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Jesus Was Not Against Imperialism: New Testament Ethics as an Imperialist Project

The portrayal of Jesus as an anti-imperialist pervades the scholarly literature of New Testament ethics. However, portraying Jesus as an anti-imperialist actually betrays a pro-imperialist Christian agenda on the part of many New Testament ethicists. Usually, the main evidence cited is Jesus’ resistance to the Roman empire. However, anti-imperialism should properly describe an ideology that is against any empire. Jesus’ endorsement of the Kingdom of God, which is envisioned as an empire, should certainly disqualify him from being an anti-imperialist. In addition, many prominent New Testament ethicists are Euro-Americans with no indigenous ancestry, and so are themselves part of an empire occupying Native American lands.

See Also: The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2015)

Fighting Words: The Origins Of Religious Violence (Prometheus Books; 2005)

Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2013)

By Hector Avalos
Religious Studies
Iowa State University
September 2016

Click here for article.

Comments (2)

Much to agree with - but I'd like to query one important premise of the argument, that is the imperialist nature of the concept of Kingdom of God. I would have thought that in both 'our' conception and 'theirs' God cannot be a stranger anywhere, being the creator everywhere - so that the rule of God cannot be from outside in the sense that imperial rule is.
#1 - Martin Hughes - 10/07/2016 - 07:16

Close but not quite...
When Jesus lived, the Roman occupation of Judea & Galilee was fraught:
Jews resisted the Census, taxation and Roman settlers on their land. The Zealots and Sicarri resisted Romans, Greeks & Jewish collaborators (tax collectors often tortured people to extract money) with violence.
Yet the New Testament portrays the Roman occupation as benign (it wasn't) and the Romans as good people who are receptive to Jesus's divine message. The Gospel portrays Jesus's kingdom of God as being a spiritual place and therefore no threat to Roman imperialism. This is in severe contrast to Jewish beliefs about the Kingdom of G-d (which is that it is a kingdom of Jews in the Land of Israel, liberated from all gentile empires).
Not once in the Gospel does Jesus protect a Jewish woman from rape (yet we know from Aramaic sources that this was common)or poor Jewish people from rapacious tax collectors (indeed Jesus was friends with tax collectors).
Jesus is mostly critical of other Jews, rather than the Roman Empire that impoverished & enslaved people from Britain to Jordan.
#2 - Thoughtful - 09/26/2018 - 14:55

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