rejection of transcendence

2 The Story Unfolds

(A) THE CENTRALITY OF SOVEREIGNTY

(B) THE DEVELOPING COMPONENTS OF THE WESTERN SYSTEM

  1. Salvation and empire
    (a) The necessity of monarchy
    (b) The role of law and creed
    (c) The centrality of appeasement
  2. (2) The hidden gospel of the West
  3. (3) The gospel according to Christendom
    (a) Securing sovereign power
    (b) Constituting sovereign law
    (c) Transacting sovereign payment
  4. (4) King Billy and the Bank
    (a) Multiplying sovereignty

3 The Progress of the Love Stream

(A) QUITE ANOTHER STORY

4 Biopower Meets the Holy Spirit

(A) THE COMMODIFICATION OF LIFE ITSELF

5 Myths and Obstacles

My Rough Notes

There are six interrelated objectives that have guided the eventual form and content of this book. The first is to show how the historical alignment of Christianity with the dominant law-hierarchy-temple system and the consequent displacement of Jesus helps account for the contemporary conundrum of the sense of marginalization felt by both Christian and secular people.

The second separates out two conflicting streams in Christianity: the love stream which the stories of Jesus portray, and the sovereignty system that much of the theology, ecclesiology, and mission of the church represents.

Thirdly, it attempts to explain briefly and succinctly how these two streams arose in the early stages of Western history.

Fourthly, its purpose is to demonstrate that far from being two partly complementary, or at least alternative expressions of Christianity, the sovereignty stream embodies the very system of governance that the gospel story shows Jesus opposing and bringing to an end.

Fifthly, it makes clear from the story of Jesus in the context of its Hebrew history and Gentile Greco-Roman present that, rather than confronting the empire system in its own violent, dominating spirit, God has remained within the church and the empire in order to empty out the domination system from the inside. This is how God has worked in the cycles of history, consistent with the way that God stayed with Israel and its neighboring imperial powers during the fall of the Jews. The book indicates that this divine strategy continued with the fall of the church and is coming to a head, right now, in our contemporary Western world.

Finally, the purpose of the book is to prepare the ground for the emergence and practice of kenarchy: the humanity-loving, world-embracing, inclusive approach to life and the universe introduced and explored in the soon-following companion volume Discovering Kenarchy.

HOW THE BOOK SETS ABOUT THESE OBJECTIVES The book is arranged over five chapters.

The first unpacks the background to the already mentioned conundrum of why both Christian and secular people feel similarly marginalized yet perceive the other to be in the position of greater power.

Chapter 2 begins to tell the story of what I discovered from my four investigative case studies. It sets out the way that the exercise of sovereign power came to be seen as the means to peace for humankind from its beginnings in the days of the early church historian Eusebius and his partnership with the emperor Constantine. It explores the operation of sovereignty in the conflict and division of the authorities of church and empire throughout the Middle Ages after the fall of Rome, and it traces the progress of the Christendom system in the multiplication and diversification of sovereign power through war, law, and money. It culminates in explaining the modern rationalistic rejection of transcendence as the carrier of universal sovereign rule.

Chapter 3 briefly relates the history of the love stream as it paralleled the partnership of church and empire, examining how and why it so easily defaulted to the domination system.

Chapter 4 then explains how war, law, and money, identified as the currencies of sovereignty, are coming together in a present-day fullness that political philosophers and analysts call biopower. I suggest that the Holy Spirit is both on the inside and outside of this system; within, in what the neo-Marxists call the potential power of immaterial labor, and on the outside, in the egalitarian grace of Pentecostal outpouring, terms which the chapter carefully unpacks. The chapter explains how these two factors might activate the seismic shift in the Western mindset necessary to break free from the sovereignty system at last.

Finally Chapter 5 addresses some of the most resistant obstacles to the repentance required if we are more completely to engage the contemporary world with radical love.

SNAPSHOT: The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus, Meyers

Robin Meyers is minister of the Mayflower UCC in Oklahoma City.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Empty Sermons, Empty Pews
1 Sweet Jesus
2 The Early Church that Never Was
3 Waking Up in Bed with Constantine
4 Onward Christian Soldiers?
5 Faith as Radically Embodied Trust
6 Renewing the Church Through Shared Mission
7 Leavening the Imperial Loaf
8 Jesus Followers on the No-Fly List
9 The Underground Church on War, Sex, Money, Family, and the Environment
Epilogue: Beyond belief

From Publisher

A new way to follow Jesus that draws on old ways of following Him

The Underground Church proposes that the faithful recapture the spirit of the early church with its emphasis on what Christians do rather than what they believe. Prominent progressive writer, speaker, and minister Robin Meyers proposes that the best way to recapture the spirit of the early Christian church is to recognize that Jesus-following was and must be again subversive in the best sense of the word because the gospel taken seriously turns the world upside down.

No matter how the church may organize itself or worship, the defining characteristic of church of the future will be its Jesus-inspired countercultural witness.

Debunks commonly held beliefs about the early church and offers a vision for the future rooted in the past

Proposes that the church of the future must leave doctrinal tribalism behind and seek a unity of mission instead

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said,”Robin Meyers has spoken truth to power, and the church he loves will never be the same.”

My Rough Notes

Prologue: Empty Sermons, Empty Pews

“Sunday morning countless people wake-up with both a desire to go to church and a gnawing sense that it won’t be worth it. They know that they ought to go, but that if they do so it will be mostly out of habit or guilt rooted in childhood. Few wake is with a sense of real longing or anticipation for what might happen in the sanctuary. Many have accepted boredom as the cross one must bear for church attendance. They expect little more from worship than social respectability, often wrapped in the dull air of familiarity. The last thing anyone thinks about church is that it might be dangerous.”

1 Sweet Jesus; Talking His Melancholy Madness
People were saying “He has gone out of his mind.” Mk 3:21
Nowhere in the liturgies of the church does a Christian promise to “be crazy like Jesus was crazy.”
Start with a confession: when it comes to Jesus, we know practically nothing.
“He comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not.” Schweitzer

A new search for a new church
We so often read the Bible as if it were a collection of arguments that we fail simply to listen to the story
Conservatives confuse certainty with faith, whereas liberals insist that knowledge alone is redemptive.
We need a quest to separate the followers of history from the believers of faith.

Crazy is as Crazy does
The Good News could only be heard and considered ‘good’ if someone, somehow, someday could get Rome off their backs.

Whether following Jesus today in ways consistent with the practice of his first followers would make us susceptible to exactly the same charge— that we have lost our minds.

Week after a week we sit in the pews and listen to the the words of the man of melancholy madness joined to a sermon that is often about positive thinking and wealth management.

What would make this American Empire realise that we are not called to be its compliant acolyte?

2 The Early Church that Never Was

How your understanding of the early church is defective in three important respects:

First, thinking the church was a single entity. Second assuming they took their direction from apostolic authority. Third assuming that Jesus was with a “spiritual” teacher with no interest in politics and that the Roman Empire was not the object of the Ministry induces what led to the remarkable growth of Christianity for three centuries was not the attraction of competing doctrines. The first Jesus followers were not, as some many churches are today, communities of conformity.

They did not fashion creeds and demand that they be taken as vows. Rather they simply refused to worship Caesar stopped practicing animal sacrifice, through open the doors of their underground assemblies to all who would come, redistributed wealth, and made the dangerous claim that “Jesus Christ was Lord”.

3 Waking Up in Bed with Constantine

4 Onward Christian Soldiers?

5 Faith as Radically Embodied Trust

6 Renewing the Church Through Shared Mission

7 Leavening the Imperial Loaf

8 Jesus Followers on the No-Fly List

9 The Underground Church on War, Sex, Money, Family, and the Environment

Epilogue: Beyond belief

SNAPSHOT: God and Empire, J D Crossan

SNAPSHOT: God and Empire J D Crossan

From Publisher

The bestselling author and prominent New Testament scholar draws parallels between 1st–century Roman Empire and 21st–century United States, showing how the radical messages of Jesus and Paul can lead us to peace today

Using the tools of expert biblical scholarship and a keen eye for current events, bestselling author John Dominic Crossan deftly presents the tensions exhibited in the Bible between political power and God’s justice. Through the revolutionary messages of Jesus and Paul, Crossan reveals what the Bible has to say about land and economy, violence and retribution, justice and peace, and ultimately, redemption. He examines the meaning of “kingdom of God” prophesized by Jesus, and the equality recommended to Paul by his churches, contrasting these messages of peace against the misinterpreted apocalyptic vision from the book of Revelations, that has been co-opted by modern right-wing theologians and televangelists to justify the United State’s military actions in the Middle East.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Prologue

1  Empire and the Barbarism of Civilization  [this chapter is worthy of one post concentrating on the two ideas of social power and civilisation based upon the books of Michael Mann and Ronald Wright.] pg 7-48

2  God and the Ambiguity of Power

3  Jesus and the Kingdom of God [This chapter worthy of another post based upon the role of the K of G found in Jesus and Paul] pg 97-142

4  Paul and the Justice of Equality

5  Apocalypse and the Pornography of Violence

Epilogue

MY ROUGH NOTES

Takeaways:

Raise 3 questions in book:

1 Since the Old Roman Empire crucified our Lord Jesus Christ, how can we be his faithful followers in America as the New Roman Empire?

2 Is our Christian Bible violent or nonviolent—is it actually for or against Jesus’s nonviolent resistance to “this world”?

3 Is Bible-fed Christian violence supporting or even instigating our imperial violence as the New Roman Empire?

EMPIRE AND THE BARBARISM OF CIVILISATION

So how and why did Rome become the first territorial empire in the history of the world?

Ideological power and Jesus/Roman imperial theology

Civilizations and Empires

Civilisation as cage, as trap, as protection

? Why movements of John and Jesus happen when and where they did?

?Why is Jesus so often found around Sea of Galilee?

Choice of violent god of human normalcy or non-violent God divine radically. Both found in N T.

Normalcy used by post-Pauline Xns to deradicalize Paul.

Revelation as the most anti-empire N T book

At heart of Bible, a call to fight unjust superpowers.

Qualities different from Empire: non-violence,

Pax Romana: peace thru violence K of G peace thru justice

Jesus before Pilate: Crossan’s  points.

God and ambiguity of power (Ch 2

Jesus and the K of G

GOD’S KINGDOM: MONOPOLY OR FRANCHISE?

Chapter 3 is the central one of this book.

PROLOGUE

But it is the modern voices that assert the Romano-American Empire that moved the creation of this book.

America is “not an empire of colonies but an empire of bases”, but that we are still “the second coming of the Roman Empire”.

“My kingdom,” says Jesus in the King James Version of the incident, “is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence” (18:36).

I take five foundational points from that brief interchange.

First, Jesus opposes the Kingdom of God to the kingdoms of “this world.”

Second, Jesus is condemned to death by Roman Pilate, in Roman Judea,

Fourth, the crucial difference—and the only one mentioned—between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Rome is Jesus’s nonviolence and Pilate’s violence.

Fifth, the most important interpreter of Jesus in the entire New Testament is Pilate.

I emphasize that contrast between Pilate’s Kingdom of Rome as violent repression and Jesus’s Kingdom of God as nonviolent resistance because that juxtaposition is the heart of this book, which is an attempt to rethink God, the Bible, and empire, Jesus, Christianity, and Rome.

I raise three questions in this book for American Christians—or better, for Christian Americans.

1 Since the Old Roman Empire crucified our Lord Jesus Christ, how can we be his faithful followers in America as the New Roman Empire? As we move through the book, a second question arises.

2 Is our Christian Bible violent or nonviolent—is it actually for or against Jesus’s nonviolent resistance to “this world”? By the time we get to the end of the book, and especially in its final chapter, a third question will have appeared.

3 Is Bible-fed Christian violence supporting or even instigating our imperial violence as the New Roman Empire?

1 EMPIRE AND THE BARBARISM OF CIVILIZATION

Greece, having invented democratic rule, warns us that we can have a democracy or an empire, but not both at the same time—or at least not for long. Rome, having invented republican rule, warns us that we can have a republic or an empire, but not both at the same time—or not for long.

A First Among Equals—with All the Equals Dead

The consular system prevented royal tyranny for a while but eventually engendered civil war.

B The Hawser of Imperial Power

It was one of the most successful conquering states in all history, but it was the most successful retainer of conquests.

whose overall strength comes both from those individual components and also from their tight combination and closed interaction.

Michael Mann, Professor of Sociology at the Berkeley campus of the University of California, is writing a four-volume study on The Sources of Social Power; the first two volumes were published in 1986 and 1993. In the first volume, A History of Power from the Beginning to A.D. 1760, Mann writes that:

It was one of the most successful conquering states in all history, but it was the most successful retainer of conquests.

So how and why did Rome become the first territorial empire in the history of the world?

Four types of social power

For Mann, social power is not so much a thing in itself as a combination of four types of power united together:

1 military power, the monopoly or control of force and violence;

2 economic power, the monopoly or control of labor and production;

3 political power, the monopoly or control of organization and institution; and 

4 ideological power, the monopoly or control of interpretation and meaning.

I focus now on Roman imperial theology as the ideological power of the Roman Empire, deliberately avoiding such dismissive terms as “Roman mythology” or “Emperor cult.” (I certainly would not describe the medieval European world as “Christian mythology” or “the Christ cult.”) I have two reasons for this special emphasis on ideology within the fourfold structure of imperial power.

Uses Mann to understand power

Uses Wright to understand ‘civilization

“Civilizations are a specific kind of culture: large, complex societies based on the domestication of plants, animals, and human beings. Civilizations vary in their makeup but typically have towns, cities, governments, social classes, and specialized professions.” p 33

“people afraid of outsiders are easily manipulated. The warrior caste, supposedly society’s protectors, often became protection racketeers” (emphasis mine). But just as Mann’s term for civilization was the cage, Wright’s term is “the progress trap—or, more simply, “the trap”:

Military power

Economic power

Political power

Ideological power

Sept 11 hit first 3.

I always find power ambiguous until it becomes clear whether we are dealing with the violent power of domination or the nonviolent power of persuasion. Throughout the rest of this book, I probe that second mode of power,

C Roman Imperial Theology

First, Rome spoke of itself in transcendental terms as an empire divinely mandated to rule without limits of time or place.

Second, when Jesus of Nazareth, Paul of Tarsus, and John of Patmos came against the Roman Empire, they did so not with military, economic, or political power but exclusively with ideological power.

Think of Roman imperial theology as an immensely successful advertising campaign that inundated everyone, everywhere, from all sides and at all times.

For my present purpose, I focus on only two sources of that ideological glue that held Roman imperialism together—poetic texts about Augustus and inscriptions from Augustus.

I begin with key texts from the Augustan poets, Virgil, Horace, and Ovid, and continue with the most important inscriptions dictated by Augustus himself.

Virgil

In Christian terms, Rome’s Old Testament was Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey,

and its New Testament was Virgil’s Aeneid,

Four aspects of that destiny are dramatized in the Aeneid.

First, heavenly decree. Rome began in heaven, according to Virgil’s Aeneid,

Second, ancient lineage. In other words, Rome’s ancestry began with piety for both family values and ancestral gods as those proto-Romans followed their destiny and Venus’s star westward to Italy.

Third, prophetic promise. Rome’s foundational epic continued with reiterated preparatory and prophetic confirmations about its future glory. And notice that its manifest destiny was never just about rule over Italy or the Mediterranean but about dominion over the whole world.

“You, Roman,” says Anchises, “be sure to rule the world (be these your arts), to crown peace with justice, to spare the vanquished and to crush the proud” (6.851–53). The “proud,” of course, were all those who resisted the “peace” of Romanization.

Fourth, divine victory. None of the preceding claims would have been credible or even possible without this fourth and final element—without, that is, Octavian’s naval victory off Cape Actium.

he had Vulcan, the smith-god consort of Venus, create a great shield for Aeneas on which Rome’s predestined future was visually prophesized.

Horace

Upon you [Augustus], however, while still among us, we already bestow honors, set up altars to swear by in your name, and confess that nothing like you will arise after you or has arisen before you. (2.1)

Other human beings who had greatly benefited their fellows were divinized only after their death, but Caesar Augustus was unique in having achieved divine status while still alive. Nothing like him, therefore, had come before or would come after him.

Ovid

in a later chapter he more or less turns Augustus into Jupiter incarnate—or better, into the Jupiter of earth:.. You have long been Father of the World. Jupiter’s name in high heaven is yours on earth:

It is interesting, by the way, how little trouble these Augustan poets had with a living human person being at the same time a living divine being. Their logic was flawlessly simple.

Gods run the world.

Caesar runs the world.

Therefore, Caesar is a god.

For a fuller and more detailed outline of Roman imperial theology, I turn next to two inscriptions—one very short and the other very long—dictated by Augustus almost forty years apart. Watch for the consistency of their content.

Nicopolis in Greece

But in an astonishing act of advertisement both for Rome and for himself—or better, for Rome as now himself—he also turned his command tent into a sacred memorial. That shrine-monument made, as it were, this quite extraordinary theological statement: From here I went forth under heavenly protection to complete my divine mission and to fulfill Rome’s imperial destiny.

IMPERATOR CAESAR, SON OF GOD, FOLLOWING THE VICTORY IN THE WAR WHICH HE WAGED ON BEHALF OF THE REPUBLIC IN THIS REGION, WHEN HE WAS CONSUL FOR THE FIFTH TIME AND IMPERATOR FOR THE SEVENTH TIME, AFTER PEACE HAD BEEN SE CURED ON LAND AND SEA, CONSECRATED TO MARS AND NEPTUNE THE CAMP FROM WHICH HE SET FORTH TO ATTACK THE ENEMY NOW ORNAMENTED WITH NAVAL SPOILS

Ancyra in Turkey

Before his death in 14 CE, Augustus wrote in Latin a 2,500-word eulogy of his accomplishments to be inscribed on bronze plaques

Religion…war..victory…peace

Religion, war, victory, and peace—this was the Roman imperial theology, easily summarized as “peace through victory.”

A River Too Far

Augustus realizing there were limits to the Empire. Defeated by Parthians and by Germans

Augustus knew the difference between war and diplomacy. He understood about a river too far. He settled for imperial boundaries on the Rhine, not the Elbe, and for imperial limits on the Euphrates, not the Tigris.

What Gibbon terms “the vanity or ignorance of the ancients” is simply the normal blinders of any country’s lust for everlasting empire and every empire’s delusion of everlasting rule. It is not accidental ignorance but essential arrogance that dooms empires to the dustbin of time and the graveyard of history. “Empires,” according to Charles S. Maier’s 2006 book Among Empires: American Ascendancy and Its Predecessors, “are epics of entropy”.

In conclusion, imagine this question. There was a human being in the first century who was called “Divine,” “Son of God,” “God,” and “God from God,” whose titles were “Lord,” “Redeemer,” “Liberator,” and “Savior of the World.” Who was that person?

To proclaim them of Jesus the Christ was thereby to deny them of Caesar the Augustus. Christians were not simply using ordinary titles applied to all sorts of people at that time, or even extraordinary titles applied to special people in the East. They were taking the identity of the Roman emperor and giving it to a Jewish peasant. Either that was a peculiar joke and a very low lampoon, or it was what the Romans called majestas and we call high treason.

Is there any possible alternative to “first victory, then peace,” or “peace through victory”? Yes, it is this: “religion, nonviolence, justice, peace”—or more succinctly, “first justice, then peace,” or “peace through justice.” That counter-program is the subject of this book.

I need first to raise two other questions about imperial violence

The first question concerns empire and civilization. Are all empires, past and present, but deeper manifestations of what we call “civilization”?

The second question starts from the end of the first one. Is the normal imperialism of human civilization simply an inevitable manifestation of human nature?

EMPIRE AND CIVILIZATION

It does not help us understand the Roman Empire, let alone America as the New Roman Empire, to think of it as the “evil empire” of the first century or the “axis of evil” in the Mediterranean.

I need to explain very clearly what I mean in this book by the “brutal normalcy of civilization.” The point I wish to emphasize is that imperialism is not just a here-and-there, now-and-then, sporadic event in human history, but that civilization itself, as I am using that term, has always been imperial—that is, empire is the normalcy of civilization’s violence. It is, of course, always possible to oppose this empire in favor of that one, to oppose yours in favor of ours. But if you oppose empire-as-such, you are taking on what has been the normalcy of civilization’s brutality for at least the last six thousand years.

Civilization, in these two books, is either “macroparasitology,” the few living off the many, or “kleptocracy,” the few stealing from the many.

Civilization as Cage

Mann defines social power as “mastery exercised over other people”, but he distinguishes between power in earlier pre-civilization and in later civilization. In precivilized societies or cultures, “authority was freely conferred, but recoverable; power, permanent and coercive, was

unattainable”. How, then, did civilization’s violent injustice become normal?

The “cage” of civilization protects those within, but it both proscribes and tempts those without. From the beginning, then, civilization became imperial

From Mann once again: “The gigantic protection racket of political history began: Accept my power, for I will protect you from worse violence—of which I can give you a sample, if you don’t believe me” (emphasis mine).

Civilization as Trap

Civilizations are a specific kind of culture: large, complex societies based on the domestication of plants, animals, and human beings.

I want to see what we can deduce from the first progress trap—the perfection of hunting, which ended the Old Stone Age [only about twelve thousand years ago]—and how our escape from that trap by the invention of farming led to our greatest experiment: worldwide civilization. We then have to ask ourselves this urgent question: Could civilization itself be another and greater trap?

That ultimate trap is both biological and social. The biological trap concerns the dilemma of food, population, and pollution: “Adding 200 million after [the population of the world at the time of] Rome took thirteen centuries; adding the last 200 million took only three years”. The social trap concerns the violence of hierarchy, oppression, and war: “All civilizations become hierarchical; the upward concentration of wealth ensures that there will never be enough to go around”. In other words, “violence is as old as man but civilizations commit it with a deliberation that lends it special horror”.

Think of how much progress civilization has made with violence and how exponentially faster its weapons have developed.

Civilization as Protection

Madison: Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.

Goring: All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

Non-imperial civilization is something yet to be seen upon our earth. That leads immediately into the next and last part of this chapter and to this rather terrible question: Is the normalcy of human civilization’s violence our inevitable destiny? (Human Nature)

But if you oppose empire-as-such, you are taking on what has been the normalcy of civilization’s brutality for at least the last six thousand years.

Crossan, John Dominic. God and Empire (p. 30). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

NORMALCY AND INEVITABILITY

I repeat my question. What are the professional, institutional, and public reasons (not the personal, individual, and private ones) that monasteries exist?

Injustice by Reason of Inequality

Therapeutics 4 characteristics of their common life

First, they gave up all their possessions

Second, they left the world they had known

Third, apart from their individual cells, they had two communal buildings.

Finally, there is this very important aspect of their common life. “They do not use the ministrations of slaves, looking upon the possession of servants or slaves to be a thing absolutely and wholly contrary to nature, for nature has created all men free, but the injustice and covetousness of some men who prefer inequality, that cause of all evil,

My point here is that Philo explains clearly that the function of the monastery was to allow individuals to withdraw from the normalcy of human injustice to live and celebrate the radicality of divine justice. In my terms, therefore, the first monastery was a living witness that

civilization’s escalatory violence was not humanity’s inevitable destiny.

An Incredible, Impossible, Mad Place

Skellig Michael.

Normalcy Is Not Inevitability

“Christian monasticism,” they say, “had its conceptual roots in the belief that union with God could best be obtained by withdrawal from civilization into harsh and isolate regions”. Since God is everywhere and union with God is surely possible anywhere, I focus on one phrase in that explanation, “withdrawal from civilization,” and within that phrase, on the word “civilization” itself. Here, then, is my own suggestion for why the monastery exists as an institution. The monastery presents an alternative lifestyle that implicitly criticizes the greed, injustice, and oppression of our everyday world. It is a mode of semicommunal or fully communal life witnessing that violence is not the inevitability of human nature but only the normalcy of human civilization.

Monasteries (and especially Skellig Michael) are witnesses that the escalatory violence of civilization is not the inevitable destiny of humankind,

It would be nice to turn now from the “Bad Empire” in chapter 1 to the “Good Book” in chapter 2, as if the Christian Bible were all about dreams or hopes or plans for a just and peaceful earth and nothing else. But that Bible is far more powerful and far more dangerous than any such simple fantasy. Read it, read it all, read it in both its Old Testament and New Testament, read it especially in its final terrible book, the Apocalypse, or the Revelation to John. If you do, you will never again be able to make the lie-libel claim that the Old Testament has a violent God of war while the New Testament has a nonviolent God of peace. The Bible is about God and the ambiguity of divine power.

The rest of this book is about the Christian Bible, especially its depiction of divine power as violent or nonviolent. Before I discuss Jesus of Nazareth, Paul of Tarsus, and John of Patmos in chapters 3 through 5, chapter 2 looks at the prior biblical tradition they would have known. As you will see, Christian Jews were certainly not the first to practice nonviolent resistance to Rome: both violent resistance to imperial injustice and nonviolent resistance were already operative among first-century non-Christian Jews.

2 GOD AND THE AMBIGUITY OF POWER

Sum of Ch 2   As you will see, Christian Jews were certainly not the first to practice nonviolent resistance to Rome: both violent resistance to imperial injustice and nonviolent resistance were already operative among first-century non-Christian Jews.

My conclusion is that Judas the Galilean invented a mode and program of nonviolent resistance backed, of course, by readiness for martyrdom.

JESUS CHRIST, THE LAND OF THE LIVING

The ambiguity of divine power suffuses the Christian Bible in both its Testaments and therefore presses this question for us Christians: how do we reconcile the ambiguity of our Bible’s violent and/or nonviolent God? My proposal is that the Christian Bible presents the radicality of a just and nonviolent God repeatedly and relentlessly confronting the normalcy of an unjust and violent civilization. Again and again throughout the biblical tradition, God’s radical vision for nonviolent justice is offered, and again and again we manage to mute it back into the normalcy of violent injustice.

The Christian Bible records the ongoing struggle between the normalcy of civilization’s program of religion, war, victory, peace (or more succinctly, peace through victory), seen in chapter 1, and the radicality of God’s alternative program of religion, nonviolence, justice, peace (or more succinctly, peace through justice), seen here in chapter 2. But that struggle is depicted inside the Bible itself. That is its integrity and its authority. If the Bible were only about peace through victory, we would not need it. If it were only about peace through justice, we would not believe it.

The Christian Bible forces us to witness the struggle of these two transcendental visions within its own pages and to ask ourselves as Christians how we decide between them. My answer is that we are bound to whichever of these visions was incarnated by and in the historical Jesus. It is not the violent but the nonviolent God who is revealed to Christian faith in Jesus of Nazareth and announced to Christian faith by Paul of Tarsus.

Christ does not read the Bible, the New Testament, or the Gospel. He is the norm of the Bible, the criterion of the New Testament, the incarnation of the Gospel. That is how we Christians decide between a violent and nonviolent God in the Bible, New Testament, or Gospel. The person, not the book, and the life, not the text, are decisive and constitutive for us.

3 JESUS AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD

Three questions guide this chapter’s discussion of Jesus’s life. The first two are general ones. In the prologue of our co-authored 2001 book Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts, Jonathan Reed and I ask these two questions: 1 “Why did Jesus happen when he happened? Why then? Why there? Sharpen the question a little. 2 Why did two popular movements, the Baptism movement of John and the Kingdom movement of Jesus, happen in territories ruled by Herod Antipas in the 20s of that first common-era century? Why not at another time? Why not in another place?”. 3 why is Jesus so often found around the Sea of Galilee,

He moved not just from a very tiny village to a somewhat larger one, but from a hillside village to a lakeside one.

I use the term “matrix” deliberately to avoid the term “background.” If you are having a studio portrait taken and the photographer asks you to choose a computer-generated snow, forest, meadow, beach, or jungle scene—that is background. The scene is there, but it has no interaction with you—you will not be cold in the snow or warm on the beach.

A matrix, on the other hand, is interactive and reciprocal—it changes you and you change it. Southern racism was matrix, for example,

KING OF THE JEWS AND FRIEND OF THE ROMANS

Herod the Great’s rule over the Jewish homeland by imperial appointment in the generation before Jesus made Henry VIII look both merciful and monogamous.

Herod’s creation of the port of Caesarea on the Mediterranean and his extension of the plaza of the Temple in Jerusalem were state-of-the-art construction in his time.

Under Herod the Great, therefore, and for whatever reason, the imperial program of Romanization did not strike Galilee as it did Judea. What does that mean?

THE RISE AND FALL OF HEROD ANTIPAS

It means that Romanization by urbanization for commercialization struck Galilee forcibly not under Herod the Great in the generation before John and Jesus, but under his son Herod Antipas in the generation of John and Jesus.

Think about it. If you were Antipas and wanted to become King of the Jews, you would have to increase your tax base in Galilee so that Rome might grant you that royal promotion.

THE BIRTH OF A SON OF GOD

Augustus Caesar left behind a political autobiography about 2,500 words long to be inscribed in bronze at the entrance of his new dynastic mausoleum in Rome’s Campus Martius. We have Greek chunks and Latin fragments of the text from Pisidian Antioch in the museum at Yalvach and can still see most of those two versions carved on the walls of the Temple of Rome and Augustus in Old Ankara. What is most striking, however, is the autobiography’s opening: “At the age of nineteen….”

From that basis, therefore, the twin stories in Matthew 1–2 and Luke 1–2 not only exalt Jesus within his own Jewish tradition but place his birth and destiny in deliberate contradiction to Roman imperial theology’s story of Augustus’s birth and destiny.

Maybe we are too jaded with that story’s annual appearance along with the tinsel, mistletoe, and Christmas decorations. But “Savior” and “Lord” were titles of Caesar Augustus because he had brought “peace” to this earth.

THE DAY THE ROMANS CAME

In other words, when the Syrian legions moved southward, they marched not just offensively but punitively. We will teach you a lesson, they said, so that we will not need to return for another few generations. And check the dates—they came in 4 BCE, in 66 CE, and, finally, in 132 CE. After that, they never had to come again.

Those who survived would have lost everything. I speculate, therefore, that the major stories Jesus would have heard while growing up in Nazareth would have been about “the year the Romans came.” I push the speculation a little further: At some chosen moment in Jesus’s youth, did Mary bring him up to the top of the Nazareth ridge, point out Sepphoris, and talk about “the Year of the Romans”? From all such talk, what did the young Jesus decide about God, Rome, resistance, and violence?

GOD’S KINGDOM: IMMINENT OR PRESENT?

I now take chapters 1 and 2 of this book and fine-focus them here in chapter 3 to see how the radicality of God’s nonviolent justice confronts the normalcy of human civilization’s violent injustice at a very specific time and a very specific place. The time is the 20s of the first common-era century, and the place is the twin territories ruled by Herod Antipas—Perea to the east and Galilee to the west of the river Jordan. I compare that divine radicality as understood first within John’s Baptism movement in Perea and then within Jesus’s Kingdom movement in Galilee. To understand the Jewish matrix from which they both operated and to understand how they diverged from one another in it, recall my description of apocalyptic eschatology as the Great Divine Cleanup of the present world here below upon the earth (see chapter 2). That is absolutely presumed in what follows.

John and God’s Imminent Kingdom

John was an eschatologist who proclaimed the imminent arrival of the avenging God.

If Antipas had considered John a violent threat, he would have also rounded up as many of John’s followers as he could catch. The fact that he did not, and that he executed only John, tells us that Antipas was responding to somebody who opposed the Roman system nonviolently.

Jesus and God’s Present Kingdom

One of the surest things we know about Jesus is that he was baptized by John. What makes this fact so certain is the growing nervousness it evokes as you move from Mark, through Matthew and Luke, into John.

Matthew’s gospel is much more defensive. Jesus arrives for baptism in 3:13, but this interaction ensues in the next two verses: “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented.” Thereafter, as in Mark, the heavenly vision and revelation overshadow the baptism.

Luke’s gospel is almost evasive, and unless you are reading carefully you might miss any mention of Jesus’s baptism: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened” (3:21). In this case, however, the revelation from God is not accompanied by any vision for Jesus.

John’s gospel has the final solution in 1:26–33. He omits any mention of John’s baptism of Jesus

But all of this only emphasizes that John baptized Jesus and therefore that Jesus had at least originally accepted John’s message of the imminent advent of an apocalyptic and avenging God.

Since I consider that both these statements came from the historical Jesus, I think that Jesus started by accepting John’s theology of God’s imminence but, precisely because of what happened to John, changed from that to a theology of God’s presence. John expected God’s advent, but Antipas’s cavalry came instead. John was executed, and God still did not come as an avenging presence. Maybe, thought Jesus, that was not how God acted because that is not how God is. Jesus’s own proclamation therefore insisted that the Kingdom of God was not imminent but present; it was already here below upon this earth, and however it was to be consummated in the future, it was a present-already and not just an imminent-future reality.

But to claim an already-present Kingdom demands some evidence, and the only such that Jesus could have offered is this: it is not that we are waiting for God, but that God is waiting for us. The present Kingdom is a collaborative eschaton between the human and divine worlds.

GOD’S KINGDOM: MONOPOLY OR FRANCHISE?

It is rather unfortunate that the expression “Kingdom of Heaven” ever entered the Christian vocabulary. In the New Testament it is used over thirty times, but only by Matthew, while “Kingdom of God” is used twice as often, and by different authors (Mark, Luke, John, Acts, and Paul). Matthew himself uses “Kingdom of God” about five times. “Kingdom of Heaven”—in Greek it is actually “Kingdom of the Heavens”—is all too often misinterpreted as the Kingdom of the future, of the next world, of the afterlife. For Matthew, “Heaven” was simply a euphemism for “God,” the Dwelling used interchangeably with the Dweller, as when we say, “The White House announces…” when we mean, “The president announces….” In other words, “Kingdom of Heaven” meant exactly the same as “Kingdom of God.” But what was that?

“The Kingdom of God” was a standard expression for what I have been calling the Great Divine Cleanup of this world. It was what this world would look like if and when God sat on Caesar’s throne, or if and when God lived in Antipas’s palace. That is very clear in these parallel phrases of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:10: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The Kingdom of God is about the Will of God for this earth here below. That earthly presence agrees, of course, with everything we have seen so far about apocalyptic eschatological expectation. It is about the transformation of this world into holiness, not the evacuation of this world into heaven.

It is clear, I hope, that the Kingdom of God is inextricably and simultaneously 100 percent political and 100 percent religious. “Kingdom” is a political term, “God” is a religious term,

I put it this way: John had a monopoly, but Jesus had a franchise.

it. To experience the Kingdom, he asserted, come, see how we live, and then live like us.

The logic of Jesus’s Kingdom program is a mutuality of healing (the basic spiritual power) and eating (the basic physical power) shared freely and openly. That program built a share-community from the bottom up as a positive alternative to Antipas’s Roman greed-community established from the top down.

THE EXCAVATION FROM HELL

Jesus spent his time on and beside the lake because it was precisely and specifically by the shores of the Sea of Galilee that the radicality of Israel’s God confronted the normalcy of Rome’s civilization under Herod Antipas in the 20s of the first century CE.

INTERLUDE: THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND THE SON OF MAN

indeed, if anything, “Son of Man” is an even more exalted title than “Son of God.”

The Vision

The first part of the vision in Daniel 7:1–8

The Interpretation

The Application

THE CROWD AND THE DEATH OF JESUS

Notes on God and Empire: by Crossan

Michael Mann, Professor of Sociology at the Berkeley campus of the University of California, is writing a four-volume study on The Sources of Social Power; the first two volumes were published in 1986 and 1993. In the first volume, A History of Power from the Beginning to A.D. 1760, Mann writes that:

It was one of the most successful conquering states in all history, but it was the most successful retainer of conquests.

+For Mann, social power is not so much a thing in itself as a combination of four types of power united together:

military power, the monopoly or control of force and violence;

economic power, the monopoly or control of labor and production;

political power, the monopoly or control of organization and institution; and ideological power, the monopoly or control of interpretation and meaning.

when Jesus of Nazareth, Paul of Tarsus, and John of Patmos came against the Roman Empire, they did so not with military, economic, or political power but exclusively with ideological power.

For my present purpose, I focus on only two sources of that ideological glue that held Roman imperialism together—poetic texts about Augustus and inscriptions from Augustus.

Think of Roman imperial theology as an immensely successful advertising campaign that inundated everyone, everywhere,

In conclusion, imagine this question. There was a human being in the first century who was called “Divine,”“Son of God,” “God,” and “God from God,” whose titles were “Lord,”“Redeemer,”“Liberator,” and “Savior of the World.” Who was that person?

To proclaim them of Jesus the Christ was thereby to deny them of Caesar the Augustus. Christians were not simply using ordinary titles applied to all sorts of people at that time, or even extraordinary titles applied to special people in the East. They were taking the identity of the Roman emperor and giving it to a Jewish peasant. Either that was a peculiar joke and a very low lampoon, or it was what the Romans called majestas and we call high treason.

Is there any possible alternative to “first victory, then peace,” or “peace through victory”? Yes, it is this: “religion, nonviolence, justice, peace”—or more succinctly, “first justice, then peace,” or “peace through justice.” That counter-program is the subject of this book.

The first question concerns empire and civilization. Are all empires, past and present, but deeper manifestations of what we call “civilization”? Since its invention along the irrigated floodplains of great rivers like the Tigris and Euphrates, has civilization always been inherently imperial? Is escalatory violence but civilization’s drug of choice, and is it an addiction we cannot overcome or even control? The second question starts from the end of the first one. Is the normal imperialism of human civilization simply an inevitable manifestation of human nature?

It does not help us understand the Roman Empire, let alone America as the New Roman Empire, to think of it as the “evil empire” of the first century or the “axis of evil” in the Mediterranean.

empire—Rome was the expression, no more and no less, of the normalcy of civilization’s violence, first-century style.

civilization itself, as I am using that term, has always been imperial

Civilization, in these two books, is either “macroparasitology,” the few living off the many, or “kleptocracy,” the few stealing from the many.

“The gigantic protection racket of political history began: Accept my power, for I will protect you from worse violence—of which I can give you a sample, if you don’t believe me”

“All civilizations become hierarchical; the upward concentration of wealth ensures that there will never be enough to go around”. In other words, “violence is as old as man but civilizations commit it with a deliberation that lends it special horror”. Think of how much progress civilization has made with violence and how exponentially faster its weapons have developed.

“From the first chipped stone to the first smelted iron took nearly three million years; from the first iron to the hydrogen bomb took only 3,000 years”.

The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

Injustice by Reason of Inequality

Normalcy Is Not Inevitability

The monastery presents an alternative lifestyle that implicitly criticizes the greed, injustice, and oppression of our everyday world. It is a mode of semicommunal or fully communal life witnessing that violence is not the inevitability of human nature but only the normalcy of human civilization.

Chapter 3

Three questions guide this chapter’s discussion of Jesus’s life. The first two are general ones. In the prologue of our co-authored 2001 book Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts, Jonathan Reed and I ask these two questions: “Why did Jesus happen when he happened? Why then? Why there? Sharpen the question a little.

Why did two popular movements, the Baptism movement of John and the Kingdom movement of Jesus, happen At the start of this chapter, I add another and more specific question: why is Jesus so often found around the Sea of Galilee,

It is clear, I hope, that the Kingdom of God is inextricably and simultaneously 100 percent political and 100 percent religious. “Kingdom” is a political term, “God” is a religious term, and Jesus would be executed for that “of” in a world where, for Rome, God already sat on Caesar’s throne because Caesar was God. John had a monopoly, but Jesus had a franchise.

To experience the Kingdom, he asserted, come, see how we live, and then live like us. This invitation presumes that Jesus was promulgating not just a vision or a theory but a praxis and a communal program, and that this program was not just for himself but for others as well. What was it? Basically it was this: heal the sick, eat with those you heal, and announce the Kingdom’s presence in that mutuality.

The logic of Jesus’s Kingdom program is a mutuality of healing (the basic spiritual power) and eating (the basic physical power) shared freely and openly. That program built a share-community from the bottom up as a positive alternative to Antipas’s Roman greed-community established from the top down.

Thus, diseases are cured, while illnesses are healed.

Chapter 3 is the central one of this book. The two preceding chapters set up the struggle between the injustice of civilization’s normalcy (chapter 1) and the justice of God’s radicality (chapter 2), especially inside the Bible itself. I proposed at the end of chapter 2 that Christians choose between the violent God of human normalcy and the nonviolent God of divine radicality, between peace through violence and peace though justice, according to which one they find incarnate in the historical Jesus—in other words, the Jesus of this chapter. In the succeeding two chapters, I look at two divergent responses to the radical God incarnate in that Jesus—both within the Christian New Testament itself.

In chapter 4, I consider Paul as the apostle who took Jesus’s message out from the Jewish homeland into the great big Roman world. world. I emphatically do not agree with those who think Paul betrayed Jesus or invented Christianity. He accurately and effectively rephrased Jesus’s message of the already-present Kingdom of God in his own language for that wider world.

In chapter 4, we will also see examples of the normalcy of Roman civilization used by post-Pauline Christians to sanitize and deradicalize Paul on such subjects as slavery, patronage, and patriarchy.

In chapter 5, I turn in point-counterpoint from Paul of Tarsus to John of Patmos. The last book of the Christian Bible, the Apocalypse, or the Book of Revelation, is the most absolutely and virulently anti-Roman work in all of either Judaism or Christianity. My question will be this: Is it the final attempt to make Jesus violent, to have Jesus return as the incarnation of divine violence? Is that book the ultimate attempt—and a Christian attempt—to assert the violent injustice of civilization’s normalcy over the nonviolent justice of God’s radicality?

Ch 4 Paul and the justice of equality

God and Empire John Dominic Crossan 2009

http://www.amazon.com/God-Empire-John-Dominic-Crossan-ebook/dp/B000OI0F2Q/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1406297036&sr=1-7&keywords=crossan

At the heart of the Bible is a moral and ethical call to fight unjust superpowers, whether they are Babylon, Rome, or even America.

From the divine punishment and promise found in Genesis through the revolutionary messages of Jesus and Paul, John Dominic Crossan reveals what the Bible has to say about land and economy, violence and retribution, justice and peace, and, ultimately, redemption. In contrast to the oppressive Roman military occupation of the first century, he examines the meaning of the non-violent Kingdom of God prophesized by Jesus and the equality advocated by Paul to the early Christian churches. Crossan contrasts these messages of peace with the misinterpreted apocalyptic vision from the Book of Revelation, which has been misrepresented by modern right-wing theologians and televangelists to justify U.S. military actions in the Middle East.

In God and Empire Crossan surveys the Bible from Genesis to Apocalypse, or the Book of Revelation, and discovers a hopeful message that cannot be ignored in these turbulent times. The first-century Pax Romana, Crossan points out, was in fact a “peace” won through violent military action. Jesus preached a different kind of peace—a peace that surpasses all understanding—and a kingdom not of Caesar but of God.

The Romans executed Jesus because he preached this Kingdom of God, a kingdom based on peace and justice, over the empire of Rome, which ruled by violence and force. For Jesus and Paul, Crossan explains, peace cannot be won the Roman way, through military victory, but only through justice and fair and equal treatment of all people.

Crossan God and Empire

Rome’s military power was based on the legions, each with six thousand fighting engineers at full complement. They were stationed along the Rhine, the Danube, the Euphrates, and the North African frontiers. The twenty-eight (and then only twenty-five) legions built well-paved all-weather roads (no mud) and high-arched all-weather bridges (no flood); with this infrastructure, they could move with all their baggage and equipment at a guaranteed fifteen miles a day to crush any rebellion anywhere. It was not nation-building but province-building, and the idea that such was not the military’s job would have seemed ludicrous to the legions.

Rome’s economic power grew along and upon that same infrastructure. Built for military use, it was thereafter available for travel and trade, contact and commerce. Furthermore, the cash payments to the legions along the frontiers helped to monetize the periphery. After military conquest, the imperial program was Romanization by urbanization for commercialization. And of course, those who oppose your globalization, then and now, come violently or nonviolently against you along the global arteries you have created.

Rome’s political power was established through a self-consciously Romanized aristocracy created across the entire empire that allowed some high local elites to be members of the Roman Senate. It was even eventually possible for a Romanized provincial to become emperor. “The Roman landholding elite,” concludes Michael Mann, “was about as ‘classlike’ as any group in any known society, past or present”. Local elites saw very clearly what they got in return for imperial loyalty.

Rome’s ideological power was created by Roman imperial theology, and it is not possible to overestimate its importance. Military power certainly secured the empire’s external frontiers, but ideological power sustained its internal relations. Do not think of it as propaganda enforced by believing elites upon unbelieving masses. Think of it as persuasive advertising accepted very swiftly by all sides. I return later to look at the content of that theology—in written text and on carved inscription—and at how it worked as the ideological glue that held the Roman world together.

+++++

——-

Chapter 3 is the central one of this book. The two preceding chapters set up the struggle between the injustice of civilization’s normalcy (chapter 1) and the justice of God’s radicality (chapter 2), especially inside the Bible itself. I proposed at the end of chapter 2 that Christians choose between the violent God of human normalcy and the nonviolent God of divine radicality, between peace through violence and peace though justice, according to which one they find incarnate in the historical Jesus—in other words, the Jesus of this chapter. In the succeeding two chapters, I look at two divergent responses to the radical God incarnate in that Jesus—both within the Christian New Testament itself.

In chapter 4, I consider Paul as the apostle who took Jesus’s message out from the Jewish homeland into the great big Roman world. In chapter 4, we will also see examples of the normalcy of Roman civilization used by post-Pauline Christians to sanitize and deradicalize Paul on such subjects as slavery, patronage, and patriarchy.

In chapter 5, I turn in point-counterpoint from Paul of Tarsus to John of Patmos. The last book of the Christian Bible, the Apocalypse, or the Book of Revelation, is the most absolutely and virulently anti-Roman work in all of either Judaism or Christianity. My question will be this: Is it the final attempt to make Jesus violent, to have Jesus return as the incarnation of divine violence? Is that book the ultimate attempt—and a Christian attempt—to assert the violent injustice of civilization’s normalcy over the nonviolent justice of God’s radicality? At the end, even God must use our standard solution to evil—kill the evildoers. Paul of Tarsus and John of Patmos represent, respectively, acceptance and rejection of the radical nonviolence that Jesus proclaimed to and against Pilate before he was condemned to death.

violent injustice, peace through victory

violent justice

nonviolent justice, peace through justice

SNAPSHOT OF: “The Roman Empire and the New Testament” W. Carter

SNAPSHOT OF: “The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide,  Warren Carter  2009

From publisher:

An indispensable introduction to Roman society, culture, law, politics, religion, and daily life as they relate to the study of the New Testament. The Roman Empire formed the central context in which the New Testament was written. Anyone who wishes to understand the New Testament texts must become familiar with the political, economic, societal, cultural, and religious aspects of Roman rule. Much of the New Testament deals with enabling its readers to negotiate, in an array of different manners, this pervasive imperial context. This book will help the reader see how social structures and daily practices in the Roman world illumine so much of the content of the New Testament message. For example, to grasp what Paul was saying about food offered to idols one must understand that temples in the Roman world were not “churches,” and that they functioned as political, economic, and gastronomic centers, whose religious dealings were embedded within these other functions.Brief in presentation yet broad in scope, Roman Backgrounds to the New Testament will introduce students to the information and ideas essential to coming to grips with the world in which early Christianity was born.

Table of Contents

1 The Roman Imperial world

2 Evaluating Rome’s Empire (through texts)

3 Ruling faces of the Empire

4 Spaces of the Empire: urban and rural

5 Temples and religious/political personnel

6 Imperial theology: a clash of theological and social claims

7  Economics food and health

8 Further dynamics of resistance

MY ROUGH NOTES

The early Xn were politically powerless and economically oppressed.

At first glance, most of what the N T deals with does not seem to refer to the Roman Empire.

Throughout this book two issues will concern us.

The first involves recognizing that the New Testament texts assume and engage Rome’s world in every chapter. Even when the New Testament texts seem to us to be silent about Rome’s empire, it is, nevertheless, ever present.

The Roman Empire provides the ever-present political, economic, societal, and religious framework and context for the New Testament’s claims, language, structures, personnel, and scenes.

And second, we will see that New Testament writers evaluate and engage Rome’s empire in different ways.

At least two factors hide this Roman imperial world from us as twenty-first-century readers.

The first factor concerns the relationship between religion and politics. We often think of religion and politics as separate and distinct. Religion is personal, individual, private.

The second factor recognizes that as twenty-first-century readers, we often lack knowledge of Rome’s imperial world.

The texts don’t stop to explain it to us. They don’t spell it out for us. Instead we are expected to supply the relevant knowledge. Ex: fishing part of Roman economy and taxation.

It is reasonable to expect first-century folk to supply the information that the texts assume, since these folk shared the same world as the authors. But it is difficult for us who read them some two millennia later and in a vastly different world. Without understanding the Roman imperial world, we will find it hard to understand the New Testament texts.

As a first step toward gaining some of this assumed knowledge,

I will sketch the structure of the Roman Empire.

In the next chapter, I will describe some of the ways that the New Testament texts evaluate Rome’s empire. In subsequent chapters I will elaborate specific aspects of Rome’s world and ways in which the New Testament writers negotiate it.

The Roman Imperial World

In the first century, Rome dominated the territory and people around the Mediterranean Sea. Its empire extended from Britain in the northwest, through (present-day) France and Spain to the west, across Europe to Turkey and Syria in the east, and along North Africa to the south. Rome ruled an estimated 60 to 65 million people of diverse ethnicities and cultures.

The empire was very hierarchical, with vast disparities of power and wealth. For the small ruling elite, life was quite comfortable. For the majority non-elite, it was at best liveable and at worst very miserable. There was no middle class, little opportunity to improve one’s lot, and few safety nets in adversity.

The Roman Empire was an hierarchical empire. This term means that a small elite of about 2 to 3 percent of the population ruled. They shaped the social experience of the empire’s inhabitants, determined the “quality” of life, exercised power, controlled wealth, and enjoyed high status.

The Roman Empire was also an agrarian empire. Its wealth and power were based in land. The elite did not rule by democratic elections. In part they ruled by hereditary control of the empire’s primary resources of land and labor. They owned its land and consumed some 65 percent of its production.

Pyramid from Kuhn: “The Kingdom According to Luke and Acts”

The Roman Empire was also a legionary empire. In addition to controlling resources, the elite ruled this agrarian empire by coercion. The dominant means of coercion was the much vaunted Roman army.

In addition, the elite controlled various forms of communication or “media,” such as the designs of coins, the building of monuments, and construction of various buildings. (What we today would call Propaganda)

It is this hierarchy and control that Jesus describes negatively, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them” (Matt. 20: 25).

“coercive diplomacy” (the presence of the legions throughout the empire and the threat of military action) ensured submission and cooperation.

Elite Alliances

Emperors ruled in relationship with the elite, both in Rome and in the provinces’ leading cities. Rome made alliances with client kings, like King Herod, who ruled with Rome’s permission and promoted Rome’s interests. The elite, with wealth from land and trade, provided the personnel that filled various civic and military positions throughout the empire, such as provincial governors, magistrates and officials, and members of local city councils. These positions maintained the empire’s order and hierarchical structure that benefited the elite so much.

Divine Sanction

In addition to ownership of resources, military force, and working relationships with the elite, emperors secured their power by claiming the favor of the gods. Their imperial theology proclaimed that Rome was chosen by the gods, notably Jupiter, to rule an “empire without end” (Virgil, Aeneid 1.278-79). Rome was chosen to manifest the gods’ rule, presence, and favor throughout the world. Religious observances at civic occasions were an integral part of Rome’s civic, economic, and political life.

The gods’ continuing sanction for emperors was both recognized and sought in what is known as the imperial cult, which was celebrated throughout the empire. The “imperial cult” refers to a vast array of temples, images, rituals, personnel, and theological claims that honored the emperor.

Elite Values

With the emperor, members of the elites created, maintained, and exercised power, wealth, and prestige through crucial roles: warrior, tax collector, administrator, patron, judge, priest.

Elites exhibited contempt for productive and manual labor. Elites did not perform manual labor but they depended on and benefited from the work of others such as peasant farmers and artisans. Slaves were an integral part of the Roman system.

The Non-elite

This is the world that most of the population, the non-elite, negotiated every day. Since the non-elite comprised about 97 percent of the population, it is not surprising that most early Christians belonged to this group. An enormous gap separated the non-elite from  the elite’s power, wealth, and status. There was no middle class and little opportunity for improving one’s lot. More often it was a matter of survival. There was no “Roman dream” of pulling oneself up by one’s sandal straps. Degrees of poverty marked the non-elite.

there was little safety net. Many knew regular periods of food shortages. Poor health was pervasive. Infant mortality was high, with perhaps up to 50 percent not reaching age ten. Most non-elite adults died by age thirty or forty. Elite life spans were longer. Urban life for non-elites was crowded, dirty, smelly, and subject to numerous dangers.

Domination and Resistance

Elites exercised material domination over non-elites, appropriating their agricultural production and labor. The hard manual work of non-elites and the coerced extractions of production sustained the elite’s extravagant and elegant way of life. There was a further, more personal, cost to non-elites. Domination deeply influences personal well-being and feelings. It deprives people of dignity. It is degrading and humiliating. It exacts not only agricultural production but an enormous personal toll of anger, resentment, and learned inferiority.

How did non-elites negotiate this world? One practical approach was to cooperate with deferential and submissive behavior.

whenever dominating power is asserted, there is resistance. Fed by anger and resentment, this resistance can take various forms.

Occasionally it comprises violent revolt such as the revolt in Judea against Rome in 66-70 CE. Usually, though, such revolts were quickly and harshly crushed. The absence of violent revolt, however, does not mean the absence of protest. Sometimes protests took more public forms such as pilfering elite property, evading taxes, working slowly, refusing to work at all, or attacking a symbol of domination. More often, since direct confrontations that are violent or defiant provoke harsh retaliation, protests among dominated groups are hidden or “offstage.” Apparently compliant behavior can be ambiguous. It can mask and conceal nonviolent acts of protest.

It may employ coded talk with secret messages of freedom (” the reign of God”) or “double-talk” that seems to submit to elites (” Pay to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”) but contains, for those with ears to hear, a subversive message (” and to God the things that are God’s”).

It may create communities that affirm practices and social interactions that differ from domination patterns.

This web of protest has been called a “hidden transcript.” (from James C Scott)

The New Testament writings can, in part, be thought of as “hidden transcripts.” They are not public writings targeted to the elite or addressed to any person who wants to read them. They are written from and for communities of followers of Jesus crucified by the empire. The New Testament writings assist followers of Jesus in negotiating Rome’s world. Because of their commitment to Jesus’ teaching and actions, they frequently dissent from Rome’s way of organizing society. Often, though not always, they seek to shape alternative ways of being human and participating in human community that reflect God’s purposes.

More notes

Warren Carter summarizes his first chapter in this way:

“In chapter 1, I described the hierarchical structure of the Roman Empire, which benefited the ruling elite at the expense of the nonelite. I also identified a number of ways in which this elite secured and enhanced its power, status, and wealth:

1. Political office. Elites controlled all political office, including civic and military positions, for their own benefit, not for the common good.

2. Land ownership. Elites controlled large areas of land. Land was basic for wealth. Elites also participated in trade by sea and land.

3. Cheap labor, whether slaves, day laborers, artisans, or peasant farmers, produced goods largely for elite consumption.

4. Taxes, tributes, and rents, usually paid in goods (and not by check or credit card), literally transferred wealth from the nonelite to the elite.

5. Military power gained territory, extended domination, and enforced compliance. Its rumored efficiency or brutality deterred revolts.”

He then elucidates five other ways the system benefitted the elite: Patron-client relations, Imperial theology, Rhetoric, Legal systems, and Cities controlling the countryside.

Carter’s second chapter is helpful for those who say: “If the Roman Empire is significant for the New Testament writers and readers, why do I find so little reference to empire when I read my Bible?”

Confrontation with empire did not begin with the Romans. Prior to this, the Hebrew people were under the thumb of one empire after another: Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, and Greek. That is not even counting the Egyptians early on. They were under subjugation for most of their history, including their own kings, if you read 1 Samuel 8. So, much of the Hebrew Scriptures deals with subjugation. This is most clearly seen in the books of Daniel and Enoch.

“In chapter 2, I described five different ways in which New Testament texts evaluated Rome’s world:”

1. Under the devil’s control;

2. Under God’s judgment;

3. Needing transformation;

4. Shaping alternative communities and alternative practices;

5. To be submitted to and honored.

The hierarchical social interactions and exploitative structures of the Roman Empire fostered social resentment, anger, and hostility. There were no democratic processes of reform. Instead, New Testament writers offer, as we have seen, various ways of negotiating Rome’s empire. We have analyzed this diverse negotiation as it involves

the empire’s hierarchical structure (chapter 1);

different evaluations of the empire (chapter 2);

ruling faces of the empire (chapter 3);

places of the empire, including city, countryside, and temples (chapters 4-5);

imperial theology (chapter 6);

economics, food, and sickness and healing (chapter 7).

This concluding chapter looks further at some dynamics involved in resisting Rome’s rule. In this chapter I will discuss three expressions of resistance:

imagining Rome’s violent overthrow,

employing disguised and ambiguous protest,

and using flattery.

Postscript

Here I will make six brief comments as a small contribution toward much more extensive conversation and inquiry. I readily recognize that the issues are much more complex and need much more attention than my all-too-brief remarks here.

1. The New Testament Is a Very Political Document “Our discussion of numerous New Testament texts shows how deeply intertwined are matters of religion and politics. We cannot dismiss the questions of how we live in a world of empire. We cannot ignore these questions by claiming that following Jesus concerns religion, not politics.”

2. Negotiating Empires Is Complicated

“If we want a single formula to fit all situations, we won’t find it in the New Testament… These writings from early Christians show how difficult it is to live in/ with/ under/ against empires. My choice of four prepositions in this last sentence alone hints at the diverse negotiation that is needed to be faithful. The difficulty with empire arises in part because empires often make totalizing claims. They claim to exert complete sovereignty. They claim unrivaled power. They claim to know best. They have the means to accomplish their will regardless of what anyone else thinks. They demand allegiance. They sanction their actions with religious talk (” God bless America”). They cannot tolerate dissent.”

3. Unquestioning Submission Is Not the Bible’s Only Way

4. Constant Opposition Is Not the Bible’s Only Way

5. Active Nonviolence, Not Violence

“But the absence of violence does not mean the absence of dissent and opposition. The third way comprises active, nonviolent, calculated interventions that reverse the destructive impact of empire. These emphases raise huge questions about the use of military violence in our contemporary world as an instrument of empire.”

6. Alternative Worldviews and Communities

“Perhaps this element forms the most frequent recurring theme throughout this study of the New Testament texts. The New Testament writers offer followers of Jesus an alternative understanding of the world as belonging not to an empire or political party or system, but as belonging to God.”

“They challenge and invite and shape Christian communities to become places that embody God’s purposes and that embody an alternative way of being human in the midst of the empire. These strategies of reconceptualization and of alternative social experiences and relationships result, in part, from the early Christians not having any access to power and no opportunity to make systemic changes.”

Imperial Religion

a Biographies of Augustus

Augustus- the First Emperor, Anthony Everitt  B

Augustus- Introduction to the Life of an Emperor, Karl Galinsky

Augustus- Image and Substance, Barbara Levick  2014

Augustus- First Emperor of Rome, Adrian Goldsworthy 2014

Augustus- The Biography, Jochen Bleicken,  2015

Augustus, John Williams   2014

Augustus- Son of Caesar, Richard Foreman  2018

b Imperial Religion

The Aeneid (Vintage Classics), Virgil and Robert Fitzgerald 1990

The Complete Works of Horace: Odes, Epodes, Satires, Epistles, and Art, Quintus Horatius Flaccus and Christopher Smart  2017

Fasti by Ovid  (Author), Anne Wiseman (Author), Peter Wiseman (Author)

Anatolia: Land, Men, and Gods in Asia Minor Volume I: The Celts in Anatolia and the Impact of Roman Rule, Stephen Mitchell

The Imperial Cult in the Latin West, 3 Volumes, Duncan Fishwick  2002

Rome and Religion: A Cross-Disciplinary Dialogue on the Imperial Cult, Jeffrey Brodd and Jonathan L. Reed 2011

Religions of Rome: A History in 3 Volumes, Mary Beard   1998

The Roman Imperial Cult: Emperor Anastasius I: A Practical Manual for the Worship of the Divine Emperor, Marcus Julianus

From Jupiter to Christ: On the History of Religion in the Roman Imperial Period, Jörg Rüpke

Emperor Worship and Roman Religion (Oxford Classical Monographs), Ittai Gradel  2004

Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor 1st Edition, S. R. F. Price

The Lord of the Entire World, Joseph Fantin

c Histories

The Age of Augustus: Edited, Karl Galinsky  2005

Augustus and the Creation of the Roman Empire A Brief History with Documents, Ronald Mellor 2006