Jesus and Paul view Roman occupation differently

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The Roman occupiers had very different effects on the two critical leaders of the early Christian Church.

Jesus grew up, lived, and died in a rural section of an occupied country distant from the capital city, Rome, though bustling Roman cities were nearby. Jesus' interaction with the Romans was similar to the views of the French, Belgians, or Norwegians to the Nazis in World War II. The occupiers were resented, were the object of terrorist acts, and less visible delaying tactics to frustrate the occupying Romans — or Nazis. When Jesus said if you are asked to carry a burden one mile, then carry it two, he was referring to the Roman soldiers who routinely heaved their packs to people like Jesus, who knew they had to carry that pack one mile. Then legally they could return it. But carry it a second mile? A group often on stage in the Gospels is the tax collectors, who were locals hired to collect taxes for Rome. The only way they could make a living was by charging more than the tax to pocket the difference. Obviously tax collectors were bitterly resented; they had sold out to the occupiers, and were living off the captive Galileans. So, Jesus' life was under the constant effects of a resented, occupying, Roman army and authorities who brutally suppressed opposition — and at the end crucified him.

In the mid 30's, a few years after Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, a Jew named Saul was challenged when Jesus appeared to him as he walked on the road to Damascus, and converted by a disciple named Ananias. Saul changed that Jewish name to the Roman Paul as he traveled over Roman territories as a missionary. Paul grew up in the Roman city of Tarsus in what is now Turkey, enjoying all the advantages of Roman society and education. He was a Roman citizen, which gave him important rights. For Paul Roman authority was useful. Rome had built an excellent, extensive system of roads, so Paul could travel anywhere. Roman soldiers patrolled those roads to guarantee safe travel. Thanks to Alexander the Great's conquests one language was understood everywhere — Greek — from the formal Greek of poets, philosophers, and dramatists to the koine Greek of soldiers and the lower classes — the Greek in which the New Testament was written. This is the one time in history when the known world spoke one language and widespread travel across nations was readily available. Many merchant ships plied the Mediterranean. Roads, ships, and Greek encouraged the rapidly developing merchant class that Paul was part of. He was a tentmaker, and tents were the "holiday inns" where merchants spent most nights. Robert Wright in his The Evolution of God, chapter 11, tells much more about how Paul and his work benefited from Rome. When Paul was arrested, often he told of his Roman citizenship, so received the best treatment possible. The Roman occupiers for Paul were essential to his safe travel and spreading the gospel news and developing the church of Jesus.

Copyright © 2006, 2009 John F. Yeaman