Book reviews

Horsley, R. A. (ed.) Hidden Transcripts and the Arts of Resistance – Applying the Work of James C. Scott to Jesus and Paul

James C. Scott’s Domination and the Arts of Resistance was an intense reading experience. While reading Scott’s magisterial work it became clear to me that his ideas about resistance to power can apply perfectly to the Jews under Roman occupation. Therefore I was eagerly looking forward to the present volume which elaborates Scott’s ideas and relates them to the origins of Christianity.

My high expectations for this book were not entirely fulfilled. My greatest criticism is that the potential of Scott’s ideas about power relations has not been used to its full potential. Also, several contributions do not primarily focus on Jesus and Paul but rather on the importance of Scott’s analysis for biblical scholarship. Nevertheless this book offers a lot of interesting insights.
In the introduction, for example, Horsley mentions that Scott’s work can open the eyes of biblical scholars to the harsh social reality the Jews had to deal with under the Romans, and that a whole range of political dynamics are hidden between the lines of the sources. He shows how political disguise, anonymity and ambiguous language are present in the gospels.
In his contribution, Callahan describes the New Testament times as an age of revolt, with the ‘kingdom of God’ as an alternative for Roman imperial rule. However, no connection is made between Jesus and the Great Revolt of 66-70 CE.
In his essay, Herzog discusses the Markan pericope ‘Paying Taxes to Caesar’, which is one of the highlights of this book. The author describes Jesus’ part in this conflict with the Herodians and Pharisees as ‘an ambiguous and coded version of the hidden transcript of resistance to Roman colonial rule’.
Another highlight is Neil Elliott’s contribution on ‘Strategies of Resistance and Hidden Transcripts in the Pauline Communities’. He adds an important dimension to the existing scholarship on Paul’s anti-Roman activism and the anti-Roman cryptograms in his letters. Elliott argues that Paul built his communities on a foundation of egalitarianism and mutualism ‘in deliberate contradiction of the prevalent ideology and iconography of Roman power’.

In conclusion, I can say that although this book touches subjects like ‘fierce and desperate wars’ and Jewish ‘robust collective memory of revolutionary resistance and divine deliverance from oppression’, it wrongly places Jesus’ resistance against Roman oppression somewhere between quiescence and revolt. Scott indeed gives a great deal of attention to low profile resistance against domination, but he also speaks of revolution as its rare and extreme form. A superficial reading of the gospels leads to this kind of low profile resistance, but a deeper reading reveals them to be an encoded account of the career of the Galilean revolutionary leader Jesus son of Saphat. More could have been achieved with Scott’s groundbreaking work.