in Books

June Books

Here we are:
1. Galatians and the Imperial Cult: A Critical Analysis of the First-Century Social Context of Paul’s Letter by Justin K. Hardin.
 In most counter-imperial readings of Paul, Galatians tends to be a bit of a neglected letter.  Therefore, I was thrilled when I first stumbled across Justin Hardin’s reading of Galatians (even if it did take me awhile to track down the book and convince myself that it was worth what I had to pay for it).  The book did not disappoint my expectations.
What Hardin does is establish the (quite significant) presence of the imperial cult in Galatia and the way in which the imperial cult was deeply woven into the civic, political, and religious areas of the lives of the Galatians (of course, within first-century Galatia it’s pretty anachronistic to speak of the civic, political, and religious as though they are distinct areas of life, when in fact they were not).  From this, Hardin then draws the highly probably (IMO) thesis that the persecution that Paul’s opponents in Galatia were trying to avoid was social and civic persecution based upon their unwillingness to participate in matters related to the imperial cult.  Thus, for example, when Paul talks disparagingly of those who observe special days and weeks, he is speaking of Roman cultic celebrations (and not of the Jewish calendar).  Therefore, over against the gospel of Caesar as Lord found in the imperial cult, Paul reaffirms the gospel of Jesus as Lord and encourages the Galatian churches to stay firm in their radically subversive lifestyle.
Not surprisingly, I like what Hardin has to say.  Recommended reading.
2. Pacifism as Pathology by Ward Churchill.
Within the North American context, discussions related to violence and nonviolence tend to mostly take place between those in dominant positions of ower (who, surprise, favour violence) and those in places of resistance to the Powers (we tend to favour nonviolence).  In these discussions, I have consistently sided with the ‘pacifists’ (or ‘nonviolent activists’ or whatever you want to call them).
However, this book brings a very different angle to the discussion of violence.  Churchill writes as a member of what could be termed ‘the radical Left’ and so he writes as a person who is also unconvinced by the standard Statist or Right-wing arguments regarding violence.  However, he also wants to avoid the ‘pathological’ aversion that those on the Left seem to exhibit around violence.  Thus, he argues that we must be willing to pursue all possible avenues to change — violence and nonviolence can both be appropriate at different moments and different places in the same struggle.
Now what is especially good about Churchill’s book is the way in which he demonstrates how nonviolent movements, when they are effective, are reliant upon other violent movements.  Thus, for example, the nonviolent wing of the American Civil Rights movement gained the attention the media and the other Powers, not because of anything integral to that wing, but because the Black Panthers were also rising and arming the ghettoes.  Similarly, Gandhi’s success in India was also premised upon the violence that had devastated the British Empire during the two world wars and other areas (notably in the Middle East) that were rising more violently.  And so on.
In the end, Churchill drives home that point that nonviolent ‘resistance’ (if it even deserves that name), tends to be little more than impotent (and self-righteous) posturing by people of privilege.  This particular criticism hits home several times, and I ended up agreeing with Churchill on this point.
Therefore, I can only conclude that Christians that go on and on about nonviolence aren’t worth a damn unless they bear on their own bodies the brandmarks of Christ (cf. Gal 6.17) — for those are the marks borne by those who truly resist the Powers and enter into solidarity with the crucified.  Any resistance that leaves the resisters (or the Powers!) unscathed is probably not worth mentioning. 
Regardless, I recommend that others read this book and decide for themselves about these things.
3. The Cross by Sigrid Undset.
This is the third book in Undset’s Kristen Lavransdatter trilogy and, as Halden stated in a comment below, the trilogy is ‘fucking amazing.’  This is a genuinely epic series — and I use the word ‘epic’ advisedly (I hate the way that word has been popularized and every bon mot or humourous episode or whatever else ends up being labeled as ‘epic’).  Anyway, this series is a fantastic portrayal of people as people.  No heroes.  No villians.  Just people longing to love and be loved… but ending up, more often than not, hurting each other and trapping themselves in places of self-destruction (yep, that’s pretty much the way I understand people).  It is also a marvelous and captivating portrayal of life in medieval Norway.  I highly recommend the trilogy to those who are willing to read 1000+ pages.

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  1. How did you get hold of the book as it is not available in the Uk. I am doing an essay formy M. A.on whether Paul was anti-imperialist or not. I have been in contact with Justin and he suggested using the Google or trying to get it for my library the only problem with the Google is that there is no Bibliography which when doing work at this level is essential

  2. Andrew,
    I ordered the book directly from a UK publisher and was able to get one of the last remaining copies. If you like, I could always email you the references from the bibliography that I think are most relevant to your essay. Let me know.

  3. Once again thank you for your insight …
    I am ordering, Galatians and the Imperial Cult: A Critical Analysis of the First-Century Social Context of Paul’s Letter by Justin K. Hardin – my reading list tends to be a bit “poppy” – if you know what I mean and a few books that you have given the thumbs up too which I have ordered have been a tremendous blessing.

  4. Hey, Dan.
    I’m sympathetic to Churchill’s argument. It can be true that nonviolence is the resort of the privileged. It can also be true that certain nonviolent campaigns have succeeded in part because of other external factors that include the use of violence that have indirect effects on the nonviolent campaign.
    But Derrick Crowe gave sent me the study below, and it shows, I think, that Churchill’s story is not the whole story.
    Click here.