God & Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now
John Dominic Crossan
HarperCollins, 2007 (2007)
Reviewed by Tim Davis
he renowned and prolific Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan begins his latest 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.
oing 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.
n 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.
ome 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 Jesus
The Birth of Christianity
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.
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