Empire Criticism – a new hermeneutical tool for biblical study and application

UnknownYou saw that right…a new book published by IVP academic which summarizes an emerging hermeneutic as well as biblical study "tool" in text analysis.  As stated on page 16 of opening chapter:

"So what is empire criticism?  In short – and this book is devoted to both description and evaluation of this method – if refers to developing an eye and ear for the presence of Rome and the worship of the emperor in the lines and between the lines of New Testament writings."

This study of empire has been VERY helpful in my own understanding of and applying of scripture especially as it pertains to the issue of "Lordship" and our understanding of Christology as followers of Jesus.  It is absolutely refreshing and challenging to realize that every one of those early Jesus followers were subversives in their own right.  They took language, symbols and imagery from the prevailing culture and "transformed" them to be utilized for the Kingdom of God.  In other words, they deliberately put every other Kingdom UNDER Christ's Kingdom and, in the process, gave us a glimpse of the types of pressures and enculturated values in which they struggled.  Here's another snippet,

"…to say Jesus was Lord and Savior or to say Jesus was the one who brings peace and good news is at the same time, in a covert way, to say Caesar was NOT Lord and NOT Savior, and that his good news and peace ring hollow."

Empire criticism asks us, as we read the New Testament, to keep a watchful eye out for the "look" of the empire and to keep an ear pitched to hear the sounds of empire making an impact on God's people. There are EXCELLENT introductory chapters on the Roman rule through empire building and imposition upon conquered peoples.  In addition, the second chapter of the book, Anti-Imperial Rhetoric in the New Testament, which describes how the early Christian community not only dealt with but subversively reinterpreted empire language to be used to further the Jesus cause is very insightful.  We cannot take for granted the importance of this particular theme not only in its impact upon the early Christian community but also how the reality of OUR OWN EMPIRE thinking influences our interpretation of the bible.  To say that we are (especially in the West) a privileged people would be an understatement.  To question how EMPIRES and contextualized systems of privilege and power have skewed our possible interpretation and application of the text is imperative for a honest student of the bible. 

You'll find the remaining of the book interesting and helpful as well.  The editors put together a collection of essays targeted at individual sections of the New Testament and the "empire implications" of each.  I must admit that I found this book enlightening and challenging.  I started reading about biblical study and empire criticism a few years ago.  This book coalesces the "big ideas" in this "school" of biblical study and helps the reader get a good "feel" for the scope of this critical discussion.  Here's the link to Amazon…enjoy!

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