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Thursday, May 6, 2010

More on the world of Jesus

The following are some highlights from the second lecture by Fr. John Mueller to the Maryknoll residents May 5-6.

Rome wanted to conquer the known world. In 333 B.C. Rome, Babylon, Persia and Assyria were vying for control of the Middle East, with Judah and Israel as pingpong balls. Greece was good at imposing culture but couldn't hang onto its territories.

Rome easily took over the Greek dominion. Northern Europe, however, proved problematic. Caesar Augustus therefore set two boundaries: the Danube River and the Rhein River in the north, and the Tigris and Euphrates to the east. All else belonged to Rome.

Ideologically, Virgil's Aeneid passes the destiny of Hector onto Aeneus with the blessings of the gods to rule the world from Rome because the Greeks had failed.

Horace, a friend of Virgil's, pointed out that unlike other emperors who attained divinity after death, Augustus became a god which still living. Ovid goes further by claiming Augustus is Jupiter incarnate, the sun god, the god of gods, who rules the world by divine mandate.

The victories in war proved the gods ratified Roman rule.

According to stele in the area, Augustus's birthday was considered the beginning of a new creation, for through him chaos is ordered aright and all now bask in the imperial glow.

Meanwhile. Jewish Wisdom literature proclaimed holy Wisdom instructed kings and emperors alike and called to account those who abused their power. This implied a power higher than any secular ruler. This contradicted what Rome was trying to establish. Wisdom held the lowly up to equality with the powerful. Very seditious stuff, bubbling just below the surface on the remote edges of the empire.

Josephus, a captured Zealot, was taken to Rome where he embraced his conquerors and the new world order. Roman power was absolute and all-pervasive. He wrote that without God's aid so vast an empire could never have been built. He assumed Judaism had ended with the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem.

Military, economy, politics and religion were one, united and intertwined force sustaining the Roman empire. No opposition was allowed. Into such a culture, Jesus was born.

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