The “high treason” of the first Christians

The “high treason” of the first Christians December 24, 2009

There was a human being in the first century who was called “Divine,” “Son of God,” “God,” and “God from God,” whose titles were “Lord,” “Redeemer,” “Liberator,” and “Savior of the World.” Who was that person? Most people who know the Western tradition would probably answer, unless alerted by the question’s too-obviousness, Jesus of Nazareth. And most Christians probably think that those titles were originally created and uniquely applied to Christ. But before Jesus ever existed, all those terms belonged to Caesar Augustus. To proclaim them of Jesus the Christ was thereby to deny them of Caesar the Augustus. Christians were not simply using ordinary titles applied to all sorts of people at that time, or ever extraordinary titles applied to special people in the East. They were taking the identity of the Roman emperor and giving it to a Jewish peasant. Either that was a peculiar joke and a very low lampoon, or it was what the Romans called majestas and we call high treason.

John Dominic Crossan, God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), p. 28.

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  • Navy Vet

    Merry Christmas Michael, and to all your family and friends.

    May your New Year be filled with blessings and contentment.

  • Isn’t it interesting how this stuff by Crossan is considered “radical” or “cutting edge”? The Confessing Church did the same thing with the Barmen Declaration, stating “Jesus Christ is Lord”, therefore denying the lordship of the Fuhrer. And Martin Niemoller did the same, preaching that “GOD is my Fuhrer.”

    Sadly, the proclamation of “Jesus is Lord” to many people means, “believe this happened once,” that God acted in history long ago. On Christmas, we remember that the story didn’t just “happen”–it’s happening. The incarnation is inevitable, no matter how many soldiers Harod sends against the Christ child. God’s victory is just around the corner at Easter.

  • Beliefs system then and now have some generalizations and compatibilities to circumstances of today. While we don’t have a king to rule over us, we do have leaders that are acting like that. The Christ we serve is deserving of all praise and honor, but is making others feel trapped or indignant to exalting him to the level that makes not serving him an intolerant bias that those who are not christian in their beliefs a condemnation to an eternal hell.