I’ve never been one to take anything wholesale, including the theories and/or hypotheses I agree with.1 So, when it comes to reading Warren Carter, I do have my problems with him. I have thus found something more to agree with Joel Willitts than the awesomeness of his first name.
Willitts is sympathetic to Carter (84) although changes the direction of Carter’s Empire away from Rome to that-which-is-not-Jesus’s. The essayist displays Carter’s genius easily enough, and then precedes to challenge the extent to which the scholar has taken his conclusions. I must agree with many of the points in Willitts’ evaluation, including the all or nothing approach Carter seems to employ. To suggest Matthew is writing directly against the Empire from start to stop is to first deny Markan priority and second the historicity of the person of Jesus. Is Jesus just a literary vehicle for Matthew? Hardly. Further, as Matthew pulls a great deal from Mark, but loosens the anti-imperialist message found in that Gospel, I would argue Matthew’s main goal is not Rome, but Antioch.
I will not bore you with anything else, saving that for the review later; however, I must engage one area, and explain why I think Carter has at least one point in this round. Willitts only engages Carter and not Carter’s foundation. The Essayist does speak to Carter’s methodology (85–9) and does so without polemical swipes. However, when speaking about the “cultural intertextuality” (what I have called the memetext) and “hidden transcripts,” Willitts only engages Carter and not the originator of those concepts. The essential concept to investigate is Scott’s idea of transcripts, but throughout this entire essay, Scott is not mentioned. Unfortunately, this doesn’t allow me to completely agree with Willitts, but the points Willitts raises must force the Empire Critic to carefully reexamine any full reliance upon Carter’s methodology. The role of the hidden transcript must not be underplayed, as it seems Willitts has done.2
Another point I will raise is Willitts’ objection to the use of Matthew’ genealogy in Carter’s empire critical studies (85). A genealogy tracing back to David and then to Abraham does not mean it is not related to Rome. What better way to treat Rome as a temporary plaything of long dead gods than to toss it aside by highlighting the promises made to King David, but further, before time really began, back to Abraham? Thus, it is not the lineage of the Flavians that matter, but the linage of a conquered people rescued always from the garbage dumps of history. Unfortunately, we must be skeptical here, as the genealogy is just as likely to point to the doubt many may have had in Jesus as a rightful messiah. Further, I would personally argue that the genealogy argues more for continuity with David and Abraham for the Church rather than have anything to do with either Rome or Jesus himself. Yet, the anti-Rome flavor of it remains.
There is rarely, anymore, a book I want to savor, to take apart piece by tender piece. This one, however, is one of them.