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The Arrogance of Nations: Reading Romans in the Shadow of Empire

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ISBN: 9780800638443

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Overview

Elliott offers a fresh and surprising reinterpretation of Paul's letter to the Romans in the context of Roman imperial ideology, bringing to the text the latest insights from classical studies, rhetorical criticism, postcolonial criticism, and people's history.

By setting the letter alongside Roman texts (Cicero, Virgil, the Res Gestae of Augustus, Seneca, poets from the age of Nero, as well as later historians and satirists), Elliott provides a dramatic new reading of the letter as Paul's confrontation with the arrogance of empire—and with an emerging Christianity already tempted by the seductive ideology of imperial power. The Arrogance of Nations explores such topics as:

  • Empire and the obedience of faith
  • Justice and the arrogance of nations
  • Mercy and the prerogatives of power
  • Piety and the scandal of an irreligious race
  • Virtue and the fortunes of peoples
  • Paul and the horizon of the possible
Resource Experts
  • Bibliographical references
  • Notes and indexes

Top Highlights

“I read the letter not as a Christian critique of Judaism, or a defense of Gentile Christianity, but as a judean critique of an incipient non-Judean Christianity in which the pressures of imperial ideology were a decisive factor.” (Page 15)

“My concern in the following pages is with the question of justice.” (Page 3)

“But when Paul juxtaposes divine justice (dikaiosynē … theou) and human injustice (adikian anthrōpōn, 1:17–18), he is not describing plight and solution. He is contrasting two contemporary dominions, two regimes, that stand fundamentally opposed to each other, the relationship between them characterized by implacable divine wrath (1:18–32). While Paul will go on in the letter to speak of divine mercy, forbearance of sins, and the setting-right of the impious, he will say nothing in this letter to reduce the opposition stated here between divine justice and human injustice; nothing, that is, to suggest that the human beings who in their injustice suppress the truth (1:18) will ultimately be set right before God. Their redemption is not Paul’s concern.” (Page 73)

“This is the mystery Paul reveals to the Roman ekklēsia. History has not yet run its course. Rather, we stand at the very brink of the fulfillment of God’s purposes. It is God who has brought upon Israel a temporary hardening, to achieve a broader redemption than anyone could anticipate, when God will have mercy on all. Until that moment, it is God who has ‘imprisoned all in disobedience’ (11:31–32), just as it is God who has subjected the world to futility and corruption (8:20–21). It is an imperial boast—not a Judean one—that provokes the apostle’s rebuttal.” (Page 119)

A tour de force, The Arrogance of Nations is one of the most thought-provoking books on Paul in years. Making sophisticated use of post-colonial theory while also reading with remarkable exegetical sensitivity, Elliott's interpretation of Paul as a sharp and subtle critic of empire is cogent, compelling, and a much-needed corrective to the conventional image of the Apostle. Anyone who thinks the discussion of Paul is hackneyed and irrelevant to the issues of our day needs to read this book.

—Pamela Eisenbaum, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies and Christian Origins, Iliff School of Theology

Elliott demonstrates skillfully and boldly how indispensable the Roman Empire is for interpreting Romans. He synthesizes an impressive array of historical data with wide-ranging political and ideological theory, challenges deceptions on the part of imperial propaganda (ancient and modern) that suppresses the truth, and makes eye-opening correlations with contemporary realities of empire. Even interpreters with different perspectives need to dialogue seriously with this book.

—Robert L. Brawley, Professor of New Testament Emeritus, McCormick Theological Seminary

This is a remarkable book. A sophisticated practitioner of rhetorical criticism, Neil Elliott also brings to Romans knowledge of Roman imperial ideology and its constraining effects on subject peoples and critical awareness of the imperial ideology and practices of the United States as well. His remarkable analysis makes Romans jump alive as never before. Under Elliott's discerning eye, Paul's most important letter becomes a challenge to North Americans' privileged position as the beneficiaries of empire.

—Richard A. Horsley, Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and the Study of Religion, University of Massachusetts, Boston

  • Title: The Arrogance of Nations: Reading Romans in the Shadow of Empire
  • Author: Neil Elliott
  • Publisher: Fortress Press
  • Publication Date: 2008
  • Pages: 238

Neil Elliott received his doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary and has taught New Testament for more than fifteen years, chiefly at the College of St. Catherine and United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. He is biblical studies editor at Fortress Press and author of The Rhetoric of Romans. An Episcopal priest, he is also a frequent contributor to The Witness, the online social-justice journal.

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  1. Forrest Cole

    Forrest Cole

    11/9/2021

Save 25% off during the Memorial Day Sale!

$8.99

Digital list price: $14.99
Regular price: $11.99
Save $3.00 (25%)