How Jesus' Apostle Opposed Rome's Empire with God's Kingdom
by John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed
Jewish Faith and Pagan Society
The influence of Judaism on non-Jews in the Roman Empire was profound and lasting. This is paradoxical. For the exclusiveness of Jewish worship, and the strictness of the Jewish food laws, served as a barrier between Jew and gentile. Moreover the Jews do not as a rule appear to have actively propagated their religion. So evidently there was something in the nature of Jewish religion, and of the Jewish community, which satisfied a need felt by many within and even beyond the frontiers of the Empire. — Wolf Liebeschuetz, "The Influence of Judaism Among Non-Jews in the Imperial Period" (2001)
Judaism throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods and even after the triumph of Christianity showed tremendous vigor not only in strengthening itself internally with the development of that remarkable document, the Talmud, but also in reaching out to pagans and later to Christians and winning large numbers as proselytes and as "sympathizers." ... Even after the three great revolts of 66–74, 115–17, and 132–35, the Jews were hardly powerless and indeed continued to win proselytes and especially "sympathizers." In short, the lachrymose theory of Jewish history, highlighting the weakness and suffering of the Jews, would not, on the whole, seem to apply to the ancient period. — Louis H. Feldman, Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World (1993)
Judaism, by the early third century, may well have been a more popular religion among the pagans, and therefore a more powerful rival to Christianity in the race for the soul of the Roman world, than we have had any reason to think until now. This helps us understand the tension between the Church and the Synagogue in the first few centuries A.D. — Robert F. Tannenbaum, "Jews and God-Fearers in the Holy City of Aphrodite" (1986)
In the City of Aphrodite
You come to Aphrodisias on a full-day visit from Denizli, in southwestern Turkey. As you leave that city its innumerable modern textile factories continue the area's ancient importance for the manufacture of cotton, linen, and woolen garments. So also do the flocks of sheep and goats that take right-of-way across the narrow roads as you shortcut through the mountains off the main Denizli-Antalya road. It is a beautiful mid-September day in 2002, cool and cloudy, with an odd shower early and late, so not really inconvenient.
Two thousand years ago, Octavian, the not-yet Augustus, said, "Aphrodisias is the one city from all of Asia I have selected to be my own," and the citizens carved that accolade on the archive wall of their theater. Since the Greek goddess Aphrodite was the Roman goddess Venus, from whom the Julian line was allegedly descended, the city was most fortunately named at that precise historical moment. Millennia later, in Aphrodisias: City of Venus Aphrodite, the frontispiece poem by L. G. Harvey says,
when all paper words
are turned to ash
there will remain
one scarred hillside
beautiful enough to last
Kenan Erim, of New York University, the city's Turkish-born excavator and that book's author, spent his professional life there and is now buried most appropriately beside the reconstructed gate to Aphrodite's temple. He said that "of all the Graeco-Roman sites of Anatolia, Aphrodisias is the most hauntingly beautiful" (1). Agreed.
The hamlet of Geyre once sat atop the ancient site, but was removed and rebuilt in its nearby location after an earthquake in the 1960s. That opened the site for archaeology, but the old village square still underlies the new entrance plaza ringed by restrooms (very elegant), a restaurant (very limited), and a museum (very beautiful). You get there around 11:30 a.m. and have the site almost totally to yourself. The morning tour buses heading west from Hierapolis and the hot-spring pools of Pamukkale are just leaving, and those reversing that itinerary will not arrive until much later. You sit high up in the once thirty-thousand-seat theater, eat a quiet picnic lunch, admire the stands of stately poplars amid the marbled ruins (Figure 7), and look east to where the seven-thousand-foot tip of Baba Dag emerges periodically from scudding cloud cover. At the foot of that mountain are the marble quarries that gave the city ready material for sculpture or inscription and made its products famous far beyond its own borders. The Dandalaz tributary, fed from the snows of that eastern mountain range, circled the city's south side and took sculptures northwestward to the ancient Meander, the modern Büyük Menderes, which carried them westward to the coast and the world.
What text do you read to see most clearly Paul's life, and what site do you visit to see most clearly Paul's world -- even, or especially, if Paul himself neither wrote that text nor visited that site? In this chapter two chosen sites, the city of Aphrodisias, now in southwestern Turkey, and the island of Delos, now in mid-Aegean Greece (Figure 8), frame two contradictory aspects of the chosen text, Luke's Acts of the Apostles, now a prelude to Paul's letters in the New Testament.
We begin this chapter at Aphrodisias because it illustrates most forcibly two major themes of this book, the relationship of Paul to Roman imperial theology and to his Jewish religious tradition. The former theme focuses here on the Sebasteion, or Augusteum, whose elegant gate, three-storied facing porticoes, and high-stepped imperial temple celebrated the Roman Julio-Claudian divinities by inserting them among and above the ancient gods and traditions of Greece. The latter theme focuses here on a Jewish inscription that explicitly distinguishes Jews, converts, and a third category of "God-worshipers," with rather surprising numbers in each category ...
The foregoing is excerpted from "In Search of Paul" by John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L Reed. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
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