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.


Ben said...

Tom Wright and John Barclay had a nice debate about this last Monday at the Durham NT Seminar as a warm-up for a larger debate between the two of them about the subject at SBL this November. I summarized the discussion if anyone's interested:

P.S. We just got word that Durham has hired Francis Watson. Again if anyone's interested in the details...

J. Matthew Barnes said...

It is interesting that you point out that Ramsay wrote about these ideas prior to Wright et al, but this is a common phenomenon in biblical studies. EP Sanders wasn't the first to rethink Second-Temple Judaism; Krister Stendahl, WD Davies, George Foote Moore, and others (especially Jewish scholars) reasoned out similar positions. The service that Wright, Sanders, and others like them have played is that they brought these issues into the limelight; without the popularizer the trailblazer's work goes completely unnoticed. One can only hope the the popularizer cites the trailblazer (which, unfortunately, is not always the case).