LTQP2 Victory Peace Justice

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This resource page for Living the Questions is part of the Progressive Communities series.

John Dominic Crossan: Victory & Peace or Justice & Peace?

This page provides suggestions for groups using the LtQ DVD featuring John Dominic Crossan's presentation on Paul in the context of Roman imperial theology.

The DVD Victory and peace or justice and peace has five distinct sections, offering around four hours of content:

  • Lecture 1. Justice & the world: What is the character of your god?
  • Lecture 2. History & Jesus: What is the content of your faith?
  • Lecture 3. Worship & violence: What is the purpose of your prayer?
  • Lecture 4. Resurrection & community: What is the funtion of your church?
  • Sermon: Justice as Love

The resources gathered here began as materials for a group using this DVD in Forest Lake (Queensland, AU), but you are encouarged to supplement the material by adding other information, discussion or related pages. To do this you will need to Register a user account. Anonymous users can view any of these wiki pages, but only registered users can edit the content.

Lecture 1. Justice and the world: What is the character of your god?

This opening lecture considers the intersection of everyday reality in the ancient Roman empire and the alternative vision of reality grounded in the biblical tradition.

The lecture begins with a brief (around 3 mins) segment in which the set of 4 questions are introduced, together with Crossan's personal thesis in such a project:

  • if we get the history of the first century right, we get the theology of the twenty-first century right

You may like to highlight that premise with members of your group before watching the rest of this first lecture.

You may also wish to reflect on the immediate political relevance of these questions, as expressed in Crossan's comment that his presentation is also intended to help people prepare for [the US elections in] 2008. How do people deal with the social and political dimensions of their faith?

The Roman empire and its imperial theology

If you wish to use this lecture over two sessions, you will probably need to pause the DVD after a further 15 minutes as the remaining 25 minutes is better kept for the following session.

Maps of the Roman empire[1] - a series of interactive maps giving the boundaries of the empire at various dates and comparisons with other historical empires.

Crossan mentions the significance of Rome's strategic investment in roads, bridges and ports as part of its imperial consolidation of the provinces. Here are some links to relevant articles and photographs:

  • Roman aqueducts (Wikipedia article)[2]
  • Roman roads (Wikipedia article)[3]
  • Caesarea Maritima (BiblePlaces article)[4]

For information on Michael Mann, author of The Sources of Social Power, see his faculty web page.[5]

One of the points that will be important for Crossan's presentation is the distinction between different kinds of empires:

  • tributary empires
  • territorial empires

In terms of recent politics, it might be argued that Soviet Russia and Communist China represent territorial empires, while the hegemony of the West (and especially the USA) by means of commercial empire is a variant of the ancient tributary empire model.

Among the notable observations made by Crossan in the first half of Lecture One are the following:

  • when you globalize, those who oppose you will come against you on the avenues of your globalization
  • you can have a republic (or a democracy) and an empire, but you cannot have both at the same time for long

Both these comments may be used to reflect on the tension between power/security/prosperity on the one hand and civili/human rights on the other.

Imperial god-talk - Crossan notes a number of theological terms typically applied to the ruler:

  • Son of God
  • Divine
  • Lord
  • God
  • God from God
  • Redeemer
  • Saviour
  • Liberator

For examples of such language in Christian and pagan texts, see Sacred Politics

Crossan identifies four key elements of Roman imperial theology as:

  • Piety
  • War
  • Victory
  • Peace

These were significant elements of the monumental Augustan Altar of Peace (Ara Pacis Augustae)[6] erected in Rome to commemorate his decisive victory over Cleopatra and Anthony near Actium in 31BCE. That victory which establised "peace on land and sea" was also celebrated in the foundation of a new city, Nicopolis (City of Victory).[7] The dedication on a memorial erected at the site of his camp during the campaign reads

To Neptune, Mars, the Actian Apollo, the Imperator Caesar, son of the divine, consul [?] number of times, proclaimed imperator seven times, with peace having been achieved on land and sea, dedicated this here because in this area he put up his camp from which he set out and consummated his victory.

Before moving to consider the alternative vision of power and peace found in the Bible, Crossan offers another provocative one-liner:

  • civlization has always been imperial

The radicality of God

(approximately 25 minutes of DVD)

Crossan begins by distinguishing carefully between the Bible as the divine Word and the human words that comprise the text. How helpful or significant do you find that distinction?

He then adds: "the purpose of the human words is primarily to mute the divine Word." This leads into his characterization of the Bible as an event ( a struggle, in fact) in which the radicality of God struggles with the normalcy of civilization.

Crossan also distinguishes between two meanings of justice:

  • retributive justice (punishment)
  • distributive justice (fair distribution of the punishment)

Elsewhere, Marcus Borg distinguishes between criminal justice and restorative justice. This may also be a distinction to consider when viewing this segment of the DVD.

What is your understanding of eschatology? How helpful is Crossan paraphrase - "the Great Divine Cleanup"? The Wikipedia article[8] may offer some additional resources for clarifying your idea on this subject.

Crossan draws on a theology of creation to explore issues of justice in a world marred by badness but believed to belong to a good God. How do you react to his various examples of the normalcy of civilization seeking always to defeat and evade the radical demands of God for justice?

On the subject of esachatology, Crossan identified two sets of answers that co-exist in the Bible:

  • Armaggedon tradition of a final conflict between good and evil - see Wikipedia article on Armaggedon[9]
  • Messianic banquet tradition - with all humanity gathered peacefully under God

In closing, Crossan poses the question of how we choose between the violent God of the Armaggedon tradition and the life-affirming God of the Justice tradition. He proposes that the criterion for making that choice is found in the teachings and practice of Jesus, and implies that the historical Jesus always trumps the Bible. In the icons of the divine Jesus, the book (Bible) is always closed because "the life of Christ judges the book." How does that fit with your understanding of the relationship between Jesus and Scripture as sources for wisdom in Christian living?

The Christ Pantokrator from the Russian Orthodox Church above Jacob's Well at Sychar. [© Gregory C. Jenks 2004]

Lecture 2. History & Jesus: What is the content of your faith?

Lecture 3. Worship & violence: What is the purpose of your prayer?

Lecture 4. Resurrection & community: What is the funtion of your church?

Sermon: Justice as Love