Saturday, February 15, 2014

Blogger Jim West Reviews SUBVERSIVE MEALS

Subversive Meals

I very much appreciate R. Alan Strett sending along a copy of his new volume for review-

Subversive Meals examines the Lord’s Supper within the sociopolitical context of first-century Roman domination, and concludes that it was an anti-imperial praxis.

    "Although the Christian communal meal looked much like a typical Roman banquet in structure,  with a deipnon and a symposion, it was essentially different. The Roman meal supported the empire’s ideology, honored Caesar and the gods, reinforced stratification among the masses, and upheld Rome’s right to rule the world. The Christian meal, on the other hand, included hymns that extolled Jesus as Lord, prophecies that challenged Rome’s ideological claims, and letters—read aloud—that promoted egalitarianism and instructed believers on how to live according to kingdom of God principles. Hence, the Christian banquet was an act of nonviolent resistance, or what James C. Scott calls a hidden transcript.”

His essay in the newly appearing T&T Clark Handbook was very engaging.  So is his book.

Following on the introduction, which offers readers a rationale for the work and an explanation of it’s place in historical studies and the methods to be used, S. in chapter two discusses Roman banquets and their serving as a model for the Lord’s Supper.  Having done that, S. arrives at what I believe to be the key chapter, “The Passover as an Anti-Imperial Activity” which is closely followed by chapter 4′s theme- the Jesus movement in its context and chapters five and six, Luke’s use of meals as anti-imperial rhetoric and the Last Supper as anti-imperial banquet respectively.

In other words, chapters 3, 5 and 6 are the core of the book.  In these chapters S. explains in careful detail the purpose and meaning of banquets and meals for first century persons and the Lord’s Supper as an exposition of anti-imperial sentiments.

The danger of Streett’s work is that readers may be left with the impression that the Jesus movement was merely one of many political movements fashioning itself upon Roman anti-Imperial sentiments.  But a close reading of the book corrects that potential first impression.

The book closes with a chapter devoted to the anti-Imperial nature of Christian meals and “Prophecy as an anti-Imperial meal activity”.  Here Streett could potentially be accused of reading too much into the meal practices of the early church.  But once again, careful attention to what Streett says disabuses readers of any such insufficient understanding.

Streett’s careful scholarship is thoroughly commendable. His language is conservative but he understands the issues well enough to advise readers of other viewpoints.  Take, for just one example, his exposition of Col 1:15-20 on pp. 228ff.  He writes:

    "The letter to the Colossians contains another embedded song that Christians likely sang regularly at their banquets."

If you raised your eyebrow at that suggestion you aren’t alone.  And Streett is aware of that, instantly offering a medium length footnote explaining other possibilities.

At the end of each chapter, Streett carefully brings together the conclusions of that chapter.  A fair way to read the volume, in my view, is to read these concluding sections consecutively and then once having done that begin reading the chapters in their entirety followed by the conclusions once more.  Doing so will trigger a number of ‘ahah!’ moments.

This is a fine study, perfectly commendable and incredibly instructive.


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