Gospels

Yamazaki-Ransom, K. The Roman Empire in Luke’s Narrative

Kazuhiko Yamazaki-Ransom places his ‘The Roman Empire in Luke’s Narrative’ in the growing scholarly interest in the political aspects of the New Testament.

The first half of this book is a long introduction. After a general introduction in chapter 1, Yamazaki-Ransom develops his two models for the analysis the Roman and Herodian rulers in chapter 2. These models are called ‘binary’ and ‘triangular’, the binary model being the model the Jews desired for their government (without foreign dominion, only God and his people, therefore binary), and the triangular also involving foreign rule. In chapter 3 follows a profound discussion of the imperial and cosmic contexts of the gospel of Luke and Acts.

In chapters 4 and 5 in the second half of his book, Yamazaki-Ransom exposes two groups of rulers, Roman governors of Palestine and members of the Herodian dynasty who served the Romans as client rulers, to the two models he developed in chapter 2.
The increasing interest in the political aspects of the New Testament is a positive development, so the subject of this book in itself makes it meritorious. However, with his limitation of the discussion to the five Roman governors and three Herodians mentioned by Luke, in my opinion the author only superficially covers the subject. I see the gospels as coded narratives in which the anti-Roman political aspect is much more prominent than Yamazaki-Ransom’s analysis shows. The war between the Jews and the Romans is the hidden subject of the gospels. Of the four gospel writers, Luke is the most politically aware, which means that he provides the most extensive information concerning the Roman empire and the conflict of the Jews with their foreign oppressors. The clearest example of Lukan encoding is the parable of the ten pounds in Chapter 19, in which it is not so difficult to discern the Roman emperor Vespasian.
In Chapter 3, the author discusses the imperial and cosmic contexts of Luke’s works. I believe that, although this discussion is interesting and insightful, the cosmic dimension that the author perceives is non-existent. For Yamazaki-Ransom, Satan is the symbol of this cosmic dimension, but as Satan/the devil is a code word for the emperor Nero in at least two instances in Luke (the temptation passage and Chapter 11:17-18), the imperial and cosmic dimension are one and the same. Luke’s story is about Jewish messianic (= imperial) ideology as a reaction to Roman imperial ideology.
Throughout his book Yamazaki-Ransom clearly shows how Luke redefined the ‘people of God’ from an ethnic Jewish notion into the ideological notion of ‘followers of Jesus Christ’. This way he makes the division between Judaism and early Christianity insightful.