Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Counter Imperial Connotations in the Acts of Paul

In the Acts of Paul (specifically the Martyrdom of Paul) there is a story of how Nero's cupbearer, Patroclus, hears Paul preach, is killed when he falls out of a window, Paul revives him, and then Nero hears that Patroclus is alive. Then we read:
But Nero, when he heard of the death of Patroclus, was sore grieved, and when he came in from the bath he commanded another to be set over the wine. But his servants told him, saying: Caesar, Patroclus liveth and standeth at the table. And Caesar, hearing that Patroclus lived, was affrighted and would not go in. But when he went in, he saw Patroclus, and was beside himself, and said: Patroclus, livest thou? And he said: I live, Caesar. And he said: Who is he that made thee to live? And the lad, full of the mind of faith, said: Christ Jesus, the king of the ages. And Caesar was troubled and said: Shall he, then, be king of the ages and overthrow all kingdoms? Patroclus saith unto him: Yea, he overthroweth all kingdoms and he alone shall be for ever, and there shall be no kingdom that shall escape him. And he smote him on the face and said: Patroclus, art thou also a soldier of that king? And he said: Yea, Lord Caesar, for he raised me when I was dead. And Barsabas Justus of the broad feet, and Urion the Cappadocian, and Festus the Galatian, Caesar's chief men, said: We also are soldiers of the king of the ages. And he shut them up in prison, having grievously tormented them, whom he loved much, and commanded the soldiers of the great king to be sought out, and set forth a decree to this effect, that all that were found to be Christians and soldiers of Christ should be slain.
The counter imperial notions here are obvious and the kingdom of God/Christ/Ages is clearly set over and against the kingdom of Rome. In fact, it is this subversive and treacherous line of thinking that Christ will overthrow Rome that is the reason for Nero's anger and violence. It makes me wonder if the phrase "soldier" in the NT (1 Cor. 9.7; Phil. 2.25; 2 Tim. 2.3-4; Philm. 1.2) is more than a metaphor but has a bit of anti-Roman sting to it. The "Fresh Perspective" was certainly operating in the late second or early third century.

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