This book addresses the ways in which the Gospel of Matthew portrays and negotiates Roman military power. John E. Christianson argues that Matthew, writing in the years following the Jewish War, offers strategies such as avoidance, accommodation, non-violent resistance, mimicry, and dreams of divine retribution and eschatological fulfillment to help his audience cope with life in Roman Syria. With an eye toward the ways that military structures and networks of social power functioned to increase imperial control over people and territory, Christianson shows how Matthew's strategies include ways to help his audience negotiate potentially dangerous encounters with Roman military personnel. This includes texts that address the possibility of state sanctioned violence by Roman aligned rulers Herod and Antipas; the abuse of requisitioned labor in Roman angaria; Jesus' response to the direct request of a centurion with opaque motivations; a vision of retribution on Roman eagles by the eschatological Son of Man, and soldiers' response to Jesus' death and resurrection as a prelude to divine overthrow of Roman military power. In all cases, this book demonstrates how interpretation of Matthew's narrative must account for the pervasive presence of the Roman military in the ancient world.
John E. Christianson earned his Ph.D. in biblical interpretation at Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University.
1.The Impact of the Roman Military on Local Populations in Syria
2.Coping with the Danger from Roman Rulers: Herod and Antipas (Matthew 2:1–23; 14:1–12)
3.Coping with the Abuse of Imperial Power: Negotiating Ἀγγαρήιον as Active Non-Violent Resistance (Matt 5:41)
4.Responding to Direct Imperial Requests: Jesus, the Centurion, and his Slave (Matthew 8:5–13)
5.Imagining the Destruction of Eagles: Divine Retribution on the Roman Empire (Matthew 24:27–31)
6.Enduring Imperial Power Over Life and Death: Jesus in the Hands of the Roman Military (Matthew 26:1–28:20)
John E. Christianson has produced a volume that will be valuable to both biblical scholars and military historians. The robust social-historical context in which he situates the Gospel of Matthew affords considerable insight to its depiction of the military. His close readings of individual pericopae are both compelling and original. Readers, regardless of their theological, political, or exegetical proclivities will benefit from Christianson’s analysis.
John E. Christianson takes up an important thread of Matthew’s Gospel that has received relatively little attention. Christianson examines the Gospel’s scenes that construct expressions of military violence as instruments of Roman imperial power and as structures and strategies to be negotiated by Jesus-followers. With insightful and informed discussion, Christianson identifies various strategies of engagement: avoidance, submission, cooperation, non-violent resistance, endurance, and the expectation of the eschatological defeat of the Roman military at Jesus’ return. This work contributes significantly to scholarship on Matthew’s Gospel as a production of Roman power.
In this welcome and topical study of the Roman army in Matthew’s Gospel, John E. Christianson brings an exciting and fresh perspective to an important subject. His knowledge of the workings of the Roman military machine enables us to better understand the evangelist’s construction and description of his Roman military characters and themes. Christianson’s analysis also demonstrates how Matthew deftly negotiates Roman military might by providing his readers with different strategies for coping with the ever-present threat of Imperial military power and violence. This is an important work which provides much needed nuance to the complex social setting of the Gospel, and offers new and realistic interpretations of significant Matthean pericopes.
In this novel study, John E. Christianson offers careful and thoughtful analysis of the presence and impact of the Roman military in post 70 Syria. He then fills a noteworthy void in Matthean scholarship by considering the way in which Matthew’s Gospel navigates and negotiates this challenging imperial presence. Matthew and the Roman Military is an example of empire criticism at its finest and will no doubt be an important resource for all who seek to offer a thick reading of Matthew’s Gospel.
As Warren Carter and others have argued, New Testament writers engage with their Roman imperial context in a diverse range of ways, even within a single book. John Christianson offers a powerful exemplification of this by focusing on soldiers in the Gospel of Matthew. Christianson brings out a diverse but coherent set of ways in which Matthew interacts with empire, from strategies of accommodation for survival, to non-violent resistance, and ultimately to expectation of eschatological overthrow. Those looking for a consistently worked out instance of an empire-critical approach to the New Testament will find it here in Christianson’s thorough work.
Christianson’s work is a welcome addition to studies of Matthew’s social context. His extensive research into the Roman military calls readers toward a fuller understanding of the gospel as a culturally embedded text, and his presentation of the impact on the Roman military on local populations raises questions about the various ways Mathew’s people negotiated Roman rule. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in reading Matthew in its imperial context, representing the best of historical scholarship and the highest quality of biblical interpretation.
In this book, John Christianson demonstrates convincingly the various ways in which the Gospel of Matthew negotiates Roman political and military presence. His analysis reviews important scenes from Jesus’ birth to his death and resurrection in which Roman political and military figures featured prominently or are assumed as active agents, noting the extent of their presence, influence, and activity. Christianson’s work is an important contribution to Matthean studies, offering fresh avenues for interpretation of Matthew’s gospel and the New Testament more broadly.