Lent 9: Horsley, Jesus and Empire

I’ve relented on my lent reading, so I’m ending up with about 50 pages a day instead of 100.  In part because I see no reason to beat myself up and try to “impress” Jesus – as if he cares if I can read 100 pages instead of 50 – and in part because of shockingly good books like Richard Horsley’s Jesus and Empire.

Horsley is a professor at U of Massachusetts and he’s written several books with interesting titles; while this is the first I’ve heard of him, I wouldn’t be surprised if I picked up some more of his books in the future.  This one, Jesus and Empire is an interesting comparison of the Roman Empire and the American Empire.  While most books look at the peace of Rome, Horsley looks at what life was like at the edges of the Roman Empire – where it was a little rough and wild at times.  He then compares this to the places in the world at the edge of the American empire – where America is influencing the world at the edges (think recent wars and stuff like that).  It’s an interesting book about the awkwardness of being a Christian ( a tradition of “underdog” ) and being an American (a tradition of “champion”).

While I love that Horsley doesn’t get judgmental on America – he’s not a flaming liberal that thinks America is evil and stuff – I do wish he would at least mention the good that America has done in the world.  The progress of the world’s technology, life expectancy and economy must give a lot of credit to America’s contributions to the world.  A big difference between Rome and America (as far as I can tell) is America’s generosity in their foreign policy.  All the same, it’s a book well worth the read.

Here’s 9 great (and thick!) takeaways:

  1. p.3, “Ancient democracy had gone awry in the decline of public virtue and the rise of self-interest, as Roman patricians sought their own selfish interests above those of the Republic.” (tell me that’s not the frustration of most Americans with their politicians 🙂
  2. p.40, “the resistance was deeply rooted in the Mosaic covenant, the very foundation of Judean society.  In every case it is clear that, following the principle of exclusive loyalty to God and God’s law, the religious and political-economic dimensions are inseparable.”
  3. p.54, “The principal division was clearly between the peasantry and their rulers, Herodian and high-preistly as well as Roman, not between ‘Romans’ and ‘Jews’ generally.”
  4. p.90, “Not always, but often enough, the rulers had killed the prophets…Most vivid in the memories of Jesus’ followers, Herod Antipas had arrested and beheaded John the Baptizer for his insistence on convenental justice.”
  5. p.98, “The impression prevails that Jesus did not condemn Roman rule.  The traditional view is that Jesus was preaching a spiritual kingdom, while Caesar headed the temporal kingdom – but now we recognize that as a later self-protective and accommodationist Christian projection.”
  6. There is a discussion on the parallels found in Jesus’ exorcisms, Roman Empire on page 100 through 108.  Especially with a look at Mark 5:1-20.  Simply amazing!
  7. p.105, “In the confidence that the Roman imperial order stood under the judgment of God’s imminent kingdom, Jesus launched a mission of social renewal among subject peoples.  In contrast to some of the scribal intellectuals who were waiting patiently for God’s decisive ‘intervention in history’ to terminate imperial rule, Jesus and his followers understood God to be acting already in the people’s lives and communities.”
  8. p.112, (interesting in relation to communal salvation) “In this meaning context, then, it is highly significant that both the Markan and the Q mission speeches include several indications that the mission focused on villages, not just on individuals or households.”
  9. p.133, “With a cadre of other teachers and organizers, Paul set about building communities of the faithful in key cities around the eastern Mediterranean areas of the empire.  Paul and his mission are usually understood in heavily Lutheran theological terms.  But once we cut through the old theological view, it becomes clearer that Paul was, in effect, building an international anti-imperial movement of an alternative society based in local communities.”
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