Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Farting in the face of the empire

Finally getting round to reading a book I have been meaning to get to for months: Paul and the Imperial Roman Order, ed. by Richard A. Horsley (Harrisburg, Trinity Press International, 2004; ix+198pp)

I'll try and blog about this, sort of chapter by chapter, over the next few days, whenever I get the time (ahem...) Just a few preliminary comments for tonight.

For most, Paul does not have the reputation of a political revolutionary. (In)famous texts – and their Wirkungsgeschichte – like Romans 13:1-7, or his advice to slaves, have a lot to do with this. Who can forget Howard Thurman's recollections of his grandmother, who had been a slave in the US-American South, refusing to listen to Paul's letters because her former master's preacher had used Paul to admonish the slaves to be obedient to their master? I well remember a fellow graduate student, when I was writing an MA dissertation on Paul in Apartheid-South Africa, who quipped: "You are not trying to make us like Paul, are you?"

It is too easy to answer that like or dislike is not the issue; the effect of his texts lives on. However one may look at the exegesis of Rom 13:1-7, both its actual text and its history continue to shape our reading of it: we cannot ignore it or escape it.

This is the third volume of studies on Paul in this vein, edited by Richard Horsley, though this may be the most innovative. In 1997, Horsley edited Paul and Empire, which was more of a student textbook drawing on excerpts from published works like Neil Elliott's Liberating Paul, or S. R. F. Price's Ritual and Power. Three years later, Horsley published a further edited work, this time as a Festschrift for Krister Stendahl (Paul and Politics) – a book which had a broader focus, presenting much more diverse views, but which included provocative studies like Sze-Kar Wan's "Collection for the Saints as anti-colonial act", a detailed study of Paul's so-called 'collection' in light of postcolonial ethnographic theory. Horsley's latest edited volume, Paul and the Imperial Roman Order, is the result of a Pauline Studies group in the Society for Biblical Literature. It builds on the previous work and sharpens the focus on the complex relations between Paul's gospel, his communities, and the Roman empire as experienced in those local communities.

More to follow...
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