In March, the Oxford University Press released “The Last Pagan Emperor: Julian the Apostate and the War against Christianity,” by H.C. Teitler. The publisher’s description follows:
Flavius Claudius Julianus was the last pagan to sit on the Roman imperial throne (361-363). Born in Constantinople in 331 or 332, Julian was raised as a Christian, but apostatized, and during his short reign tried to revive paganism, which, after the conversion to Christianity of his uncle Constantine the Great early in the fourth century, began losing ground at an accelerating pace. Having become an orphan when he was still very young, Julian was taken care of by his cousin Constantius II, one of Constantine’s sons, who permitted him to study rhetoric and philosophy and even made him co-emperor in 355. But the relations between Julian and Constantius were strained from the beginning, and it was only Constantius’ sudden death in 361 which prevented an impending civil war.
As sole emperor, Julian restored the worship of the traditional gods. He opened pagan temples again, reintroduced animal sacrifices, and propagated paganism through both the spoken and the written word. In his treatise Against the Galilaeans he sharply criticised the religion of the followers of Jesus whom he disparagingly called ‘Galilaeans’. He put his words into action, and issued laws which were displeasing to Christians–the most notorious being his School Edict. This provoked the anger of the Christians, who reacted fiercely, and accused Julian of being a persecutor like his predecessors Nero, Decius, and Diocletian. Violent conflicts between pagans and Christians made themselves felt all over the empire. It is disputed whether or not Julian himself was behind such outbursts. Accusations against the Apostate continued to be uttered even after the emperor’s early death. In this book, the feasibility of such charges is examined.
One of my research interests not obviously connected to law and religion involves the thought of the important late nineteenth-century British judge, colonial administrator, essayist, and all around force of nature, Sir James Fitzjames Stephen (see here and here). But as I’ve examined his ideas, it’s become clear to me how important the relationship of the state and religion was to his general view of law and politics.
I’m therefore looking forward to checking out this book by Hilary M. Carey
(University of Newcastle, New South Wales), God’s Empire: Religion and Colonialism in the British World, c.1801-1908 (Cambridge University Press 2013), whose focus seems in part to be the Victorian period. The publisher’s description follows.
In God’s Empire, Hilary M. Carey charts Britain’s nineteenth-century transformation from Protestant nation to free Christian empire through the history of the colonial missionary movement. This wide-ranging reassessment of the religious character of the second British empire provides a clear account of the promotional strategies of the major churches and church parties which worked to plant settler Christianity in British domains. Based on extensive use of original archival and rare published sources, the author explores major debates such as the relationship between religion and colonization, church-state relations, Irish Catholics in the empire, the impact of the Scottish Disruption on colonial Presbyterianism, competition between Evangelicals and other Anglicans in the colonies, and between British and American strands of Methodism in British North America.
Last month, InterVarsity Press published Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies, edited by Scot McKnight (U. of Nottingham) and Joseph B. Modica (Eastern U.). The publisher’s description follows:
The New Testament is immersed in the often hostile world of the Roman Empire, but its relationship to that world is complex.
What is meant by Jesus’ call to “render unto Caesar” his due, when Luke subversively heralds the arrival of a Savior and Lord who is not Caesar, but Christ? Is there tension between Peter’s command to “honor the emperor” and John’s apocalyptic denouncement of Rome as “Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots”?
Under the direction of editors Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica, respected biblical scholars have come together to investigate an increasingly popular approach in New Testament scholarship of interpreting the text through the lens of empire. The contributors praise recent insights into the New Testament’s exposé of Roman statecraft, ideology and emperor worship. But they conclude that rhetoric of anti-imperialism is often given too much sway. More than simply hearing the biblical authors in their context, it tends to govern what they must be saying about their context. The result of this collaboration, Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not, is a groundbreaking yet accessible critical evaluation of empire criticism.
NB: Peter Leithart reviews the book at First Things.