Sunday, September 03, 2017

Imperial Rome and Early Christianity (J. Daryl Charles)--Work in Progress

A Discussion of "Imperial Pretensions and the Throne-Vision of the Lamb: Observations on the Function of Revelation 5"

J. Daryl Charles initiates his analysis of early Christians and Rome (imperium Romanum) by emphasizing the tension that existed between the two parties. The first-century Christians refused to worship any other deity but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (YHWH). So they consequently would not render Greco-Roman deities any allegiance, and this included emperors who had pretensions of being divine. Instead of giving allegiance to Caesar, the early followers of Jesus Christ worshiped God and rendered homage to the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 12:3). This tension between the Christian ecclesia and imperial Rome is played out in John's Apocalypse, "which represents a challenge to the Roman principate" (86).

Charles rightly depicts Rome as the "aggressor" in its numerous military activities and he believes this historical datum was not lost on the writer of Revelation. Hence, maybe for this reason and based on other factors, Revelation is replete with war imagery (Rev. 2:16-17; 12:7-12, 17; 19:11-21; 20:7-10). Yet despite the battle waged against the Christian ecclesia, the Lamb will conquer those opposing his followers (Rev. 17:14). Nevertheless, what about those Christian overcomers, who figuratively tread upon the serpent's head? Charles claims they will "reign on the earth" (page 86). To substantiate this point, he invokes Rev. 5:10; 20:6; 22:5.

Charles primarily mentions Christians reigning on earth to demonstrate the contrast between the Roman imperium and Messiah's rule. He explains how God's rule through Christ is exercised differently from current political systems, but Charles also explores important questions dealing with Roman rule including its religious and political aspects (86-7). To address these dual roles, Charles asserts that Rev. 5 supplies a "throne-vision of the Lamb" which contains both royal and sacerdotal elements in order "to reassure John's audience" (87). The article claims that John applies the language of "adoration and worship" normally rendered to "a deified emperor" to the Lamb (87). It is not possible to serve two masters, avers Charles: one must "worship" the conquering Lamb in place of the emperor. John calls upon the first-century assembly to make a decisive choice (88):

"Inasmuch as the Christians called Jesus Kyrios/Dominus, the same title could not legitimately be ascribed to the emperor--a dilemma interpreted plainly enough by Pliny. Ultimately, for the first-century Christian the matter comes down to a fundamental antithesis: Divus Imperator('Emperor Divine') or Christus Dominus ('Christ the Lord')."

Charles reminds us that Caesar only started to be recognized as Dominus from Emperor Domitian onwards, who reigned from 81-96 CE, even though Kyrios (the corresponding Greek term) was applied to Caesar in the East "almost from the beginning" (88). Examining the overall context of ancient Rome and its relationship with the primitive ecclesia leads to a consideration of how Rev. 5 possibly functions in this regard.

Many views have been expressed about Revelation 5, but Charles maintains that chapters 4 and 5 of Revelation have liturgical, religious, and political importance: "The central fact that pervades heaven is the absolute authority of God" (88). God sits upon the throne (Rev 4); exousia flows out from his right hand (5:1, 7); divine judgments emanate forthwith and dramatically (89). In climactic fashion, the Lamb steps forward to open the scroll, which none in heaven or upon earth can break open. The "Lion-Lamb" is simultaneously Savior and Conqueror--Charles insists that these images must be understood within the context of Roman imperialism (89).

Imperial Rome supposedly was a political and ecclesiastical entity: it promoted adoration of the state and of the Emperor. Being a state was not so offensive to the early Christians as were the pretensions to potestas absoluta by Rome. The imperium demanded ultimate allegiance from the ancient followers of Jesus Christ--a type of loyalty which they could not render unto Caesar (90).


Duncan said...

"Caesar only started to be recognized as Dominus from Emperor Domitian onwards, who reigned from 81-96 CE" - not quite sure about this.

"dominus et deus" seems to be the more specific claim made at this time.

Philip Fletcher said...

That was educational. Obviously, John would use the language of the time period, so that would appear to be connected to Emperor worship, nevertheless, he says he came to be in the Lords day, which would be a far-flung future where the 6th king is no more but a 7th king is in it's place. Isn't that really the point, it doesn't matter what time period you live in, the bible shows that there were always rulers in opposition to Jehovah God's people. So, it doesn't appear to be significant different in that instance. But from Charles point of view one can definitely see the connection.

Edgar Foster said...

Duncan, it's a good question in lieu of how Domitian liked to be addressed. I believe that part of my discussion was a direct quote--or pretty much direct-from Charles article. I did not challenge the point, but it could be erroneous.

The first actual Caesar (emperor) of Rome was Octavian (also known as Augustus), whose dates are 27-14 BCE. As far as I know, he was not recognized as Dominus, at least, not as a title.

I need to do more work on the point, but here is what Lewis-Short "A Latin Dictionary" notes concerning the use of Dominus as an imperial title:

3. In the period of the empire (Augustus and Tiberius declined it, Suet. Aug. 53; Tib. 27), a title of the emperors, Suet. Dom. 13; Mart. 5, 8; 10, 72; Phaedr. 2, 5, 14; Inscr. Orell. 1109; 1146 al.—

See also

Some place the imperial title usage, Dominus, to the date of Diocletian.

Edgar Foster said...

Philip, good point you make about the Lord's day and how Revelation applies to us. I want to finish my analysis of the article by Charles, but one point he's making is that Revelation served as a rejoinder/counterblast to imperial worship in John's day. We too can resist the 21st century wild beast of the sea. Thanks!

Duncan said..."dominus+deusque"&source=bl&ots=CZkX3xMxqy&sig=FtZXB6XbcCzAOpTkusRfBnY9-kY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjk8bHztYzWAhWOJVAKHcccD4MQ6AEIJzAA#v=onepage&q=%22dominus%20deusque%22&f=false

Edgar Foster said...

Duncan, interesting link. It mentions Trajan, but he succeeded Domitian. Trajan reigned from 98-117 CE. Apparently, even Domitian gradually came to accept the title, Dominus. At this point, I see no reason to quibble with Charles unless more evidence is forthcoming.

Duncan said...

My point about this title is not who accepts it but the fact that it is recognized and is attempted to be used of the emperor by others even if rejected. Going as far back as Augustus.

Edgar Foster said...


here is the direct quote from Charles:

"Caesar was hailed as Dominus only from the time of Domitian on (a generation after Paul), although Kyrios was used of the Caesar in the East almost from the beginning."

I guess it depends on what Caesar was hailed as Dominus means. Attempting to use the title and being rebuffed is not exactly hailing someone, is it? Furthermore, to the larger point, I don't see how the title could have influenced early Christian usage if emperors uniformly rejected it going back to Augustus.

Edgar Foster said...

In my analysis, instead of saying "hail," (like Charles did) I wrote "recognize." In other words, Caesar was acknowledged as emperor from Domitian onward. For the verb "hail," I believe these are the two important definitions for this context (from

verb (used with object)
to cheer, salute, or greet; welcome.
to acclaim; approve enthusiastically:
The crowds hailed the conquerors. They hailed the recent advances in medicine.

Charles could mean either thing by his use of the verb "hail." I do not see a major problem with "recognize," but maybe it could be changed for clarity's sake.

Duncan said...

Not a uniform rejection:-

Edgar Foster said...

Admittedly, there are usually exceptions, but hardly any emperor would have accepted dominus as a title during the relevant period we are discussing--the 1st century CE. Even if one or two emperors accepted the title, that would likely have had little to no bearing on the early Christian use of dominus/kurios. A historical connection must be demonstrated between Roman use of dominus and calling Jesus "Lord" from the 50s CE forward.

Duncan said...

There may be something of relevance here:-

Edgar Foster said...

Thanks, Duncan.

Duncan said...

Duncan said...

The phrase "domus divinae" occurs a few times but I cannot find datings as yet.

Household of the gods.

Edgar Foster said...


This link suggests a late date for the expression, at least, in some contexts:

But there is a distinction between domus and dominus, correct?

Here is another excellent resource for Latinists. See page 442:

Duncan said...

As you say domus and dominus are two different meanings but closely related. See work I posted a week ago which implies hat much work is to be done in this regard.

The works you have posted suggest that domus divinae is synonymous with domus Augustus which is interesting just as apo theos is referring to the political structure of the governmental household at the time and his role in organising it.

Heb 3:4 Omnis namque domus fabricatur ab aliquo : qui autem omnia creavit, Deus est.

Footnote 249 is interesting but I am not sure where I am going with this now.

Edgar Foster said...

I love Harnack's "Dogmengeschichte," and the quote was interesting. You might also know that this work's in the public domain, at least on the US Google site. I realize that some countries may vary in the way works are made available for free.