Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Apostolic Father and the Imperial Cult: Radical Faith, Imperial Games

For my advanced Greek grammar class each student has been assigned a portion of the Apostolic Fathers corpus to syntactically analyze. With the term paper looming on the horizon and suicide Hebrew a constant battle, I wasn't looking forward to cranking this out--and certainly not right now. However, as mundane as it sounds, something radical happened in the process. During the very moments in which I was pondering my God-forsakeness, I found myself entranced by the melodic and vivid imagery carrying along the narrative of the Martyrdom of Polycarp, my assigned passage. Granted the writers (and several likely interpolators) were certainly attempting to portray the Christian martyrs as heroes, I was struck by the Imperial rhetoric. When Polycarp himself came to the fore of the discussion, his mutual interactions with the Proconsul and others were amazing, there I was translating along and what do you know, the infamous Imperial Cult sprang from the page, wrenching my heart. Polycarp's inquisitor beckeoned, "There is no harm in saying, 'Caesar is Lord,' is there"? (MPoly 8:2). He was commanded, "Swear by the Genius [e.g. divinitus) of Caesar and repent saying, "Away with the athiests [Christians]!" I'm amazed by the faith of this old man to die in light of his faith and allegiance to Jesus; what is so profound is the issue, namely, allegiance. To swear by Caesar's genius was to profess loyal love for the socio-economic Savior of Humanity, the great Benefactor. Several thoughts come to mind in this regard: 1) I wonder in what ways this text evidences the oppression and tyranny of Empire, 2) in what ways is following Jesus counter-Imperial, 3) in what ways might the Christian message, even that of Polycarp, be fundamentally mimicking the Empire against which it asserts itself. I wonder how early it was the Christ-followers were ideologically high-jacked by empire? Was it before the time of Jesus? That is, were the threads of imperial ideology embedded so deeply in the religio-politic of the first century that even a nascent movement would pattern itself as the supra-empire of God, which transcends the earthly Empire, but yet and still looks very much like it, only deified?

My mind toils... the time is late and the hour is nigh... I must sleep to rest the syntactico-analytic machine....

No comments: