In Search of Paul: How Jesus’ Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom

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Topics: Theology & Religious Education. Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “In Search of Paul: How Jesus’ Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom

  1. Review

    If you’re not sure you want to plunk down 30+ dollars for this sizeable hardbound book visit a bookstore, grab a copy off the shelf, find a comfortable chair, and read the Preface and the Prologue. You will get a sense of where they’re going. The authors link Paul to “the Roman Imperial world that surrounded him, the Jewish covenantal religion that formed him and the Christian faith that enthralled him.” (p x)

    Here’s another quote: “The Roman Empire was based on the common principle of peace through victory.” Then justice might follow. But not for Paul. “Following in Jesus’ footsteps…Paul claimed that the kingdom of god was already present” and operated on the principle of “peace through justice.” (xi)

    The major thrust of the book is to contrast Roman Imperial theology with the kingdom of god. Each of these theological systems has a “son of God.” Rome ’s was Augustus who was “lord, savior, redeemer, and liberator. He was divine, son of God, God and God from God.” (4) It was this theology that was the heart of Roman religion in the first century, and the glue that held the empire together.

    For Christians it was quite different. Jesus the Christ was given many of those titles. Here we see the heart of Paul’s theology. If Christians saw Jesus the way Rome saw Caesar you had two powerful forces coming to a head on collision. If Jesus was lord then Caesar wasn’t. Paul would say “right on!” Rome would say “atheism”, if they’re in a good mood, “treason” if they’re not! Listen to Crossan and Reed; “Christians must have understood that to proclaim Jesus as son of God was deliberately denying Caesar his highest title and that to announce Jesus as Lord and Savior was calculated treason.”

    Crossan and Reed are careful and competent scholars who collaborated in the research and writing of this book. Crossan, the New Testament scholar and Reed, the field archeologist each valued the contribution of the other. Together they claim that, “Without seeing the archeology of Roman Imperial theology, you cannot understand any exegesis of Pauline Christian theology.” (x) You may see such a statement as a bit of hyperbole, but, if nothing else, it makes clear how they see the data that archeology produces and the light it sheds on biblical interpretation.

    The archeological data is not found in old manuscripts hidden in a dusty backroom of some museum. It does not tell us all we need to know. The authors agree with professor Adolf Diessemann, a German New Testament scholar who wrote early in the last century: “It is texts on stone, metal, wax, papyrus, parchment, wood or ceramics, recently discovered by archeological investigation that enable us to see what Roman imperial theology was all about and the role it played in the empire.”

    Another point our authors find extremely important has to do with Paul’s “target audience”. They insist that the goal of Paul’s missionary effort was not to convert Jews to Christianity. Rather, Paul went after the pagan sympathizers, God-fearers or God-worshipers who hung-not in the synagogues. They argue that “Paul went to Jewish synagogues not to convert Jews, but to unconvert their pagan sympathizers.” (xi) In other words, Paul was presenting another way of being Jewish. The authors state this as their “major working hypothesis; Paul’s pagan or gentile mission focused primarily not on full Jews or pure pagans, but on those in-betweens known as God-fearers, God-worshipers, or, more simply, sympathizers.” (38)

    Though the “togetherness” with which the authors functioned is clear, it is possible to see Crossan’s “fingerprints” now and then. It is his style that has endeared him to thousands of “admirers” and has caused many to insist that “no one writes like Dom does.” For example, he ends the preface with a “for instance” in which his imagination leads him to conclude something that has relevance for our time: “In Matthew’s powerful parable, Pilate’s wife sent him this message as he sat in judgment on Jesus: ‘Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him’ (27:I9). That’s all Matthew tells us about the interchange, but imagine what might have happened later that day. When Pilate returned to his private quarters, he told his wife that he had received her advice but had condemned Jesus to death in any case. ‘But this’, he said, ‘is what I cannot understand. Why do these people oppose us? We have peace and prosperity. We have brought them law and order. We have brought them free trade and international commerce. Why do they hate us so?’” (xiv) They never understood that what the Roman Empire imposed upon them was for their own good. Much of our world today has a similar problem with the American Empire.

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