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What is the immediate significance of this Jesus-and-Caesar contrast? It was of course a challenge to an alternative loyalty. Jesus is the reality, Caesar the parody.

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It was the legitimation of the Christian church as the true empire of the true Lord. The poem in chapter 2 has exactly the same shape as some formulaic imperial acclamations: Jesus, not Caesar, has been a servant, and is now to be hailed as Kyrios. But if chapter 3 thus concludes with such a clear evocation of, and challenge to, imperial ideology and eschatology, how does this fit with the earlier parts of the chapter, for so long simply read as just another Pauline outburst against Jews in general or Jewish Christians in particular so-called; we must never tire of reminding ourselves that Paul was himself a Jewish Christian?

The solution I propose is that Paul, for neither the first nor the last time, has Judaism and paganism—particularly, in this case, the Caesar-cult—simultaneously in mind, and is here using warnings against the former Judaism as a code for warnings against the latter paganism. We have, after all, no hard evidence that this danger threatened the churches in Greece as it had those in Asia.

His concern is to warn them against the Caesar-cult, and the entire panoply of pagan empire; but his method of warning them, and of encouraging them to take a stand for the counter-empire of Jesus, is given for the most part in code. He tells them his own story, the story of how he had abandoned his status and privileges in order to find the true status and privilege of one in Christ, and encourages them to imitate him.

Paul and Caesar: A New Reading of Romans

Read this way, the chapter gains both in coherence and in subtlety. First, coherence. Because, I suggest, nobody reading verses would at once deduce that the recipients of the letter were being encouraged to be disloyal to Caesar. Of course, anyone paying attention would recognise what was going on in verses , but the main thrust of the chapter is not to present a stark contrast between the two Lords of the world, but to provide the Philippians with a powerful train of thought and to encourage them to live within it.

Paul is not, in fact, shifting his target; he is using one warning as a powerful code for another. Second, subtlety. Paul builds up in verses the argument which will then resound through to verse 21, with anticipating the final climax of There then follows, in verses , the warning against complacency, the danger to which recognition of the future hope is the antidote.

The final appeal is made negatively in verses and positively in verses What, then, is Paul saying in verses ? Once again, part at least of the clue is found in the way in which these verses, too, look back to 2. I believe Paul intended the first level of meaning of verses to be about Jews in general, rather than specifically about Jewish Christians. The first two of these epithets could have applied to pagans, of course, not least Cynics, as some have suggested, but the third, though clearly a pagan term, by generating the counter-assertion of verse 3, shows that it is Jews who are in mind.

Yes, but Jews seen now as a form of paganism. The shock which greets such an announcement in our contemporary world should be blunted by two compelling factors. First, this is by no means the only time where Paul makes exactly this move. In Galatians 4. They will be returning to the realm of the flesh, of the principalities and powers. In Colossians 2, Paul warns the young church, not indeed against an actual syncretism or threatening new religion, but against Judaism described in terms of paganism.

They are therefore subject to the same critique as paganism. Nor, second, is this a Pauline invention. Before we pick up the stones of our postenlightenment sensibilities to throw at Paul, or at any interpreter who dares to suggest that Paul might have done any such thing, we should recall that precisely this move was a standard way in which many Jewish groups in the second-Temple period would define themselves over against one another.

We are the true Jews, say the Pharisees, say Qumran, say this or that revolutionary group; you are compromisers, apikorsim , no better than goyim. Within this overall strategy, however, Paul is by no means saying, as some might too quickly conclude, that Judaism per se is bad, and to be rejected. This is where the model of 2. There the crucial point is that the Messiah did not regard his equality with God as something to be exploited: that is, he did indeed already possess equality with God, and did not abandon it, but interpreted it as committing him to the path of suffering and death, a decision which was then vindicated in his exaltation and lordship.

Paul did not regard his covenant membership in Israel as something to be exploited. It did not entitle him, that is, to adopt a position of effortless superiority or even, in pre-Sanders fashion, effort full superiority!

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Nor, we should note, did he therefore regard covenant membership itself as unimportant, or to be jettisoned. It is a comparatively straightforward exposition of a standard second-Temple Jewish position: God has redefined Israel through certain climactic and revelatory, in other words, apocalyptic, events, and all forms of Judaism that do not recognise this and conform are at best out of date and at worst dangerous compromises and parodies.

But this, as I have suggested, is not the central point of the chapter.

The central point is now to argue: as I, Paul, have rethought my Jewish allegiance in the light of the crucified and risen Jesus, so you should rethink your Roman allegiance in the same light. The transitional passage, vv. The important point to get straight, before the final appeal of the chapter, in which, as in the eschaton itself, the veil is suddenly drawn aside, is that the Philippians, like Paul, must find their whole identity in the crucified and risen Messiah and nowhere else.

The final appeal, in verses , is then to be understood as follows.

Ancient Rome for Kids

It is, to begin with, primarily a warning against sheer paganism. The fact that verses 18 and 19 can be read as a coded warning against some types of Judaism may well be deliberate, but I do not think it is the main thing which Paul is aiming at. You have one Lord and Saviour, and he will vindicate and glorify you, if you hold firm to him, just as the Father vindicated and glorified him after he had obeyed.

Paul is no dualist. Think for a moment of his regular ethical appeals: just because all things are new in Christ, that does not mean that Christians do not share with their non-Christian pagan neighbours a broad perception of things that are good and things that are evil Romans Just as it is wrong to suppose that either Paul was anti-Jewish or he had no critique of any other Jews, so it would be wrong to suppose that either he was opposed entirely to everything to do with the Roman empire or he was a quisling, a compromiser, going with the flow of the new establishment.

As in Colossians 1, the Paul of Philippians would be quite prepared to say that the creator God has made all things in Christ, including the principalities and powers which then, having rebelled, need to be defeated and reconciled. We might, then, treat his appeal as follows.

Religion, Institutions and Society in Ancient Rome

There is nothing specifically wrong with being a citizen of a country or of its wider extension, just as there is nothing wrong with being Jewish. But the closing exhortation of the passage says it all: this is the way you are to stand firm in the Lord 4. What then does Paul want his hearers to do? Renounce their citizenship?

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Presumably not; Paul did not renounce his. In any case, as sociological studies of Philippi have shown, by no means all the residents of the city and its surrounding area would have been Roman citizens. Many of the young church there would not have had that privilege. But the city as a whole prided itself on its colonial status, and even noncitizens might expect to derive benefit from such an intimate association with Rome, and hence with Caesar, the lord, the saviour, the great benefactor. Paul is warning them not to compromise their allegiance to Jesus, and to be prepared, by refusing to take part in cultic and other activities, to follow their Messiah along the path of suffering, knowing that Jesus, the one true Lord, was the Saviour who would rescue them and give them the only glory worth possessing.

Verse 21 indicates clearly enough, partly by its close association with 2. One final point about Philippians 3. It is precisely because they are assured they are indeed the people of the one true God, formed in the Messiah through his death and resurrection, that the Philippians will have the courage and confidence to trust him as saviour and lord and so to renounce the imperial claims of Caesar. And in doing so they will find the warnings of Paul resonating at various levels. If he can renounce his unrivalled privileges, so can they. Discovering the pagan history-of-religions parallels to Paul does not mean suggesting that Paul did not remain a thoroughly Jewish thinker.

Religion, Institutions and Society in Ancient Rome

Philippians 3. In this passage and several others, Paul marks the beginning of the process that led to what we know as trinitarian theology, which insists on Jewish-style monotheism against pagan polytheism but insists on a threefoldness within this one God. There has been a fashion in some circles for regarding later trinitarianism as one sign of the process whereby, so it is said, the church climbed down from its earlier political confrontation with the empire and arrived at a compromise, an accommodation.

Whatever the truth of that, it is important to realise that, in Paul, opposition to Caesar and adherence to a very high, very Jewish Christology were part of the same thing. Jesus was Lord— Kyrios , with all its Septuagintal overtones—and Caesar was not. As post-holocaust thinkers we will of course be careful how we say all this. As historians of the first century, we will recognise that it must be said. As Pauline theologians we will recognise that it contains no shadow, no hint, of anything that can be called anti-Judaism, still less anti-semitism.

This has large-scale implications for the organisation of our disciplines. Perhaps Paul should be taught just as much in the politics departments of our universities as in the religion departments. From this point of view, therefore, this counter-empire can never be merely critical, never merely subversive.

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  6. If this claim is not to collapse once more into dualism, into a rejection of every human aspiration and value, it will be apparent that there will be a large degree of overlap. See, recently, James D.

    For this rumination makes one think. Whether they have a classical education or not, all Westerners have the impression that they know the Greek and Roman world. In fact, that is not so at all. The volume of documents is infinitely smaller than that of other periods of history, and often even the evidence on a particular issue is limited to a few pages of exploitable sources. But how do our colleagues who have an endless mass of sources work? Are they not also forced to make choices? Does the only difference not lie in the fact that scholars of the Classics cannot make choices?

    Their corpus of sources is largely pre-established, but fortunately not entirely. Despite the limits that restrict their freedom of movement, every time researchers take a closer look they discover something new that no one before them had seen in its entirety. This is how ancient history constitutes a science in the making and not a museum of received ideas. By its way of proceeding, it puts out a warning that can be beneficial to all.

    It highlights the dangers stemming from the impression of familiarity that a culture close to us gives, and denounces the facileness of superficial syntheses. From this point of view, ancient history has the virtue of encouraging mistrust, and erudition is assigned a mission that is not limited to filling in footnotes. This is not simply a matter of properly understanding a detail in a text or institution. As I noted when I started, without concepts there is no history, even with sources.