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Reading Romans in the Shadow of Empire

Written on April 7th, 2016

July 11-15, 2016 [On-Campus Summer Intensive]

Paul’s letter to the Romans is seen by many as the centrepiece of his epistles, providing a summary of his theology and the key to his thought. We will, however, read Romans as a thoroughly situational letter, written to communities shaped by the culture and beliefs of imperial Rome, struggling not only with their own social contexts, but also with the place of Judeans and the story of Israel in their midst. The social status of the believing communities in Rome, as well as the social dislocation of many residents of Rome will provide a context for reading Romans from below, as a letter to communities struggling with what it means to be faithful in a context of slavery, poverty and violent distrust of the stranger.

ICS Course Code: ICS 150205/250205 S16
Instructor: Dr. Sylvia C. Keesmaat
Term and Year: July 11-15, 2016 [On-Campus Summer Intensive]

Reading Schedule

  • Day 1: Introduction: The Story of Rome and the Story of Israel; Hermeneutical Issues; Romans 16 and Reading from Below
  • Day 2: Reading Romans: The Shape of the Letter and chapters 1-8: Idolatry, Creational Groaning and the Imperial Economy
  • Day 3: Reading Romans chapters 4, 9-11: Whose Story? Aeneas, Abraham and Israel
  • Day 4: Reading Romans chapters 12-15: Imperial Honour, Violence, and the State versus a Community of Welcoming Generosity
  • Day 5: Reading Romans into the future. The letters as a whole and the believing community

Course Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  1. discern the central themes of Paul’s letter to the Romans and its relation to the context of the Roman believers in order to articulate the theology and rhetorical impact of the letter.
  2. situate this letter in the context of first century imperial culture, myth and social structure, as well as within the scriptures of Israel so as to discern the complex negotiation of this letter in relation to both imperial realities and first century Judaisms.
  3. situate this letter in relation to Paul’s other letters and the history of first century Christianity as a whole.
  4. constructively and creatively discern how Paul’s engagement with imperial realities in the first century illuminates contemporary believer interactions with our own imperial realities.

Institute for Christian Studies

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To register for this course please visit the Institute for Christian Studies Register Form

Course Requirements and Description and Weighting of Elements to be Evaluated
  1. Readings for class discussion
  2. Participation in class seminars
  3. One short reflection paper, five pages long
  4. One research paper, 12-15 pages BD; 18-20 pages AD
  5. Description and weighting of elements to be evaluated:
    1. Class participation: 30%
    2. Reflection paper: 20%
    3. Research Project/Paper: 50%
Required Readings

Neil Elliott, The Arrogance of Nations: Reading Romans in the Shadow of Empire. Paul in Critical Contexts. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008). (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: BS2665.52 .E45 2008 ; Knox, Regis, Robarts: BS 2665.52 .E45 2008)

Steven J. Friesen, “Poverty in Pauline Studies: Beyond the So-Called New Consensus” JSNT 26.3 (2004) 323-361. (UofT Libraries e-resource:

Sylvia C. Keesmaat and Brian J. Walsh, Romans Disarmed (Brazos Press, forthcoming)

Sylvia C. Keesmaat, “Reading Romans in the Capital of the Empire” in Reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans ed. by Jerry L. Sumney (Atlanta, GA: SBL, 2012) 47-64. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: BS 2665.52 .R43 2012)

Peter Oakes, Reading Romans in Pompeii: Paul’s Letter at Ground Level (Minneapolis/London: Fortress/SPCK, 2009). (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: BS 2665.52 .O18 2009 ; Regis, Robarts, Trinity: BS 2665.52 .O18 2009)
Peter Oakes, “Constructing Poverty Scales for Graeco-Roman Society: A Response to Steven Friesen’s ‘Poverty in Pauline Studies’” JSNT 26.3 (2004): 367-71. (UofT Libraries e-resource: )

Some Recommended Readings

Karl, P. Donfried, ed., The Romans Debate. Revised and Expanded Edition. (Peabody, Mass.: Henrickson, 1991). (Knox, Regis, Trinity: BS 2665.2 .R65 1991)

Reta Haltemann Finger. Roman House Churches Today: A Practical Guide for Small Groups. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2007). 2nd Ed. (Robarts: BS 2665.5 .F56 2007)

Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989). (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: BS 2655 .R32 H39)

Richard A. Horsley, ed., Paul and Empire: Religion and Power in Roman Imperial Society. (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1997). (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: BR 170 .P38 1997)

Robert Jewett, Romans. Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007). (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: BS 2665.53 J49 2007)

Keesmaat, Sylvia C. “If Your Enemy is Hungry: Love and Subversive Politics in Romans 12-13.” Pages 141-158 in Character Ethics and the New Testament: Moral Dimensions of Scripture. Edited by

Robert L. Brawley. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007). (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: BS 2361.3 .C43 2007)

_______. “Land, Idolatry and Justice in Romans,” in Conception, Reception and the Spirit: Essays in Honour of Andrew T. Lincoln ed. J. Gordon McConville and Lloyd J. Pietersen. (Eugene, Ore.: Cascade Books, 2015), 90-103. (ICS Library Reserve: BS 511.3 .M433 2015)

______. “The Psalms in Romans and Galatians.” Pages 139-161 in The Psalms in the New Testament. Edited by Steve Moyise and Maarten J. J. Menken. (New York: T&T Clark, 2004). (Robarts, Victoria: BS 2387 .P78 2004)

Price, S.R. F. Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984). (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: DG 124 .P74 1986)

Jerry Sumney, ed., Reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans. (Atlanta, GA: SBL, 2012) 47-64. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: BS 2665.52 .R43 2012)

Wengst, Klaus. Pax Romana and the Peace of Jesus Christ. Translated by John Bowden. (London: SCM, 1987). (Victoria: BT 736.4 .W4413 ; Robarts: BT 736.4 .W3913 ; St. Michaels: BR 170 .W413)

Wright, N.T. “The Letter to the Romans: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections.” NIB 10 (1994): 393-770. (Knox, Robarts, St. Michaels, Trinity, Victoria: BS 491.2 .N484 1994 v.10)

Zanker, Paul. The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus. Translated by Alan Shapiro. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1988. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: N 5760 .Z36 1988)

Students with diverse learning styles and needs are welcome in this course. In particular, if you have a disability/health consideration that may require accommodations, please feel free to approach me and/or Student Services as soon as possible.