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Jesus and the Politics of Roman Palestine

Richard A. Horsley

Publication Year: 2013

In Jesus and the Politics of Roman Palestine, Richard A. Horsley offers one of the most comprehensive critical analyses of Jesus of Nazareth’s mission and how he became a significant historical figure. In his study Horsley brings a fuller historical knowledge of the context and implications of recent research to bear on the investigation of the historical Jesus. Breaking with the standard focus on isolated individual sayings of Jesus, Horsley argues that the sources for Jesus in historical interaction are the Gospels and the speeches of Jesus that they include, read critically in their historical context. This work addresses the standard assumptions that the historical Jesus has been presented primarily as a sage or apocalyptic visionary. In contrast, based on a critical reconsideration of the Gospels and contemporary sources for Roman imperial rule in Judea and Galilee, Horsley argues that Jesus was fully involved in the conflicted politics of ancient Palestine. Learning from anthropological studies of the more subtle forms of peasant politics, Horsley discerns from these sources how Jesus, as a Moses- and Elijah-like prophet, generated a movement of renewal in Israel that was focused on village communities. Following the traditional prophetic pattern, Jesus pronounced God’s judgment against the rulers in Jerusalem and their Roman patrons. This confrontation with the Jerusalem rulers and his martyrdom at the hands of the Roman governor, however, became the breakthrough that empowered the rapid expansion of his movement in the immediately ensuing decades. In the broader context of this comprehensive historical construction of Jesus’s mission, Horsley also presents a fresh new analysis of Jesus’s healings and exorcisms and his conflict with the Pharisees, topics that have been generally neglected in the last several decades.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-xii

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1. Getting the Whole Story

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pp. 1-25

Persistent tension seems to be inherent in study of the historical Jesus, a tension between the Gospel sources’ portrayal of Jesus and the pictures of Jesus presented by scholarly interpreters. Three conflicts with the Gospels are particularly prominent in the main lines of interpretation by American scholars in the recent “growth industry” of Jesus books...

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2. Jesus and the Politics of Roman Palestine

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pp. 26-53

The obvious starting point is again what seems most certain about the historical Jesus: he was crucified by order of the Roman governor at the time, Pontius Pilate. Since crucifixion was the gruesome form of execution that the Romans used on political agitators in the provinces, it appears that Jesus was at least thought to be an insurgent leader against the Roman imperial order, in Pilate’s terms a rebel...

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3. Jesus and Imperial Violence

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pp. 54-79

The politics of Roman Palestine was set up and maintained by imperial violence. In Galilee during the century before the mission of Jesus, the people suffered repeated conquest, with the slaughter of people and the destruction of villages leaving collective trauma in their wake. When the Galilean and Judean people persistently resisted Roman rule and periodically revolted, Roman armies reconquered them...

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4. Illness and Possession, Healing and Exorcism

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pp. 80-107

The way interpreters of Jesus and the Gospels deal with Jesus’s healings and exorcisms has not changed much since Rudolf Bultmann’s influential presentation in the 1920s. Treating the Gospels as mere containers or collections of discrete sayings and stories, they sort the materials by categories such as individual sayings and various kinds of stories. While they classify Jesus traditions ostensibly by...

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5. Renewal of Covenantal Community

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pp. 108-127

In ancient history the battle of Actium, off the western shore of the Greek peninsula in 31 B.C.E., became a watershed event. Octavian, representing the rational moderate political-cultural forces of the West, defeated Marc Antony, who represented the dark tyrannical forces of the East, according to the prevailing imperial propaganda. The Roman patricians and the elite of the cities of Greece and Asia...

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6. Conflict with the Scribes and Pharisees

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pp. 128-153

Interpretation of the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees continues to be influenced by the standard older theological scheme of Christian origins. At the center of the parochial old religion of Judaism was the Law. As the precursors of the rabbis, the Pharisees were the authoritative teachers of the Law who emphasized scrupulous adherence to the minutiae of ritual observances and purity codes...

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7. The Crucifixion as Breakthrough

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pp. 154-168

At the end we come back around to what seems most certain about the historical Jesus: he was crucified by order of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Recent interpretations of Jesus, particularly those focused on his sayings, have difficulty explaining the crucifixion, especially relating it to Jesus’s teaching. Given the prevailing depoliticization, many interpreters ignore or deemphasize or reject as...


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pp. 169-186


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pp. 187-198


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pp. 199-204

E-ISBN-13: 9781611172942
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611172935

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2013