Thursday, January 16, 2014


The intro chapters of John Crossan’s The Historical Jesus paint a picture of life in the Roman Empire at the turn of the first millennium. If you were a peasant or lived anywhere near the piece of real estate the Romans planned on conquering next? Well, it sure doesn’t look the “good old days” to me. If you were lucky the taxman and your landlord let you keep about half of what you grew. In the conquered lands death was probably preferable to ending up on a Roman auction block. 

When Octavius Caesar became Augustus and took control of what was left of the old republic and finally admitted Rome was really an empire the country was coming out of nearly a century of civil war. Imperial mythology and the apologetics of historians built the image of an empire meant to rule the world and enforce the peace. Gee, where have we heard THAT recently.

“Augustan peace is real and still has much to do with fertility of field and prosperity of city and it would be untrue to confine its benefits to Rome or even to Italy alone. But peace at home now goes hand in hand with war abroad. Maybe peace is retained at home precisely by wars maintained abroad. “ Crossan in Historical Jesus pp. 41.

Gaius Cornelius Tacitus was a Roman senator and historian born mid first century CE. But, he was born in Gaul, may have been at least partly Celtic by birth. At any rate he was more sympathetic to the resistance of the native British to the conquest of the island by the Romans.

His father in law was one of the generals who helped conquer Britain and later served as governor. In his biography of Agricola he attributes this speech to the Caledonian general Calgacus.

“Harriers of the world, now that earth fails their all devastating hands they probe even the sea: if their enemy has wealth, they have greed; if he is poor they are ambitious; East and West have glutted them; alone of mankind they behold with the same passion of concupiscence waste alike and want. To plunder, butcher, steal these things they misname empire; they make a desolation and call it peace.”

“They make a desolation and call it peace.” That ancient Scotsman may have been the first to say it, but he wasn’t the last. And Rome wasn’t the only empire to make war abroad to keep something called “peace” at home. 

Only we aren't at peace are we? We call it peace yet the death toll mounts. The land is poisoned and the stock market climbs. The country's vegetable basket is in the worst drought since the middle 1800's and the farmland closer to where we live is covered in subdivisions and parking lots. 

They make a desolation and call it peace. Not in this world or the next. 

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