Carter, “Vulnerable Power”

Rome attempted to maintain control over its vast empire by creating a totalizing state that governed every aspect of its citizens lives,  Yet, as Carter argues, groups holding beliefs that contrast the Roman ideological program sought to establish a way of life that went against the dominant societal formations which had been present for a significant amount of time.  Carter’s suggestion that early Christian literature does just that, draws from biblical sources that he interprets through the social settings in which the writings were produces, namely the Roman Empire.

In his discussion on Paul, Carter clearly states that Paul is aiming to establish a fully Christian community that opposes the existing state of the Roman Empire, but he also notes that Paul can be seen as an apocalyptic author by applying the literal meaning of “apocalyptic”, disclosing or revealing, to his writings. Carter’s interpretation of Paul’s “double-edged apocalyptic quality” suggests that his descriptions of true Christian life simultaneously condemn established Roman practices.  For Paul, the phrase “one Lord” refers to the Christian God, not the Roman emperor, as was often seen with rulers who wished to deify themselves.  According to Carter, Paul’s assertion of the omnipotence of the Christian God also undermines the all-powerful image many emperors used to maintain dominance and control.  Additionally, Carter identifies exploitation as a major theme that runs through Paul’s writing; exploitation of the peasants by the military, the upper class, and the emperor reveals the unjust social systems that keep Rome alive.  However, Jesus’ death and resurrection shows that release from the oppression of the Roman empire will come despite their attempts to subdue change: the imperials powers killed Jesus, but he did not truly die, he returned to life, just as abusing and persecuting Christians will not destroy their faithfulness.  Carter also discusses Paul’s use of language.  On one side, Paul employs familial language such as sister and brother to counter the patriarchal nature of imperial language that often refers to the emperor as the father.  Yet, Paul also utilizes familiar imperial concepts, like triumph and personal authority, in his descriptions of his Christian community, leading Carter to find inconsistencies in Paul’s writings.

The book of Revelation also addresses the creation of a Christian community, but on a much larger scale than what Paul imagined.  The events of the book describe apocalyptic events on a worldwide scale.  Carter identifies clear parallels between the fallen city in Revelation and the Roman empire, which, for many citizens of the period, could be considered the world.  The manipulation and control the Romans exercised  over its subjects can be paralleled in the beasts of the apocalypse that are controlled by Satan.  These beasts are defeated by God, who lives eternally.  Carter parallels God’s victory over the beasts with the Christians’ triumph over the Roman empire, which will die while the Christians will live forever with God.  He implies that Revelations takes advantage of the empire’s eventual dissolution and the Christian belief in eternal life through resurrection.

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