Richard Horsley’s The Bible and Empire: A Review

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Date: 
Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Theology Today (Summer). 4 pp..

It has become almost de rigueur among biblical scholars to use the lens of “empire studies” in their work. I see this as a welcome change from 20 years ago, when my commentary on Mark (Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, Orbis, 1988/2008) was deemed by some academic reviewers to be “overly politicized” for taking precisely this approach. As Richard Horsley points out succinctly in the opening lines of this volume: “Americans have a special relationship with the Bible. They also have a special relationship with Empire…. Until recently, however, most of us may not have been aware of the second, and we had certainly not given it much critical thought” (p. 1).

Empire-critical studies are predicated upon ever more sophisticated work in the social history, political and economic culture and anthropological modeling of Mediterranean antiquity. Increasing archaeological data is available for reconstructing material history, as are comparative studies of a wider array of ancient textual traditions. This work is not only an asset, but essential to any serious reading of either Testament today. Editor Horsley (left), recently retired from the University of Massachusetts in Boston, can legitimately be seen as the “dean” of the new political contexting of biblical studies, and many of the contributors to this collection were fellow pioneers. I am delighted to see such an excellent overview of and introduction to this rapidly growing field.

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by Ched Myers

All articles on this site were written by Ched Myers unless otherwise specified.