Tuesday, May 23, 2006

"In India the poor are terrorists."--Arundhati Roy

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Jesus was poor. Jesus died as a political prisoner, a threat to the power of Rome, which reserved crucifixion for threats against the state, against the imperial theology of Augustus, who was divine, and Octavian, the son of the divine, the "son of god;" and "Divi Claudi," the divine Claudius, who ruled during Paul's peregrinations as a preacher of the Gospel of the Lord, Jesus Christ. We want to divide religion from politics today; but that was impossible in Paul's day, and even the proclamation of Jesus as the Son of God was not so much an irreligious statement, as it was an uncivil one:

That opening [of 1 Thessalonians] "Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church (ekklēsia) of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace," was much more subversive than we imagine. The standard Pauline term for a Christian community is ekklēsia, a Greek word today usually translated "church." But the word originally meant citizens of a free Greek city officially assembled for self-governmental decisions. Maybe that was perfectly innocent, but also maybe not. And anyone familiar with Judaism would have heard in his "peace" the content of the Jewish shalom of justice and not that of the Latin pax of victory.

Next, Paul belives absolutely that "Jesus" or the "Messiah/Christ" or the "Lord" all refer to the same person. Paul can spaek of the Lord Jesus Christ or of the Lord Jesus or, most simply, of the Lord. On the one hand, "lord" was a polite term usable by slave to master or disciple to teacher. On the other, "the Lord" meant the emperor himself. What we see here is what Gustav Adolf Deissmann described, almost a hundred years ago, as "the early establishment of a polemical parallelism between the cult of Christ and the cult of Caesar in the application of the term kyrios, 'lord.'" Or, if you prefer, polemical parallelism as high treason. (In Search of Paul, John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, (New York: HarperCollins 2004, p. 166.)
And then there is the issue of the gospel of Jesus, one gospel (euaggelion, although it is pronounced "euangelion") v. the plural gospels (euggelia), good news, of dynastic succession and imperial victories from Rome, good news which created one of the Golden Ages of Rome, of peace and stability and wealth, at least for as long as Rome ever knew.

You begin to see that in Paul, in the kergyma of the kingdom of God, the religious is always the political. But only in the imperial theology of Rome, where Augustus is divine, and his adopted son Octavian is filius divi (son of god), and where even Claudius claims the mantle of the divine through Augustus (after Caligula's four years of rule are ended by the military), the political is not properly religious. Consider Crossan and Reed's analysis of parousia:

In its ancient context parousia means the arrival at a city of a conquering general, an important official, an imperial emissary, or, above all, the emperor himself. Whether that advent was good or bad news for the citizens depended absolutely on their prior relationship with the arriving one. It is probably necessary in those cases to translate parousia not just as "visit," but as "visitation." (p. 167)
Paul, in I Thessalonians, writes of the parousia of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is clear he is referring to the parousia of the emperor. Why, because he says "the dead in Christ will rise first." Which is who would greet the emperor first, entering a city as Paul knew it: the graveyards would be outside the city, on the main road, the finest crypts and sarcophagi of the most eminent persons seen first and nearest the road, "the imperial visitor meeing first the elite dead before any meeting with the elite living." And then the faithful, like the elite of the city, greet their lord "in the middle of the air," or outside the city, and welcome him in. Lead him in because:

...the parousia metaphor means that Christians do not ascend to stay with Christ in heaven, but to return with him to this transformed world. Paul says nothing about an eschatological world or utopian earth here below, but simply that all believers 'will be caught up in the clouds...to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever." The metaphor of parousia as state visit would presume that those going out to greet the approaching ruler would return with him for festive rejoicing within their city. So also with Christ....The parousia of the Lord was not about destruction of earth and relocation to heaven, but about a world in which violence and injustice are transformed into purity and holiness." (p. 170)
But the ruler coming to the city doesn't come to establish his rule; he comes to be received and to celebrate with his subjects. The parousia is not just about the kingdom to come; it is also about the kingdom that is already here.

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