Friday, December 26, 2008


Elliott's main thrust in the book is to flesh what he perceives to be Paul’s critical engagement with the Roman imperial ideology. Here I think Elliott is on to something, and so do loads of other interpreters for that matter, but what separates this book from others is Elliott's careful focus on this engagement.  For Elliott the purpose of Romans is Paul’s attempt to counter the Roman Imperial Ideology and the corrosive effects it has on the Roman congregations of Christ-believers.  Elliott establishes his argument by examining what he terms as Imperial Topoi (which I shall discuss in later posts). 


Because in large part I agree with Elliott, I naturally am not looking for him to present a slam dunk case for his thesis, if anything my reading of Elliott helps me make a stronger case for my own reading of Romans.  But even if you do not see political polemics as being key to the interpretation of Romans, Elliott at least presents it as a reasonable reading of the text and I think anyone would benefit from Elliott's presentation.


Here is How Elliott fleshes out his political reading of Romans and some of these are redundant (this is due to my presentation rather than Elliott’s):


·        As stated before Elliott takes for granted that a political reading of the NT is the absolute horizon of all reading and all interpretations.

·        So with that we need to look for the Strategies of Containment, or those forces in Paul’s day (and in our own for that matter) that repress certain ways of thinking from our consciousness. ( A present day example of this would be the fact that much of the western church has no problem reading capitalism back into the NT text.)

·        We also need to listen to what is said in the text, and also to what goes unsaid, and we need to be willing to read against the grain.

·        We need to keep an eye out for what Elliott terms, fissures in the text, (I use ungrammaticalities) or places where a unified surface reading becomes impossible, we need to notice and attend to the subterranean forces at work beneath the text.

·        The rhetoric of Romans, as Elliott teases out, shows that Paul participated in a cultural transcript, drawing on the repertoires of Judean scripture and apocalyptic writing that was inescapably in conflict with the empire’s absolutizing claims of allegiance.

·        Paul was engaged in the unfinished drama in which competing visions of history’s fulfillment are pitted against one another, for this reason we recognize with Jameson that the ultimate horizon of political interpretation is the sweep of history itself, we need to read Paul in this light.

·        Ultimately any reading ought to unmask, unveil, and uncover the deep logic that legitimizes exploitation, especially when that injustice bears the sheen of divine patina.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Arrogance of Nations (Part II): Voice of the Voiceless

Fundamentally the key for Elliott in unlocking Romans is a particular kind of political reading (I will offer a spoiler and say leftist).  If Romans is about justice (which it is), and justice is something that takes place between human beings (and that is certainly part of it), then the letter to the Romans ought to be an interesting read for just about anyone.   Elliott’s off to a good start here, if he can convince anyone of this.  And here is Elliott’s problem, everybody already knows what Paul’s letter to the Romans is about, and while many may concede that it is about righteousness, or justification, their definition of those terms tend to be abstract and individualized (how god makes me right with him, and then me right with others).  So it is Elliott’s task to offer a corrective.


Well we (the masses) need a couple of ground rules in order to understand what justice is all about.  The first rule is to reject every approach that favors the rich to the detriment of the poor. The second rule is to read the NT texts so that they address the reality of empire as an omnipresent, inescapable, and overwhelming sociopolitical reality (Fernando Segovia, not the guitar player).


So begins Elliott’s quest of explaining the thesis of Paul’s letter to the Romans as a comparison between two rules.  And a quest for Paul to explain which rule is truly righteous and which rule has the power to make the world truly peaceful.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Brief Look at Neil Elliott’s The Arrogance of Nations: Reading Romans in the Shadow of Empire (Part 1):

First off if you liked Colossians Remixed, you will like this book, although it is geared more towards an academic crowd. It is a challenging read that promises to both confound as well as challenge.

Full disclosure, I am a big Elliott fan, and wish this book was published before I submitted my thesis, because I certainly would have changed some things.  I love reading books that offer new answers to some really old questions, namely because they are fresh, but also because they make you think through your positions.  Now my convictions on Paul are pretty loosely held, so if you are threatened by new interpretations, you may not care for this book.  But I have read too many books on Paul that are a mere regurgitation of what everybody already knows, and offer very little to keep but a rehashing of all the overplayed theological arguments in Romans, just picking sides along the way.   This book reminds me of one of my mates synopsis of the movie "The Last Temptation of Christ" and why it was his favorite Jesus movie...

“Because it is the only movie about Jesus where I don't know what is going to happen next.”

Now to be fair Elliott doesn’t just make up stuff, he offers good arguments for what he says, and his conclusions are very plausible.
  So pick up the book, it is worth it!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Apologists Needed

4-1 odds on the existence of God

Online betting outfit Paddy Power is offering 4-1 odds that God exists. So far, folks have wagered $5000 on the question. Interest has increased resulting from an atheist ad campaign on London buses with the slogan: "There's probably no God." From The Telegraph:
A spokesman for Paddy Power said that confirmation of God's existence would have to be verified by scientists and given by an independent authority before any payouts were made, however. 

He added: "The atheists' planned advertising campaign seems to have renewed the debate in pubs and around office water-coolers as to whether there is a God and we've seen some of that being transferred into bets. 

"However we advise anyone still not sure of God's existence to maybe hedge their bets for now, just in case."
"Paddy Power offers odds of 4-1 that God exists"

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Fear and Loathing in the USA

Edward Said - ©2005Robert Shetterly-

In looking forward to James Crossley's new book, and the little teasers via his blog, I can't help but reflect upon the rhetoric used in the 2008 presidential election, and wonder what poor Edward Said is doing in his grave (restless I suspect). Even worse I can not imagine what it would be like to be a U.S. Muslim, in particular during this political climate. The advertisements that bombard my "swing" state are replete with simplistic binary statements, that are designed to invoke fear of the "other" and in some cases out right hatred. Even the Daily Show, which had a segment of interviews canvassing Palin/McCain supporters about what they thought of the possibility of an Obama presidency was quite disturbing (even if these were just the edited outtakes).  I was glad that McCain during a speech corrected someone in the crowd about Obama, saying that he was a good family man (does this imply though that Muslims are not), but I do not think he has done enough to stop this kind of innuendo (especially when his running mate seems, to me, to be fueling the fire).  The sad thing is that nobody seems to care, as if electing a black man to the presidency mitigates this type of bigotry.  I think Colin Powell said it best when he said America is better than this, but if the proof of the pudding is in the eating, I am not so sure how we Americans fair?