Saturday, March 17, 2007
The Fresh Perspective ain't so Fresh
I'm aware that in recent times a lot of attention has been paid in Pauline studies to the counter-imperial connotations of Paul's gospel and N.T. Wright's "Fresh Perspective on Paul" with the socio-political overtones of Paul's message. But lately I've been reading some of the works of William Ramsay including The Cites of St. Paul: Their Influence on His Life and Thought. Ramsay has a section on "The Empire as the World's Hope" and sets out the theological and political vacuum created by the Roman civil wars and how the mood was ripe for the coming of Augustus and the Imperial Cult. It seems that Ramsay beat Horsley and Wright to the punch since he argues that Paulinism and the Empire were in direct competition with each other.
"A universal Paulinism and a universal Empire must either coalesce, or the one must destroy the other."
"More able and prudent Emperors dreaded the Pauline Church, because they recognised that ultimately it must be a foe to autocracy. The Christians were, in the last resort, the reforming party: the Emperors felt that reform must affect their own power."
In Ramsay's view the failure of the Empire was (1) it was based on military and military authority that was always prone to abuse; and (2) Rome never found a way to educate and improve the lives of the masses.