Friday Book Corner: Heilig on Paul and Empire (Gupta)

Heilig.jpegI am now getting settled back into to “real life” after the SBL alternate reality, so I am ready to resume some blogging!

Today’s book of interest is Christoph Heilig’s WUNT 2 volume Empire Criticism? As you might guess, and as my blog post title explains, the book engages with the “Paul and Empire” debate, especially the sparring between N.T. Wright and John M.G. Barclay. Heilig’s goals in this volume are somewhat modest -he desires a sharper method for detecting anti-imperial criticism in Paul and understanding the implications. But, as one will see after reading his monograph, Heilig’s critique of the parties involved in the discussion is incisive.

Heilig especially handles the matter of whether Paul was forced into being subtle about imperial criticism for the sake of personal safety. (Heilig cleverly uses Philo as an example in his first chapter – did Philo guard his critiques?) I appreciate Heilig’s argument that just because Paul may be using “echoes” of criticism doesn’t mean that he did so for reasons of self-preservation; rather, he may have had certain rhetorical and literary reasons for this (a point almost never explored in this discussion).

When it comes to Heilig’s own conclusion about Paul and empire, he makes an important statement towards the end of the book: “Maybe it was not Paul’s primary intention to say something about Caesar, but to say something about the Messiah and God although he was perfectly aware of the critical implications these statements had for other competing worldviews” (134). Here Heilig gives a nod of approval to the approach to the subject taken by Peter Oakes. My only wish would have been for Heilig to introduce Oakes’ excellent JSNT article on the subject in a more central way, because I think Oakes’ is one of the most important voices in the discussion.

I think what is attractive about Hidden Criticism? is that Heilig takes the role of a sort of referee between Barclay and Wright, and acts as an equal opportunity critic. For those studying the topic of Paul and Empire, Heilig brings a methodological sophistication sorely needed.

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