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 the 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 are you 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

A (Proposed) Church Manual for Resisting Empire

Four books church manuals

Thanks to those of you who responded to my request for books on practical ministry of the church in a time of empire. Unfortunately, I was too vague to be much help in your being specific. So let me give more specific parameters.

In my request for books on practical ministry of the church in a time of empire, I have discovered that, on the whole, what I am looking for has yet to be written.

I decided to go to the library catalogues on-line to see what I could find. I went first to the Library of Congress and came up with nothing that you or I didn’t already know about. So I tried the British Library. Nada. Harvard Divinity School library. Nope. Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union library. Zip.

Am I looking for what not only doesn’t exist but never will exist? I think the answer is no. My reason for this is if I had been making a search for academic books on “church and New Testament and resistance and empire” 25 years ago there would have been practically none. If you look at the bibliography on my “Subversive Church” blog (https://subversivechurch.blog/bibliography/) you will find well over a hundred books that I have curated so far. If you note their dates of publication, very few existed 25 years ago. They have almost all been written out of the work of biblical scholars since then. If you had, for instance, written a book on Luke and the Roman Empire, it would have been the first one on that subject. The same goes for any of the N T books. Now, if you decided to write about the influence of the empire on Revelation, for instance, you would have to compete with more than a half dozen others completed before your efforts.

Books written to apply recent biblical scholarship to the nature and ministry have always followed after a number of years. These are usually written by pastors who have tried out this new paradigm in their own ministerial setting, and that takes time to happen. So I know I am pushing the envelope. But I’m old and I would like to see this renewal of the church at least begin before I “pop my clogs”, as the British phrase it.

But there are some clerical pioneers who have ventured out into the new century with ideas gained from what we have discovered from the first century followers of Jesus. So let me select some indicators from the four books I have selected by one professor, two ministers and one lay person who are blazing the Way. I shall list the books by publication date. You will note that the oldest of the four is only seven years old.

The Four Books

The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus, by Robin R. Meyers  2012
Faithful Resistance: Gospel Visions For the Church in a Time of Empire, by Rick Ufford-Chase , Annanda Barclay, et al. 2016
Jesus vs. Caesar: For People Tired of Serving the Wrong God, by Joerg Rieger   2018
Sacred Resistance: A Practical Guide to Christian Witness and Dissent, by Ginger Gaines-Cirelli 2018

About the writers/editors

Robin Meyers
Robin is minister of Mayflower United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma where he has served for over 30 years. He is author of seven books and is active in the Jesus Seminar as well of teaching courses on social justice in the philosophy department of Oklahoma City University.

Rick Ufford-Chase
Rick is a lay person in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and served as its youngest ever moderator some years ago. He has initiated a number of social justice religious organizations including the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, of which he is executive director. He is also co-director with his wife of Stony Point Center, a conference center of the Presbyterian Church in Stony Point, New York.

JOERG Rieger
Joerg is a German United Methodist. He taught at Perkins School of Theology and is teaching currently at Vanderbilt University. His field is theology as it intersects with current cutting edge social justice issues.

Ginger Gaines-Cirelli
Ginger, another United Methodist, is pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington D C, which is known for being the church of the Clintons and the George W. Bush family, as well as for its involvement in contemporary issues. Sacred Resistance is her first book.

Structure of A Church Manual for Subversive Resistance to Empire

The four books I am highlighting all point toward what I see as the manual the church needs in order to pursue a mission of subversive resistance in a setting of empire. While searching the Library of Congress for such a book, I was impressed with the number of books that have been written to renew the church in different ways and dimensions. There are several thousand of them! Most of them pointed to a need for some kind of spiritual renewal, helping plant new churches, and, God help us, on the Prosperity Gospel.

I have been thinking of what the manual I’m searching for would look like. Here’s my first draft.

I Theoretical/theological dimensions
For the first time in 2000 years of church history and, more particularly, in biblical research, the first century and a half of the church has had light shown upon it. We now have some inkling of what the first meetings of our early forebears looked like, what its structure was, where and when they gathered. That is what I have blogged about with the Dinner Church Movement. But here and for this manual, one needs to focus upon the world those followers of Jesus stepped into when they left their meetings- the world of the oppressive and exploitative Roman Empire. It would have been like the title of Rieger’s book, JESUS vs. CAESAR, Empire vs. Kingdom of God, status quo vs. counter-culture.

II Ecclesial internal dimensions
A The congregation: How does the local church change itself from being an unwitting agent of empire to self-consciously returning its nature and mission to that of the pre-Constantine religious movement of the earliest century? What will its manifesto be (like Meyers spells out in The Underground Church)? (1)

B The new denomination: A Movement of Movements
How will the local church not be overwhelmed with all the issues that come with attempting to subvert empire with kingdom ethics? Ufford-Chase gives us a taste of this variety in his Faithful Resistance, where he touches on such issues as Confronting Empire at the Border, Dismantling White Supremacy, Reimagining Ecological Theology, Learning Nonviolence in a Multifaith World, and Resisting the Seduction of Silence on human rights matters. And these are just a few of the issues ‘out there’.

It seems to me the answer comes in refocussing and restructuring that connectionalism we refer to with the word ‘denomination’. The difference between denominations, which once existed, is no longer the case. My denomination, the United (sic) Methodist Church, is coming apart because our conservatives think that their liberal co-religionists are no longer brothers and sisters. So where do we go to find our connectivity? Perhaps Sacred Resistance shows us the way (sacredresistance.net). Not to ride off in all directions at once, their  Sacred Resistance Ministry team chose three issues (2) to focus on and then looked for movements doing that mission and connected with that movement..

III Missional external dimensions
The last part of the manual would help congregations know about different movements already working on counter-culture issues to connect with. Or it would help them to organize such movements when one does not exist. I’ll flesh Part III out when it is clearer to me.


(1) Manifesto for the Underground Church (from Meyers’ book)

“Those who wish to accept the invitation to join the Underground Church movement can figure out ways to build the Beloved Community in their own time and place, but in particular they will be urged to consider making some or all of the following seven changes in what it means to be truly radical.

1. As often as possible, the Underground Church will celebrate communion by serving an actual meal, before or after the service. It will be provided and served by the members of the community, who bring food and share with all those who come, especially the poor.
2. Membership in the Underground Church is not by “profession of faith” but by the profession of trust in the redemptive power of unconditional love, revealed to the community through the mystery of the incarnation and sustained by that love, not by creeds and doctrines demanding total agreement.
3. Worship styles and music in the Underground Church are to be intentionally diverse, joyful, and meant to bring worshipers into an experience of the divine. Individual communities will decide what music and liturgical forms are most meaningful to them, and the creation of services that reflect both more traditional and less traditional approaches to worship is encouraged. No musical snobs, please.
4. Members of the Underground Church will be committed to mission projects that mark the community off as countercultural and anti-imperial. We will be committed to nonviolence, radical hospitality, collective generosity, and the ministry of encouragement.
5. The Underground Church will give special attention to the stranger, the forgotten, the weak, and the dispossessed. When the Empire marks off certain groups of people as scapegoats or as “enemies,” we will make certain that there is room for them at the table and, if necessary, protect them from persecution.
6. The Underground Church will create its own economic system in the community by requiring a pledge of financial support from all members to support the operation of the church, while encouraging individuals to contribute additional funds to mission projects that they are particularly passionate about. We will not rob Peter to pay Paul; we will pay Peter first so that in the work that truly matters, we can fully fund Paul. We will loan money at no interest and bear one another’s burdens.
7. The Underground Church will seek to work together with all others who share the conviction that it is more important to be loving than to be right. We will not insist that others agree with us on all matters theological—only that we offer each other the benefit of the doubt, mutual respect, and the chance to become the rarest and most precious of all things: a community that declares its loyalty only to love incarnate, not to Caesar.”

(2) Foundry’s three issues for sacred resistance

•opposing governmental actions that tear families apart
and bar entry to this country to immigrants and refugees
solely because of their religious affiliation;

• resisting policies that exploit and destroy natural resources
on the planet we are charged with protecting and
that put short-term economic gain for a few above the
long-term health and survival of the human race; and

• standing up with our voices, our bodies, our money, and
our time to the policies and people who would deny
human rights on the basis of sexual orientation, gender
identity, race, ethnicity, or income level

Do You Know of Any Books?

Here is the outline of the project I am doing. My project’s purpose is first to spell out the current biblical research on the context in which the New Testament is written and the early church begins. Until this research we knew very little about the first two centuries. Part I attempts to help us see the Roman Empire, as Warren Carter puts it, not as just a neutral background but as an ever present foreground.

Part II is a look back at the New Testament as we perceive it anew in an empire context. Part III is an excursus into history where we discover that humans have virtually always lived in the context of one empire or another. Finally, Part IV asks how the church, which has been entwined with empire since Constantine, can free itself from this and return to its mission of being an outpost of God’s kingdom in its empire context.

Outline, ON EMPIRE, THE NEW TESTAMENT, AND THE CHURCH:
I Context: Bible and Church in Empire
    A Caesar and his Empire of Rome
         1 Imperial Religion
             a Biographies of Augustus
             b Imperial Religion
             c Histories
        2 Biblical Scholarship on Empire
   B Jesus and his Kingdom of God
II Text: New Testament in the Empire Setting
   A General
   B Specific book(s) of the New Testament
III Empire in history and today
IV Empire context implications for the church today

V Supplementary issues
    A Jesus and the Empire
    B Paul and the Empire
    C Methodology
    D The Powers

“I would like you to do us a favor, though…”

There are more gaps still to be written about the first three parts. But for the moment, I want to ask you help me begin Part IV. Do you know any books that attempt to apply what I term ‘subversive to empire’ principles to the nature and mission of today’s church. If you do, would you go to my Facebook page on Subversive Church (https://www.facebook.com/ChurchSubversive/) and put that information in a comment under this post there? Many thanks, Bud.

IV) Applying Subversive-to-Empire principles in Contemporary Church  bibliography (ones I’m aware of so far)

Books are in order of publishing dates.

Everything Must Change: When the World’s Biggest Problems and Jesus’ Good News Collide, Brian McLaren  2009

The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus, Robin Meyers 2012

The Fall of the Church: Roger Haydon Mitchell 2013

Faithful Resistance: Gospel Visions for the Church in a Time of Empire, Rick Ufford-Chase 2016

The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating Apostolic Movements, Alan Hirsch 2006, 2016

Underground Church: A Living Example of the Church in Its Most Potent Form, Brian Sanders and Alan Hirsch 2018

Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice, Sylvia C. Keesmaat and Brian J. Walsh  2019

Theo-Biblical Reflections on Important Issues from the Margins: Black Lives Matter, Incarceration, & Resistance to Empire, Tyree Anderson, and Kurt Clark  2019

Subversive Catholicism: Papacy, Liturgy, Church, Martin Mosbach  2019

Resisting Empire in Hebrews: An Interview with Jason Whitlark

(This interview is found at theLAB and the interviewer is Tavis Bohlinger. The book is Resisting Empire: Rethinking the Purpose of the Letter to “the Hebrews”)

TB: What is the question you are seeking to answer about Hebrews in Resisting Empire (RE)?

JW: I was attempting to understand the social context that explained the causes of the community’s suffering for its Christian confession. Moreover, how then does Hebrews address the need for perseverance and resist the attractive alternative that would cause members of the community to give up their commitment and identification with God and his Son through their involvement with other Christ‐followers?

Imperial critical studies have made us aware of the pervasive presence of empire in the lives of Christ‐followers as the gospel message spread throughout the Roman Empire. These studies have also made us aware that resistance to empire takes place along a spectrum with open violent rebellion being just one extreme end of that spectrum. Other strategies by Christians might include redeploying imperial messages that assert the supremacy of God and his Son over against the claims of Rome. Hebrews addresses community suffering that, in part, arises from Roman imperial pressures. I was interested in the ways that Hebrews attempts to address and resist these pressures.

TB: At the time of publication of your book, you mentioned that Hebrews had been mostly ignored in the wave of Imperial resistance studies of the New Testament. Now five years later, would you say that is still the case?

JW: Scholarship on Hebrews has seen a renewed emphasis on the purpose of Hebrews to address suffering and persecution of the community addressed by the sermon. Yet exploration of the Roman Imperial context and resistance to it in Hebrews still remains an underexplored avenue in scholarship on Hebrews.

TB: I found your discussion of method particularly interesting, in that you take a cue from Charles Talbert’s proposed “reading with the authorial audience.” What does that phrase mean in practice, and is it actually possible given the historical gap between the ancient audience and modern‐day readers?

JW: The method employed in my book is an attempt to lessen the historical gap between the modern readers and the original audience of Hebrews. The authorial audience is the audience that the author anticipated would receive his communication. This audience is constructed from considering the larger historical and social contexts of the audience. We can construct this audience from consideration of both relevant textual and material culture. Constructing this audience sensitizes us to the ways such an audience would have heard a text like Hebrews. The audience of Hebrews experienced its Christian commitment in the first‐century world that was ruled by Rome. I attempted to make a reasonable case for locating the audience in the imperial capital post‐70 CE, though not all my arguments depend upon this since Roman rule and propaganda extended beyond the confines of the capital city. Thus, any study of Hebrews should take into account the rule of Rome when thinking about how the audience, anticipated by the author of Hebrews, would have received his “word of exhortation.”

TB: What are “rhetorical expectations,” and how do those factor into your argument regarding Hebrews?

JW: Besides the Roman Imperial context of the audience, that audience was also part of a world where rhetoric was central to public life. It was central to education. There was an extensive and dynamic classical rhetorical tradition in the Greco‐Roman world. This tradition gives us a very helpful meta‐discourse on how one would write and speak in particular situations. It helps us to understand what an audience might anticipate when hearing a speech. What kinds of topics would the author use to make his or her arguments? How might the author arrange his or her discourse? In the case of this book, how might an author be expected to critique authorities, especially absolutizing authority? Rhetorical studies have been fruitfully applied to Hebrews demonstrating the author’s rhetorical sophistication. This study looks at an overlooked—but commonly practiced—aspect of ancient rhetoric, namely, figured speech/critique.

TB: Finally, what is the greatest impact you could imagine your book having on the church today and into the future, both in regards to its understanding of Hebrews and the lessons therein?

Hebrews is a majestic and disturbing Christian speech that calls its audience to perseverance in its Christian identity amidst powerful counter-narratives and varying levels of pressure to quit the community, whether that is shaming, confiscation of property, imprisonment, torture, or threat of death. Hebrews takes those pressures head-on by both putting forward the better cosmic hope the audience has in Jesus and strongly warning them against abandonment of that hope. He calls the community to watch over one another and to continue to love one another with good deeds.

By putting Hebrews in dialogue with Roman imperialism, I think Western Christians can be better sensitized to a covenant faithfulness that does not worship the powers of this age. Also, many Christians throughout the world continue to deal with the kinds of “imperial” pressures (shame, confiscation, imprisonment, torture, death) that the audience of Hebrews experienced. While Hebrews still calls them today to faithfulness that looks to Jesus Christ as the author and perfecter of faith, it calls us to weigh our own allegiance and commitment to the hope God gives us in Christ. Moreover, it calls to us to prayer for and solidarity with those Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering in some of the same ways as the audience of Hebrews.

Whitlark’s book, Resisting Empire, is part of the 29-volume T&T Clark LNTS (2016) series, which can currently be bid on Pre-Pub, only on Logos.

Crossan: I Empire and the Barbarism of Civilization

Along with Richard Horsley and Warren Carter, John Dominic Crossan is one of the major thinkers contributing to Empire Scholarship. (For more information on him including videos of lectures, see the listing for him in my blog, Net Prophets.)

I will be posting several blogs which will be based on his “God and Empire”. However, there are two more of his books which are relevant to the issue of empire in the bibliography of my Subversive Church blog.


The first chapter of Crossan’s book raises the question: “Since the Old Roman Empire crucified our Lord Jesus Christ, how can we be his faithful followers in America as the New Roman Empire?”

My answer to his question is the reason for this project I’m working on: Subversive Church. However we decide among the choices for what writers refer to as “Empire” today- the American Empire  (J D Crossan), global capitalism (David Korten), multi-national corporations/fossil-fuel industry (Naomi Klein), the Totalism (Walter Brueggemann), the predator class (my daughter, Mary), the response of the church needs to be resistance to whatever power that would currently dominate us. What would be your choice? The Church’s alternative to empire is, of course, provided by Jesus’ central message, the Kingdom of God.

Under that question, Crossan raises others: What is the relationship of empire to civilization? Is there a civilisation where there is not also empire? If empire is normative does this mean that it is inevitable? Does our human nature require empire?

To help answer these questions Crossan turns to two authors to assist him. The first, Michael Mann, is to help Crossan understand the nature of power; the second, Ronald Wright, is to help him understand the nature of civilization.

Michael Mann, Professor of Sociology at the Berkeley campus of the University of California, has written a four-volume study on The Sources of Social Power. The first volume, “A History of Power from the Beginning to A.D. 1760”, is Crossan’s main source. In it, Mann looks at power first in prehistoric peoples where it does not reside permanently in any person or institution but is taken back when a threat to the tribe desists. (In the Old Testament, the period of Judges typifies this.) From there he moves to look at empires from the earliest in Mesopotamia to those at the time of the Industrial Revolution (1760) in his first volume.

Within the book’s 16 chapters, the Roman Empire is found in the center of the book. Mann refers to it as “one of the most successful conquering states in all history, but it was the most successful retainer of conquests.” It was the first empire to impress its power over the all the territories it conquered for an extensive period of time.

Mann has distinguished four types of power that, together constitute the sources of power in human society They are:

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.

It might be helpful knowing that sociologists commonly refer to the latter three as the sources of social power. Mann’s particular contribution is in removing military power from political power and giving it an equality with the other three. In an empire, military power is used to conquer new territory, but then it serves also to prevent internal questioning of the empire’s right to continuing domination of the political and economic spheres. The ideological power provides a softer form of persuasion, that those who rule have a divine mandate to do so. Crossan comments, “Think of it as persuasive advertising accepted very swiftly by all sides.”

Crossan has one major disagreement with Mann’s analysis of social power. “Since there is always a military component to power for Mann, he presumes a basis of force and violence—that is, of power-as-violent. He never considers nonviolent power—the power not of force and violence but of persuasion and attraction. 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.”

The distinction is significant for us as Crossan creates a space for the contribution of Jesus: non-violent persuasion. Jesus (and his followers) do not oppose the empire with military, political, or economic power. Jesus before Pilate says, ““My kingdom, 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” (John 18:36 KJV).

Crossan comments, “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.”

This underscores for me the essential nature of non-violence and non-violent resistance for followers of Jesus. It is not just an option in the toolbox of social methods for Christians. There is never a justification for people of the Kingdom of God to use violence. It is not just that violence doesn’t work, as Walter Wink points out in his “Myth of Redemptive Violence”. Like oil and water, there is no mixing of love with violence in God’s world. Period.

Perhaps you may recall that Crossan provided a chapter for “In the Shadow of Empire” and he was asked to cover the Roman Imperial Theology. Here he tells us two reasons for emphasizing ideological power among the four.

“First, Rome spoke of itself in transcendental terms as an empire divinely mandated to rule without limits of time or place. It did not simply proclaim dominion around the Mediterranean Sea. It announced world conquest, global rule, and eternal sovereignty.

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.”

This  is a good point to end my investigation of Crossan’s chapter. He continues by  talking about the intricate relationship of empire to civilisation. But I will deal with that at a later time. The reason for stopping after covering Crossan’s explication of the social sources of power will become evident in my next blog post, The Church and Resistance.

A closer look at “In the Shadow of Empire”

Horsley

In the Shadow of Empire, edited by Richard Horsley provides the best book to begin an investigation of the Roman Empire in it’s relation to Scripture. In my previous post I reviewed ‘Shadow’ along with the two other like books, Empire in the New Testament and Introduction to Empire in the New Testament.

Why do I consider it the best of the three?

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, military, 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,” points us toward the 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 second writer where I encountered the perspective of reading the New Testament through the eyes of Empire, Alan Streett’s Subversive Meals being the first. Crossan’s book, God and Empire is particularly significant in its stressing the empire as a religious alternative to the message both of Jesus and Paul. I will be posting a blog about God and Empire in due time.

“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 for understanding the early centuries. 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.” 

“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.”

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 of him 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 too 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 that “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.