Jesus in the Context of Roman Rule

Matthew 22:21 “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

This week we will turn our attention to Jesus of Nazareth.  We will focus on his life and ministry in context both of Roman rule in Judea and Palestine, and of the theological, cultural, and political trends that we have discerned in late-Second Temple Judaism.  Drawing on Richard Horsely’s account, we will see that Jesus (and that more shadowy figure, John the Baptizer) emerges not only as a teacher of ethics, but, like John before him, as a popular leader and advocate for a new society, focused on the Galilean village as opposed to the Jerusalem Temple.  His teaching work included a sectarian interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures, which brought his ministry into conflict with other sects in Judea.  His popularity, with its messianic and prophetic tones, brought him into conflict with the Jerusalem elites and, ultimately, with the Roman authorities.  The life and ministry—and death—of Jesus is the story of a prolonged and chosen conflict with Roman and Jewish authorities worked out through scriptural interpretation and Jewish sectarian practice.

For this week, we will focus on Horsely’s Jesus and Empire, but with reference especially to the Gospel of Mark as a primary text.  We will also look  at parts of the Gospel of Matthew.

This week’s assignments are:

  • Tuesday, March 22:  Horsely, Jesus and Empire, chapters 1-4, Gospel of Mark (in Ehrman, The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings)
  • Thursday, March 24:  Horsely, chapters 5-6, Gospel of Matthew (in Ehrman; also highly recommended: re-read Cohen, chapters 5-6)

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Associate Professor of Classical Studies The Honors College at the University of Houston

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