Sunday, May 31, 2009

On Claudius and the Expulsion of the Jews: Part 1 The Problem

Over on Chris (tea for the) Tilling(man)’s wonderful blog Chrisendom a discussion was started concerning the keys to interpreting Romans. Chris offered two, one of them being the Edict of Claudius. The reason this seems to be key is due to the supposed tensions between the Jews and the Christians throughout the letter, of which the Edict is the historical antecedent. Many think the Edict is crystal clear and quote Acts 18.2 as further evidence of the supposed tension between the two groups. But I wonder what the Edict really tells us? I hope to offer up my own interpretive possibility in an upcoming post, but first I think it is necessary to lay out some of the problems in interpreting the Edict.

'Iudaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultantes Roma expulit'

Problems of Reference:

1. Suetonius offers no chronology for this event, it could have happened any time during Claudius’ reign. So it could refer to the 41 event and Dio Cassius is correcting Suetonius (Although these two texts probably should not be amalgamated, too much conjecture), it could refer to an event that Orosius states happened in 49, or it could be a totally different event.

2. Orosius gives us the date of 49 ce, for this edict. And Acts 18.2 and the chronology of Paul’s life would seem to fit this date.

3. Chrestus and Christus were pronounced the same, and Sinaiticus spells Christian as “Chrestianos”, so Chrestus could be confused with Christ; although this would imply that Suetonius did not understand the differences between Christ and his followers, or thought that Christ was still alive.

4. Furthermore Suetonius links the conflict with Chrestus, not with his teachings, but with his presence (as noted above Jesus Christ was dead by then).

5. The opponents of Christianity occasionally referred to Christians as Chrestianos in an effort to imply that the followers got their name from a common slave, but this is later.

6. And Suetonius elsewhere uses the correct designation for Christianity, Christiani, in Nero 16.2.

7. Suetonius could have just copied his source without evaluation, but to postulate that Suetonius, or an official edict, mistook Christ for the followers of Christ is still highly speculative.

8. Chrestus was a common name and widely attested and common in Rome, although never for a Jew.

So Chrestus could have just as easily been an individual who stirred up nationalistic, messianic, or simply civil discord and incurred upon himself the wrath of the emperor. So historically it is just as likely that this incident had nothing to do with Jewish Christian relations, but was simply in response to civil discord. But what would this Edict have looked like on the ground in Rome around 49 ce.

Problems of Scope:

1. Estimates put the Jewish population to be approximately 15,000 – 50,000 at the time, so it is highly unlikely that all 15,000 – 50,000 were forcibly moved. Even if the edict was passed, and was for all Jews, it is doubtful it was ever enforced.

2. Iudaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultantes Roma expulit, can be translated as “since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.” Or “He expelled from Rome those Jews who were constantly making disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus.” Thus the expulsion could refer to only those key members responsible for making the disturbances.

3. Acts 18.2 and Luke’s use of “all” is more likely an instance of his typical hyperbole.

4. A small scale expulsion would explain why other historians of the time neglected to mention it.

The Edict of Claudius and its aftermath are simply not necessary for reconstructing an interpretation for Romans; there are more unknowns in this historical reconstruction to be of any use in sufficiently explaining the tensions and conflicts that were dividing the community that Paul addressed in Romans. If one wants to hold that a key to interpreting Romans is the tension between the Jews and Gentiles, the arena of differing ideas, beliefs, and interpretations of traditions is probably a much better place to stake your claim, then a nebulous cryptic saying in Suetonius.

Further Reading:

Esler, Philip Francis, Conflict and identity in Romans: the social setting of Paul's letter. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Nanos, Mark D., The mystery of Romans: the Jewish context of Paul's letter. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996.

Fisk, Bruce N. "Synagogue Influence and Scriptural Knowledge among the Christians of Rome," Pages 157-185 in As it is written: studying Paul's use of Scripture. Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Christopher D. Stanley. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2008.

Das, A. Andrew, Solving the Romans debate. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007.

Gruen, Erich S., Diaspora: Jews amidst Greeks and Romans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Librarygrape on your own personal Jesus

The Old

Here is an interesting review by Steve Moyise on one of those awful “views” books. One gets the feeling that Moyise doesn’t really have the time to be bothered with the review, and who could blame him, even the cover of the book is clichéd.

Now I am deeply interested in the subject of the NT use of the OT, or at least the NT use of other texts, and what happens to texts when they are re-used in new contexts, but less concerned with how this book is framed.

But all that aside, Moyise does a wonderful job taking to task Kaiser’s rather antiquated views. If you are in the market for a book that grapples with this topic I suggest skipping this book and heading straight to more interesting treatments of the subject.

Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, Evoking Scripture: Seeing the Old Testament in the New, or Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament.

Monday, May 18, 2009

America and Civil Religion

These cover sheets greeted Bush each day with triumphal color photos of the war headlined by biblical quotations.

Friday, May 01, 2009

So you are thinking about a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies: Backdrop Part 1

If you are one of those few people on this planet thinking about venturing into Ph.D. work, more than likely some sort of strange circumstances were aligned just right in order for you to even consider such an unwise career choice. Perhaps it was an insatiable desire to wear tweed jackets, or the dream of a study filled with leather chairs and being surrounded by a few thousand of your closest friends (books). Or maybe you have a penchant for facial hair or you heard about the soirees at SBL and AAR and wanted to live it up every November? Whatever your personal reasons may have been I am sure that at least part of your desire to do Ph.D. work was that you were not done learning. So at the beginning of all Ph.D. candidates is a story of how one became interested in knowledge in the first place. Sometimes this story starts in secondary school, for others at university, and still others don't know where they are going until they get into their masters program.

My own story starts with American fundamentalism. Yea that pesky little group of Christians who are the self arbiters of who is "in" and who is "out" of the "orthodox" conservative Christian world. The particular group of fundy's I was involved with were bible thumping Spurgeon loving Dispensational Calvinists. It was under their tutelage that I began to read Calvin's Institutes, Spurgeon's sermons, and Johnathon Edwards essays. It was also under their tutelage that I began to read the bible in order to apply it to my own life. And lest it sound all positive I also learned from the fundys who the "enemies" of the gospel were (read everybody who is/was not a Dispensationalist and a Calvinist). This particular part of my story took place during my secondary school years, and it was through this ad hoc theological education that I began to seek out understanding. Now I admit it was a rather peculiar and distorted sort of knowledge, but whatever it was, it was part of my story. Thankfully an equal part of my story was also my love for popular music, culture, and a good group of friends that helped temper my own indoctrination into this fundy world. So while I was convinced on one level of the doctrinal peculiarities of these fundamentalists, I wasn't sucked down the separatist rabbit hole mainly because of my own love for popular culture, good beer, and the fellowship of good friends.