De/Colonizing Jesus: Jesus Against the Backdrop of the Roman Empire
Dates: September 9, 2019 - November 29, 2019 on Tuesdays
Time: 2:00 pm for 3 hours
Drawing on recent scholarship applying post-colonial studies to the interpretation of biblical texts, this course will approach New Testament understandings of Jesus, his mission, and the communal identities that arose around his memory to relate emergent Christian identity to the questions of empire, domination, and resistance. The oddly expressed “de/colonizing” in the course title expresses an overarching aim of the course to attend to ways in which biblical christologies themselves have been depoliticized (i.e. colonized) in the history of Christian interpretation by hiding or reconfiguring their politics so as to make them more conducive to the practices of empire. The course will attend to the contemporary liberationist hermeneutical task of recovering those political dimensions so as to decolonize New Testament texts and to explore their importance for faithful contemporary witness. At its most general level the course intends to deepen understanding of various Christologies as they are found in the New Testament and related literature from the first and second centuries, and their background in Hebrew Bible, Inter-testamental, and Hellenistic Literature, especially as they relate to the political context of the Roman Empire and the imperial cult of the divine emperor. More particularly, however, exegetical focus will be on the political dimensions of New Testament christologies as they relate to life in the Roman Empire and second on the narrative dimensions of New Testament christologies as a means of engaging the epic narratives of Roman imperial propaganda. The course will increase participants’ awareness of the social, cultural and historical forces that contributed to the formation of early Christian Christology, and how early Christian christologies can be used as a resource for engaging contemporary societal challenges and political ideologies of domination.
Through a close reading of representative New Testament and early Christian texts students will develop exegetical skills, develop their awareness of key critical exegetical issues in the interpretation of biblical Christological texts, be exposed to a variety of critical approaches to New Testament Christology alongside post-colonial interpretations, grow in their ability to evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of various Christologies from differing contemporary perspectives, explore Christology as a means of engaging contemporary issues of domination and oppression, and consider the call of contemporary religious communities to be embodied gatherings of religious engagement with forces of economic and political power. Where appropriate, reference will be given to the history of interpretation of select passages in the early Christian debates of the first 5 centuries and how texts were used to support various christological positions, and the ways in which Christology was both colonized and then became a political instrument of the colonizer/colonizing empire, as Christianity moved from the margins of imperial society to its centre