Jesus and the Politics of Roman Palestine

Jesus and the Politics of Roman Palestine

Jesus and the Politics of Roman Palestine

Jesus and the Politics of Roman Palestine


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.


The core chapters of this book are expansions of the 2010 Hall Lectures at the University of South Carolina and associated institutions. The Nadine Beacham and Charlton F. Hall Sr. Lectureship in New Testament Studies and Early Christianity, sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University, was established by alumnus and Columbia businessman Charlton F. Hall Jr. in memory of his father and mother. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have delivered these lectures and for the opportunity to have become acquainted with the donor, Charleton Hall. I am also specially grateful to Professor Donald Jones for arranging the Lectures and for his and the university’s warm hospitality.

The overall theme of the 2010 Hall Lectures was “Jesus and Empire.” The particular lectures were titled:

I. “Jesus and the Politics of Roman Palestine”
II. “Jesus’ Healing and Exorcism”
III. “Jesus and the New World (Dis)Order”

Insofar as new research in several related areas is challenging the standard assumptions of historical Jesus studies and the standard approach has come to a procedural dead end, it is necessary to explore new possibilities that take the recent research into account.

Violence and Jesus’s response to it are issues that were debated long before serious attention was given to political economic dynamics in the Roman imperial world. Recent books on Jesus, however, have almost avoided the subject. More critical and candid recent treatment of Roman military practices by Roman historians, on the other hand, suggests that imperial violence may have been more of a factor in the context in which Jesus worked than previously recognized.

Jesus’s conflict with the scribal “retainers,” including the Pharisees, continued to play an active role in the politics of Roman Palestine under the rule of Herod the Great and the high priestly aristocracy, contrary to the recently influential hypothesis that they had withdrawn from politics to emphasize piety. Recent books on the historical Jesus have almost avoided the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees that is so prominent in the Gospel sources.

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