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This is the dome and oculus of the Pantheon, in Rome, still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world.  Photo credit:  Atibordee Kongprepan, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0.  The Pantheon was originally constructed as a temple to the gods of ancient Rome.  It was commissioned during the reign of Augustus Caesar.  It was rebuilt after a fire and completed by the pagan Emperor Hadrian around 126 AD.  In 609 AD, the Christian Emperor Phocas in Constantinople gave the building to Pope Boniface IV, who converted it into the Church of Saint Mary and the Martyrs; which is still in use as a Catholic church.  In 663 AD, Emperor Constans II stripped the roof of its bronze tiles and sent them to Constantinople as supply. 


The Pantheon represents the complex interactions between Church and Empire.  At times the Church seems to reverse pagan practices; at other times the Church seems to reinforce them.  At times, the Church seems to benefit from the Empire; at other times the Empire plunders the Church for building materials. 


The selection of perspectives on church history in this section has been guided by the study of empire as a recurring motif in Scripture by recent biblical studies scholars.  It is also guided by explorations of biblical Christian ethics on issues of power and polity.  As such, Christian relational ethics continues a Christian theological anthropology that began with reflection on the human nature of Jesus.

Helpful Resources on Empire as a Biblical Theme


(Amazon book, Jan 5, 1984)


(Amazon book, 1988)


(Amazon book, Jan 5, 1988)


(Amazon book, Jan 1, 1992)


(Amazon book, Mar 16, 1999)


(Amazon book, 1999) and this bibliographic summary by Patristic Evangelism, Readings in Patristic Ethics  (Patristic Evangelism blog, date unknown)


Paul Evdokimov, Ages of the Spiritual Life (pdf file, 2002), an Eastern Orthodox perspective, examines monasticism as a movement against the Christianization of the empire; says, "We must admit that the empire proclaimed Christian was built on the three solutions of Satan, certainly not entirely or consciously, but in mingling light with darkness, God and Caesar, the suggestions of Satan and the refutations of Christ.  It was an ambiguous empire, for it distorted the cross... Constantine founded an empire whose greatness and prosperity were more dangerous than the cruelties of Nero." (p.143)


(Amazon book, Nov 1, 2002)


(Amazon book, Nov 1, 2002) a creative, socio-rhetorical reading of Paul's letter to the Colossians.  Deserves careful consideration.  They do not sufficiently explore Paul's engagement with the Old Testament, however.


(Amazon book, 2007) a vital counterpart to biblical exegesis: major theologians from the early church to the present; rereading them is vital


(Amazon book, Mar 3, 2008) a readable introduction to this topic


(Amazon book, Oct 31, 2008)


(Amazon book, Oct 1, 2010)


(Amazon book, Oct 1, 2010)


(Amazon book, Apr 28, 2013)

This was a wonderful collection of essays bringing us up to date on what New Testament scholars believe about whether the NT has an anti-imperial message within its pages. In some ways, it is a literature review, and a very helpful and illuminating one at that. Each contributor to the book not only does an even-handed job with the scope s/he was given (on Matthew, or John, etc.) they take a position curbing the enthusiasts. That curbing is well taken, given that the scavenger hunt for anti-imperial clues has been on since the ‘post-colonial’ paradigm for studying literature, politics, and the social sciences has dominated the field for a few decades: One is likely to find a bit of ‘empire’ to criticize if you go looking hard enough! This book is a good examination of that. So it is with disappointment that I must disagree with each author and the book as a whole. I do so because their methodology is truncated and incomplete: Each author analyzes the correspondences between images and phrases used by the Roman Empire and also used by the New Testament, like comparing ‘Caesar is Lord’ with ‘Jesus is Lord;’ they say that the New Testament’s deeper concern is not confrontation with empire per se, but correspondence with the Old Testament. With this I wholeheartedly agree. However, they stop there, and that is their methodological problem. The Old Testament itself was anti-imperial, and the New Testament builds upon it. For instance, God scattered Babel, then designed Israel to be an open community with laws that respected human dignity and relations, with strict limits on its land claims. Israel’s Scriptures criticized urbanization, the centralization of power in a kingship, and the Temple cult itself. When the major Gentile empires emerged on the scene, Daniel condemned them as beastly against the visionary backdrop of a new Adam figure who would be enthroned above them. So the correspondence between the New and Old Testaments on this issue is deeper than these New Testament scholars perceive. The New Testament is anti-imperial because the Old Testament is anti-imperial. I have put my position into the mouth of Apollos in my fictionalized account of his time in Ephesus, Character Sketches for 1 Corinthians.


(Amazon book, Jun 1, 2014)


Berry Friesen and John K. Stoner, If Not Empire, What? A Survey of the Bible (Bible and Empire, Jun 1, 2014) is a helpful resource, although they tend to downplay historic Christian eschatology to stress this life


(Amazon book, Jun 24, 2016) with contributions from Beth Sheppard, Davina Lopez, Neil Elliot, Warren Carter, and others.


(Amazon book, 2017) examines multiple angles from various scholars wrestling with modernity; includes chapters on prophetic, ecclesial, civic, and symphonic positions


(Amazon book, 2018) examines the theology of hierarchy - a technical term not identical with power structures - beginning with Dionysius the Areopagite


Krishnan Kumar, Were Empires Better Than Nation-States at Managing Diversity? (Zocalo Public Square, Mar 16, 2018) a thought-provoking article which makes us ask the question of whether Nation-States are necessarily an improvement over Empires, and why Pentecost-expressions might have been more intuitive in formal Empires rather than formal Nation-States.

Part of the series: