As I prepare for my PhD comprehensive exams and a paper presentation this November at ASOR on the abuse of archaeological materials in the interpretation of Paul, this first post will be one in a long series of reviews of books about the subject:
Justin K. Hardin, Galatians and the Imperial Cult (WUNT 2/237; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008)
Synopsis: Within this work, H. attempts to parse out the obscure reference to Paul’s opponents located at the conclusion of Galatians (6:12-13). In the process, H. proposes the following reconstruction: (1) Paul exposes the real reason why his opponents wish for the Gentile Galatian converts to be circumcised in Gal 6:12, i.e., Galatian Jewish Christ Confessors’ own social standing within their communities (εὐπροσωπῆσαι); (2) the locus of the desire emanates from the hope to avoid persecution for the lack of participation in imperial cultic activities that H. claims even Jews practiced; and thus (3) this was the real reason Paul’s opponents wanted to circumcise Gentile converts, i.e., so that they might be able to claim allegiance to the emperor through the temple tax, sacrifice offered on behalf of the emperor, and the honors accorded emperors within Jewish synagogues, which H. interprets as the ways in which Jews participated in emperor worship.
Chapter 1: Galatians in Its Social and Religious Context
Within this chapter, H. provides a précis of the history of scholarship on Galatians and Gal 6:12-13. In the process, H. notes the recent turn in more “recipient-oriented” studies, which includes reading the letter in its imperial context (12-19). H. acknowledges two previous studies in this area. The first one is from 1994 in which Bruce Winter posited that the motive of Paul’s opponents in Gal 6:12 was to “make a good showing” (εὐπροσωπῆσαι) of the Galatians. This notion is best understood in an imperial context in which Paul’s opponents, Jewish Christians, were persecuted for their failure to participate in “the imperial cult.” Because Galatian officials were pressuring Christians to sacrifice to the emperor, the Jewish Christian opponents of Paul wanted the Gentiles circumcised so that these Roman officials would consider them and the rest of the nascent Galatian Christian group as part of a cult the Romans acknowledged, Judaism. Second, in 2000, Thomas Witulski postulated that Gal 4:8-20 was a later interpolation and that the reference to days, months, years, and seasons refers to the imperial cultic calendar. Consequently, the reference to “they” in Gal 4:17 is to imperial high priests and not Jewish opponents. The purpose of Gal 4:8-20, therefore, is to dissuade the Galatians from the worship of the emperor.
In the final sections, H. and sets forth his own methods for parsing out the imperial context of Galatians and deciphering the enigmatic verses in question (Gal 6:12-13).
Chapter 2: Imperial Cult in the Roman Empire and in Galatia
Within this chapter, H. sets forth his understanding of emperor worship. In the process, he notes the change in its interpretation and importance in the study of the Roman world since Simon Price’s influential book in 1984 (24), especially among NT students (25). H. provides a short summary of the beginnings of what he calls “the imperial cult” (26-39), employing an impressive array of inscriptions, numismatic evidence, archaeological evidence, and literary sources.
Important to his reconstruction is the idea that all the inhabitants of a city participate in emperor worship via the festivals (38, 44). H. concludes that: (1) “the cult and its ideology” pervaded all aspects of life; (2) “the cult” was different than Hellenistic ruler cults; (3) “the cult provided, encouraged, and sometimes even compelled all classes to participate at some level;” and (4) “the cult did not fizzle out after Augustus, but even gathered pace throughout the Julio-Claudian period” (47).
Chapter 3: Imperial Cult and Ideology in Galatia
H. argues that “imperial ideology could be observed almost at every turn in travelling from one Galatian city to the next” (50). He observes correctly that Augustus founded the cities of Ancyra, Tavium, and Pessinus in the northern part of the province as well as the colony of Germa. In the southern part, the first emperor founded the colonies of Pisidian Antioch, Comama, Cremna, Olbasa, and Parlais” (52). H. spends a good deal of time discussing Pisidian Antioch and describing its Romanness (58-62). As a result, he posits, “Although we cannot confirm that other cities and colonies in Galatia would similarly have received imperial ideology, we should not be overly cautious on this point. The finds in Pisidian Antioch are likely more the result of digs and discovery than they are the uniqueness of the colony in comparison with the other cities of Galatia” (63).
In sum, H. argues that: (1) the Julio-Claudian emperors “brought about major changes in central Anatolia.” (2) Participation in “the emperor’s cult” is “beyond doubt,” which included festivities and game like those of the koinon of Asia (66-67, 79).
Chapter 4: Avoiding Persecution and the Imperial Cult (Gal 6.12-13)
H. notes that Betz first argued that unlocking the secret of Galatians is found in Gal 6:12-13. Looking at this passage, he determines the key is Gal 6:12 and the verb εὐπροσωπῆσαι (90-91). H. proposes that it is likely that the “agitators” are from Galatia (94) and Paul’s criticism about them is not a caricature but it reflects the situation accurately (95-98). Moreover, in light of the use of persecution language in Galatians 1, he determines that the persecution in Galatia is real and probably caused by a failure to observe imperial cultic activities (101-102).
H. then presents evidence to claim that Jews did in fact participate in “the imperial cult” and that offering a sacrifice on behalf of the emperor and honoring emperors within their synagogues were how Jews participated in “the imperial cult” (102-10): “Jews in the Roman world did not have exemption or even special privileges from participating in the imperial cult. Apparently, they did not need it” (109).
Therefore, H. postulates: “the agitators were unwilling to undergo persecution. Winter’s proposal, then, helpfully sheds light on the social dimension of the Galatian crisis. Far from being merely a theological concern, the agitators were reflecting upon quite significant social and political concerns for themselves as associates within the Galatian churches . . . Winter correctly argues that the agitators’ true intention in having these Gentile Jesus-believers circumcised (i.e. to avoid persecution) were purposely concealed from the Galatian churches. Instead of revealing their real motives to Paul’s readers, the agitators employed theological concerns to underpin their claim that they needed to be circumcised. This understanding not only explains why Paul felt it necessary to show through complex theological arguments why his readers must not be circumcised, but also reveals the sheer magnitude of Paul’s statements in the postscript. . . The real reason for their compulsion was that they themselves might avoid persecution” (111). “Assuming they had broken away from the local Jewish community/synagogue, these fledgling churches found themselves in ‘no man’s land’, between the synagogue communities on the one hand and the dominant Gentile population on the other, both of which (in their own ways) observed the imperial cult. In an attempt to negotiate their ambiguous status in society regarding their civic obligations to participate in the imperial cult, the agitators were seeking to have the Galatian Gentile Jesus-believers circumcised. This way, all the Jesus-believers, comprised of Jews and (former) Gentiles, could claim full membership in the Jewish communities and thus regulate their status as a group that participated (via the Jewish community) in the public veneration of the emperor” (112).
Chapter 5: ‘Days, Months, Seasons, Years’ and the Imperial Cult
He concludes that Paul thought the emperors among the gods of Gal 4:8 (126) and part of the elementary spirits of the world (138). As a result, Galatians 4 directly reflects the problems Paul’s converts had with emperor worship (146): “Soon after Paul left Galatia, the Galatian Jesus-believers began to feel the pressure to conform to the society in which they lived, a society in which there was no room for new religious movements that would claim political hegemony over both the local gods and the imperial gods of Rome. It was during this difficulty that the agitators began to compel Paul’s readers to be circumcised” (144).
Chapter 6: Conclusions
H. summarizes his arguments and provides some reflections (148-55). The most novel is that if “the imperial cult” is the background of Gal 4:1-10 then “this construction would also have been heard in direct conflict with the age of the emperors, who were considered to be the Lord of all things” (155).
While this book is well researched and the arguments clear, it is fraught with problems in its use of material culture and thus interpretation. Concerning his use of material culture, one of the biggest difficulties with H.’s work is nomenclature. What we call things makes a difference, for it affects the way in which we think. It is clear that H. shies away from the use of the term Christian (preferring Jesus believers), yet he neither provides a discussion nor a defense of his use of the terms “the imperial cult,” “imperial ideology,” and similar terms. Since Simon Price, on whose work H. depends heavily, classicists have pointed out that there was no such thing as “the imperial cult.” To the contrary, there were numerous cults of various emperors all with their own Sitze im Leben. Just because Tiberius was treated one way by the citizens of Athens does not mean that the Ephesians treated him the same.
Due to his nomenclature, H. continuously falls into the trap of making emperor worship monolithic, e.g.: “It was the imperial cult, not Christianity, which was the fastest-growing religion of the first century” (23); “Our focus will be on selected aspects of the imperial cult and ideology that will help us to understand the nature of imperial rule during the Julio-Claudian period . . .;” “The cult and its ideology were a (sic) integrated system involving religion and shared values within society;” (65) etc. This influences his interpretations, for H. does not differentiate between an officially deified emperor, a divus, and a living emperor. This was standard practice in Rome and in Roman colonies (e.g., Corinth) and sacrifices were commonly offered to divi and to the genius of the living emperor. Moreover, he treats cults of emperors as if they were something emperors commanded and obfuscates the grassroots nature of emperor worship, which is evident in the very sources he uses (27-39)! For example, in one place he notes, “although a city’s participation in the imperial cult was voluntary, there was certain pressure placed upon her to ensure that the cult thrived” (43).
Second, H. seems to contradict himself several times. (1) On the one hand, he notes, “It is clear that often the public worship of the emperor, rather than supplanting the local pagan religions in the Greek East, was simply amalgamated with it” (40). On the other hand, H. says, “The imperial cult was significant in that it most commonly superseded traditional religious worship with a uniform system of religious devotion” (41). (2) Although he acknowledges that Roma was partnered with Augustus in Caesarea Maritima (30), he fails to discuss the common pairing of Augustus with other deities that characterized the institution of cults of living emperors in Roman Asia. (3) H. concludes of sacrifice in “the imperial cult,” “Most sacrifices that were part of the public worship of the emperor were made to the gods on behalf of the emperor” (40). Yet, on the next page he posits that the emperor Claudius was given “priority” over Artemis in Ephesus (41). How is an emperor to whom sacrifice is not directly offered given “priority” over a deity to whom sacrifice is offered? This is never explained.
Third, H.’s conclusions about Pisidian Antioch and that the temple was dedicated to Augustus is incorrect (58, 73-75). Due to the discovery of a new inscription, Benjamin Rubin has convincingly argued that the temple is dedicated to “Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Augustus, and the Genius of the Colony.” The letters that spell the name Jupiter Optimus Maximus are significantly larger than Augustus’s and the Genius of the Colony. Thus Rubin concludes, “In accordance with local epigraphic practice, the gods are listed in descending order of importance with the city’s patron god, Jupiter Optimus Maximus, receiving top billing.” This new identification better accords with the evidence from Roman Asia, for “Out of twelve imperial cult temples known to have had tripartite dedications, seven (c. 58%) are located in Pisidia and western Caria.”
Finally, H.’s entire reconstruction of rests on the viability of Price’s argument that sacrifice is directed to the gods on behalf of the emperors: “S.R.F. Price has discussed at length the language and rituals of imperial sacrifices, and he has masterfully shown that in spite of the divine framework in which the imperial cult festivals and processions were often set, it was quite typical for the Greeks and Romans to offer sacrifices to the gods on behalf of the emperor” (106). H. does not acknowledge that Price’s conclusion has been challenged and ample evidence attests to suggests that sacrifice was offered to emperors (see Friesen, Twice Neokoros).
Concerning the interpretative difficulties, Paul comes from a tradition that knows how to critique a form of ruler worship (Revelation 13, 17-18; Wis 14:16-21; Third Sibyl). Yet, his rhetoric in Galatians never approaches any of the before-mentioned texts. Since H.’s notion that Jews participated in imperial cult is untenable given that Price’s theory has been set aside and it is clear that Paul himself knows how to deal with Christians who are participating in pagan cults (1 Corinthians 8-10), H.’s reconstruction of Galatians is untenable.
. See Cassius Dio, Rom. Hist. 51.20.6-9 and Steven Friesen, Twice Neokoros; Simon Price, Rituals and Power.
. Benjamin Rubin, “(Re)presenting Empire,” 32-33.
. Rubin, (Re)presenting,” 63,
IOVI · OPT · MAX
AUG · ET · GEN · COL
“To Jupiter Optimus Maximus Augustus and the Genius of the Colony [ ] the son of Eueius.”
Rubin, “(Re)presenting, 61, “Based on the architectural and epigraphic evidence, there is little reason to doubt that the imperial temple at Antioch was dedicated to the emperor Augustus prior to his death in AD 14. It is unlikely, however, that the temple was dedicated exclusively to Augustus given that the vast majority of Augustea in Asia Minor featured bi- or multi- partite dedications. As Dio Cassius records (51.20.6-9), the tradition of honoring multiple dedicatees at imperial cult temples can be traced back to Augustus ’proclamation of 29 BC, in which he expressly forbid the cities of Asia and Bithynia from worshiping him or his adoptive father, the Divus Julius, without the accompaniment of the goddess Roma.”
. Rubin, (Re)presenting,” 67.
. Rubin, (Re)presenting,”65.