“Come Out, My People!” God’s Call out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond
by Wes Howard-Brook 2012 Orbis Press
Having located 40 books that deal with God and Empire, I will now begin to look more closely at a number of the books. As this issues from an understanding that sees the Bible as key to an alternative view of life it is appropriate to start with books that speak of God versus Empire out of a Scriptural focus.
My first encounter with this alternative view came through reading the works of and listening to the videos of two particular Biblical scholars, Walter Brueggemann on the Old Testament and John Dominic Crossan on the New. One of the first sources where I encountered what I perceive as this new understanding of faith was in an article that Brueggemann wrote for the Christian Century magazine titled “Counterscript” (http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3307).
In that article he speaks first of the dominant script which we absorb simply by living in the culture of the world in which we find ourselves. The counter script is found in the Bible. Crossan in his works delineates the world of the first century CE in which Jesus and Paul lived as that was controlled by the might of the Roman Empire.
Wes Howard-Brook sees the Bible as a book in which we don’t find a unified view. Instead, it “gathers together witnesses to a passionate historical argument over what it means to be ‘God’s people’ ”. The argument he sees to be between what he calls the Religion of Creation and the Religion of Empire. To see the contrast between them, go to amazon.com and find the page for the book. If you click on the icon for the book it will take you inside. Then make an internal search for “Table 1: The Two Religions”. (With my Mac I use ‘Command f’ keys to make the search.)
In his introduction he says, “I have discovered an exciting, worldwide circle of discipleship that transcends previous denominational divides, ages and nationalities in which people are seeking to discover and to live the authentic Way of Jesus, leaving behind the legacy of ‘Christian’ empire,”
In the layout of the book the author goes through the Bible showing how these two religions are to be found in conflict within. “We’ll attempt in Part I to peer ‘behind’ history to understand where the two religions came from and why.” The seven chapters of Part I go through the Book of Genesis showing the two religions contending.
Part II covers Biblical history from “Exodus to Exile” in six chapters. As does Brueggemann in his work, Howard-Brook finds the zenith of the Israelite Religion of Empire in the reign of Solomon. The Religion of Creation is upheld by the prophets who speak out against the monarchy. this included the time of the fall of the Northern Kingdom, Israel to the Assyrian Empire, to the defeat of Judah by the Babylonians.
In Part III, Exile to Easter, also consisting of six chapters, he covers Biblical texts from the time of the Exile until the time of Jesus. Hence, this material covers the history of the Jews from the return from Exile and the building of the Second Temple until the time of Jesus and the Romans. This was the period of the Persian Empire through the time of Greek rule.
Finally, Part IV is titled Easter to the Eschaton, and the author covers the material of the New Testament. It begins with Jesus proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God during Roman domination and ends with John’s vision in Revelation of the fulfillment of the Kingdom. As well as the canon of the New Testament, the book includes explication of material that was not included in the canon. Nine chapters cover this material.
Peace activist and Jesuit priest, John Dear, reviewed the book for Clarion Journal and the National Catholic Reporter. Dear writes:
“In a nutshell, Howard-Brook walks us through the entire Hebrew Bible and its “war of myths” leading up to the nonviolent Jesus, St. Paul’s writings and the concluding book of Revelation to see the movement of God through history as a call to humanity out of empire into God’s realm of peace, love and justice. The cumulative effect is nothing less than a revelation. It’s as if we’ve missed the point of the Bible for centuries, using it to support our wars, injustices, violence and empires.”
The effect upon the Church if this call is made clear to it could be absolutely transformative.