Review of the book
Paul and Empire
Religion and Power in Roman Imperial Society
(Edited by Richard
Trinity Press International
sentence in the Introduction is, "Christianity
was a product of empire."
became the established religion of empires, started as
an anti-imperial movement." Jesus is now
being viewed as catalyzing a movement against Roman rule
and against the Jerusalem priestly aristocracy.
- In anticipation of
the End Times, Paul was establishing ekklesiaia
among the nations that were alternatives
to official assemblies throughout the empire.
- By the end of the New
Testament era (150), the speakers for the
Christian movement emphasized they were not
a threat to the imperial order.
- Then later, they
insisted that they were loyal to Caesar,
even though they had a loyalty to their God
(which was not part of the official state
- By the time of
Constantine, Christianity becomes the
established religion. and part of the empire
A change of thinking
emerged in the 18th century (the Enlightenment
era), where church and state became separate with their
own jurisdictions. This caused thinking about
Christianity to drift away from focusing on the political
aspects that were a part of early Roman-era Christianity.
New Testament studies, especially that of Paul, focused
on the purely spiritual religion and some interaction
with political Judaism. But by and large, imperial
politics were viewed as providing a background where
events took place.
However, Paul and
Empire is addressing the re-emergence of a field of
study that examines the interaction between Roman
politics and the development of Christianity.
Book overview. There are four main
sections in the book.
From the General Introduction
Section 1: The gospel of imperial
The contributor takes
a careful look at what the emperor cult was at
the time. How extensive it was, how meaningful it
was, at the time. The emperor cult was
probably not the mechanical, formulaic religion,
which is the common understanding today, but
widespread with significant participation
especially with the festivals and the
building of temples.
Its notable that the
emperor cult came into full swing with Augustus, which is
contemporary with emergent Christianity. Greeks regularly
identified Augustus with Zeus. We know there were statues
to Augustus and his wife Livia. There were temples to
Roma and Julius Caesar. A notable example being a temple
Highly eschatological texts
were contemporary with Jesus and Paul. These were Roman
texts. More than the frequently (and often only
cited) Fourth Eclogue of Virgil. This eschatological
thinking was part of a "more general and pervasive
mood". For example, the Carmen Saecularie of
Horace a poem contemporary with the New Testament.
Rituals for the imperial court:
Changes with Augustus. People
were proposing starting the new year on his birthday. The
imperial cult was something that the cities and city
governments involved themselves with. It was integrated
into the city spaces (e.g. statues and temples and
sanctuaries). Book focuses mostly on Greek cities.
Power of images:
Reviews where the buildings
were located. Competition between cities to see which
could best promote the imperial cult. "The imperial
cult did spread throughout the west, but not as early as
in the east. But by the end of Augustus reign,
there was probably not a single Roman city in Italy or
the western provinces that did not enjoy several cults
linked to the imperial house."
A complication: There was no
tradition of ruler cult in the west (Italy) where there
was a sharper distinction between mortal and immortal.
The Greeks were less inclined to see that distinction.
From the General Introduction
Section 2: Patronage, priesthoods, and
examination of the emperor cult which was
in essence the top node of the hierarchy
of the power and patronage relationships
throughout the empire. Note that Christianity
with its egalitarian outlook
("horizontal" was quite different from
the vertical hierarchical structure(s) that Rome
developed throughout its empire. The author
focuses on "pyramids of patronal
social-economic power relations" that
describes the then existing situation.
Not only the means of social
control, but also the means of social cohesion.
"Pyramids of patronage" are not purely
oppressive control structures, but the way society
Augustus came to power following years of civil war,
people were glad to see a period of calm, and this
reinforced the support for the emperor (and by extension,
the emperor cult). [p 91] People supported the tying
together of various pyramids of patronage under a single
top-node: the emperor.
Books examines the
reciprocal exchanges, services rendered (often to the
poor or the deceased) under patronage. These
organizations were mutual-aid societies, collegia.
Even though these were, relatively speaking, conservative
societies, they posed a threat because they were an
alternative to the government. There were some
restrictions imposed on the collegia, such as
being only able to meet once a month.
Patronage in Roman Corinth
a detailed examination:
Emperor was the patron of
most likely that patronage would become the background
for understanding the relational ties in the church and
some of the problems Paul discussed in 1
Priestly role of the princeps:
The emperor was the princeps
(absolute ruler whose word was law)
From the General Introduction
Section 3: Pauls counter-imperial
Previously the focus
on Paul was on his promotion of "his"
religion over the preexisting Judaism. However,
more recent analysis indicates that some of the
expressions and words used by Paul
"the cross") were borrowed from the
Roman imperial ideology and therefore statements against
the imperial ideology. Various statements of Paul
"Pauls gospel stands counter primarily
to the republican imperial order, this
world, which is passing away"
- 1 Thessalonians,
where Paul disdains Roman imperial "peace
- 1 Corinthians, where
Paul writes about the impending doom of
"every rural ruler and every authority in
- Philippians, problems
with officials in the town
- Romans, which can be
viewed as a letter focusing on the inclusion of
Jews and Gentiles in a movement that awaits the
End Times. The "doom and destruction"
is not on Judaism, or The Law (or not only that),
but on the "rulers of this age.
Much of Pauls language
would have evoked echoes of the imperial cult and
ideology, and revealed his preaching to be
anti-imperial gospel. (There is a lot of textual
analysis done by contributors to the book.) Examples are
words such as "salvation", "savior",
"loyalty", and "gospel". Author notes
the "imperial" language found in Romans and in
the most striking opposition to the imperial gospel and
Pauls gospel is their theology in relation to
politics. The imperial ideology emphasized that Jupiter
and the gods handed power over to Augustus. Paul, by
contrast, insisted that Christ was now reigning in heaven
and, after every rule and every authority and
power, would hand the kingdom over to God the
so that God may be all in all"
(1 Cor. 15:24,28)
Romans: (excerpts from
- "Every page of the
letter contains indications that Paul has very concrete
and critical objections to the dominant theology of the
Roman empire under the principate. By using such loaded
terms as euangelion (gospel), pistis (faith),
dikaiosyne (solidarity of God with mortals), and eirenes
(peace), provokes their association with Roman
theology. In Romans, Paul introduces the figure he
considers to be the true king, into the kingship
- "A power that, in fact,
considers itself politically and religiously central, a
force that claims universal dominion in the social realm,
but bases this claim on a religion and theology: the
- "Pauls use of
terminology drawn from the law of royal succession in
Romans 1:3-4 shows that he is making more than a
- "In 1:14, Paul speaks of
his obligation to both Greeks and barbarians, a typical
formula in Hellenistic propaganda, especially political
propaganda, for the unity of the human race."
- "If the terms chosen by
Paul for his Roman readers have associations with the
Caesar religion, then Pauls gospel must be
understood as competing with the gospel of the
The term parousia is
used four times in 1 Thess. and twice in 2 Thess.
(elsewhere in Paul, only once). It had been an assumption
that is was a technical term for the eschatological
coming of Jesus or the Son of Man. However, there is no
evidence in pre-Christian apocalyptic literature for such
technical usage. The author concludes that the term has
been introduced by Paul in the letter and that it is a political
term closely related to the status of the community.
The author asserts that Paul describes the coming of the
Lord like the coming of Caesar.
Anti-imperial message of the
cross: (excerpts from chapter 10)
- "It is impossible to
exaggerate the importance of the cross of Jesus Christ to
- "The entrance rite of
baptism was in his eyes nothing less than co- crucifixion
with Christ" (Rom. 6:1-5); the common sacred meal,
the Lords supper, a solemn and public
proclamation of the Lords death." (1 Cor.
- "As soon as we recognize
the centrality of the cross, for Paul, the common view
that Paul was uninterested in political realities should
leave us perplexed. The crucifixion of Jesus is, after
all, one of the most unequivocally political events
recorded in the New Testament. A study of crucifixion in
the Roman world highlights its political significance as
a means of capital punishment was the supreme Roman
penalty. Crucifixion was, above all, a deterrent against
trouble" [Example: crucifixion of 6,000 followers of
Spartacus in 71 BC, various instances under: Varus in 4
BC, Felix in 50 CE, Florus, and Titus]
- "Pauls letters
show little interest in recounting the words and deeds of
Jesus." [Paul conceives Jesus death as the
decisive event in a cosmic struggle. And the cross
figures prominently in that.]
- "Pauls perspective
on the death of Jesus is thoroughly and profoundly
- "In the cross, God has
annulled the wisdom of this age and of the rulers of this
age. Further, since the one whom the rulers crucified has
been raised from the dead, the rulers have clearly marked
themselves out for destruction. (1 Cor. 2:6-8;15:51-58)
The immediate consequence is that the Christian is no
longer obligated to the scheme of this world, which is
passing away (1 Cor. 7:31), but is called to obey the God
who has chosen the weak, those without rank or
standing in the world, mere nothings, to overthrow the
existing order (1 Cor. 1:28 Revised English
- In the context of imperial
propaganda, the exhortation to be "subject to the
governing authorities" in Romans 13, these seven
verses have cause more unhappiness and misery than any
other seven verses in the New Testament by the license
they have given to tyrants.
Opinion: an interpolation
A persistent minority of
scholars have rejected Romans 13:1-7 as a non-Pauline
interpolation into the letter. Romans 13:1-7 addresses a
subject that Paul discussed nowhere else.
characterization of the governing authorities
appears a contradiction of Pauls thought.
Especially troubling are discrepancies within the
immediate of Romans 12-13. These include the lapse of
eschatological expectation in 13:1-7 (present against in
Opinion: written by Paul
It makes sense when read
against the general climate of anti-Jewish sentiment in
Rome. The tax system was brutal, and Jews were often
identified with tax collecting.
"Some people have
thought that Romans 13:1-7 to be a response to the
vulnerable status of the Jews, or a posture of
to subjection to authorities in 13:1-7 would have
functioned within the overall rhetorical purpose of
Romans to advocate for the safety of the Jewish community
Other people think
Pauls concern was with the ambiguous and vulnerable
status of the Christian congregations in Rome
Gentile Christians were no longer identified with
the Jewish synagogue.
From the General Introduction
Section 4: Building an alternative society.
Point to note:
Religion and daily life were co-mingled, and
its hard to have a religion separate from
everything else thats going on. Its
integral to the society.
The author claims that Paul was not
starting a new religion as we might view
it. Paul was establishing ekklesiai, which
were largely separate from imperial society.
[assemblies] are local communities of an alternative
society to a Roman imperial order."
"Ekklesiai is a political term with certain
religious overtones." (Its misleading to
translate it as church.)
1 Corinthians: a case study of
Pauls assembly as an alternative society:
group solidarity, Paul insisted that the Corinthian
assembly conduct its own affairs autonomously in complete
independence of the world as he writes in no
uncertain terms in 1 Corinthians 5-6".