Tuesday, January 8, 2019

God & Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now by John Dominic Crossan

The renowned and prolific Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan begins his 2007 book by building upon an indisputable premise: empires (civilizations) have almost always been united by and strengthened by four types of power - military, economic, political, and ideological; paradoxically, though, virtually all empires (think Rome and its successors, including contemporary superpowers and their religiously inspired challengers) also have faced (and will face) almost certain destinies: they rise and fall because violence is inextricably associated with their power.

Going beyond that foundational, historical observation, Crossan demonstrates ways in which the historical Jesus (and the Jesus Christ of the New Testament) set himself against Roman power through a simple though revolutionary assertion: any kingdom (empire), and more particularly the Kingdom of God, could (and would) bring justice (and civilized stability) to humanity only through peace rather than through violence.

In another step beyond those initial observations and demonstrations, Crossan argues extensively and persuasively that the future of the world now depends upon a renewed understanding and adoption of Jesus' assertion. Moreover, as argued by Crossan's reading of the Gospels, the writings of Paul, and Revelation (the too frequently misinterpreted and most disturbingly co-opted apocalyptic vision that ends the canonically organized and limited Christian testament), human beings (and their dangerously premised empires) have no other sensible option if they wish to enjoy the promise of heaven on earth; in fact, says Crossan, the current (and prospective) political climate brings with it a certain urgency, and only a revised and improved (and apolitical) understanding of Jesus' message will save this violence prone world from inevitable self-inflicted annihilation.

Some sectarian (and perhaps some politically motivated) readers - especially readers who remain intransigently convinced of the absolute, fundamental inerrancy of the Holy Bible - may have a tough time embracing Crossan's methodology and arguments. And readers unfamiliar with Crossan's earlier works (especially The Historical JesusThe Birth of Christianity, and In Search of Paul) may wish to familiarize themselves with those first as preludes and preparations for God & Empire. Notwithstanding the foregoing, however, God & Empire is an important and most highly recommended book. Cogently argued and sensibly supported with abundant textual (secular and non-secular) evidence, God & Empire is another powerful work from an author who has established his credentials as a provocative, iconoclastic interpreter of Christianity and the Bible.


  1. religion is a funny business. on the one hand the major ones that i'm aware of all recommend peace as the dominant value in sociological situations, but they're also responsible for a lot of violence and wars throughout history... but maybe that's true of most human institutions? not science so much, tho, i don't think...

    1. Hmmm. If it weren’t for science and technology, humans would have no weapons except for pointy sticks, bows and arrows, and stone cudgels. Instead, because of S and T, we have guns, bombs, missiles,and more. Hmmm.

    2. good point but there are lots of positive things also: the internet for one... the list is pretty long... i guess i'm just a fan of logical thinking...

    3. Logical thinking? .... I'm reminded of the logical Pascal and his famous formulation about God. Hmmm.