The New York Times has an article today that discusses the similarities, both flattering and not so flattering, between the U.S. Republic/Empire and the Roman Republic/Empire. These are comparisons that have been kicked around for years (centuries, actually). The original founders often compared the burgeoning government with the Roman Republic and Empire, focusing on the positive aspects and warning of the negative aspects (note, though, that some of what they viewed as positive, we would view in a more negative light, and so on and so forth). For the nineteenth-century interest, just look at the architecture in D.C.!!!
Today this comparison abounds in politics, popular media, scholarship, and on the street. For example, if you ever stop and listen in the halls of Union Theological Seminary, it seems that this is almost all you hear with the important and clearly overblown and exaggerated caveat that Jesus and Paul were obviously ANTI-empire (the NT evidence is a bit more complex with some passages that are anti and some that are pro, but mostly concerned with other issues). The seminarians use Jesus and Paul (and, let's not forget John of Patmos, who in my view, is a much more likelier candidate than Paul) as exemplars of resistance, giving a biblical basis for resistance to today's empire. Revelation is clearly anti-Roman Empire, but I do not think it is anti the idea of an empire, just who is ruling it. Let me throw in, due to personal interest, the Epistle to the Hebrews, which, like Revelation posits an alternative, but relies upon the model of the Roman Empire, especially the Roman patronage system, in addition to Hellenistic kingdoms to imagine this alternative with God and Jesus (God's number two) at the top (perhaps like a Vespasian and Titus?). Paul's attitude is ambivalent at best. Was Jesus anti-empire? He was executed by the Roman state, which might indicate some resistance to the state in some way or, at least, some disturbance often related in scholarship to his actions in the temple. Yet, Paul, whose writings are ambivalent on this subject, was also executed in Rome, according to tradition, during the reign of Nero (along with Peter). Perhaps it boils down to what Jesus meant by the "kingdom of God/heaven" (pie in the sky, political revolution, future eschatology, or that hybrid category of "realized eschatology") and "render unto Caesar." Overall, in my view, we do a disservice when we wash over those parts of the Bible that do not fit our theological, social, and political views (NT scholarship seems to be worse about this than Hebrew Bible scholarship) by either ignoring them, twisting them, reading them out of context, or, in this case of Pauline scholarship, harmonizing them to remove the appearance of contradiction, rather than acknowledging the problematic aspects and proclaiming them as theologically problematic, the latter of which is something that feminist biblical scholarship has been very good at doing. A few years ago, UTS had a "New Testament and Empire" conference, which, I have just learned, will be reprised this coming academic year (more precise info has not yet been released to me). I will be curious to see what progress in this area has been made.