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Thursday, May 25, 2006

NT Christians and Empire: 'A Sly Civility'

That's "NT" as in "New Testament," not N.T. Wright, but I draw on Wright's statements about empire on page 170. A special issue of the Journal for the Study of the New Testament last year on Christians and empire explores this theme. A couple highlights:

A Sly Civility: Colossians and EmpireHarry O. Maier
Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Vol. 27, No. 3, 323-349 (2005)

This article relates Colossian vocabulary, motifs and theological themes to the cultural situation of the cult of the emperor. The author’s language and conceptualization of reconciliation as a cosmic and earthly peace (Col.1.15-23) reflects an imperial backdrop and utilizes civic vocabulary typical of Greek and Roman treatments of concord. His representation of Jesus’ death as a Roman triumph (2.15), and the incorporation of all humankind—including barbarians and Scythians—in a trans-ethnic unity (3.11) similarly reflects the geopolitical notions of a worldwide Roman Empire. The imperial imprint on the Household Code (3.18-4.1) is recognizable through attention to numismatic representations of Nero and his consort enjoying a divinely appointed familial concord. Though used by court theologians like Eusebius of Caesarea to legitimate a Christian application of Empire, the letter may be read as a destabilization of Empire inasmuch as it derives imperial-sounding ideals from the crucifixion of Jesus.

Re-mapping the Universe: Paul and the Emperor in 1 Thessalonians and Philippians
Peter Oakes
Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Vol. 27, No. 3, 301-322 (2005)

This article considers three texts that are frequently cited in relation to Rome: 1 Thess. 4.15-17; 1 Thess. 5.3; Phil. 2.9-11. Four options for the apparent parallels between Christian and Roman terminology are considered: (1) independent use of common sources, (2) Christian imitation of elements of Roman discourse or practice, (3) Christian writing in reaction to conflict stemming from Rome and (4) Christian writing that conflicts with Roman discourse or practice. The article concludes that 1 Thess. 5.3 and Phil. 2.9-11 conflict with Roman ideology. However, in neither case is Paul either writing polemic against Rome or specifically arguing against participation in the imperial cult. Instead, he is re-drawing the map of the universe in order to encourage Christians who are suffering under pressure from Graeco-Roman society.

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