The Political Aims of Jesus.

Author:Bailey, James L.
Position:Book review

The Political Aims of Jesus. By Douglas E. Oakman. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012. ISBN: 978-0-8006-3847-4 . xiii and 192 pages. Paper. $26.00.

This volume by Douglas Oakman, professor of religion at Pacific Lutheran University, focuses on the "political Jesus"--the historical peasant theologian who engaged the power arrangements and economic realities of Palestine in his day. Oakman views this work as an act of recovery since later Gospel layers interpret Jesus after his death as the risen Christ who will return as the eschatological Son of Man, not primarily as the peasant figure concerned with economical and political transformation and restoration.

Oakman develops his tightly argued thesis in six chapters. In the opening chapter he revisits the eighteenth-century scholar Reimarus who pictured Jesus as a worldly Messiah with political aims that were interpreted quite differently by his later disciples. By sketching interpretations down to the present, Oakman shows how subsequent interpreters (including Albert Schweitzer) largely ignored Reimarus' political emphasis, casting Jesus rather in eschatological and spiritual terms. Since 1980, however, scholars active in the current quest for the historical Jesus with their focus on archaeological evidence as well as primary literary sources (e.g., Josephus, Roman and New Testament writings) and with their use of social theory and models have elucidated more clearly "Jesus' first-century, Palestinian context, and in terms that are consonant with Israelite traditions" (16). Growing awareness on that context, Oakman suggests, demands taking Jesus' political agenda seriously.

In chapter two, David Christian's social-scientific model of "agrarian civilizations" is adopted as most useful in interpreting first-century Palestine. These were societies based on agriculture in which patronage of the elite in the state-urbanized areas (cities) controlled peasant labor and surpluses by tributes and taxes. He places Jesus and his political action squarely within the Galilean peasant class, a class both necessary to and exploited by the ruling elite.

Chapter three discusses the changes in power arrangements within Palestine and more narrowly within Galilee under the "aristocratic politics" of Herod Antipas, which fostered social stratification, control of land and peasants by use of taxes, warfare, and conscripted labor, and improvements in infrastructure benefiting the elite, not peasants. In that...

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