Forthcoming T&T Clark/Continuum 2013
Pauline Christianity took root and sprang to life in a world of imperial imagery. In the streets and at the thoroughfares, in the market places and on its public buildings and monuments, and especially on its coins the Roman Empire’s imperial iconographers displayed imagery that aimed to persuade the Empire’s diverse and mostly illiterate inhabitants that Rome had a divinely appointed right to rule the world and to be honoured and celebrated for its dominion. This study places the later, often contested/pseudonymous, letters and theology associated with Paul in the social and political context of the Roman Empire’s visual culture of politics and persuasion to show how followers of the apostle visualized the reign of Christ in ways very much consistent with central themes of imperial iconography. They drew on the Empire’s picture language to celebrate the dominion and victory of the divine Son, Jesus, to persuade their audiences to honour his dominion with praise and thanksgiving, and to conform their lives to acclaim his governance. In doing so they revealed their imperial location and the importance of imperial ideology on the development of Pauline theology and the unfolding life of Pauline churches. The imperial themes of later explicitly Christian iconography found support in the New Testament, especially in the imperial ideas deployed and developed in the Pauline corpus. Imperial themes in the later corpus helped to make Christianity attractive to the dispersed inhabitants of the Roman Empire and helps to account for later imperial endorsement of it.
Key to this imperial embrace were Colossians, Ephesians, and the Pastoral Epistles. Yet these letters remain neglected territory in consideration of engagement with and reflection of imperial political ideals and goals amongst Paul and his followers. This book fills a gap in scholarly work on Paul and Empire by taking up each contested letter in turn to investigate how several of its main themes reflect motifs found in imperial images. With the help of post-colonial biblical interpretation, it seeks to understand how these letters helped to form and nurture religious identities at once a part of and in separation from its larger imperial context. Each chapter takes up texts and imperial images to show how these letters persuaded their audiences by deploying metaphor and vivid description consistent with and perhaps even drawn from either imperial or Hellenistic political iconography. The successors of Paul remembered an apostle in prison championing a Gospel echoing with imperial ideals to bring Christian faith and ideals to life. In doing so they invited audiences to a reconfigured imperial imagination formed through an alternative application of political imagery and vocabulary to make Paul relevant for later generations.