Thursday, July 30, 2009

Paul and the Roman Imperial Order

Richard A. Horsley ed., ix + 198 pages
Trinity Press International

ISBN-13: 978-1563384219
About $30.

Richard Horsley is the Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and the Study of Religion at the University of Massachusetts Boston. As the title would suggest, this book approaches Paul with the understanding that Paul was not merely concerned with religious systems (primarily Judaism), but that he was also concerned with the political-economic life. So here is a short overview of the book:
Introduction: Horsley lays out the shift from "standard NT scholarship" that have focused the bulk of its attention on Paul and Judaism toward the Roman Empire. The book is basically a publishing of the session at the 2000 annual SBL meeting with some additions.
Chapter 1: Robert Jewett, "The Corruption and Redemption of Creation", Reading Rom. 8:18-23 within the Imperial Context.
Jewett overviews Greco-Roman understanding of nature, looking at Hesiod, Virgil, Horace, etc. He then looks specifically at Romans 8 to discover the "implications of Paul's formulation against the foil of the imperial context." He does a pretty thorough job walking through the relevant section in Romans 8 to see Paul's view of fall and redemption of creation.
Chapter 2: Abraham Smith, "Unmasking the Powers", Toward a Postcolonial Analysis of 1 Thessalonians.
Having just finished working through 1 Thessalonians in my Greek exegesis class with Dr. Arnold, this chapter was particularly interesting to me. He believes that this book contains Paul's resistance to the empire and as such he has a section on resistance among Judean-Israelites and different philosophies, a section on the Pro-Roman elites, and a section on Paul's criticism of Thessalonian aristocracy to strengthen his argument.
Chapter 3: Neil Elliott, "The Apostle Paul's Self-Presentation as Anti-Imperial Performance".
Elliot argues that while the imperial imagery and cult were ritual representations of power, so was the performance of Paul's presence, through his language of triumph, afflictions, and war-imagery.
Chapter 4: Rollin A. Ramsaran, "Resisting Imperial Domination and Influence", Paul's Apocalyptic Rhetoric in 1 Cor.
Ramsaran argues that "how Judean apocalyptic traditions inform or possibly provide the backbone to Paul's argument have not been adequately examined." Here, Paul is seen as an 'apocalyptist' who uses Greco-Roman rhetoric in 1 Cor.
Chapter 5: Efrain Agosto, "Patronage and Commendation, Imperial and Anti-Imperial".
This was a good chapter that overviews various forms of patronage and commendation seen in the Roman world, especially making note of the "letters of recommendation" as one principal means by which this imperial patronage system was propagated. Agosto then focuses his attention on commendation in four of Paul's letters (1 Thess. 5; 1 Cor. 16; Phil. 2, 4; Rom. 16), concluding that Paul's commendations are "almost diametrically opposite" to the imperial system.
Chapter 6: Erik M. Heen, "Phil. 2:6-11 and Resistance to Local Timocratic Rule", Isa theo and the Cult of the Emperor in the East.
Heen focuses most of his attention on isa theo in Phil. 2:6b, seeing how such terms were used by Greek urban elites to honor the emperor and views the Christ hymn of Phil. 2:6-11 as direct resistance to the imperial cult.
Chapter 7: Jennifer Wright Knust, "Paul and the Politics of Virtue and Vice".
Knust sees Paul's rhetoric of virtue and vice as not just a typical polemic from a well-taught Hellenistic Jew, but even as a "pointed attack" toward outsiders, including the emperor himself. While others piled on virtue upon virtue in their description of emperors, Paul's description of outsiders as idolaters given up to impurity and dishonor cannot be ignored as mere stereotypical polemic.
Chapter 8: Simon R.F. Price, "Response".
Some final thoughts from whom Horsley deems as an important figure in opening up the discussion of the imperial cult and its relationships.

For 200 pages, this is definitely a good book to get started on the discussion of Paul and the Roman Empire.

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