Over the past two decades biblical scholarship has experienced an interesting move towards an anti-imperial and postcolonial reading of the New Testament. Reading the New Testament with lenses of empirehas undoubtedly been demonstrated as interpretively useful and valuable for the purpose of understanding the message of the text. But, to what extent can we conclude that New Testament writers intended such lenses? Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not: Evaluating Empire in the New Testament Studies edited by Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica offers a groundbreaking introductory evaluation of the intricacies of empire criticism to the New Testament.
Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not is a collection of essays from various scholars in the field of New Testament studies who are sensitive to the anti-imperialistic tone of its writings. The contributors include Michael F. Bird, Lynn H. Cohick, Joel Willitts, David Nystrom, Judith A. Diehl, and more. McKnight and Modica open the volume with a fascinating essay on Roman religion and the workings of the imperial cult by David Nystrom. Nystrom is an expert on Rome, and he offers the reader an important glance into the background of empire criticism of the New Testament. The second chapter is equally important and arguably more interesting than the former. Judith Diehl abridges her three articles on empire criticism published for Currents in Biblical Research and gives readers a wide-ranging sketch of the interpretive movement. These two chapters are foundational to the volume and are alone worth the cover price of the book. The following essays are organized around New Testament authors and writings.
The editors and contributors of Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not acknowledge the variegated degree of complexity associated with uncovering anti-imperial sentiments in the New Testament. That is, empire criticism is most notably recognized and examined on a spectrum from obvious to implicit (p. 17). Some statements in the New Testament are blatantly obvious in their opposition to empire (e.g. Acts 14:14-18), while others are much more subtle and difficult to discern (e.g. Romans 13). It is here that Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not becomes of value to the reader, as the contributors not only labor to offer a coherent description of empire criticism, but also seek to evaluate the methodology of empire criticism within the context of the New Testament writings themselves. The result is a well-balanced and easily accessible treatment of a very complex and nuanced hermeneutical position. It covers nearly every New Testament writing and demonstrates a level of consistency across contributors that is somewhat uncharacteristic of similar works.
The content itself is both comprehensive and persuasive. The reader not only walks away with a better sense of empire criticism, but they experience its many shades being uncovered in the writings of the New Testament. It’s hard to pinpoint a favorite essay because all are of almost equal caliber in their contribution to the conversation. What I did appreciate about the volume was its candor around the limitations of the anti-imperialistic reading of the New Testament—especially the tendency of empire critics to overreach their conclusions. McKnight and Modica have done a praiseworthy job emphasizing the value of empire criticism without giving undue credence to the reactionary attempts to read the New Testament with postcolonial eyes. Beyond the content of the book, I found the provision of bibliographic material following each essay useful for further study. If you are looking to explore the world of empire criticism, then this material is a true treasuretrove of information.
Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not: Evaluating Empire in the New Testament Studies edited by Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica is a fascinating, balanced, and easily accessible introduction to an increasingly popular interpretive conversation. The contributions to this volume are incredible and readers will do well to explore their content. I do feel like some of the chapters were cut short and left me wanting more, but the content included was excellent. If you are looking to better understand the New Testament or empire criticism, then Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not should be the first volume off your bookshelf. It come highly recommended!