Roman Imperial Texts
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Augsburg Fortress Publishers
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Title Page, Copyright Page
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Neil Elliott suggested this volume, and showed real encouragement and
patience with me during its gestation period. In addition, Neil’s editing of the
work has made it a better product than it would be if I were working alone. I
wish to register my sincere thanks to him.
I wish to thank other staff of Fortress Press, Lisa Gruenisen, and copyeditor Jeff Reimer for their patience...
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This is a sourcebook of Roman texts for readers of the New Testament. It is a supplement to one’s reading of the New Testament, a tool to prompt consideration of how its texts relate to the Roman Empire and how the Christianities that grew out of the communities behind those texts came to relate to the state. A look at the texts and images from the Roman Principate that...
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1. Introduction: Divine Sons and Their Gospels
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The Gospels in our New Testament are famously difficult to categorize as literature. Different from most biographies, they concentrate on events leading to Jesus’ death. The canonical Gospels differ among themselves on the best way to present Jesus’ teachings, and still again they differ from some of the more sayings-oriented Gospels produced by other Christians, such as the Gospel of...
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The Deeds Accomplished by the Divine Augustus, or Res Gestae Divi Augusti, is a statement of Augustus, the first emperor, in which he documents all that he did for the Roman people and the world. Scholars have thoroughly debated the precedents for Augustus’s statement. After considering funerary inscriptions, celebratory inscriptions for military triumphs, or even the possibility that...
3. The Emperor: Source of Deified Virtues, Predestined Son of God
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The worlds in which the Gospels were composed and circulated were filled with messages of the good that the Roman emperor was bringing to all known peoples. There would be no way for the Gospel writers and their audiences to avoid these messages. It is useful to consider how the gospel regarding Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God that he announced compares with the Roman...
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The emperor in the first century was known as the Divi Filius—God’s Son. Julius Caesar accepted many divine honors in Rome while alive, a tactical mistake that his adopted son, the first emperor, Augustus made sure not to repeat.1 Augustus was officially declared to have become a god—the process is known as apotheosis—when he died. The senate was simply repeating what it...
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Gaius Caligula was picked to rule because of the noble family from which he
came. He is famous for insisting on his divine status while still ruling.
16. GAIUS CALIGULA’S CLAIM TO BE GOD 1
In the following selection from Suetonius, we read of Caligula’s public works and his pretenses to be divine.
§21 The public structures left incomplete by Tiberius, Augustus’ temple...
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Gaius Caligula was killed by his own praetorian guard in 41. Men from the praetorian guard also took the initiative to find and acclaim Claudius, the uncle of Caligula, as the next emperor, though he promised and paid them 150 gold pieces each during this passage of power. From this transition onward, the support of the praetorians would be essential for aspiring emperors. While the...
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Nero was the adopted son of Claudius. We shall have occasion to read about his
persecution of Christians in the third section of this sourcebook, but here we
observe how in an inscription on a stele and on the imagery of a coin he could
be represented as generous, gracious, and divine.
20. BOUSEIRIS PRAISES THE GOD NERO AND HIS PREFECT 1
In most parts of the Mediterranean, Rome and her divine sons were known...
8. Year of the Four Emperors
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Nero took his own life, at age thirty-one, in 68 CE. There followed a year of
civil war, when four different men vied in turn for the position of emperor:
Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian.
22. OTHO BRINGS SECURITY TO ROMAN PEOPLE 1
The gospels (messages of good news) that the Roman government spread often included the ideas that peace and security had been achieved. We have already...
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Vespasian came to power after the last of those vying for power, Vitellius,
had been assassinated. For readers of the New Testament, it is significant that
Vespasian was in Judea, working to bring the Roman peace upon the First
Jewish Revolt, when he was publicly acclaimed as emperor.
23. THE DIVINE VESPASIAN BRINGS PEACE TO JUDEA AND WORKS MIRACLES 1
This excerpt from Suetonius’ biography illustrates...
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After Vespasian’s death, his older son Titus succeeded to rule the Roman Empire. Titus is infamous among the Jews for being directly involved in the burning and destruction of the Jerusalem temple. In the biography of Suetonius, we learn of his compassionate and respectful attitudes toward the Roman people and his generosity. Titus is perhaps one of the best candidates in the first century...
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Almost twelve years younger than his brother Titus, Domitian continued the careful oversight of infrastructure for the empire and provinces for which his father and brother were known. He is notorious for his autocratic and selfserving tenure in office, and is the only emperor in the Principate whose memory was officially damned by the Senate, a ruling that meant his name was...
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After the assassination of Domitian in 96, an older statesman named Nerva was
brought to the Principate. He proved to be incompetent and was assassinated in
98. Trajan assumed power in 98 and earned the praise of the historian Tacitus,
as well as the senator Pliny, an excerpt of whose speech in Trajan’s honor is
27. PLINY PRAISES TRAJAN FOR HIS MODESTY AND STRONG RULE...
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Emperors were not the only persons acclaimed as divine during the Principate. We have already noted in passing above that Livia, wife of Augustus and mother of Tiberius, was voted to be divine by the senate at the prompting of the emperor Claudius. Livia had already been given special honors by Augustus while he was alive; it was a way of glorifying his own person. Emperors’ wives...
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The main idea in this section, “Identity in Community,” has been that participation in the communities of urbs, collegium, and domus provided the New Testament’s authors and first readers with their respective identities. These identities were constructed not simply by the correlative relationship of being similar to everyone else in each community, but also in an individual’s...
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15. Introduction: Identity in Community
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Identity consisted in community for the Romans, as well as for the Semitic and Greek cultures of the Mediterranean world in the time of the Principate. All these cultures viewed a person’s identity as composed primarily of the groups to which they belonged. Identity in community is shown in various genres of literature and cultural artifacts. We will move in this introductory discussion...
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“I am a Jewish man, from Tarsus of Cilicia, a citizen of no little city,” Paul says to the Roman officer in the scene the book of Acts paints for his arrest in Jerusalem (Acts 21:39). The identifiers are what we would expect. Any inhabitant of the Mediterranean world would consider citizenship in a good city equivalent to having virtue. The following saying from the Roman Stoic...
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Like certain governments today, Rome was uneasy with allowing people to assemble when their group had no license from the authorities to do so. Various kinds of social groups formed in the Greek and Roman worlds to provide social support for their members: trade guilds represented the economic interests of their members and cared for widows; burial clubs provided funerals and support...
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The public association, or collegium, definitely provided an identity to its members in specific and differentiated ways in which the urbs could not. The collegium allowed for fine calibrations of social status and specific preferences in religion to be celebrated. At a more intimate and thus more profound level, the household, or domus, provided the context in which identity was formed during...
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19. Introduction: The Eternal City and its Hold on the World
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This section of the sourcebook is devoted to understanding the city of Rome
itself, and the ways in which it kept the world in its grip. It influenced the world
through war, commerce, games, and emperors. If you are studying the book of
Revelation, this is the section of the sourcebook with which to begin.
The book of Revelation relates the evil beast to a city on seven hills (see...
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War was one of the Romans’ distinctive arts, signaled clearly at the beginning
of Virgil’s Aeneid. Published after Virgil’s death in 19 BCE, this poem anchors
the warring ways of Augustus and the Roman Principate in a story of how the
mythical founder of Rome followed destiny to found Rome through warfare.
79. ROME’S FOUNDER IS THE WARRING AENEAS 1
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Rome also held sway over the world by its commerce, including its taxation.
86. DOMITIAN AIMS AT JEWISH FUNDS (ca. 90 CE)1
This selection is of interest not simply for showing how Domitian took money from the Jews but also for Suetonius’s description of those Jews who sought to avoid paying the tax on Jews. Could he be referring to Christians who did not pay the Jewish...
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While commerce certainly pulled resources from around the world into Rome
and Roman Italy, Rome actively sponsored games both in the eternal city and
around its empire. As we will now see, the games were more than entertainment;
the games functioned to hold the world in Rome’s grip.
Artistic and athletic competitions provided a medium through which to connect the Mediterranean...
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For better or worse, the emperors caught the interest and fired the imagination
of people in the Mediterranean world. In this section, we examine both the
concrete actions by which emperors ruled, and the stories or myths that
circulated about them.
We consider Tiberius as the second emperor of the Roman Empire. Yet during his reign, Romans and those under Rome’s influence did not at first consider...
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Revelation maintains that Christ is above all lords and kings (Rev. 17:16; 19:16). Whether this supremacy means that the Roman Empire was ignored or directly confronted by the writers of the New Testament is contested, as discussed in the introduction to this sourcebook. But reading the Roman texts and viewing its images that are contemporary to the New Testament’s composition sharpens our...
Index of Subjects
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Index of Names
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Index of Ancient Sources
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Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2013