Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ekkhard Stegemann on Romans 13.1–7

In a post last week I mentioned Ekkhard Stegemann's essay, "Coexistence and Transformation: Reading the Politics of Identity in Romans in an Imperial Context," which opens the volume, Reading Paul in Context: Explorations in Identity Formation. Essays in Honour of William S. Campbell (LNTS 428; London: T&T Clark International, 2010). I cannot recommend highly enough this essay, which, in my view, treads the narrow path between ignoring the political, Roman imperial context that defined every moment of early Christianity in its opening centuries, on the one hand, and focusing on that context so thoroughly that early Christianity becomes, in effect, an anti-Roman response to imperial dynamics, on the other. In some discussions the reader could be forgiven for thinking that Caesar, not Christ, provided the driving impetus for the theologizing processes we see at work in the NT texts; Jesus becomes, almost, merely the vehicle for opposing Rome.

Not so with Stegemann's analysis. I have already said enough to introduce Stegemann's primary thesis (see the post I mentioned above). In his own words, he builds upon William Campbell's work "to show that for Paul the insistence on obedience to the (Roman) rulers and the obedience of faith in Jesus Christ as Son of God in power and Lord, which implies the expectation of the coming of God's kingdom, coexist as well—and that without contradiction" (22). But my introduction does not do justice to Stegemann's masterful portrayal of this coexistence, for example, in the essay's closing paragraph:
Virgil's prophecy for Augustus, which he put in the mouth of Anchises, the father of Aeneas, promised Augustus Caesar, the descendant of the divine (divi genus), that he will extend his empire beyond the stars, and bring a golden age to the Latin land. He will eventually ascend with all th Julian offspring to the exalted firmament (omnis Iuli progenies magnum caeli ventura sub axem; Aen. 6.790–92). For Paul it is Jesus Christ and his followers who will ascend to their Father, God, and his kingdom in heaven, Jesus Christ as the firstborn of the resurrection of the dead and his brothers and sisters after him. But up to now they still coexist with this aeon and its frailties. (23)

I'm not so certain Paul trades on the idea of "ascent" as much as Christian reading of Paul has supposed it has (largely on the basis, I think, of 1 Thess. 4.13–18). And Stegemann, as you can see, includes that idea here. Even so, this is an excellent essay, nearly poetic. And it points the way, I think, for responsible explorations of and appreciations for the political dynamics underlying every word the early Christians said and wrote.

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