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Subversive Meals: An Analysis of the Lord's Supper under Roman Domination during the First Century Paperback – June 27, 2013
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From the Back Cover
Eating the Lord's Supper was an act of political resistance ----
Subversive Meals examines the Lord's Supper within the socio-political context of first-century CE Roman domination, and concludes that it was an anti-imperial praxis. Although the Christian communal meal looked much like a typical Roman banquet in structure with a deipnon and a symposion, it was essentially different. The Roman meal supported the empire's ideology, honored Caesar and the gods, reinforced stratification among the masses, and upheld Rome's right to rule the world. The Christian meal, on the other hand, included hymns that extolled Jesus as Lord, prophecies that challenged Rome's ideological claims, and letters--read aloud--that promoted egalitarianism and instructed believers how to live according to kingdom of God principles. Hence, the Christian banquet was an act of non-violent resistance, or what James C. Scott calls a "hidden transcript."
The nascent Jesus movement looked to: 1) the Passover, a covenant meal of political liberation; 2) Jesus' counter-imperial mealtime teachings; and 3) his kingdom-oriented interpretation of the Last Supper as bases for its own meal practices.
"Worship is politics. Alan Streett sets the Lord's Supper in the context of Passover and Jesus' mealtime teaching to argue astutely that it was an anti-imperial praxis. It contested Roman rule, ideology, and stratified social practice with theological and Christological counter-assertions, and egalitarian social practices. Streett's insightful argument makes a significant contribution in recasting understandings of the Lord's Supper."
Warren Carter, Professor of New Testament,
Brite Divinity School, TCU (Fort Worth, TX)
"The concept behind this book is brilliant, and Streett has given it a thorough and judicious study. This book will serve as a benchmark for future scholarly debates about early Christian meals and anti-imperial rhetoric."
Dennis E. Smith, LaDonna Kramer Meinders Professor of New Testament,
Phillips Theological Seminary (Tulsa, OK)
"The Passover meal was a celebration of liberation from the ancient Egyptian Empire. So if the Lord's Supper continued the tradition of the Passover celebration, as Streett contends, wasn't it a celebration of liberation from the Roman Empire? Alan Streett has 'connected the dots' in a careful step by step analysis and argument. For those loyal to a Lord who transcended Caesar as Lord, the Supper quickly became the central ceremony of their cohesive communities, which collectively formed an alternative, anti-imperial society."
Richard A. Horsley, Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and Religion,
University of Massachusetts (Boston, MA)
"Working especially with the New Testament writings of Luke and Paul, Streett demonstrates the surprisingly political significance of the early church's Lord's Supper. That is, the Supper had not only to do with the church's internal life but spoke profoundly of the church's rejection of Roman imperial ideology and the practices by which it was propagated. The consequences of this study are both historically important and theologically challenging, since Streett's work participates in the ongoing destruction of the walls that separate theology and practice, and worship and politics."
Joel B. Green, Professor of New Testament Interpretation,
Fuller Theological Seminary (Pasadena, CA)
About the Author
R. Alan Streett (PhD, University of Wales) is Senior Research Professor of Biblical Exegesis and the W. A. Criswell Endowed Chair of Expository Preaching at Criswell College, Dallas, Texas.
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In the 1st century, the meal was deeply relational, much more practical, and far more political.
One of the more exceptional aspects of this book is that the author is W.A. Criswell Chair of Expository Preaching and Senior Research Professor of Biblical Exegesis at the very conservative Criswell College in Old East Dallas, Texas. In this reviewer's opinion, a paradigm shift that begins with the Eucharist is much needed in all parts of the western church, but especially in its more conservative wing. The fact the this book came out of that branch makes it all that much more remarkable. My hope is that conservative Christians will take the time to read and interact with this project, which has sprung forth from amidst their own ranks.
There are still points at which I would like to push for further clarification. For example, for most of the book, the author presented the meal as radically inclusive and egalitarian; in ways that are true indeed, but which would no doubt bewilder and frustrate exclusivist, patriarchal Christians. Yet there were other occasions where he was less clear about who the meal was for, who was allowed to participate in it (and to what extent), and how the present "now" reality of Eucharistic praxis relates to the eschatological "not-yet" banquet. I found myself wondering, is this seeming inconsistency an instance of the author allowing his conservative, Evangelical theological tradition to override the logic of inclusivity and acceptance that his own exegesis of Jesus' meal narratives demands? Or rather, is the apparent inconsistency due to a disagreement of sorts between Paul and Luke/Jesus that the author feels no need to attempt to explain or reconcile? Is it something else altogether? Have I missed something?
Beyond these things, I also would have appreciated hearing what he thinks all of his research means for the 21st century church. Can the Table still have the subversive significance and impact today (living in the midst of a very different Empire) that it had in the 1st century? If not, what is the church doing, or what might we do, so as to identify and resist the imperial ideology in our own time? If it can, who gets to eat at the Table now? How should our understanding of the eschatological banquet impact our present praxis? These are just some of the questions running through my mind at the moment. Nevertheless, this was, admittedly, not the point of this book, and thus I do not fault the author for leaving these issues unaddressed. Moreover, he did state his hope that other scholars would pick up where he has left off, building upon the groundwork that he has laid down. Hopefully someone will take him up on his offer. There are other, relevant Biblical and extra-canonical texts to be examined, and many more practical, contemporary questions that we must wrestle with.
All in all, "Subversive Meals" is definitely worth the read. I found it to be well-written, enlightening, and thoroughly beneficial. I am confident that you won't be disappointed.
This and other truths Streett uncovers in his book, “Subversive Meals”, will have your understanding of Jesus’ church completely transformed. Streett demonstrates in a convincing and compelling manner that the locus of the early church was the Lord’s Supper, which, based on the Roman Banquet, was an expression of our Father’s kingdom on Earth as a replacement to Rome (or any man-made government) - i.e., this was not a sermon-based “church service”. Its intent was to provide a venue where participants were immersed in and participated in an alternative kingdom, thereby overthrowing Rome, its political agendas, and its culture in the process. Read about the stone in Daniel 2:31-45.
Get ready to unlearn almost everything you thought you knew about Jesus' church. This book is full of references and cogently articulates a proper understanding of the Lord's Supper, based on the sociopolitical context at the supper's inception. This book is required reading for all who love God. Well done, Dr. Streett!