The Gospels and Rome

Jesus and the Empire of God

Warren Carter

Cascade Books, 2021

Carter wastes no time in explaining his use of cultural intertextuality avenue for reading and studying the Gospels. He reminds us that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John composed while Rome ruled: “The empire does not disappear from the Gospels just because an emperor or  governor or soldier or tax is not mentioned.” He then uses selected Gospel texts alongside Roman texts to create an opportunity for the reader to “make meaning in the intersections among them.”

Intertextuality is an interesting way to read the Gospels and while I had unknowingly done it in the past, I had not been aware of its wide range. For instance, one of the Gospel stories that Carter uses is the scene where Jesus instructs two disciples to go into Jerusalem and they will find a donkey with here colt tied. If asked, the disciples are to say that the Master needs them. Jesus then rides the donkey into Jerusalem.

Carter shows how this well-known arrival by Jesus, where he is greeted by the screaming crown, is like the manner a Roman ruler or victorious general would enter a city.  He cites many historical accounts to support and then compare the entry of Jesus with that of Augustus, Gaius, and Titus into Rome or other locations.

I enjoyed Carter’s examination of the Gospels by intertextuality because it directly shows the Roman world that Jesus lived in with all its problems: “Rome-sanctioned, Jerusalem-based local leaders, pervasive sickness, food insecurity, occupied territory, language of sovereignty, fantasies of revenge, and visions of a new and just world all interact with Roman imperial structures and [practices.” Carter in those words shows us the world in which Jesus walked and preached. It should give us encouragement for the world we face.

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