Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Book Note: Jonathan Klawans, "Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple"

Jonathan Klawans’s Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple: Symbolism and Supersessionism in the Study of Ancient Judaism responds to evolutionary and supersessionist scholarship that has read sacrifice and the temple as things that were replaced by something better that came along later (Jesus for Christians and prayer for Jews), reading polemics that derive from Hebrews (for Christians) and Maimonides (for Jews) anachronistically back into sources, such as the prophets, the Dead Sea Sectarians, aspects of the New Testament, and Rabbinic literature.

This book builds upon his earlier work, Impurity and Sin in Ancient Israel, and relies heavily upon the insights of Mary Douglas in Purity and Danger and her more recent analysis in Leviticus as Literature, depicting purity laws, sacrifice, and, with it, the temple as a “symbolic system.” Purity, sacrifice, and the temple are all interrelated: you must have ritual purity to approach the sanctuary to offer a sacrifice. After a fantastic literary review of scholarship on sacrifice, Klawans argues that the system of symbols, as opposed to identifying the single referent for each individual symbolic aspect of a ritual, sacrifice, or part of the temple, point to two things: sacrifice and temple/tabernacle-building as imitatio dei and sacrifice as attracting and maintaining the divine presence in the community. Klawans discusses the former as an “organizing principle” of sacrifice and the latter as the “function” of sacrifice. Building the tabernacle or the temple is itself imitatio dei, due to the cosmic significance of those structures. Imitation, indeed, will remain a major centerpiece in the entire book, even as it is transformed in by different Jewish groups throughout the centuries.

From here he demonstrates how different bodies of sources have been misread by scholars, both Jewish and Christian, with anti-sacrificial and anti-temple biases. For example, the line between priest and prophet has been too sharply drawn: many prophets were priests and often had a high view of the temple and, even those in exile, envisioned a future rebuilding of the temple and the reinstitution of sacrifice. Prophetic critiques of sacrifice are not anti-sacrifice, but anti-improper sacrifice. Moreover, many of the “ethics” attributed to the prophets can be found in Leviticus, if you know where to look. Finally, Klawans argues a false dichotomy has been set up between the “ritual” of the temple and the “symbolic actions” of prophets. Since he has argued that sacrifice is itself a symbolic system, then both priestly and prophetic actions are symbolic.

The second half of the book, dedicated to the second temple and a little beyond, is divided up in more of a thematic manner. Klawans firstly carefully distinguishes between two concepts of the temple prevalent in the second temple period, which are not mutually exclusive, but are in tension: temple as cosmos and temple in the cosmos. The first is the idea that the temple represents the cosmos and the second that the temple is a copy of the heavenly temple. This distinction is largely developed, as far as I can tell, from George MacRae’s famous article from thirty years ago, concerning eschatology and the heavenly sanctuary in the Epistle to the Hebrews, a document he argues employs both concepts. Klawans claims, however, that, perhaps excepting Hebrews, no single text contains both concepts (I have not tested this hypothesis myself, but if true, it is definitely a helpfully clarifying insight). One of the interesting results of the second concept is the need for a heavenly priesthood to correspond to the earthly one; thus, they tend to have a highly developed angelology. In these texts, moreover, imitatio dei often slips into imitatio angeli, although, as I have been taught, this latter term should probably be imitatio angelorum. He then turns to the Dead Sea Scrolls, which largely employs the heavenly temple view, to discuss how they have been misread. He basically argues that the Dead Sea Sect had an extremely heightened view of the temple, and it is for that reason that they had to abandon it, due to the ritual and moral defilement of the temple. They then believed that their community substituted for the temple at that time, but, against previous scholarship, he argues that the community saw this substitution as provisional (there would be a future temple or reinstatement of proper temple protocol) and comparatively deficient to a physical temple. In the rather novel idea that their community was the temple, the Dead Sea Sect represents the last form of imitation: imitatio templi. Klawans also argues that the Rabbis always looked forward to the future reinstatement of the temple and its sacrifices, and attempting to emulate the temple’s sanctity by “templizing” rituals pertaining to food and prayer.

Finally, Klawans turns to the New Testament. He argues that many passages have been incorrectly interpreted in a supersessionist manner: the last supper and the overturning of the tables in the temple. He argues that the last supper passages, in both the gospels and Paul, do not, in themselves, indicate a replacement of the sacrifices of the temple, but rely upon that imagery to indicate the seriousness, legitimacy, and efficacy of the ritual meal. They are metaphors not meant to “spiritualize” sacrifice, but they “borrow from” sacrifice, operating upon the assumption that temple sacrifices are efficacious. He then argues that Jesus’ actions in the temple were not anti-temple, but probably had something to do with Jesus’ attitude toward the poor. This relies upon an extending discussion on the nexus between property and proper sacrifice, that you should only sacrifice something you truly own. Klawans argues that the pigeon sellers and the money changers would have had the most monetary impact on poor pilgrims, who should not have to pay or offer what they could not easily afford, and this situation, in particular, would have raised Jesus’ ire.

But the New Testament is not without its anti-temple polemics. Given that much of what Klawans is responding to partly derives from particular passages in the New Testament that are supersessionist and perhaps the root of Christian supersessionism, it is surprising that he only devotes about two pages to all of these passages: Acts 7, Revelation 21-22, and Hebrews (pretty much all of it). Indeed, speaking of Hebrews, Klawans says, “This text is the basis of Christian supersessionist approaches to the temple, and, by extension, it is the ancestor of many modern scholarly approaches to the temple and its ritual" (243). Considering that such a text would be, therefore, central to Klawans’s argument about the difficulties caused by such texts for modern scholarly readings of other texts, it is very disappointing that Hebrews receives only a paragraph’s worth of attention. Indeed, while Hebrews is the most anti-priestly, anti-sacrifice, and anti-temple of any document I know, it is, because of this, the most priestly document in the New Testament at the same time. The priesthood, the temple, and sacrifice take on a heightened importance because of the polemic against them. It relies upon the old earthy-heavenly temple correspondence, turning it on its head, making the correspondence more oppositional, but it also is very “templizing,” to borrow Klawans’s term. The importance of the heavenly temple, Jesus’ priesthood, and Jesus’ sacrifice all depend upon sacrificial and temple imagery, but also employing that imagery in a supersessionist way: the heavenly temple is better, Jesus is a greater priest, and his sacrifice is more efficacious. I am also surprised that Klawans failed to mention the destruction of the temple passages in the New Testament, the most famous of which is in John 2:19-22.

Overall, this is a fantastic book, and I am sure my dissertation will be peppered with references to its insights. It is both comprehensive in its coverage and comprehensible in its argumentation. His key methodological underpinning that purity, sacrifice, and the temple form an integrated symbolic system is very attractive, and his central thesis that this symbolic system was organized by the concept of imitatio dei (and all of its later iterations) and attracting the divine presence seem very helpful (it integrates much of the earlier scholarship on the temple that has had difficulty accounting for the divine presence, ritual, and temple symbolism in the same breath). Even if there may have been other "organizing" and "functional" factors not discussed (and I imagine there are), his analysis provides a platform for all future discussion of the complexities of the integrated symbolic system of purity, sacrifice, and the temple.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Religion and the Democratic Party

For over two and a half decades, the Republican Party has had a virtual monopoly in mobilizing strongly religious voters. Yet, two new tendencies are apparently buckling this trend. On the one hand, there are new fissures in the relationship between evangelicals and conservative Catholics and the GOP with the rise of environmentally-conscious evangelicals and the importance of immigration reform, the minimum wage, and opposition to Iraq among conservative Catholics. Indeed, if you take abortion off the table, then many new alliances and religio-political possibilities arise.

The other tendency is the stepping-up of religious language and a more comprehensive political strategy geared toward religiously-inclined voters among Democratic candidates. This latter trend is the subject of not only one, but TWO articles in the latest edition of Time Magazine. The first article discusses the religious background and the increased usage of religious language among Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. It also discusses the lack of a comprehensive political strategy to target possible religious voters in the 2000 and 2004 elections and how that is starting to shift. It also discusses Nancy Pelosi's lacing of her endorsement of stem-cell research with biblical citations and allusions. That we have three Democratic candidates who are all now speaking of their religious faith AND are all married to their original spouses (often an important issue for conservative religious voters) stands in odd juxtaposition to Guiliani (do I really have to explain this one?), McCain (whose attitude toward religious groups has been about the same as Howard Dean in the past--not too positive), and Romney (the wild-card question of how evangelical voters will respond to a Mormon candidate who has been painted as more opportunistic than even most other politicians). Indeed, of the three GOP candidates, Romney is the only one who speaks the language of faith fluently, while all three Democratic candidates can.

Overall, evangelical voters are slowly dropping out of the GOP, but they are not becoming Democrats; they are tending to identify now as independents. According to Time's numbers, in 2004, the percentage of white evangelicals who identified themselves as Republicans was 50% and today it is 40%. It is an incremental shift, but, considering how close many recent elections have been, it could be significant. In polls taken in "red" states, Obama is viewed as a person of strong religious convictions and his approval ratings are as high as Giuliani's.

But this heightented visibility of a more religiously friendly Democratic platform does not sit well with many parts of the Democratic party, who oppose all intrusions of religion into politics, whether liberal, moderate, or conservative. According to the article:
Defenders of abortion rights and gay marriage were concerned about the tactical and rhetorical shifts they were seeing. When Hillary Clinton called abortion "tragic" and said she dreamed of the day when the procedure would never have to be performed, the approach appealed to centrists. But it inspired pro-choice champions to argue that such rhetoric makes women feel guilty and plays into the hands of the right. Just as arguments rage within the right between fiscal and social conservatives and between libertarians and virtuecrats, the left has its own internal wars.

Perhaps bringing up abortion AT ALL plays into the hands of the right, which would love to keep the issue front and center, because that issue and gay marriage are now the only primary issues they can use to motiviate their religiously conservative base, since they are now beginning to lose them on other issues as mentioned above. On the other side of the fence, GOP strategists do not appear to be too concerned with the loosening of their monopoly of the "religion card." They simply do not think the Democrats can credibly pull it off as they did 30 years ago in the 1976 campaign with Jimmy Carter.

What most everyone seems to forget, and the topic of Time's second article about Dems and Religion, is that the Democrats were the FIRST to reach out to the evangelical voters with the election of Jimmy Carter: the first president to claim to be "born again." Carter was, in fact, endorsed by the SBC and even Pat Robertson. They then abandoned him in the 1980 campaign and endorsed his rival, Ronald Reagan, whose evangelical credentials were, well, less than Carter's. In 1976, Carter took home over 50% of the evangelical vote, a feat not matched by any subsequent Democratic candidate. The only subsequent candidate who reached out to religiously-motivated voters was Bill Clinton, who could (and can) quote the Bible chapter and verse (I have heard him do it; I was at a service at Riverside Church a few years ago and he came and spoke after the service to the congregation, claiming that the MM or the RR do not have a monopoly on morality in the public sphere). But B. Clinton's religiously verbal capacities were not part of the overall political strategies of the Dems at the time. A shift in political strategy is evident, but actual results may be harder to come by or even assess. Indeed, if a Dem receives a higher percentage of the religious vote that has tended to go toward Republicans (most likely the green evangelicals and immigration reform, anti-war conservative Catholics), will it be because of a credibly religiously-oriented Democratic candidate or the lack of such credibility by any Republican candidate (with the exception of Romney, but...)? And, by doing this, do the Dems risk abandoning a loyal part of their constituency that prefers no intrusions of religion into politics (no matter how rhetorical, tactical, or substantive)?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Vatican Library Closes

The scholarly community is in mourning as the Vatican Library closes for a THREE-YEAR rebuilding. A Columbia professor of mine who studies medieval Christianity gave me a heads up on this when I was leaving for Rome around the end of May. As Paleojudaica reports, scholars were sitting elbow to elbow with piles of manuscripts trying to finish their research before the inevitable closing.

So, what do we do for the next three years?

Oddly enough, a little over half of the Vatican's approximately 70,000 original docs are on microfilm at St. Louis University (a good Jesuit school), which will make St. Louis, originally my neck of the woods, of all places the new hub for those needing access to any vatican codex or manuscript for the next three years. Perhaps I will have a research-related reason to go home after all.

I have also heard a rumor from a source here in NYC that there are other microfilms of much of the library in Brussels, or some northern European city, but I have not received verification of this. Although, it would make sense that there should be some sort of copies of the Vatican materials laying around somewhere in case of destruction by fire, etc.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Tale of the Hasidim

Yesterday I was invited to join "Epherika" and her class to go to the Lubavitch community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The Lubavitch is one of many Hasidic (alt.sp. Chassidic) Jewish communities. We had an absolutely fantastic time. Two rabbis led us around, taking us to a very active and wonderfully noisy synagogue with people praying and arguing about this or that point in the Talmud. We stopped at "770." We checked out a little Judaica store with just shelves full of books, shofarim, fantastic children's toys (such as Hebrew blocks, Hebrew mats, and even Hebrew balls), and music (I almost bought a Matisyahu album--I think Matisyahu comes from Crown Heights, but I could be mistaken). We saw some rare books and scrolls that they have in their library. We went to the mikveh, where they separated the men from the women and gave us separate talks and tours. Interestingly, the women had a convert while we had one of the rabbis. And, finally, they took us to a very good kosher deli.

That was the itinerary, but the interest only begins there. Throughout the tour, the students in the class and the rest of us gave a flurry of questions, which, I think, they handled rather well. We pressed them on difficult issues, such as the division of mens and womens roles in the community; the formation, role, and importance of the family in the community--everything is about the family (an interesting side note: at the synagogue, the question was asked why the women were up in the gallery and the men on the floor, and the answer was the synagogue was not as important as the home where the woman rules); birth control; the possibilities, legal process, and social ramifications of divorce; with the emphasis on family, what happened if someone did not get married; and, with that, their view of homosexuality (by the way, check out the movie, Trembling before G-d, which is not solely about homosexuality and hasidic Jews, but a lot of the same issues are there). They believe everything revolves around the family (and their deceased Rebbe of course), and so, interestingly enough, they believe a man has a duty to get married (in fact, it is a commandment), and so, therefore, if he has an "inclination" or "yetzer" for other men, he still must get married to a woman and have children.

Although we did not agree with everything they said, there is an attractiveness to that way of life. Many of us appreciated that they did often say what they truly believed and did not dissemble even though they knew their answer would not be popular. On some issues they did have an almost enjoyable way of dodging a question: basically by doing what Hasidic Jews do--tell stories. They would tell us stories somewhat related to the question, but never answering the question (you had to really press them at times by repeating the question and showing how their story did not quite answer the question). The other way was almost Talmudic. For example, in the issue of divorce, by discussing the general case, and then bringing up so many exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions that one lost track of what the original question was.

One other fascinating aspect of the community is how they revere their late Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, who as the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe. He died in 1994, but they believe his spirit still guides them, and so do not have another Rebbe. They view him as a prophet, as the transmitter of the continuing revelation of God that began at Sinai, even after his death. Today, if you have a question for the late REbbe, you can write a letter to him with the question, and then you put in a book of his writings, and the answer will lie hidden on that page (this almost seems like the Homeric Oracle, in some ways, but in others it is like "inspired" exegesis in which the exegesis of scripture or, here, inspired writings is a source of new inspired revelation). You can also go to a website that has all of his writings, post your question, and see if there is an answer in his digitized writings. They refer to him as "His Majesty King Messiah." And the way they revere him reminds me of the way that Christians revere saints. HIs picture is everywhere in the community. IN the deli where we ate, they had a television constantly replaying his speeches and gatherings.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip. I highly recommend it to anyone. And the two rabbis were very patient with us, accommodating, kind, honest, and, in Epherika's words, absolutely lovely.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Queen Hatshepsut Update

As predicted, the Discovery Channel will be airing a special on a mummy that has recently been identified as Queen Hatshepsut based upon a tooth (see my post from June 27). The special is this Sunday, July 15, at 9 pm. Since I do not get the Discovery Channel, somone will have to tell me how it goes. But if you are like me and do not have cable (or limited cable), check out the cool website DC has set up for this.

Friday, July 6, 2007

"Faith without Works is Dead"

The New York Times has a lengthy article today on Hillary Clinton and Faith. It basically gives a history of her background as a Methodist (often modified by the adjective "liberal") and how that drives her social and political activism. Much of the article talks about how her increased references to her religious background during her campaign have been interpreted (from calculated, politically motivated, and convenient to sincere). I do not think I am one to judge; only she knows her sincerity. I would say the same thing about W. Of course, faith and politics is a huge ball of yarn that is difficult to untangle, but here is question concerning just one strand of it: Cannot a politician of any persuasion have a sincere faith (whatever that means) even if it is exploited for votes? Or, put another way, just because a politician's faith is invoked to get votes, does that make her or his faith less sincere?

Critical Edition of Codex Tchacos

I have been away for the last week and was happy to see when I returned that my copy of the critical edition of the Codex Tchacos was waiting for me in the mailroom. Of course, it is entitled the "Gospel of Judas together with the Letter of Peter to Philip, James, and a Book of Allogenes from Codex Tchacos" with the Gospel of Judas in much larger print than the other titles for marketing purposes, to be sure. But I am particularly excited to read the books getting less press. Two of them, the Letter of Peter to Philip and James, are attested in the Nag Hammadi Codices, and so FINALLY we can see variant readings of the same text and begin to discuss issues of transmission history in ways that we cannot for most NHC documents. But the real gem, in my view, is the tentatively-titled "Book of Allogenes," which appears to be almost a midrash on Jesus' temptation in the desert and the Transfiguration all wrapped into one, but instead of saying "Jesus" the text speaks of ''Allogenes" or the "Stranger/Foreigner/Alien." I have only skimmed the contents of of this volume, but it contains introductory essays on the codicological analysis, the particularities of the Coptic dialect in these four tractates, and so on, photographs of the text, a coptic reconstruction of the text, English and French translations, and an index of the Coptic words used in each tractate, particularly proper names and places, etc. I can't wait to dive into these texts.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Controversy of the Cologne Mosque

The New York Times reports that the residents of ancient city of Cologne, which hosts the greatest cathedral in Germany, is split concerning the building of a new mosque on the site of a converted factory. As the article reports, there are already dozens of mosques in Cologne, which, by the way, hosts one of the largest Muslim populations (approx. 120,000 people mostly of Turkish descent) in Germany, but they are all in tucked-away factories and warehouses that do not attract much attention. This new mosque would be Germany's largest and would give Cologne's Muslims a more conspicuous place of worship they can take pride in, and, even being Germany's largest mosque, it would not compete with the famous cathedral in proximity, size, or grandeur. More conservative elements of the population, nevertheless, have petitioned for the suspension of the project, citing the "common historical background" of non-Turkish German residents against the relatively "new" Turkish immigrants. Note in the article that the mayor of Cologne, who ultimately supports the project, cites the purported inability of many Turkish immigrants to speak German as one of his qualms. It seems, therefore, that this building project has turned into an issue of what constitutes "Germanness."

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Book Note: Peter Schaefer's _Jesus in the Talmud_

I just finished reading Peter Schafer's new book, Jesus in the Talmud. Previous discussions on this theme have revolved around whether or not the rare appearances of Jesus in Rabbinic literature can contribute to our understanding of the "historical Jesus." Notable in this respect is the highly erudite and ultimately fruitless study by Johann Maier entitled, Jesus von Nazareth in der talmudischen Ueberlieferung. Schaefer seeks to move beyond such questions and discuss why Jesus is portrayed the way he is in the Talmud (basically, and to no one's surprise, in a very negative light). His thesis is that the Talmud's occasional discussions of Jesus--when Jesus usually is NOT the primary topic under discussion, but is merely used as an example for another point--provides a "devastating counternarrative" to the gospels. "Counternarrative," by the way, is Schaefer's favorite word in this book. To demonstrate this, he engages in close readings of all the relevant passages (the proverbial drop in the yam ha-Talmud), divided in terms of theme of Jesus' lifecycle (birth and family, growth and maturity, as a disciple, as a teacher, Jesus' magical powers, execution, Jesus' disciples, and Jesus' afterlife in hell). Throughout, he makes insightful observations, tracking down the context of the verses quoted by the rabbis to demonstrate often very clever polemics in the war of verses. At the same time, sometimes one feels that his claims are not necessarily wrong, just a bit exaggerated--how, for example, can a few really short passages in the entire rabbinic corpus be a "devastating counternarrative." Devastating to whom? Sometimes his close readings are very tenuous, but he admits as much himself. But the final chapter is where he makes his most important observations. He notes, for example, that most of the evidence and the most vociferous "counternarrative" (I would have used the word polemic) comes from Babylonian sources and not Palestinian sources. The Palestinian sources that do discuss Jesus focus upon his magical abilities or the magical power inherent in his name. In contrast, the Babylonian sources portray Jesus as a wayward disciple, a heretic, an idolator, who was the sexually immoral bastard son of an equally sexually improper mother. He is also portrayed here as suffering in hell, sitting in boiling excrement. Schaefer relates this to the historical situation of Jews living in Palestine after the rise of Constantine and the ever-increasing power of one branch of Christianity that become more and more oppressive to Jews living in the Roman Empire; thus, it would have been dangerous for them to be critical of Jesus himself. In Persia, however, in the century after Constantine came to power, Persia' number one enemy, the Romans, became identified with Christianity. Judaism and Christianity had been tolerated (or not tolerated) to roughly an equal extent, but, in such an environment, opposition to Christianity would not have only been tolerated, but probably encouraged. His second, equally interesting observation, is that these passages, especially when going back in looking up the context of verses cited, show familiarity with parts of all four canonical gospels, but a heightened familiarity with John, the most anti-Jewish gospel. This is why he uses the word, "counternarrative," because the Talmudic passages invert the claims made in the gospels, often alluding to specific details, such as the date of Jesus' crucifixion (preferring John here), mocking parthenogenesis, and even pouncing upon tensions within the gospel texts themselves. He postulates that they probably gained familiarity through either Tatian's diatesseron (a harmonization of the gospels that shows a preference for John) or the Peshitta, both being Syriac documents.
Schaefer does a good job of taking the conversation beyond the sterile question of whether or not this or that passage contributes to an understanding of the historical Jesus. And while he puts things into context, and presents a clever inversion of gospel events, I am still left waiting for the next step--addressing the purpose of these few scraps of "counternarrative." For example, in b. Sanh 43a, which discusses Jesus' execution, it says that Jesus was close to the government (malckut). In his analysis of gospel narrative and talmudic counternarrative, this must be commenting on something in the gospels. He suggests the reluctance of Pilate to execute Jesus as suggesting that Jesus was close to the government. I find this unsatisfying, especially when reading back from his last chapter. If these texts were written or at least incorporated into the Bavli in a post-Constantinian period, then they probably reflect that context in some ways. Saying that Jesus was close to the goverment at this time period probably reflects the role Christianity was beginning to play in the Roman Empire, becoming not only tolerated, but primary, and then oppressively dominant (it was close to the Malchut). This gets me back to an earlier question--to whom is this devastating? To whom is this addressed? Perhaps it is addressed to Christians (especially Jewish Christians) living in Persia, saying that their leader was nothing better than a heretic and idolater that led people astray, now suffering in hell, and their fate would be the same if they did not repent. On the other hand, the stories about Jesus as a wayward disciple and a bad teacher seem to be directed inward (as polemics often are) at people within the rabbinic movement. He is the extreme negative exemplar of what can happen if you do not behave correctly, if you challenge rabbinic authority (this is where the discussion of magic is prominent), or if you do not forgive your students' behavior (one story is that Jesus wanted to repent of a minor infraction, but his rabbinic teacher would not let him, and THAT is what led him to idolatry). Schaefer, to be fair, does occasionally bring this up, but I wonder if oftentimes monitoring insiders' actions is not just as an important aspect of these "counternarratives" as the clever literary exercise that Schaefer lays out.

Monday, July 2, 2007

New Rome

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.