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.