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Review: Engaging Rome and Jerusalem by Edwin Judge

I think I might be correct in saying that Edwin Judge has never actually written a book. He is one of those rare scholars—rare human beings—who is humble enough never to think he should inflict a tome upon the world. (I condemn myself in saying this). And, yet, he is truly great enough that others repeatedly demand that his lectures, papers, and articles be published as books.Judge


Think of the 8 papers published as Social Distinctives of the Christians in the First Century (2008); the 44 essays in The First Christians in the Roman World (2008); the 22 papers in Athens and Jerusalem (2010); and now 40 more papers in this astonishing Engaging Rome and Jerusalem.

Even if Edwin himself won’t insist that we listen to him, those who know his work well do insist that the wider world should learn from his unique blend of scholarly care and innovation, immense breadth and razor precision, and, of course, his unusual love of both pagan and biblical cultures—of Greece and Rome, on one side, and Torah and Gospel, on other.

The editor Stuart Piggin provides a lovely introduction to these various aspects of Edwin’s life and thought. He also very helpfully introduces each essay by explaining its importance and alerting readers to particular nuances of the argument. Given Edwin’s occasional preference for understatement, these mini introductions help us see things we might have otherwise missed.

The full title of the book gives away the four dimensions of the book: Engaging Rome and Jerusalem: Historical Essays for our Time. It is about the past and the present; it is about Classical (Roman) culture, and Judeo-Christian culture. In short, this is a book that explores the profound ways in which the classical and biblical viewpoints have shaped and haunt the modern West.

The opening essay, for example, is a review of a book by N. Horsfall (2003) on Roman popular culture. The last line of the piece reveals much about Edwin’s thought and about this collection: [the book under review] “will take students and teachers deep into the big city buried in the sub-conscious of us all.” The line reveals Edwin’s conviction that the outlook of ancient Rome colours the way modern Westerners view the world.

Given Rome’s ongoing significance, it is important for us to know such things as ‘The Mind of Tiberius Gracchus’—the title of an early essay—or ‘Who first saw Augustus as an emperor?’, the title of another. In several others chapters we discover the distinction between the ancient Roman idea of religio and the Christian ‘religion’. Modern notions of religion, Edwin tells us at one point, are a strange concoction of both.

Rome remains important.

The same holds for Jerusalem, perhaps especially for Jerusalem. Against the contentions of some (e.g., Horsfall, MacMullen), Edwin insists that biblical culture dramatically shaped late antiquity, right down to today.

In one of the essays on ‘Women’, Edwin provides a blunt example. Christians might have accepted the Graeco-Roman notion of ‘rank’ (or position) but they rejected ‘status’ entirely:

Paul expects his followers to use their diverging ranks for the advantage of each other. The ideal of mutual service has now long been fundamental to our political culture. But in Paul’s day it was a shocking upending of what everyone thought to be natural and therefore right. Do not imagine that our culture has passed beyond the so-called Judaeo-Christian ethic. In this and many other basic social attitudes everyone is a follower of Christ, and of Paul. (p.210).

I wonder if Edwin would say the same of Rome: are modern Westerners all “followers of Augustus”, just as they are followers of Christ. Which is the biggest city “buried in the sub-conscious of us all”—Rome or Jerusalem? Perhaps Edwin would overrule the question.

This is an important book. From my perspective—with my Centre for Public Christianity hat on—it is Edwin’s most important book. It is the one that every thoughtful Westerner, not just the specialist, really ought to read. Perhaps Edwin doesn’t agree with that judgment. After all, he didn’t bother to write this book (as a book). But this is one of the few areas where Edwin’s judgment really doesn’t count.

Dr John Dickson is the director of the Centre for Public Christianity and Honorary Fellow of the Department of Ancient History (Macquarie).