The Readings by Sanders, Meeks, and Thompson
The Role of the Jewish High Priest and the Imperial Governor Defined by Mark
In Mark 14:43-15:39, there are the events present, where Jesus is being arrested and delivered to Pilate, who is the Jewish Prefect. The Prefect asks Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Bible Gateway passage: Mark 14:43-52 – New International Version, 2011). He wonders why there are so many things Jesus is accused of. In the Gospel of Mark, Pilate is the Prefect, who has the authority over the high priest. The high priest, Caiaphas, according to Mark, was the most powerful person in the world. There was also another name for the high priest and it was ’The King’. His responsibility was to maintain peace and be the guarantor of Rome’s victory and tribute. When there were victories, Caiaphas was to be praised, and when there were failures or revolts, it was also Caiaphas, who was responsible for all these issues. Both the high priest and the Prefect were guided by the law and have never deviated their beliefs.
According to Sanders (1995, p. 16), the Imperial Governor was the leader, who maintained the empire. However, sometimes he used local leaders to make his governance easier and more effective. The high priest was the local leader, who was answerable to the Imperial Governor. In the times of Jesus, Jerusalem was governed by the high priest and his council. The high priest was in charge of ordinary police and judicial procedures. Hence, his duties did not exceed the above mentioned. Sanders pinpoints that only the Prefect had the right to sentence anyone to death. Priests were allowed only to post warning notices. Everyone who did not obey was executed immediately without being sent to the Prefect. The Prefect’s right to execute was exclusive and absolute, without explanations of his actions. Most Prefects were judicious and merciful.
Summary of “The Formation of the Ekklesia” by Meeks
Wayne Meeks in his work (1983) speaks about formation of the Ekklesia in several steps. The first of these steps describes the environment point by point, the first of which is the household; the second one is the voluntary association; the third one is the synagogue; and the forth is Philosophic or Rhetorical School.
- The household, according to Meeks (1983), is a private house, where Pauline groups or other Christian groups had their meetings. This definition and connection to Christianity is shown in the phrase “hē kat’ oikon ekklēsia” (assembly at household) in 1 Cor. 1:16 (house of Stephanas), in Acts (house), and other sources. The number of such household assemblies was not defined, for it varied from time and place. Christian groups were adapted to the household with certain implications: internal – kinship, and external – ties of friends and occupation. This internal structure showed the relationship of groups concerning the larger society. As a meeting place, the house was private, had a certain intimacy degree, and was stable. Every household had a head, which had control over society and was responsible for this society. The structure of the household was hierarchical, political, and moral. However, not everyone had the same understanding of Christian practices. Therefore, people were drawn to the household out of social solidarity. Meeks (1983) concludes that it is still hard to explain hierarchical divisions within the household and keys of Christianity that united people in those times all over the world.
- The voluntary associations are associated with the household (ecclesia) as the first analogues of Christian gatherings. The voluntary associations were considered to be brutal, immoral clubs, where people were involved in all sorts of immoral behavior. What is more, Meeks believes that there are some similarities between the Pauline groups and these private associations. For example, they were both small groups with intensive communication between their members. Membership was established by free decision to associate and factors of ethnicity, rank, and profession. Both groups had their established places for rituals and other cultic activities. Both private associations and Christian groups depended on beneficence and patrons. However, there were also differences between them. Christians did not model themselves on associations. Unfortunately, Meeks finds it hard to set an example of ecclesia in the letters by Paul, as there is none. This word can be only disguised in the context. Therefore, the household is interpreted in the meaning of ecclesia only due to contextual similarities.
- The synagogue was the household of urban Christians. It is the heritage of Judaism, a religion, which gave birth to Christianity. This place (the synagogue) has incorporated features of both types of groupings mentioned above. Jews and the pagan environment they created became a closed community. In a synagogue, all the activities were similar to those of Christians: scripture readings, interpretations, prayers, even some meals, but no sacrifices. Here, Meeks underlines that there is still not much evidence about early synagogues and synagogues of the later times.
- Philosophic or Rhetorical Schools were one of the models Christian groups had been compared with. This comparison was made in the second century, when Justin Martyr named Christianity “the true philosophy” (Meeks, 1983). However, there is clear evidence that Paul and his entourage never taught anyone. Converts to Christianity were only instructed in the norms and beliefs. Hence, schools of philosophy had their leaders, who taught students. In addition, philosophic schools had much more to offer besides religion. For instance, these schools offered not only ideas and language patterns but also social models. Such schools were named as Pythagorean and Epicurean schools.
The second step Meeks describes is the fellowship and its boundaries. It includes the language of belonging; the Language of Separation; Purity and Boundaries; Autonomous Institutions, and Gates in the Boundaries.
If the language of belonging presents letters of Paul, which contain a lot of words and phrases that indicate emotional relations between Christians in terms of ‘belonging’, the language of separation is all the words of Paul, which distinguish those who do not belong to the Christians. In Purity and Boundaries, as Mary Douglas has put it, “the human body is always treated as an image of society” (Meeks, 1983). This principle has its roots in Judaism, with body functions being pure, and Christianity.
The principle of Autonomous Institutions dwells upon the means of promoting group isolation and creation of institutions that could perform such services and rely on the municipal or other organizations. By constructing Autonomous Institutions, Christians and Paul had an opportunity to stay in the cities and spread their beliefs, while the Essenes of Qumran were forced into the desert. Here, purity and belonging is one of the central concerns of Paul, while other organizations have their own beliefs to be guided by.
The third step follows by describing people worldwide. It is about the groups of Christian followers, which understood their uniqueness as the larger community and belonging to the worldwide Christian movement. Christianity became socially and politically successful from the age of Constantine and up to present.
Summary of “Ordinary Lives: John and His First Readers” by Thompson
Leonard Thompson starts his article “Ordinary Lives: John and His First Readers” by explaining to the audience the reason of his writing and the direction of the story he is about to tell (Barr, 2003). Firstly, he pinpoints the historical situation, where, according to the information presented by John, the Revelation was written on the Island of Patmos (Asia) “on the Lord’s Day” (Barr, 2003). This particular day was mentioned in the history as the day when Mary Magdalene had found Jesus’ tomb empty and all the Christians have gathered to worship God. However, there is no concrete date mentioned by John. Thus, the writer tries to establish it indirectly by using references to Revelation by other Christian writers. Taking into account every evidence present there, it is established that the Revelation has been written in the period called the Roman Principate.
Secondly, Thompson presents Clues from Revelation. These clues indicate that John was not the one to write history, he was only the one to record various visions to provide people with information about Roman Empire and Christians. From these visions, historians have found out that the Revelation was written when Christians were under threat of imperial officials.
Thirdly, Thompson dwells on Domitian (according to Eusebius). Here, Eusebius is the person, who more or less predicts the time of written Revelation. According to him, John wrote Revelation in the last years of Emperor Domitian reign (81-96). The author believes that Eusebius’ vision is a complex statement and consists of three pieces, which are joined together. Hence, he provides three explanations:
- Eusebius depicts Domitian as a ruler cruel to the Romans. However, this view is stereotypical and untrustworthy. Domitian was both good and bad, whose reign was “a great kingdom whom all morals love[d]” (Barr, 2003);
- Eusebius linked Domitian’s cruelty towards Romans with Christianity and made him the one who hated and persecuted Christians. This view is also incorrect;
- Not excluding the two given mistakes, Eusebius also says that John was among the ones persecuted by Domitian. Notwithstanding his weak examples and conclusions, Irenaeus states that there was nothing mentioned about John and no other writer did speak about John being persecuted. Therefore, Eusebius’ words are insupportable. There are little or no evidence about his assumptions, and, as a result, no proof.
- Thompson reflects upon Nero. It is claimed that Revelation was written around the time of Nero. However, John only knew stories about Nero and witnessed not much. Thus, as a summary, Thompson says that John’s portrait of Christian persecution in Revelation falls under the rule of neither Domitian nor Nero.
- Thompson writes about double-edged policy of Rome towards Christians. This policy stated that “Christians were not hunted down; they were tried only if accusations from local provincials were brought against them; if accused and convinced, Christians were killed simply for being Christians” (Barr, 2003). Therefore, John had made a point in saying that Christians should withdraw from Rome.
To conclude, Thompson suggests a careful reading of the book of Revelation as there are a lot of facts, which do not coincide. He states that Roman persecution of Christianity had made it what it is today. Then, he explains the difference between Roman and Christian religious preferences, where Romans are not the villains and Christians are not victims.