Tuesday, August 7, 2007

a subversive jew, but subverting who?

Richard Horsley has put together another first rate book comprised by first rate scholars. Paul and the Roman Imperial Order expands the growing field of NT research concerning Paul as he relates to Rome. Particularly, Paul and the Roman Imperial Order (PRIO) focuses on re-envisioning Paul as being opposed to Rome, and the politics of empire, rather than pitting Paul against "Judaism." All of the articles focus on a different aspect of Paul's opposition to Rome.

Each article is valuable in its own right and ought to be read, but one of the most interesting articles is the final one. The last article is a critique by the historian Simon R.F. Price. Price writes "not as an expert in Paul and politics, but as an ancient historian" (175). Price is most well known for his seminal work Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor. Price's book is considered the source on the imperial cult by many NT scholars and historians in general. Thus his critiques are intelligent and valuable as an informed outsider to the conversation on Paul and politics.

Price's main critique is that we cannot simply read Paul against "Rome." Because Rome was an incredibly complex and diverse entity. Rome "was a massive unity, with great diversity" (178). Paul must be read in the context of the communities to which he wrote. Now, certainly within each of these communities, Roman politics are an issue, but the more immediate context and political climate is the provincial government of say Corinth or Thessalonica. I think this is a valid critique, and helpful for Christians in America.

It is easy for me to be opposed to the imperial politics of America and to think about how Jesus or Paul is opposed to it. I think it is important to point out the ways American politics and policy are opposed to the teaching of Jesus and Paul. However, the more immediate question for me and for the congregation where I preach is to consider the immediate context of Joplin, MO. What do Jesus and Paul's words mean to a community where foreign policy is not made, where people don't struggle with killing other people so much as killing themselves (with food, or drugs, or whatever).

I think part of what it means to be a Christian is to be subversive. Part of what I do, as a Christian, is tell the truth about things, and that subverts the "ruling powers and authorities" because they lie. What truth do I need to tell here? What truth do you need to tell where you are? Sure we're against Rome, but how does that affect what we say here or there?

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