Review: Jesus is Lord Caesar is Not

Over the last 18 years anti-imperial and postcolonial readings of the New Testament have become fashionable. Formidable scholars like N. T. Wright advocate such readings. But how well do they hold up to scrutiny? Scot McKnight and Joseph Modica have edited together a book to answer that question.

I found the book to be a helpful introductory work in the area of empire and postcolonial criticism. The first essay is a nice summary of Roman ideology, philosophy and theology. The second essay gives a helpful intro into the field of empire criticism of the NT. The rest of the book looks at certain books of the NT and evaluates the use of empire criticism.

I agree with the consensus evaluation of the writers that the NT isn’t so much anti-empire, specifically anti-Rome, but rather sees Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament eschatology and apocalyptic hope. The OT looked for Israel’s God to return to Jerusalem and restore the Davidic monarchy and rule over the nations. In other words, God will defeat the pagan nations through his servant, the Messiah, and establish himself as king over all. The Gospels and Paul are trying to teach the Jew+Gentile church how to live out Jesus as God fulfilling this hope.

The major setback of this book isn’t so much what is says, but what it doesn’t. The authors spend so much time talking about the shortcomings of anti-imperial readings that they fail to say how it is helpful. They look at specific passages to show how postcolonial doesn’t work. But they will also say its helpful and then never get more specific than that. I would have liked to have seen a more evenhanded approach. In discussing the Gospels, they mention how the presentation of Pontus Pilate (the closest thing to a standin for Rome) isn’t a negative presentation. The Gospels spend most of their time critiquing the Jewish leadership instead of Roman leadership. But they left out the Roman soldiers who mocked Jesus and cast lots for his clothes. How does this part of the story play into the Gospels’ understanding of Rome?

I liked the book and found it helpful in seeing the shortcomings of empire criticism. It was a good reality check to see N. T. Wright get critiqued for overreaching on his anti-imperial readings. But I found the book not as helpful as it could be because there could have been more said, in specifics, about how empire criticism is helpful–rather than just merely stating the fact.


~ by hankimler on July 20, 2013.

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