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Neil Elliott, an Episcopal priest, teaches biblical studies at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities and Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis. He is the author of Liberating Paul (Fortress ed. 2005, 978-0-8006-2379-1) and The Rhetoric of Romans (Fortress ed. 2006, 978-0-8006-6202-8).
I am a New Testament scholar, an Episcopal priest, and an editor of academic books in biblical studies. I'm the author of books on this page -- but not the author of some other books on Amazon published by another Neil Elliott. Caveat lector.
Written by Neil Elliott (adjunct faculty member in Biblical Studies, Metropolitan State University) The Arrogance of Nations: Reading Romans in the Shadow of Empire is an interpretation of the Biblical text Romans that dares to divest itself from older interpretations of Paul's theology of law and gospel. In addition, The Arrogance of Nations traces surprising parallels between ancient Roman ideology and the contemporary Western world. Refuting modern attempts to frame Paul's letter in terms of noncorporeal spirituality, The Arrogance of Nations places Paul's letter firmly in the context of Roman imperial ideology. Interpreting the letter as a confrontation between Paul and the arrogance of the Roman empire, as well as the temptation implicit in the power that gives rise to such pride, The Arrogance of Nations is a welcome addition to biblical studies shelves.3
I'm grateful for the insight, reading Romans from a context within the empire in which discipleship to Jesus of Nazareth would not be tolerated, keeping in mind America is the world's greatest empire ever. I expected more exegetical insights from the Romans text. There were some but not a lot. What there was a lot of was detailed descriptions of life under the various emperors. This would be excellent info for a professor, but not so much for a pastor trying to get the key insights to his/her congregation.
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I could go on about 20 pages describing what a mess this is intellectually, but I'll just hit a few main points. What the author tries to do it take the ideology of a few modern, western ivory tower intellectuals and ascribe it to Paul and makes Rome identical to America. To do this, first of all he has to dismiss anything Paul says which doesn't match his theories. The rationalization of Antisemitic comments, for example, is just comical. He also makes Rome identical to America--Obama is Nero! According to this comical book, an absolute despot like Nero who could kill or rape at will and inherited rather than earned his position is no different from a democratically elected President like Obama, who is subject to checks and balances, as well as media scrutiny. Roman emperors were only subject to "media" scrutiny after their deaths. Also, in ancient Rome unlike America very, very few people were literate and the author assumes that Paul and his readers were familiar with all the Roman texts he cites. Really? For someone who really claims to know ancient Rome, he doesn't seem to realize that books like Suetonius' "Twelve Caesars" existed in a small handful of copies, read only be Senators and a few wealthy landowners. Like all intellectuals, left or right, the author VASTLY exaggerates the importance of other intellectuals. How could Paul be creating an anti-imperialist ideology against these texts that NEITHER HE NOR HIS AUDIENCE WOULD HAVE EVER HEARD OF? In fact, authors of the "history of the common person" school have pointed out how, especially in antiquity, the average person on a farm might not have even known what state they were living in. Before televisions, newspapers, schools, etc., imperial governments were so distant as to be nonexistent in the minds of most of the population. I never thought I would say this, as a lifelong progressive, but the far left is getting as ideological and as removed from the facts as the far right.