I confess — I’ve been labeled an Empire Critic. I am not, at least I do not think I am. However, what I see in Scripture is a diatribe against Empire. We open in Genesis 1 with a counter to the Babylonian creation myth, which is in of itself a counter to the Babylonian Empire. Isaiah is against Empire. Jeremiah too. Deuteronomy three. I see Mark (a book not treated in this current volume) as a direct challenge to Empire, although I see little of the challenge in Matthew and Luke, and barely anything, if anything, in John. Revelation, of course, has always played a role of anti-Empire.
But I am not an Empire Critic in that every time Jesus is mentioned as Lord, I see it as a challenge to Caesar. Indeed, I think the confession of Jesus is Lord would allow for later authors to use it as a challenge to Caesar, regardless if it was first uttered in such a way. Further, there were other, more direct challenges to the early /an/Christian community than Rome, such as what to do with a crucified Messiah, how to act in the Synagogue, and the continuity with Moses. So, no, I do not see every word in the New Testament as dripping with anti-imperialist rhetoric. Although, I still think Jesus was the anti-imperial bandit, or rather, crucified as such.
I’ve read the forward and the introduction thus far, finding it somewhat interesting. Andy Crouch’s introduction, until he maintains that there is no anti-empire rhetoric (13–4), serves well the reminder of Empire present even in biblical translation and commentary. Following this is the editors’ introduction, suggesting that Empire Criticism is a North American response to the Bush Presidency.
What if it is? What if we see more clearly now the imperial slander in the New Testament because of the imperial presidency? Of course, we may that much more shallow if we allow the person sitting on the throne of government to dictate biblical interpretation. I mean, if that is the case, then we are truly pro-empire, aren’t we?
As with most hermeneutics, we do tend to more far to one side the swinging pendulum. So, as an avowed non-Empire critic, I look forward to this book.
My one concern is that the leading proponents of Empire Criticism — Warren Carter, Richard Horsley — are mentioned in the book, but never given a chance to respond. This is not the style of the book, to be sure, but I would like to see such a response.
Time will tell…
- McKnight & Modica (eds.), “Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not” (clrforum.org)
- Jesus Is Lord : The Greatest Christian Lie? (randyboswell.com)