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God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now Paperback – February 26, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
In this fine study of civilization, culture and transformation, Father Crossan asks important questions: have those who resort to violence as a means of change succeeded in their quest for empire? Or has nonviolence been more effective in bringing about lasting change? Crossan, professor emeritus at De Paul University and author of several well-received works including The Historical Jesus, believes that the solution is not in violent intervention but in the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth. But how, and when, will this Kingdom come? In comparing the missions of Jesus and John the Baptist, Crossan states his idea clearly: "Jesus differed precisely from John in emphasizing not the future-presence but the already-presence of God's Kingdom as the Great Divine Cleanup of the world." In other words, Christ saw the Kingdom as a present and active reality. Crossan uses the teachings of Jesus to promote his thesis, and then turns to an unlikely ally—the Apostle Paul—by suggesting that Paul's emphasis on equality and freedom helped carry forward Jesus' program of nonviolent change. Crossan's latest work presents a complex subject in a clear and powerful way, and it merits a wide readership. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* By Crossan's lights, Jesus proposed the nonviolent kingdom of God to supplant Rome. And not just Rome but civilization per se may be the object of Jesus' revolution, for civilization building was Rome's pretext for imperial aggression and economic as well as physical violence against common people. Fighting Rome was folly, so the kingdom of God movement aimed to liberate ordinary people nonviolently. It threatened Rome because Jesus' proclamation of God defied the Roman emperor's institutional divinity, and because Jesus proposed peace through justice against Rome's conceit that it achieved peace through the violence of conquest. Paul sharpened the concept of equality in the kingdom of God by advocating for slaves and cooperating on equal terms with women; here Crossan goes Garry Wills' What Paul Meant (2006) one better by carefully explaining that pro-slavery and anti-women Pauline remarks come from epistles spuriously attributed to him. Later, the Revelation of John promulgated a "pornography of violence" and has malevolently affected Christianity ever since, most recently in rapture theology, whose influence on U.S. neoconservatives' bush-league Rome is the immediate provocation for this book. The opposition of God and empire, of justice and violence, persists. Despite a few rant-lines from the progressives' book of cant, this book makes the best reading for the most readers of any that Crossan has written. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Crossan delivers his own credo on p. 198 when he reveals the content of his Bin of Disbelief, the main reasons he decries Christian fundamentalism and "Left Behind-ish" Apocalyptic theology. "What I reject," says the scholar, is "discrimination and oppression, homophobia and patriarchy, injustice and violence, force and empire."
That's a lot of rejecting. And Crossan is making the case that Jesus' message is right there with him, if only we can parse it out of the Bible. Trouble is, the Bible, including the New Testament, doesn't always seem to contain the same items in its Bin of Disbelief. This is where Crossan will lose a lot of readers. What he posits is that you must choose which parts of the New Testament to take seriously as bonafide Jesus talk (God's radicality) and which parts are later slippages back to civilization's normalcy.
He actually groups the Letters of St. Paul into three categories. The first group, definitely written by Paul, present the radical Paul who believes in the same Christianity as Crossan; the second group of letters are of suspect authorship and reveal the liberal Paul, a middle of the roader. The third bunch of letters are just plain phony, and here we find the conservative Paul, a sexist, anti-Semitic homophobe. The Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles are likewise infected with the backsliding to civilization's normalcy, while the earlier Gospel of Mark is a far better record of what really issued from Jesus' lips.
Worst of all is the Book of Revelation, today enjoying wide renown as the primary basis of the hugely popular "Left Behind" books about the end of the world. Crossan examines Revelation and determines that its author simply presents an untenable Jesus, one utterly different from the Jesus of history. Almost wistfully, Crossan cites Martin Luther King's reference to Revelation (p. 150), made a week before his murder, and concludes rightly that King interpreted the Book as referring to Jesus' First, not Second Coming. Scholarly integrity bars Crossan from such an easy out. He acknowledges that Revelation presents a very violent Jesus coming again and stomping enemies like grapes and feeding them to the vultures. Crossan simply rejects Revelation as a bogus presentation of Jesus and tells the reader he too must choose between the lovingly just and vengefully just Jesus, between the Kingdom of God as present and developing and the Kingdom as coming in fire and cosmic destruction.
It's a tough sell for Christians used to viewing the whole Bible as inspired and "scriptural." The New Testament might revise the Old, but the New Testament doesn't revise itself. There are moments in God and Empire where Crossan really does seem to be force fitting the "acceptable" passages into his preconceived notion of genuine Jesus talk. Most of what he argues, however, is defensible. His explication of 1 Thessalonians' treatment of the return of Jesus is masterful and spot on; it is a resounding refutation of those who want to view that passage as an exposition of "The Rapture" and those "Left Behind." His overall discussion of St. Paul is a little simplistic but most challenging. He is weakest when he argues for an end to civilization itself, as if that is what Jesus came to establish.
Crossan's analysis is far from weak, though. What he makes clear is that the "Left Behind" take on the Second Coming is fatally at odds with core tenets of Jesus' teaching. Not only that, if you buy the Left Behind fantasy, its insistence on God's determination to destroy the planet is so calamitous that it renders Jesus First Coming irrelevant. Jesus didn't have to live at all 2000 years ago for God to wipe us out and save the few He elects. He did it on a less catastrophic scale in the time of Noah, and Jesus wasn't needed then.
Crossan's main conclusions are compelling. The Second Coming of Jesus will not happen soon or violently or literally (pp 230, 231). The Second Coming happens when Christians recognize that the First Coming was the Only Coming and start cooperating with its Divine presence.
Rodney Stark, a professor of sociology and comparative religion, in 1996 published a history THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY:How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the World in a Few Centuries. How? By nonviolence! "But perhaps all else, Christianity brought a new concept of humanity to a world saturated with capricious crulty and viscarious love of death."
I believe Rodney Stark's book set fire under biblical scholars to investigate the historical living conditions that Jesus emerged from as well as the Jesus Movement.
In October 1999, Crossan took part in a Jesus Seminar lecture series (I was there in the audience) about "A Future for Christian Faith?" His full text was published in the book THE ONCE AND FUTURE JESUS. He explained: "What I am trying to imagine is what Christianity must do clearly and honestly to distinquish itself from fantasy." "In 1999 I never imagined...the speed with which faith-based thinking would morph into fantasy-based dreaming...."
In 2001 Crossan and Reed issued their first collaborative book EXCAVATING JESUS: The key Discoveries for understanding Jesus in His World. This book combined analysis of text conjoined with archaeological discoveries. "Jesus and his Kingdom were a threat to Roman law and order, and his Jewish God was a threat to the Roman God." This summation vibrates through the whole book.
In 2004 Crossan and Reed issued their second collaborative book IN SEARCH OF PAUL: How Jesus's Apostle opposed Rome's Empire with God's Kingdom. Again this book combine text conjoined with archaeological discoveries. "...Paul's radical horizontal Christian equality clashed forcibly with Roman society's normal vertical hierarchy." What was the clash? "In Christ...inside Christianity, a Christian Jew was not superior to a pagan, free Christian to an enslaved Christian, or male Christian to a female Christian. Paul took it for granted, therefore, that, within Christianity, women just as well as men could receive the same gifts, offer the same services and perform the same activities." All this "withinness-horizontal-equality" clashed with Rome's violent vision for peace.
In 2007 Crossan solo's his conclusions in GOD AND EMPIRE:Jesus against Rome,then and now. This percolated in 1999, 2001 and 2004. This book uses the past to confront the present and future of the American Empire and American Christianity. There is a two track solution to the normalcy of violence in human nature lived out in American Empire and American Religion. The fantasy of fundmentalism (the final solution toward human violence)is in God's Second Coming. It is all about the angry God slaughtering human beings with the exception for the God fearers.The members of this theology try to enable the Second Coming by supporting violence, here and now, that will force God to move on with the final violent solution, for peace. The second track of the final solution is nonviolence. God is waiting for the First Coming of Jesus to take hold within Christian humanity. Peace through love.
"I look here at Christianity fundamentalism in America and its ideological lust for imminent human slaughter and cosmic catastrophe. I look here, in other words, at its apocalyptic vision of a violent God and, above all else, at the biblical roots it claims for that vision of a terrible future consummation."
"John the Baptist expected God's advent, but Antipas's cavalry came instead. Maybe, thought Jesus, that was not how God acted because that is not how God is. Jesus own proclamation therefore insisted that the Kingdom of God was not imminenet but present.... But to claim an already present kingdom demands some evidence, and the only such that Jesus could offer is this: it is not that we are waiting for God, but that God is waiting for us....The Divine Cleanup is an-interactive process....To see the presence of the Kingdom of God, said Jesus, see how we live, and then live likewise."
This long journey from Rodney Start 1996 to 2007 tells the unfolding story of nonviolence leads to peace, and peace never comes from violence.
To feel the human Jesus and Paul up against violence of Empire and Religion to its fullest extent is by reading and grasping the unfolding good news in Rodney Stark, Crossan and Reed, and Crossan's solo finality GOD AND EMPIRE. "The good news...is that the violent normalcy of human civilization is not the inevitable destiny of human nature. Christian faith and human evolution agree on that point...since "we" invented civilization some six thousand years ago, "we" can un-invent it, "we" can create its alternative.
Crossan is inpirational. Crossan challenges us to create like Jesus and Paul a nonviolence world. God is waiting for us to introduce his peace in America and American Christianity through nonviolence, love. GOD AND EMPIRE is actually your story, in your time and space. Read it and go back and read its foundational works and begin to build God's Kingdom.
George Pieczonka, author of ANN OF GREEN PASTURES: The Makings of Your Married American Catholic Pastor.