Render to Caesar: Jesus, the Early Church, and the Roman Superpower

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At the end of the 20th century, "postcolonialism" described the effort to understand the experience of those who had lived under colonial rule. This kind of thinking has inevitably brought about a reexamination of the rise of Christianity, which took place under Roman colonial rule. How did Rome look from the viewpoint of an ordinary Galilean in the first century of the Christian era? What should this mean for our own understanding of and relationship to Jesus of Nazareth? In the past, Jesus was often "depoliticized," treated as a religious teacher imparting timeless truths for all people. Now, however, many scholars see Jesus as a political leader whose goal was independence from Roman rule so that the people could renew their traditional way of life under the rule of God. In Render to Caesar, Christopher Bryan reexamines the attitude of the early Church toward imperial Rome. Choosing a middle road, he asserts that Jesus and the early Christians did indeed have a critique of the Roman superpower — a critique that was broadly in line with the entire biblical and prophetic tradition. One cannot worship the biblical God, the God of Israel, he argues, and not be concerned about justice in the here and now. On the other hand, the biblical tradition does not challenge human power structures by attempting to dismantle them or replace them with other power structures. Instead, Jesus' message consistently confronts such structures with the truth about their origin and purpose. Their origin is that God permits them. Their purpose is to promote God's peace and justice. Power is understood as a gift from God, a gift that it is to be used to serve God's will and a gift that can be taken away by God when misused. Render to Caesar transforms our understanding of early Christians and their relationship to Rome and demonstrates how Jesus' teaching continues to challenge those who live under structures of government quite different from those that would have been envisaged by the authors of the New Testament.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"For those interested in religion and politics (and who is not?), Bryan can help us grasp the clarity of the perspective that runs through the whole Bible. This kind of New Testament theology illumines both historical context and theological significance." —America

"...a fine book, readable, closely argued, and assidusously documented. Render to Caesar is a valuable correction of certain forms of political theology, and also of pacifist and other abdications of political responsibility. It is, at the same time, a compelling call for the Church to muster the wisdom and courage to do its public duty." —First Things

"With admirable learning and balanced judgment, Bryan covers a wide range of ancient texts pertaining to religion and politics. In showing that the prophets, Jesus, and the NT writers were mainly concerned with the origin and purpose of political power, he clarifies in what sense the biblical tradition is and is not political. While providing sensible correctives to overstatements by other scholars, Bryan also presents an accurate picture of the early church's place in the Roman empire."—Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., author of The Church According to the New Testament: What the Wisdom and Witness of Early Christianity Teach Us Today

"Bryan cogently and elegantly argues that the biblical tradition confronts human power structures not to displace them, but to insist that they recognize their origin in God and their purpose of serving God by promoting justice and peace."—hristian Century

"...a fine book.... Render to Caesar is a valuable correction of certain forms of political theology, and also of pacifist and other abdications of political responsibility. It is, at the same time, a compelling call for the Church to muster the wisdom and courage to do its public duty."—First Things

"The interface between the gospel of Jesus and the empire of Caesar has suddenly become a hot, and disturbingly relevant, topic in biblical studies. Christopher Bryan's new book, full of his characteristically shrewd and original observations and scholarly insights, cuts across much current thinking and raises questions which cannot be ignored, either by historians or by those keen to rediscover the relevance of the gospel in today's world."—N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham and author of the three-volume Christian Origins and the Question of God

"Were Jesus and the first Christians political revolutionaries? Given the chance, would they have replaced the Roman imperium with some other social and political order? Against several strands of recent exegesis, Christopher Bryan thinks not. In my view, he makes his case. But almost as important, he does it with clear arguments and in literate English. Render to Caesar is a good read, which lamentably can now be said of few scholarly works."—Robert W. Jenson, author of Systematic Theology, Volume 1: The Triune God and Volume 2: The Works of God

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195183344
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 8/25/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Bryan is the C. K. Benedict Professor of New Testament at the School of Theology, University of the South.

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Table of Contents

1 Israel and empire : from the Egyptians to the Greeks 11
2 Israel and empire : from the Maccabees to the war against Rome 25
3 Jesus and empire : the teacher and the man of deed 39
App Jesus, violence, and nonviolence 53
4 Jesus and empire : the crucified 55
App. A The Gospel passion narratives as historical sources 65
App. B Two Jewish witnesses to the death of Jesus 68
App. C Did the Sanhedrin in the time of Jesus have authority to execute the death penalty? 71
5 Jesus' followers and the Roman empire : Paul 77
6 Jesus' followers and the Roman empire : Luke-Acts, 1 Peter, and Revelation 95
7 Empires ancient and modern 113
8 Unscientific postscript 125
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