Book reviews

Hardin, J.K., Galatians and the Imperial Cult – A Critical Analysis of the First-Century Social Context of Paul’s Letter

This book, based on a Ph.D. thesis, is divided into two main parts. The first part, on the imperial cult in the Roman empire and in the new Roman province of Galatia, is highly informative. The great influence of the imperial cult on public life and behavior in this remote part of the Roman empire is clearly depicted.

In the second part the author asks, albeit reservedly, if some verses of Galatians might have something to do with the imperial cult and with Paul’s opposition to it. He mainly concentrates on Paul’s postscript to this letter and to the ‘days, months, seasons, years’ verse in chapter 4. In my opinion Hardin could have made a bolder statement if he had taken into account the anti-Roman character of Paul’s letters in general, and this undercurrent in Galatians in particular. If Paul mentions ‘the present evil age’, to what else could he be alluding than to the present Roman rule as opposed to the future messianic age under divine justice? If he speaks of a gospel ‘contrary to that which you received’, to what other gospel could he be alluding than to the Roman gospel of the benefactions bestowed by the emperor? Moreover the discussion of the freedom theme in Galatians is missing. All this would have supported his correct observations that the verses mentioned above refer to the imperial cult.

The author wonders if recent scholarly attention to the imperial cult in Paul’s letters is only a passing phenomenon. I would hope it is not. In my opinion Paul’s opposition to the imperial cult is an important part of the general anti-Roman tendency of his mission and letters.

One minor point in this important book is the frequent mention of ‘Jesus-believers’, an element which is left utterly unsubstantiated. I think Paul’s epistle to the Galatians is better understood in the light of Paul’s mission as a propagator of the future Christ, an Essene/Jewish anti-emperor.