Message And The Kingdom

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Set against the backdrop of Roman imperial history, The Message and the Kingdom demonstrates how the quest for the kingdom of God by Jesus, Paul, and the earliest churches should be understood as both a spiritual journey and a political response to the "mindless acts of violence, inequality, and injustice that characterized the kings of men." Horsley and Silberman reveal how the message of Jesus and Paul was profoundly shaped by the history of their time as well as the social conditions of the congregations to whom they preached.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
December 1997

Two thousand years ago, on a tiny plot of land on the fringes of the Roman Empire, the message of Jesus was heard by the masses suffering under Roman tyranny. Jesus' revolutionary message sparked these listeners and infuriated the Roman imperial establishment. Some years after the death of Jesus, Saul of Tarsus experienced a vision that persuaded him to deliver the message of Jesus throughout the empire. This almighty, biblical story transformed the world.

In a vividly accurate presentation of the early Christian communities, The Message and the Kingdom: How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World by Richard Horsley and Neil Silberman portrays the world of John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus as "not only a spiritual battleground but a landscape of far-reaching economic dislocation, cultural conflict, and political change." The authors reveal how the message of Jesus and Paul was greatly influenced and shaped by the circumstances and social surroundings of the day. They also write of the social conditions and circumstances of the congregation to whom they preached, which ultimately affected the message.

Horsley and Silberman use newly uncovered historical information as well as archaeological discoveries to paint a portrait of Jesus and Paul as great men of faith and passion who were moved by the people's suffering brought on by the Roman imperials. Some examples of these archaeological discoveries are the soggy timbers of a fisherman's boat submerged in the Sea of Galilee for more than 2,000 years,whichsuggests a vessel used by the fishermen-disciples, and the ruins of the ancient city of Caesarea, where Pontius Pilate's name has been identified on fragmentary Latin inscriptions.

Set against a background of both historical and religious importance, The Message and the Kingdom demonstrates how the quest for the Kingdom of God by Jesus, Paul, and the early Christians was both a spiritual journey and a political response to the injustices that were brought on by the Roman Empire.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
How did early Christianity develop? What was the relationship of the earliest Christian community to its surroundings? What role did the messages of Jesus and Paul have in the spread of these earliest communities? Did Jesus and Paul preach an otherworldly message emphasizing a spiritual kingdom of God or a message that applied to people's lives in the Roman Empire? These and other questions are taken up by Horsley, who teaches religion at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and Silberman, a historian and the author of The Hidden Scrolls. Using recent archeological evidence (e.g., the funeral urn bearing the name of Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest, at Jesus' trial) and social-scientific theory about the nature and evolution of social movements, the authors trace the development of earliest Christianity as a political and social movement. According to the authors, Jesus and Paul offered powerful messages to Galileans and Judeans of the first century who found themselves marginalized by the Roman Empire. The authors conclude that the persistent quest for the Kingdom of Goda message proclaimed by Jesus, Paul and the earliest Christiansshould be understood "both as a spiritual journey and an evolving political response to the mindless acts of violence, inequality, and injustice that characterized the kingdoms of men." This history of early Christianity is a riveting page-turner that opens a new window on the origins of Christianity. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
An eloquent social history of first-century Palestine by Horsley (Religion/Univ. of Massachusetts) and Silberman (The Hidden Scrolls, 1994).

As the authors often reiterate, they are historians, not theologians; their goal is not to bolster or debunk the claims of the New Testament, but to contextualize them. They accomplish this by setting the stage of Christian beginnings in the first century, an era of profound social changes, such as escalating tenancy, spiraling indebtedness, and overtaxation by the burgeoning Roman bureaucracy. In Galilee, an obscure outpost of the empire, it became increasingly difficult for Jews to make a decent living (even fishing was transformed in this period from a seasonal, family occupation to a year-round export business, as enthusiasts in Rome developed a taste for the piquant). The region was ripe for social protest, and the authors claim this is how Christianity, "a movement that boldly challenged the heartlessness and arrogance of a vast governmental bureaucracy," began. Jesus, the heart of this movement, constantly challenged Roman rule as illegitimate; the authors persuasively argue that even the "render unto Caesar" remark was Jesus' cryptic way of saying that everything belonged to God. The tenor of the movement changed markedly after Jesus' death, becoming more an urban than a rural phenomenon, but even under Paul it remained a social protest. Paul's remarkable missionary success was expedited by audiences' continued discontent with the Roman government, which made the promised immediate demise of all worldly principalities an attractive option. Paul displayed his protest by insisting on equality among persons; he took collections for the poor and even advocated the immediate abolition of the Roman institution of slavery. Paul's ideology was wildly popular, but not with the Roman authorities, who imprisoned him several times and eventually beheaded him for sedition.

Stylishly written and rich in memorable detail, this is a rare find that actually offers fresh insight into the overstudied New Testament.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780800634674
  • Publisher: Augsburg Fortress, Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/1/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 308
  • Sales rank: 1,022,144
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Table of Contents

Map 1 The Province of Judea and Surrounding Regions in the Time of Jesus
Map 2 The Eastern Mediterranean in the Time of Paul
Prologue: Searching for Jesus 1
1 Heavenly Visions 9
2 Remaking the Galilee 22
3 Faith Healer 43
4 Power and Public Order 65
5 Preaching the Word 88
6 Reviving the Nations 114
7 Assemblies of the Saints 145
8 Spirits in Conflict 163
9 Storming the Kingdom 184
10 The Triumph of Caesar 205
11 Keeping the Faith 224
Timeline 1 The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth 233
Timeline 2 The Career of Paul 234
Bibliographical Notes 237
Bibliography 261
Index 279
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Interviews & Essays

Before the live chat, Neil Asher Silberman agreed to answer some of our questions.

Q:  What do you think is the current state of religion in the U.S.?

A:  Ninety percent of Americans believe in God and consider themselves religious in some way. But less than half attend church regularly. There has been a recent polarization of religious Americans along political lines, between conservative or reactionary and liberal or progressive, even within denominations. So the traditional mediating function of religion (churches and synagogues) has been attenuated. Language of belief has become testimonial, suggesting almost a conversion to one's belief.
Religion has always been a dynamic, active element in American society, but I don't think that it is often recognized. Most of us confuse religion with the biggest, most institutionalized religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and with the specific church buildings, rituals, and ceremonies connected with them. But religion is much more pervasive than that. From our study of the rise of Christianity, we have seen that religion is not so much a separate, well-defined sphere of life but is closely intertwined with all other facets of life: economics, politics, and community. So I'd have to say that although there are all kinds of religions and religious trends in America, we don't usually recognize them as such. New age beliefs, conspiracy theories, fascination with UFOs, astrophysics, and even modern disdain for traditional churches are all religions in their own right. And they are all expressions of various groups in America about how the universe "works."

Q:  Are American youth undereducated on religious history?

A:  Most are almost completely uneducated. The news media still often deal in stereotypes, particularly in connection with international relations, particularly in regard to the Middle East, and particularly in regard to what are called fundamentalist groups. Since for most of history until the modern West, religion was inseparable from other facets of life, such as politics and economics -- and it is still closely connected with people's life situation -- religious aspects of life should be included in courses on world history and U.S. history and in whatever courses schools offer on civics, current affairs, or contemporary issues. The new emphasis on diversity of cultures should help somewhat. Books such as The Message and the Kingdom should help place key religious figures such as Jesus and Paul in an intelligible historical and political context, in this case so that we can better understand how Christianity began.

Part of the problem, of course, is our constitutional separation of church and state that makes religious history a sensitive issue in public schools. To compound the problem, the various Sunday School versions of religious history that American children learn are very much centered on the history of the specific denomination that teaches it. What we really need is a way to discuss the history of all religions in a forum that is not "official" or dictated by a particular religious group. That's what we tried to do in The Message and the Kingdom, at least in the case of ancient Judaism and Christianity.

Q:  Have there been any recent archaeological revelations that have had a significant impact on what we currently believe?

A:  Archaeological discoveries such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient Galilean villages make a tremendous difference in how we understand ancient Jewish society and how we imagine the Jesus movement as having developed.

Over the last 150 years, there have been countless discoveries in the area of modern Israel and Jordan that have shed a great deal of light on the historical reliability of the Bible -- ancient cities, inscriptions, ancient idols. I think that we now recognize that the Bible is a part of the larger culture of the Ancient Near East that extended from Egypt to Mesopotamia. With regard to the New Testament, there have been some particular finds linked to famous personalities: an inscription mentioning Pontius Pilate and the tomb of Joseph Caiaphas, the High Priest. No trace of any of the main characters -- Jesus, Mary, John the Baptist, or the disciples -- has ever been found. But that is not to say that we haven't learned a great deal about their world. Our book describes many of the discoveries and tries to interpret their significance. We leave matters of faith, confirmed or questioned, to the reader to discover for himself or herself.

Q:  What is your opinion on prayer in the classroom?

A:  Besides the importance of the separation of church and state so that both can do their essential work in our society, it is important to preserve the freedom not to believe or practice religion in particular ways. We do not want to keep belief out but to keep the arena of the public schools open, so that they can be inclusive of all people in the society. Prayer, because somebody in particular would be guiding it, would only be divisive, not community building. What is needed is more education about religions that would lead to greater mutual understanding.

I think it's probably wise to maintain the separation of church and state to prevent any particular religion from dominating the others. America is dedicated to freedom and diversity, after all. That isn't to say that students should be discouraged from participating in religious activities in some form or identifying themselves as members of a certain group. It's rather that a way has got to be found to avoid religious coercion even by peer pressure in making certain students go along with the majority if they don't want to. The question of prayer in the classroom brings up the even more basic question of how we in America can preserve and promote religious diversity without dictating what any particular person should believe.

Q:  What are some of your favorite books and movies?

A:  Exodus, Amos, and Mark (in the Bible), and "Robin Hood." There are so many that it is difficult to pick out just a few. But I would have to say that in my work as a historian, trying to understand the role of myth and ideology in every society (not only ancient ones), I have been greatly influenced by Robert Graves's The White Goddess and Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces. For the role of economics and social structure, I highly recommend Eric Wolf's Europe and the People Without History, and almost everything by Eric Hobsbawm and Fernand Braudel.
My pick as all-time favorite movie may sound strange, but it is an easy one for me: "The Godfather" I and II. Though it's set in modern America and superficially deals with the Mafia, it is a classic saga of family and immigrant community trying desperately to survive in a new culture, and in the process destroying themselves.

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