Postcolonial Biblical Criticism (Part II)

An example of how postcolonial criticism has brought insights to my reading of the biblical text is seen in how the Gospel of Matthew presents Pontius Pilate during the trial of Jesus. The author of Matthew goes out of their way to depict the key local figurehead of imperial power with an aura of innocence and his wife as having a halo (Matt. 27:19, 23–24). Musa Dube observes that Pilate is “absolved from the guilt of crucifying Jesus” and his wife is “characterized as a divine instrument who receives dreams regarding the innocence of Jesus.” Indeed, Pilate is implicitly depicted as recognizing the innocence of Jesus (vv. 11–23), yet he still has Jesus flogged and tortured (v. 26). While these characters are treated delicately, the mother of the key victim of imperial power—Mary the mother of Jesus—goes unnoticed. So why the focus on Pilate and his wife?

Looking at this question through a postcolonial hermeneutic provides a convincing answer: by employing the notion of ambivalence—which refers to the conflicting desires of the colonized to be both attracted to and revolted by the colonists, thus vacillating between clear mimicry of the colonist, on the one hand, and the hybridizing of the colonists and colonized, on the other—the author’s portrayal of Pilate is an ambivalent way of showing that the Christian community is not a threat to the Roman imperial order, yet this order is still an adversary.

This example (and there are innumerable others) demonstrate that postcolonial biblical criticism is an appropriate means for tackling the intricacies that emerge from colonialism. This is true not just for New Testament studies, but also for the Hebrew Bible. For example, Uriah Kim has provided a postcolonial reading of 2 Kings 22-23 in which he argues that a postcolonial hermeneutic of the Bible is to see the history contained therein as the “history of the other”, which he uses to show that the Deuteronomist’s story is to provide a unifying “history of their own” for Judah and Israel in resistance to the Assyrian hegemony.[2]

By utilizing concepts such as mimicry and hybridity, postcolonial biblical criticism is able to offer up a means for understanding the development of identities that have been shaped by colonialists. Mimicry, as the term suggests, is a repetition of colonial behaviors and attitudes by the colonized that blurs the lines that would normally distinguish the colonists and the colonized. This is tied in with the idea of hybridity which denotes that the resultant identity is a mixture, not an exact replica. Those who have been colonized in some form or another may very well internalize the attitudes of the colonizers, and it is a postcolonial lens that supports the struggle for liberation by assisting in changing the ways in which the colonized reflect upon and judge themselves.

In my studies, postcolonial biblical criticism has made me aware not only of the colonial setting of the text and the colonial reception history of the text, but also how one’s own global context impacts one’s reading of the Bible. For instance, over the past decade the issue of the United States’ imperial power has been renewed in the public square due to the long foray into Iraq. Having lived here in the United States since 2008, it is clear to me that for many who were born and raised in the United States, the narratives of “American exceptionalism” and “American innocence” undercut the ability for national self-reflection, even leading to the point where any effort to contemplate the colonial and imperial history of this nation is an affront to (and assault on) this nation’s supposed Christian heritage. Donald Pease provides discerning remark about “American exceptionalism”:

The disparity between the United States’ imperial policies and the refusal to acknowledge them bears powerful witness to the power of the doctrine of US exceptionalism which authorized the refusal. US exceptionalism is a political doctrine as well as a regulatory ideal assigned responsibility for defining, supporting, and transmitting the US national identity.[3]

This all goes to show that while the Bible may have indeed exerted a considerable influence in the history of the construction of the American identity, this by no means promises that the general populace will be able to critically view their country’s involvement with colonialism and imperialism critically in light of the biblical narratives.


[1] Musa W. Dube, ‘Go Therefore and Make Disciples of All Nations’, in Fernando F. Segovia and Mary A. Tolbert (eds), Teaching the Bible: The Discourse and Politics of Biblical Pedagogy (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998), pp. 224–246 (p. 231).

[2] Uriah Y. Kim, Decolonizing Josiah: Toward a Postcolonial Reading of the Deuteronomistic History (Bible in the Modern World, 5; Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2005).

[3] Donald E. Pease, ‘US Imperalism: Global Dominance without Colonies’, in Henry Schwarz and Sangeeta Ray (eds), A Companion to Postcolonial Studies (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000), pp. 203–20 (p. 203).

Postcolonial Biblical Criticism (Part I)

Throughout the reception history of the Bible, particularly from the era of Constantine in the fourth century onwards, the biblical text has been utilized to support the colonialism and imperialism of empires rather than as a means of resisting and challenging such endeavors, despite the fact that all of the constituent writings of the Bible—both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament—were forged in the crucible of imperial contexts and written under the shadow of empires that existed in the Ancient Near East and the Mediterranean Basin (including the Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Seleucid, and Roman empires).

It is only relatively recently that the field of biblical studies has produced methods that attempt to extricate the biblical text from its merger with imperialism, leading in recent decades to the slow but sure erosion of the historical-critical method’s hegemony in biblical studies. New methodologies and insights, such as reader-response criticism and literary-critical methods, have undercut the complete domination of the historical-critical method, clearing the way for fresh contextual methods, including ecological, feminist, and liberation hermeneutics, as well as postcolonial criticism.

Postcolonial biblical criticism developed from postcolonial studies, a discipline that presents a critical investigation of colonialism and its aftermath, itself arising out of the geopolitical realities that had been ushered in throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries through the dissolution of empires and the subsequent arrival of individual nation-states. It aims to understand not only how colonial powers rationalize and defend their subjugation of peoples, but also how the colonized regard their own identity in view of their subjugation; postcolonial criticism analyzes how power is utilized by those in control and how it is responded to by those under its control.

While biblical scholars have long attempted to situate the biblical text in its proper historical and socio-cultural contexts, such as the Roman imperial cult for New Testament studies, postcolonial criticism goes beyond this by analyzing how the text has been used to assist and resist various imperialistic activities throughout its reception history, examining various aspects such as how a colonized community works out an identity in both a resisting and accommodating manner. There are multifaceted dynamics in play between the powerful and the powerless, and it is postcolonial criticism that “offers a space for the once-colonized. It is an interpretive act of the descendants of those once subjugated. In effect it means a resurrection of the marginal, the indigene and the subaltern.”[1]


[1] R. S. Sugirtharajah, The Bible and the Third World: Precolonial, Colonial, and Postcolonial Encounters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 250.

Select Bibliography

Stephen D. Moore. Empire and Apocalypse: Postcolonialism and the New Testament (The Bible in the Modern World, 12. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2006).

R.S. Sugirtharajah (ed). The Postcolonial Bible (The Bible and Postcolonialism, 1; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998).

______ The Bible and the Third World: Precolonial, Colonial, and Postcolonial Encounters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

______ Postcolonial Criticism and Biblical Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

______ Exploring Postcolonial Biblical Criticism: History, Method, Practice (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell 2011).

Robert Young. Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2001).

______ Postcolonialism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Brief Reviews of a Few More Books

Important note: All of the following review copies are digital copies I received from Westminster John Knox and all are jam-packed with formatting errors. I received the review copies through the Edelweiss review program, so it may just be the digital copies that come through there that are bad (and not the actual digital copies you can buy from Amazon), but I don’t know. I do know, however, that every single digital copy I’ve received from WJK through Edelweiss has had formatting errors. And one of the books I received for review, Political Theology: Contemporary Challenges and Future Directions was so bad that it was literally unreadable, so I just deleted it from my Kindle and will not be reviewing it.

Honestly, reading a terribly formatted ebook is so annoying that even getting the book for free doesn’t seem to make it worth the effort.

hiddenrichesTitle: Hidden Riches: A Sourcebook for the Comparative Study of the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near East

Author: Richard B. Hays

Bibliographic info: 288 pp.

Publisher: Westminster John Knox, 2014.

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The author, Christopher Hays, is an Associate Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary.

This volume is one of many available that seeks to illuminate the Hebrew Bible by exploring the history, culture, and literature of the Ancient Near East. The aim of such an endeavor is, of course, to provide the reader with a better understanding of the history and theology of the Hebrew Bible, as well as demonstrate how Israel’s sacred scriptures were in fact shaped by such texts.

Throughout the volume, Hays provides translated sections of various Ancient Near Eastern texts, introductions to them, a select bibliography for further study, and, of course, the meat of the chapter: a comparison of the text to a text from the Hebrew Bible. For example, Hays discusses literary genres (e.g. oracles, treaties, hymns) and how they help clarify the text of the Hebrew Bible.

One chapter, to pick one at random as an example, provides a comparative analysis of Leviticus 16:1-34 to Ashella’s Ritual Against a Plague in the Army, The Ritual of Ambazzi, and Day Five of the Babylon Akitu Festival. The chapter then goes on to discuss such pertinent issues such as the separation of clean and unclean, atonement for sin, and the need to purify our spaces from sin.

All in all, this volume is an scholarly yet accessible treatment of the ancient context of the Hebrew Bible, and definitely one of the more useful ‘Scripture in context’ volumes I have read.

macabeesmishnahTitle: From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Third Edition

Author: Shaye Cohen

Bibliographic info: 328 pp.

Publisher: Westminster John Knox, 2014.

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The author, Shaye J.D. Cohen, is a Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy at Harvard University.

This updated and expanded edition of Cohen’s classic work–originally published in the 1980s–provides a very useful overview of the history of Judaism from about 200 BC to 200 CE, including aspects such as culture, religion, society, politics, and so forth.

Most of the updates to this third edition is updated footnotes and rewritten sentences. But the biggest change is the addition of a chapter on the parting of ways between Christianity and Judaism. In this chapter, Cohen contends that the separation that took place between the two faiths was a gradual process, rather than some clear-cut happening. Additionally, he says that this parting was really between Jews and Jewish Christians, as there wasn’t really a time of unity between Gentile and Jewish Christians.

If you’re a student of early Christianity and the New Testament, this volume is definitely a recommended book to read. It provides a lot of background information of Jewish life that really does help in understanding the New Testament writings. This is especially needed considering that some of the ‘common’ knowledge of the average person-in-the-pew Christian is false, e.g., depictions of Pharisees found in the Gospels are known to be stereotypes moreso than faithful historical representations.

As a random example of interesting tidbits the author provides: at one point he discusses “Hellenistic Judaism”, noting that in the post-Persian period there is not really such a thing as non-Hellenistic Judaism. Instead, Cohen views the term only as a useful chronological indicator of Judaism post-Alexander the Great.

I really enjoyed this book. Rather than being a background to early Christianity, it is an introduction to Second Temple Judaism that is cognizant of nascent Christianity, but which is ancillary to the book’s main thrust.

theologicaltermsTitle: The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Second Edition: Revised and Expanded

Author: Donald K. McKim

Bibliographic info: 352 pp.

Publisher: Westminster John Knox, 2014.

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This updated edition contains almost 7,000 theological terms and their definitions—which is about 1,000 more terms than the first edition. The entry for each term is succinctly written, and the terms cover such topics as church history, ministry, philosophy, biblical studies, and theologies (whether it be liberation, postcolonial, Reformed, Catholic, etc).

As an example, here are a couple entries I picked at random:

infinite qualitative distinction A phrase associated with the early writings of Karl Barth (1886-1968) and drawn from the thought of Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55). It distinguishes between God and humanity by indicating that God is infinite and holy whereas humans are finite and sinful.

reification (Lat. res, “thing”) The fallacy noted in philosophy of treating a psychological or mental entity as though it were a thing. Also called “hypostatization.”

Even though I read theological works every single day, I still regularly come across terms and concepts that I am unfamiliar with, or have perhaps forgotten exactly what they mean or which figures are associated with it. The entries in this volume are short and do not go too deep, but they contain enough information to provide the reader with a basic understanding. I would, however, recommend the print edition over the digital edition for this book (due to having to use the search function in order to find an entry).

Quick Reviews of Two Books by Brueggemann

Sabbath_as_ResistanceTitle: Sabbath as Resistance

Author: Walter Brueggemann

Bibliographic info: 109 pp.

Publisher: Westminster John Knox, 2013.

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With thanks to WJK Press for the review copy.

This is a very small book containing a preface and six studies on the Sabbath. What is the Sabbath according to the purpose of this book? These two snippets should suffice:

Sabbath is the practical ground for breaking the power of acquisitiveness and for creating a public will for an accent on restraint. Sabbath is the cessation of widely shared practices of acquisitiveness.

Sabbath is a school for our desires, an expose and critique of the false desires that focus on idolatry and greed that have immense power for us. When we do not pause for Sabbath, these false desires take power over us. But Sabbath is the chance for self-embrace of our true identity.

An example of how Brueggemann explores the Sabbath is the chapter in which he draws upon Exodus, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and Amos to convey how the Sabbath is a resistance to the modern vices of anxiety, coercion, exclusivism, and multitasking. While I agree with some much of what the author says, there did seem to be a focus in the book on free-market economics to such an extent that one might come away thinking that anything associated with this (e.g. labor, competition, etc) is an inherently negative thing. While I don’t necessarily disagree with the picture painted of the wealthy banksters and the captains of industry as being the ones most resembling the slave-driving Pharaoh, this needs to be balanced out by the fact that we as consumers are willingly enslaved to such giants.

Additionally, I find it odd that people turn to the bureaucracy of government as some sort of panacea to the ailment. Brueggemann says that the “gods of commoditization for the most part go unchallenged in our world. As a result, the exploitative systems go unchallenged an unnoticed.” Sure, while the titans of industry, business, and banks may commoditize us all, you’ve got to be kidding if you do not see similar problems in the biggest possessor of power: government. I think this book needs to be a more balanced view of the exploitative systems that plague society. One can rightly argue, in my opinion, that the sort of governmental solution of a more redistributionist government is just a different means of bowing to the idol of covetousness. It isn’t tackling the heart of the problem: the covetousness of our own hearts. Despite some qualms I had with this book, it was an interesting study on the Sabbath.

truthspeakspowerTitle: Truth Speaks to Power: The Countercultural Nature of Scripture

Author: Walter Brueggemann

Bibliographic info: 178 pp.

Publisher: Westminster John Knox, 2013.

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With thanks to WJK Press for the review copy.

In this short work, Brueggemann aims to show the reader the subversive messages to be found within the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament by discussing various biblical narratives where the authority of power is undercut (often in unobvious ways). He begins with Jesus’ discussion with Pontius Pilate on the issues of authority and power, and then covers other figures such as Moses and Pharaoh, Solomon, Elisha, and Josiah. The underlying narrative that Brueggemann is intending to highlight is that the Church is to identity the moanings of the world and live out an alternative that leads people to freedom. Rather than limiting the Christian faith to one’s own private sphere, Brueggemann contends:

the church is, in my judgment, called to its public vocation to practice neighborliness in a way that includes both support of policies of distributive justice and practices of face-to-face restorative generosity.

In face of global inequalities, Brueggemann advocates a return to Scripture. In fact, he goes so far as to say this about Deuteronomy:

Indeed, it is not a stretch to say that Deuteronomy, in it context, became a charter for what we now call liberation theology, namely, the insistence that faith concerns the sustained enactment of public economic justice.

Brueggemann has been my favorite commentator/theologian to read when it comes to the Old Testament, and despite disagreements with aspects of both of these books, they are both good examples as to why I enjoy his writings.

Book Review: Understanding the “Imago Dei”

understandingimagodeiTitle: Understanding the “Imago Dei”: The Thought of Barth, von Balthasar, and Moltmann

Author: Dominic Robinson

Bibliographic info: 198 pp.

Publisher: Ashgate, 2011.

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With thanks to Ashgate for the review copy.

This intriguing volume is based on the author’s doctoral dissertation submitted in 2007 at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. As the book title suggests, the author provides an examination of the imago Dei in three prominent twentieth-century theologians: Karl Barth, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Jürgen Moltmann. The author chooses these three theologians because not only do each of them provide a useful contribution to the topic in modern theology, but by placing them in dialogue an authentic ecumenical discussion can take place. However, Robinson is not interested simply in how these theologians interpreted the doctrine of the imago Dei, he specifically wants to tackle how these theologians relate this concept to human dignity in the presence of God.

The opening chapter provides a historico-theological background which looks at the main strands in the history of thought on our creation in the imago Dei. The concept of the imago Dei is then placed in the context of the Reformation and postconciliar Catholic theology, and Robinson introduces the life, times, and theological systems (in general) of Barth, von Balthasar and Moltmann. Robinson holds that the Reformation, as seen particularly in the theologies of Luther and Calvin, presents a clear shift in our understanding of the imago Dei:

They moved the doctrine’s point of reference from asking the medieval philosophical and scientific questions about the nature of the human being per se and focused instead first and foremost on the sovereignty of God in whose image humanity is made and, in particular, on Christ, who has restored us to this image.

Further along Robinson provides a helpful summation of the theological discourse of the Reformation in relation to its significance for this study:

[W]e might say that the sixteenth-century theological world became something of a battleground between this Reformation emphasis on human passivity in the face of Christ’s once-and-for-all restoration of the divine image after the Fall and the Catholic emphasis on our active participation in a relationship with Christ as we worked to achieve our divine destiny in heaven.

The subsequent chapters are detailed examinations of the thought of Barth, von Balthasar, and Moltmann. In a nutshell, Robsinson sees Barth as “aim[ing] to develop a more relational model of ‘imago Dei’”, while Balthasar presents “a more vocational model, expressing ongoing relationship with Christ who calls us as disciples in the world”, and Moltmann “present[s] a model which tries to hold together the centrality of Christ and our response in engagement with God, our fellow humans, and the whole created world with which we share a common dignity.” The aspect that Robinson focuses upon in their views of the imago Dei is twofold: the divine descent of grace and our ascent to God. In a way, one could say that it plays on the Protestant and Catholic emphases on justification (as seen in Barth and Protestantism) and sanctification (as seen in von Balthasar and Catholicism).

Overall, I would say that Robinson has a positive evaluation of the models of Barth and von Balthasar in regards to the imago Dei (with a decidedly more favorable view of the latter’s view), but he seems to have more a critical view of Moltmann, saying that his view is lacking in a sufficient foundation in Christ as the ideal image of God. Furthermore, Moltmann’s accent on God’s solidarity with human suffering takes away from God’s transcendence, thus negatively impacting our perception of what the descending movement of God’s revelation in Christ really means.

What the author finds most constructive about von Balthasar’s doctrine of the imago Dei is how he incorporates the descending movement of God’s revelation in Christ with the ascending human response. In contrast, Robinson sees Barth as emphasizing the divine descent at the expense of the human ascent. Robinson’s main criticism of Barth is in regards to his interpretation of Augustine and his denunciation of natural theology (because it disallows the possibility of Barth’s theology possessing an adequate view of the human response to God). Additionally, Barth’s doctrine of the imago Dei “stops short of developing a theological anthropology which expresses in itself the dignity of each human person.” This is where von Balthasar comes in handy, for his interpretation of Augustine allows von Balthasar to say that the imago Dei isn’t utterly lost but is only damaged, thus von Balthasar provides the best attempt at bringing together the descent of God and our ascent to God.

A couple of small quibbles. The dialogue seems to pertain more to Barth and von Balthasar, with Moltmann being the third wheel who doesn’t fit as snugly into the study as the other two. Additionally, I think that a fruitful area for further exploration in regards to Moltmann’s emphasis of the divine descent (as it pertains to the imago Dei) would have been his thought on the kenosis of the Spirit.

All in all, however, Dominic Robinson has provided quite a constructive and interesting study on the imago Dei, discussing related issues such as the role that Christ plays in communicating authentic human identity to us, and the possibility of a free human response to God’s revelation in Christ. I have actually studied Barth, von Balthasar, and Moltmann (to various degrees), so naturally I quite enjoyed this comparative analysis of their thought. Plus, I am a big fan of ecumenical endeavors and this study is a great exercise in ecumenical thinking that opens up possibilities for a rejuvenated Christocentric anthropology.

Review of “Theology for Armchair Theologians” Series

This review will be a bit different from my normal one. I will here be providing short reviews of three volumes in Westminster’s Theology for Armchair Theologians series. The titles which will be discussed are:

The volume on the Niebuhr brothers is from Scott Paeth. The Niebuhr brothers have been some of the more influential twentieth-century theologians that the USA has produced. Paeth provides a detailed introduction to Reinhold and Richard Niebuhr, with a particularly useful section on how their thinking was formed and changed by World War II. While the brothers shared a lot of the same background and experience, they of course diverged from each other on many matters of theology. Paeth is aware of this and rightly treats them as distinct theologians, noting places where they were at variance with each other (e.g. what they thought on whether God is involved in history or not). What I found particularly interesting was the brothers different views on the isolationism of the US in those days, and how they each opted to approach the issue of war: Richard seemed more interested in the idea of war and what it entails, while Reinhold was more focused upon what was to be done in light of war.

The volume on John Knox is written by Suzanne McDonald. Before reading this book, all I really knew about John Knox is that he was a turbulent reformer, a nemesis to Queen Mary, and a leader of the Scottish Reformation (and basically the founder of the Church of Scotland). In fact, McDonald says that, “You can’t trace the history of the Scottish Reformation – a defining moment in Scotland’s story – without placing the towering figure of Knox close to the center, theologically and politically.” Each chapter is divided into two sections: the first section discusses the historical context of a period of time in Knox’s life (e.g. providing details on the ruling monarchs), and the second section then providing details on works that Knox penned during this period. All in all, I learnt quite a bit about the Scottish Reformation and Protestantism in Scotland from this book. Also, I think McDonald does a fine job at presenting the complexity of Knox and the ambivalent figure that he was.

The volume on Dorothy Day is written by Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty. Day is my favorite Catholic theologian to read about. Though, she is not exactly a theologian in the traditional sense of the word, i.e., someone chained to their desk producing lofty academic works on obscure theological topics. Instead, Day was entirely about living with those on the margins and helping them. In short, she was a real theologian. And this is what the author focuses upon: she reveals Day’s deep dedication to living out the kingdom of God and her vision of what radical discipleship to Christ entails. This isn’t a book that romanticizes Day by providing a hagiographical retelling of her life, for Hinson-Hasty reveals the tumultuous history of Dorothy Day in all her imperfections.

Overall I enjoyed the Armchair Theologians series. I wasn’t expecting much because I think that introductory series all too often dumb things down to such an extent that they provide an inaccurate image of whatever issue they cover. But these three volumes that I read were quite good. If you want to learn about a theologian, but don’t want to read a theologian’s entire oeuvre, then I think Westminster’s Armchair Theologians series will be a useful (and inexpensive) tool.

Book Review: Violence in Ancient Christianity

violenceinancientchristianityTitle: Violence in Ancient Christianity: Victims and Perpetrators

Series: Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae

Editors: Albert C. Geljon and Riemer Roukema

Bibliographic info: 214 pp. + 37 pp. of indices

Publisher: Brill, 2014.

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With thanks to Brill for the review copy.

While Jesus may have been a guy who taught such things as loving one’s enemies and to not resist an evil person, his followers over the centuries have had variegated ways of interpreting such ideas. This volume consists of ten studies that explore how violence played a role in early Christianity, both in how early Christians were its victims and its perpetrators.

The first chapter in this volume looks at religious violence amongst Greeks, Romans, Christians, and Jews. The author, Jan Bremmer, contends  that “religious violence” is not an accurate phrase to describe the relationship between religion and violence in Late Antiquity. A particularly interesting facet of this study is how Bremmer scrutinizes the oft-repeated claim that polytheistic religions are less nonviolent than monotheistic religions. In this regard, Bremmer interacts with the work of Jan Assmann who has connected violence and monotheistic religions. Bremmer argues that not only is this theory not supported by the data, but that it was actually Roman polytheistic religion that was the “inventor of the phenomenon of systematic religious persecution.” An example of pagan persecution against Christians that is discussed is Emperor Decius’ edict in 249 for all the inhabitants of the Empire to offer to the gods. The prosecution practices of the first Christian emperors are also discussed, which Bremmer says was “directed at practices like magic and divination rather than against pagan of Jewish beliefs” (29). Bremmer concludes that “the pagans certainly were less bloodthirsty than our modern movies and novels suggest.”

Next up is the study from Danny Praet. Here he employs the definition of direct and cultural violence developed by Johan Galtung to discuss the extent to which violence was perpetrated by Christians and against Christians in the first three centuries. This is followed by Fred Ledegang’s study on Eusebius and his view on Constantine’s religious policies. For anyone familiar with early church history, you will probably know that Eusebius has a favorable view of Constantine and his attempts to unify the church throughout the empire. However, Ledegang rightly argues (in my opinion) that Eusebius’ attitude towards Constantine and his Christian conversion is a bit too naive for various reasons, amongst which is the religious violence that was carried out under Constantine. One thing that struck me in this study was how enamored Eusebius was with Constantine, which Ledegang says goes so far that one can say that Eusebius sees Constantine as a “new Augustus” and a “second Moses, who even surpassed the first one.”

Hans Teitler then provides a study on violence against Christians during the reign of Emperor Julian (the Apostate) in 361-363. Teitler argues that while the pagans of the Empire may have dished out violence towards Christians during Julian’s reign, the Emperor himself did not actually condone such actions. Teitler then goes on to examine two specific instances where it is usually said that Julian ordered violence against Christians in Ancyra and Caesarea. By examining the sources for these persecutions in light of contemperaneous authors who detested the Emperor’s policies, Teitler concludes that Julian did in fact not lapse into violence against Christians in these cases.

Next up is F.J. Elizabeth Boddens Hosang’s contribution which examines the relations between Jews and Christians in the early church, specifically by looking at church council texts and pieces of Roman legislation from the fourth to sixth centuries. One of the conclusions reached is that, “The negative view of Jews and Judaism in church father writings resulted in a rise in hostilities and attacks: not on fictive, but on genuine Jews. Jews suffered as a result of the theology developed in this formative period and increasing violence and distance between the religious groups was the result” (106).

Hans van Loon then looks at Cyril of Alexandria’ episcopate in the period of 412-444. He investigates Cyril’s role in the violence that occurred towards Jews during this period, specifically taking a look at the murder of Hypatia (a philosopher), concluding that Cyril was not responsible for this murder except insofar as he cultivated an atmosphere of hostility. Then Joop van Waarden investigates the torture and decapitation of Bishop Priscillian of Avila in the fourth century. This is followed by Paul van Geest’s study on Augustine’s views on the relationship between church and state, specifically on the role he played in the approval of violence towards groups such as the Donatists. The penultimate study in this volume is from Gerard Bartelink and is on the language of rejection and suppression that rivals used to designate deviant religious groups in Late Antiquity. The final study is Riemer Roukema’s examination of how the early church (in the first five centuries) received and interpreted Jesus’ teaching of loving one’s enemies.

I find the topic of religion and violence to be a fascinating one. After all, most religions seem to have a core that somehow revolves around love and peace toward people, yet adherents to religions have managed to craftily manoeuvre and corrupt such teachings so as to justify violence. The fact that this happens should not be hidden nor minimized. This volume contributes to bringing to light the violence that has been perpetrated in the name of the one who was crucified by the political, religious, and moral authorities of the world. Judging from what I have read in this volume, my overall impression of early Christians relationship with violence can best be summed up in the word ambivalence.


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