Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

A Brief Bibliography on Christianity vs. Empire

Key: Items marked with an asterisk (” *”) are introductory or for beginners in these fields of study.  Those marked with the number sign (“#”) are of intermediate difficulty.  Items marked with a plus sign (“+”) are more difficult or presume background knowledge in biblical studies, theology, and/or political theory.

The theme of “empire” has become widespread in recent biblical and theological studies, as well as recent political studies.  Political theorists debate whether or not the U.S. is an empire (remember that Rome was called an empire in its colonies long before that language was used back in Italy, where the trappings of the earlier republic were kept for some time), whether globalized capitalism forms a new kind of empire, and related matters.  For brevity’s sake, I am including only biblical and theological works, although they may reflect on contemporary issues.  In general, the anti-imperialist tone of the biblical writings has become newly emphasized in these studies.

#Avram, Wes, ed., Anxious About Empire:  Theological Essays on the New Global Realities. Brazos, 2004.  These are collected papers from a conference held in light of the unveiling of the “Bush Doctrine” in 2002 which proclaimed that the U.S. would tolerate no military or economic rivals and would launch “preemptive wars” against any and all perceived threats.  Most of the contributors are quite critical of this doctrine, but political ethicist Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago Divinity School, once a liberal just war theorist, has become a vocal apologist for the Bush administration and the “war on terrorism.”


*Carter, Warren.  The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide.  Abingdon Press, 2006.  This is an excellent place to begin exploring the recent biblical works on this theme.


#___________. Matthew and Empire:  Initial Explorations. Trinity Press International, 2001.


+Cassidy, Richard J.  Christians and Roman Rule in the New Testament: New Perspectives.  Crossroad, 2001.  A good introduction from a brilliant Catholic New Testament scholar who is also a peace and justice activist.


+___________.  Jesus, Politics, and Society:  A Study of Luke’s Gospel.  Orbis Books, 1978.


#____________.  John’s Gospel in New Perspective:  Christology and the Realities of Roman Power.  Orbis Books, 1992.


*____________.  Society and Politics in the Acts of the Apostles.  Orbis Books, 1987.


*Crossan, John Dominic.  God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now.  HarperSanFrancisco, 2007.  A popular-level book with rather sweeping conclusions, some of which may outrun the exegetical evidence.


#Crossan, John Dominic and Jonathan L. Reed.  In Search of Paul:  How Jesus’ Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom:  A New Vision of Paul’s Words and World.  HarperSanFrancisco, 2004.


#Cullmann, Oscar (1902-1999).  The State in the New Testament.  Scribner’s, 1956.  Contrasts the vision of the state as “God’s instrument to you for good” in Romans 13 with the vision of the state as demonic “beast from the sea” in Revelation 13 and says that discernment as to when the state is more in line with Romans 13 or Revelation 13 is a major Christian task.


+Griffith, Lee.  The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God. Eerdmans, 2002. This is a difficult, but very important book. Griffith had already completed much of the book prior to 9/11. That terrorist attack and the U.S. response simply reinforced most of these conclusions.


*Howard-Brook, Wes and Anthony Gwyer,  Unveiling Empire:  Reading Revelation Then and Now.  Orbis Books, 1999.  This is a serious study of the Book of Revelation, but written in the easy-to-read style of all of Howard-Brook’s works.


*Howard-Brook, Wes and Sharon Ringe, eds.  The New Testament:  Introducing the Way of Discipleship.  Orbis Books, 2002.  This is an excellent introduction to the New Testament from biblical scholars committed to radical discipleship and nonviolence.  Two chapters deal especially with our theme:  “Paul’s Letters:  God’s Justice Against Empire,” by Neil Elliott and “Revelation: Claiming the Victory Jesus Won Over Empire” by Wes Howard-Brook.


#Horsley, Richard A. Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder.  Fortress Press, 2003.  Glen Stassen warns that some of Horsley’s biblical exegesis in this book doesn’t seem very careful.  What is certain is that Horsley has changed his mind considerably since his earlier work, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence. Harper & Row,  1987.  In that earlier work, Horsley argued that Jesus dealt almost exclusively with Palestinian village society and that his teachings on nonviolence and enemy love did not address the question of Rome.  Horsley has had a rather large change of heart in this regard.


*____________, ed. . Paul and Empire: Religion and Power in Roman Imperial Society. Trinity Press International, 1997.


*Horsley, Richard A. and Neil Asher Silberman.  The Message and the Kingdom:  How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World.  Putnam, 1997.


+Horsley, Richard A., ed., Paul and Politics:  Ekklesia, Israel, Imperium, Interpretation: Essays in Honor of Krister Stendahl.  Trinity Press International, 2000.  Includes several scholarly essays on the theme of empire.


+____________., ed.  Paul and the Roman Imperial Order. Trinity Press International, 2004.  A collection of very deep scholarly essays.


#Keller, Catherine.  God and Power:  Counter-Apocalyptic Journeys.  Fortress, 2005. Keller is a feminist historical theologian who has co-written and co-edited works with the more famous Rosemary Radford Ruether.  While I share her negative attitude toward the normal idea of apocalyptic writings, I argue that the only biblical examples, Daniel and Revelation, use the genre of apocalypse to subvert the usual expectations.  I would not want to be “counter-apocalyptic” in the sense of counter-Daniel or counter-Revelation.


*Laarman, Peter, ed.  Getting on Message: Challenging the Religious Right from the Heart of the Gospel.  Beacon Press, 2006.  See the chapter, “Easter Faith and Empire: Recovering the Prophetic Tradition on the Emmaus Road.” by Ched Myers.


# Northcutt, Michael B. An Angel Directs the Storm:  Apocalyptic Religion and American Empire.  I. B. Taurus, 2004.


+Phillips, Kevin P.  American Theocracy: The Perils and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century.  Viking, 2006.  The author is a former political strategist for the U.S. Republican party who has become alarmed at the direction of his party and the nation.


+Sugirtharajah, R.S.  The Bible and Empire: Postcolonial Explorations.  Cambridge University Press, 2005.  A difficult, but rewarding, study from the viewpoint of a liberation theologian from India.


+Stringfellow, William (1928-1985).  Conscience and Obedience:  The Politics of Romans 13 and Revelation 13 in Light of the Second Coming.  Word Books, 1977.  A popularization of the work of Oscar Cullman on the state and application to the U.S. that Stringfellow knew in the ’60s and ’70s.


#Taylor, Mark Lewis.  Religion, Politics, and the Christian Right:  Post-9/11 Powers and American Empire.  Fortress Press, 2005. Very important reflections from a contemporary theologian. Medium difficulty.


+Thompson, Leonard.  The Book of Revelation:  Apocalypse and Empire.  Oxford University Press, 1990.  Difficult, but rewarding reading.


+Wengst, Klaus K.  The Pax Romana and the Peace of Jesus Christ.  Fortress, 1987.  This is an important and very careful study of the contrast between the kind of peacemaking that Jesus taught and the “peace through strength” policies of empire, whether Rome’s or Napolean’s or Britain’s, or the Soviet Union’s,  or the de facto “empire of bases” of the contemporary USA. 

April 13, 2009 - Posted by | Bible, Biblical exegesis, books, empire


  1. Michael, you again forgot to include any of David Ray Griffin’s work, especially his “Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11”. It’s as much a “biblical and theological work” as a few others on your list.

    I’m glad to see you mention Horsley’s work. Your readers may be intersted to know that he too has called for an honest investigation of 9/11.

    Comment by Berry Friesen | April 15, 2009

  2. Berry, I have admired Griffin’s theological work, but I cannot subscribe to his conspiracy theory. I read it and gave it due consideration, but while I think it obvious that Bush/Cheney took advantage of 9/11 to force through their own near-fascist agenda, I cannot buy Griffin’s belief that they actually PLANNED it. The conspiracies about 9/11 are as far-fetched as those about the murder of JFK.

    Also, Griffin’s conspiracy theory isn’t really about the biblical theme of empire.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 16, 2009

  3. Hmmm. . . I’m looking at chapter headings in Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11: “Jesus and the Roman Empire”, “The Divine and the Demonic”, and “The American Empire, Demonic Evil and 9/11”. Have you had the opportunity to read that material? It was published in 2006 by Westminister John Knox Press, the Presbyterian imprint.

    You’re right, Michael, some of the conspiracy theories around 9/11 are really far-fetched. I’m particularly suspicious of those that ask me to believe that bin Laden did it all by himself. You know, the military exercises on 9/11 that simulated hijackings along the East Coast, the NORAD stand-down, the exploding buildings, all that steel melting in a kerosene fire, etc.

    To paraphrase Goucho Marx said, who are you going to believe, the government or your own eyes?

    By the way, what do you make of the al Qaeda resurgence in Afghanistan? The President mentioned them 24 times in his recent speech about the need to increase U.S. troop levels in that country. Any idea how many base camps al Qaeda is operating over there these days? The President didn’t say but I surmise bin Laden, with his dialysis machine in tow, has burrowed so deep into the Himilayas that the U.S. military can no longer monitor his activities.

    Isn’t he something, that bin Laden?

    Comment by Berry Friesen | April 16, 2009

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