Thursday, June 4, 2009

Paul Middleton, the Roman empire, and Identity Formation


Paul Middleton, Lecturer in New Testament Studies at University of Wales, Lampeter, in his book Radical Martyrdom And Cosmic Conflict in Early Christianity, doesn’t see official Roman persecution of Christianity until the late 3rd century (2006: 2). However, he does sees the conflict between the two on the level of ideology and worldview differences right from the very beginning. He puts them in ‘binary oppositions with no middle way’ (95). His chapter on Rome is quite good. He notes a quotation from Horsley's Documents vol 4 concerning Nero’s coming to Corinth that is a good example of Roman imperial eschatology (56n.145). Also, Middleton notes ‘Christian language and symbols competed for the same ground as Roman imperial ideology’ (RII) (61). This is quite helpful from an identity formation point of view. If scholars wonder why RII is relevant? I would suggest that the confrontation was at this level, in that they were not being persecuted at this point. Furthermore, Middleton remarks that Christianity was un-Roman on every front (61). Is this too strong or maybe it is quite accurate in the second century but maybe not as much in the first century? So, can one sustain the idea that there was no conflict between the Corinthian Christ-followers and the provincial governing authorities in the mid-first century? If so, what evidence from the non-literary remains would indicate this general possibility? Any thoughts?

4 comments:

Dan Rose said...

This is really interesting. No conflict between Christ-followers and the provincial governing authorities is a huge statement to make. It's interesting that this idea directly conflicts with NT Wright's work. He argues for the message of Christianity to be necessarily confrontational and that would lead to a necessarily confrontational and subversive community.

I guess to answer the questions I would want to see more of Middleton's argument. I could also be misreading the question. I think that the Roman imperial cult was to pervasive for there not be some sort of subversive confrontation between the Christ-following community and the emperor's cult.

J. Brian Tucker, Ph.D. said...

Middleton notes 'Rejection of gods was an absurd rejection of the obvious power structures of the Empire...The cult protected the worship of the gods and maintained the social and moral order...The Pax Romana was dependant on the Pax Deorum' (2006: 69). So, the question is, was this confrontation overt this early on?

churchremix said...

It seems that if the language discussions that have been going on in the literature regarding Paul's descriptions of Jesus as 'Christ' and the 'Lord', not to mention his self-understanding as herald and his ascription to God and Jesus as the agents of 'grace and peace' are even remotely accurate that it would be difficult not to understand these statements as subversive and overtly confrontational.

Richard Fellows said...

Gallio, while not actively hostile toward the Christians, did give the synagogue Jews jurisdiction over the Christians (Acts 18:15) and he allowed the Jews to beat up Sosthenes, the benefactor of the church. On this you may like to look at my Tyndale Bulletin article and discussion here: http://members.shaw.ca/rfellows/Site/Sosthenes.html