3: Empire & the Sacred


Domination Theology: taxes and plunder

  • What is Domination Theology?
    • From Egypt, domination theology: the use of powerful ritual and sacred
      symbolism to prove your empire’s might and authority.
  • Egyptian priesthood (i.e. those who could read) collect taxes and fund pyramids
  • Their wealth and literacy made them powerful. Pharaoh was declared a living god.
  • The temple priesthood enacted pharoah’s imperial (Lit. conqueror) theology
  • The Romans perfect domination theology

I. The Roman Empire

Augustus, Divi Fillius
Augustus, Son of  Divinity
c. 30 BCE

Key Terms

  • Domination Theology
    • Pharaoh
    • The Aeneid
    • The Crusades
    • Kamikaze (神風)
    • Islamic State
  • Resistance Theology
    • Judah Maccabee
    • Moses
    • Gandhi
    • Confucius
    • Muhammad
    • Buddha
    • Jesus
  • Four Columns of Imperial Power

The Aeneid

For these Romans I set no limits, of world or time, but make the gift of empire without end…Lords of the world, the toga-bearing Romans. Such is our pleasure.

Jupiter to Aphrodite

  • The Divine Caesar (1st century BCE)
    • The Aeneid commissioned by Augustus Caesar
      • It’s a sort of pre–Christian Bible for Romans and Roman culture
      • In it, God (Jupiter) gives the world to the Romans to conquer
    • Augustus is heir to Julius Caesar who was deified in 42 BCE (clip from Rome)
      • The Roman senate acknowledges Caesar as a god
        for taking Gaul (France) for the Romans
    • Augustus began calling himself "Son of the Divine”
      to capitalize on Julius Caesar’s (his adoptive father) popularity
    • In Greek–speaking areas, Augustus is known in Roman propaganda
      by the Greek title “Theou Huios” or “Son of God
    • Augustus Caesar takes control of Roman Empire in 31 BCE
  • Roman art represents Rome's dominion over colonies
    • As Julius Caesar watches from on high, Roman soldiers defeat Celts (pic)
    • Augustus Caesar and God of Victory stand over barbarian prisoner (pic)
    • Emperor Claudius over Lady Britannia (pic)
    • Emperor Nero over Lady Armenia (pic)
    • Roman soldiers take the treasures of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (pic)
  • Result: The Roman Empire grows for another 300 years, combines with Catholic Christianity, then continues under the power of Christian bishops (i.e. Byzantine Empire, Holy Roman Empire, etc.)


II. The Crusaders

  • 1054-1099: The Power of the Medieval Church is formalized
    • Catholic Church converts Northern Europe
    • Catholic Christianity becomes embedded in the culture
      • Case Study: The Institution of Marriage
        • 1059: The Pope declares marriages of consanguinuity or affinity to the seventh degree to be a sin
        • But a bishop can grant dispensation for a fee
        • 1184: Marriage is named one of the seven sacraments of Christianity
          • From now on, only the Catholic Church has the right to marry people 
  • By the 1000s, Western Europe is also filled with restless knights
    • All the pagans (e.g. Saxons, Celts, Vikings) have pretty much been converted by then
  • Pope Urban II takes cues from Spain where battles against Muslims have become legend
  • Pope declares “God wills it!” that Christians retake Jerusalem (1098) (clip)
  • As incentive, knights receive full forgiveness for past, present, and future sins if they participate
  • Europe gains:
    • Fewer knights making trouble at home
    • Islamic treasures
    • Expanded tax base
    • A hopefully reunited Christendom
  • Result: Crusades end in failure, and relations between the West and the Arab world never fully recover


III. The Japanese Empire

  • Modern Japanese Buddhism (until 1945)
  • Japanese Emperor, not the Buddha, was the chief image of adoration
  • Rhetoric: Japanese are superior to all peoples on Earth and ought to rule Asia and the Pacific (clip)
  • Kamikaze (Lit. divine wind) pilots taught that nirvana would be achieved with successful suicide attacks (clip)
  • Result: The atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki move the emperor to surrender unconditionally to the U.S. military


IV. The (so-called) Islamic State

  • Present day movement in the Middle East and North Africa, with agents in the West
  • Small minority of Islamist Extremists make the theological argument that they should have control over the Middle East
    and all previously held Islamic lands, including the northern third of Africa
  • They murder Muslims and non–Muslims who do not share their ideals (clip of condemnation)
  • Suicide bombers taught that a reward in Heaven awaits them
  • Result: The present-day war between the Modern world and Islamic Extremism


Resistance Theology: social justice


The Four Columns of Imperial Power

  • The Sociologist Michael Mann identifies 4 columns of imperial power that must be maintained
    • Military Power (violence)
    • Economic Power (labor)
    • Political Power (social institutions)
    • Ideological Power (cultural meaning and symbolism)
  • If one of these snaps, the whole imperial project comes crashing down

I. Military Power (violence)
Sometimes war is the answer.

  • Jews and Greeks: The Judean War
    • Jews resist Greek influences; culturally commemorated as Hanukkah
      • Greek soldiers desecrate the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BCE
      • Judah Maccabee (Greek: Judah the Hammer) organizes a resistance
      • The rededication of the Temple is celebrated as Hanukkah
    • Jews defend Ioudaiasmos (Jewishness) against Hellenasmos (Greekness) 
    • Result: The Greek empire is pushed out of Jerusalem.
  • Catholics and Protestants: Wars of Religion in Europe
    • Thirty Year’s War in Europe (1618-1648)
    • Catholics fight to preserve Church unity. Protestants fight for denominational religious freedom.
    • Result: An end to Roman Catholic hegemony. Millions dead in Europe (1/3 of Germany).


II. Economic Power (labor)
Sometimes a labor strike is the answer.

  • Hebrews and Egypt
    • Hebrews (forerunner of Jews) were economic subjects of Egypt
    • Moses is the hero that frees the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage (trailer). This is the story of the Exodus.
    • Result: In the shadow of the Egyptian empire, Israel becomes a nation at Mount Sinai.
  • Gandhi and British Taxes
    • Indians were forbidden to collect or sell salt by colonial Britain
    • 1930: thousands of Indians followed Gandhi 240 miles to the beach where he makes salt from seawater (trailer)
    • Gandhi and more than 60,000 others are arrested, but India’s economic fight for independence gains worldwide attention
    • Result: India breaks free of the British Empire in 1947.


III. Political Power (social institutions)
Sometimes the political process is the answer.

  • Confucius in China
    • China at the time of Confucius is divided into separate kingdoms
    • Confucius is a respected businessman and teacher who sees this discord as harmful
    • Recruited and trained civil servants in matters of public administration and political and social theory
    • Result: Confucius provided a political foundation that sustained China for over 2,000 years
  • Muhammad in Mecca
    • A fire caused the Kaaba to be moved to allow for renovations
    • Political debate over which clan would place it back into the sacred place
    • Muhammad laid a cloth, put the stone in the center, and invited each clan leader to carry a corner
    • Muhammad was a political leader focused on compromise between all monotheists
    • Result: The Constitution of Medina guarantees rights for all Believers, including Jews and Christians
  • Abolitionist movement in the United States
    • Christians lobbied politicians and organized protests against slavery in the United States
    • Identified their movement as a Christian movement. Often gave sermons.
    • Voted for fellow abolitionists to enact change through the political system
    • Result: Abolitionist movement culminates in the Emancipation Proclaimation on 1 Jan 1863.

IV. Ideological Power (cultural meaning)
And sometimes it comes down to a war of ideas.

  • Buddha and the End of the Hindu Caste System
    • The Buddha promoted the idea of equality among all people
      • This directly opposed the former Caste system in India
      • Everyone ought to be treated the same
    • All people, regardless of birth, have a Buddha–nature and the capacity to reach enlightenment
    • Result: Buddha’s teachings are carried from India through the rest of Asia and fundamentally change the East.
  • Jesus and the Roman Occupation of Israel
    • Apocalyptic Jewish expectation that a deliverer would rescue the Jews from Roman colonization
      • Deliverer would be anointed by God, the Messiah
      • Couldn't be militant (like Judah Maccabee). Rome was too strong.
      • Couldn't be economic (like Moses). The land of Israel was under direct threat. Nowhere to run.
      • Couldnt be political. The Jewish politicians (like Herod) were all paid by Rome.
    • Instead, Jesus represents an ideological attack on Roman values
      • Early Historical Jesus goes directly against the Aeneid (e.g. "the meek shall inherit the earth) (clip)
      • Begins Kingdom of God movement
        • Compare this with the Kingdom of the Divine Caesar (i.e. the Roman Empire)
    • Result: Jesus' teachings are carried from Israel through the Mediterranean and fundamentally change the West.