jesus fish

January 1, 2014

The One About Jesus and Government

Filed under: New Testament, Popular Culture — Karen @ 11:05 pm

Roman coin being the image of Tiberius Caesar
“This engraving—who does it look like? And whose name is on it?”

They said, “Caesar.”

“Then give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.” Matthew 22:20-21 (The Message)

The Roman Empire may not have been the most oppressive government that has ever existed but by American standards, it was pretty bad.

The wealth of Rome was based on slavery. By some estimates, as much as 40% of the population on the Italian peninsula was enslaved. Unlike the Americas, slavery in the Roman Empire was not based on race. The practice was a fringe benefit of Roman military aggression. Captured peoples became a source of cheap labor for wealthy land owners. Ironically, the roots of democracy occurred in an economy that was built on the backs of slaves.

Various forms of sexual immorality were commonplace in Rome. In fact, homosexual prostitution was such a profitable business that the government taxed it. Same sex relations among soldiers was not glorified like the Sacred Band of Thebes in Grecian times but it was an accepted practice. The story of the centurian’s servant in Matthew 8 is sometimes cited as an example of Jesus showing compassion to a homosexual. I am not sure that I would agree with that interpretation but the scenario is plausible.

Abortion and infanticide were technically illegal although there is little evidence that these laws were enforced. An archaeological dig in Ashkelon (southern coast of Israel) uncovered gruesome evidence of this practice from 1st century Palestine. The remains of nearly 100 babies were excavated under an ancient brothel. Forensic examination suggests that the infants were dropped into the sewer soon after birth. Since most of the skeletons were male, it is believed that the girls were allowed to live since they would eventually work as prostitutes in the same brothel in which they were born.

I could go on and on with examples of the brutality that existed at all levels of Roman society. We haven’t even mentioned the organized persecution of Christians that began during Nero’s reign. Or the ongoing oppression of the Jews that ultimately resulted in the complete destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Throughout its history, the government of Rome was either complicit in an endless variety of human immorality or turned a blind eye.

And the only time that Jesus spoke about the Roman government, he said “pay your taxes”.


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