In her essay “Anti-Imperial Rhetoric in the New Testament,” Judith A. Diehl, a New Testament professor at Denver Seminary, suggests anti-imperialist language in already suspect (because they were new) writings “could have resulted in the death of the ones communicating opposition to the ruling authorities and/or the audience to whom they wrote.” (43)
Is this accurate? I would counter that there are several barriers in existence between her statement and the allowance of a hidden anti-imperial stance in the Gospels and/or the rest of the New Testament. There are reasons to hide things in plain sight. We’d also have to assume the Emperor or someone connected to the Emperor cared enough to read the Gospels and/or Epistles. As Frederick Ahl suggests, Quintilian was able to get past the Flavian censors when he mentioned Lucan once. Then there is Statius and Martial. Lucan got caught, by Nero, but his wife still published his works.
It was entirely possible to write against the Empire, as I would like to hope I have demonstrated in my recent work, without the Empire taking note — and with other Christians not only taking note, but building upon it. The best anti-imperialist rhetoric comes from the hidden sources, hidden right under the Emperor’s nose. We see this in Latin orators/poets, so how is it we should not allow for this in a little known Jewish sect? The Jews had long perfect anti-imperialist writings, or polemical writings rather. The Christians just learned from those around them.
Again, I am not convinced every word in the NT drips with anti-imperialism, but there are aspects clearly evident.
- McKnight & Modica (eds.), “Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not” (clrforum.org)
- Saving Jesus from Paul and John (Sunday Homily) (mikerivageseul.wordpress.com)