Jesus and the Politics of Roman Palestine
Richard A. Horsley
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In Jesus and the Politics of Roman Palestine, Richard A. Horsley offers one of the most comprehensive critical analyses of Jesus of Nazareth's mission and how he became a significant historical figure. In his study Horsley brings a fuller historical knowledge of the context and implications of recent research to bear on the investigation of the historical Jesus. Breaking with the standard focus on isolated individual sayings of Jesus, Horsley argues that the sources for Jesus in historical interaction are the Gospels and the speeches of Jesus that they include, read critically in their historical context.
This work addresses the standard assumptions that the historical Jesus has been presented primarily as a sage or apocalyptic visionary. In contrast, based on a critical reconsideration of the Gospels and contemporary sources for Roman imperial rule in Judea and Galilee, Horsley argues that Jesus was fully involved in the conflicted politics of ancient Palestine. Learning from anthropological studies of the more subtle forms of peasant politics, Horsley discerns from these sources how Jesus, as a Moses- and Elijah-like prophet, generated a movement of renewal in Israel that was focused on village communities.
Following the traditional prophetic pattern, Jesus pronounced God's judgment against the rulers in Jerusalem and their Roman patrons. This confrontation with the Jerusalem rulers and his martyrdom at the hands of the Roman governor, however, became the breakthrough that empowered the rapid expansion of his movement in the immediately ensuing decades. In the broader context of this comprehensive historical construction of Jesus's mission, Horsley also presents a fresh new analysis of Jesus's healings and exorcisms and his conflict with the Pharisees, topics that have been generally neglected in the last several decades.
decided not to execute him since he seemed to be merely a maniac who was prophesying doom. If this case was typical of the handling of prophets that seemed dangerous, it seems likely that Jesus of Nazareth would have been beaten (by order of Pilate). Whether he underwent a trial before a high priestly council is not clear. He may well have been interrogated by Pilate. That he was crucified, not stoned, of course, means that he was executed by the Romans and not by “the Jews.” 160 Jesus and
parables. Ironically, even though these teachings of Jesus appeared in Matthew and Luke in parallel speeches or “discourses” of Jesus, such as the Lord’s Prayer and the “mission discourse”—and these appeared as coherent paragraphs (with subtitles) in standard translations such as the (New) Revised Standard Version and (New) Jerusalem Bible—scholars continued to focus on separate sayings. Only recently, in the development of “composition criticism” of Q, have some North American scholars
Types of Prophets” and “Prophetic Movements,” and Horsley with Hanson, Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs, chap 4. 36. The book of Acts mentions both of these movements but dates Theudas prior to the Fourth Philosophy (5:36) and then confuses the Egyptian prophet’s movement with the Sicarii (21:38). 37. Scott, Arts of Resistance. In this highly suggestive theoretical reflection on the various forms of popular politics, Scott draws heavily on his earlier work in “Protest and Profanation” and
commandments of the Mosaic covenant, God was literally their exclusive ruler, not merely religiously but inseparably also politically and economically. Israelites were to have no other God and were forbidden to “bow down and serve” another god as lord and master with their produce and labor (Exod 20:3, 4–5; Deut 5:7, 8–9). Yet if they did not pay, the Romans would retaliate brutally. Precisely this conflict came to a head when Rome deposed Herod’s son Archelaus as ruler of Judea and sent out a
Interaction Another major obstacle that blocks access to the historical Jesus is the individualism that dominates modern Western religion and culture, particularly American culture and Christianity. This is strikingly manifested in how the construction of Jesus as an advocate of “itinerant radicalism” for individuals who were to abandon their families was uncritically taken over by American interpreters (despite criticism of the underlying assumptions and approach).10 The liberals’ Jesus is an