Another Galatians and the Imperial Cult review on RBL


UPDATE May 6, 2009 to reflect Dr. Nanos’ posted comment.

Review of Biblical Literature has posted a second review of Hardin’s book, this time by Mark D. Nanos. Nanos is not convinced that the problems in Galatia are related to the Imperial Cult in quite the way that Hardin proposes and he takes Hardin to task for combining two issues. Hardin remains within the “churches-separate-from-the-Jewish-communities paradigm” while postulating that non-Christian Jews are opposed to Christian Gentiles refusing to become proselytes due to fear of Roman persecution falling on their community. This leaves us with the illogical conclusion that Jews and Jewish communities would be worried about the separate Gentile church communities being a threat to them. This would perhaps be akin to Han Chinese Buddhists worrying about being persecuted because Tibetan Buddhists are rioting.

Justin K. Hardin, Galatians and the Imperial Cult: A Critical Analysis of the First-Century Social Context of Paul’s Letter. (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, 2/237) Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008. xiv + 190. 3161495632, 9783161495632.

3 responses to “Another Galatians and the Imperial Cult review on RBL

  1. Dear Thomas,
    Just thought you might like to know that I certainly do believe that the Galatian situation involves imperial cult issues, which I argued in Irony of Galatians, and my dissertation upon which that is based.
    The threat is based on failure to participate in imperial cult by these non-Jews who claim to have become worshippers of the one God within the Jewish communities, but without becoming proselytes. That is being resisted within the Jewish communities by those who do not share their Jewish subgroups trust in Christ, who say either become proselytes or realize that you threaten our Jewish minorities status if you do not continue to practice cult such as imperial cult, etc., when you go home from Jewish communal events–since that is expected of you by your “pagan” family, neighbors, fellow townspeople, civic leaders, etc. That is the rock and hard place that the “good news” of proselyte conversion appears to offer for these non-Jewish “guests” of the Jewish community.
    Hardin draws on my work here, although it is not that obvious to a reader, and I tried to be subtle in bringing this out–which your own evaluation confirms I may have overdone. My beef is that he wants to draw on parts of my thesis but retain the traditional churches-separate-from-the-Jewish-communities paradigm, and add the confusing component of the Jewish Christ-believers having now returned to the Jewish communities, where imperial cult is supposedly practiced so that it is indistinguishable from pagan society practices. That leaves only the Christ-believing non-Jews in the separate churches eschewing imperial cult, but yet these Jews and Jewish communities worried about this being a threat to them. It would no longer be, on Hardin’s scenario, for it would be a “pagan” group as far as Jews and Jewish communities were concerned. As Hardin draws it up, one would expect the pressure to come from fellow “pagans” who are threatened by these Christ-believing “pagans” not participating, bringing social wrath, if not that of the gods. So it is this confusion resulting from mixing two very different scenarios with which I find fault.
    I did appreciate very much Hardin’s effort to take seriously these kind of first century social issues in “pagan” society over merely theological Jews versus Christians kinds of ways Galatians is traditionally construed.

    • Hi Dr. Nanos,
      I admit I overstated your case a tad, but was referring to your response to his understanding of the function of Imperial Cult within the local community rather than in general. I have updated the post to, I hope, better reflect your argument regarding the proper understanding of the effect of Imperial Cult worship on the local Jewish and Gentile Christian communities. I think it is now clear :).
      Thanks for your input!

  2. Thanks Thomas,
    Just for further clarification, I do actually believe that imperial cult is likely at play; it is a natural part of most cult practiced at the time. It is hard to get very local in specific ways, since we do not know where the actual local recipients of the letter where in Galatia.
    Local context is likely reflected in Gal 4:10, for the calendar there is likely the local one which is full of imperial cult related dates. I drew on Troy Martin’s insight here to note that this makes sense of the alternatives on offer, between becoming proselytes or returning/continuing to practice civic and other cult expected of local people other than Jews and proselytes.
    Here is where Hardin argues that the Jews also practiced imperial cult, but he imagines that Jews integrate this cult as thoroughly as does the “pagan” communities. I disagree. He helpfully pushes this so that we should not imagine that there is no accommodation of such cult, but that there are significant differences I think is probable. Thus he loses the distinction between the calendar being pagan or Jewish.
    Collapsing that difference undermines the argument that at issue is turning back to pagan practice, for it would represent Jewish practice as well (in his scenario), and thus trap his argument in the traditional direction he otherwise seems to want to avoid, which analogizes the turn to a Jewish calendar Paul wants resisted with a turn to paganism. I see it as a stark alternative.
    In my view, the imperial calendar is not practiced by Jews in the same way, and the lack of “weeks” (what is really distinctive about a Jewish calendar after all if not weeks?) in Paul’s brief description is a strong signal that it is the civic non-Jewish calendar in question.
    In my view, if they do not become proselytes, they are being instructed not to threaten the Jewish community by being mere guests who claim exemption from the local pagan calendrical events, which are intimated connected with imperial cult. Such guests are expected to refrain from such practices when associating, but when returning home, they are not Jews, and thus not exempt.
    Exempt minority communities are naturally concerned to guard such boundaries, or fear reprisals and loss of exemption. Think of an Amish community subgroup telling non-Amish boys they can claim exemption from the draft merely by coming to Sunday meetings; certainly other Amish communal pressure would be brought to bear to make a sharp distinction between membership and guest standing, or the measures against continuation of this privilege for their own boys going forward can be expected. As I sought to point out in the review, it is this kind of tension that Hardin’s approach loses by postulating Christ-believing Gentiles meet separately from Jewish communities, while the Christ-believing Jews have returned to the Jewish communal meetings, leaving no basis for expecting the Jewish communities or even a small group of Christ-believing Jews on the hook to answer for the anti-civic behavior of these non-Jews, and thus undermining the tension in the approach to 6:12-13 and the letter overall that I had plumbed in Irony of Galatians.
    Thanks again,

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