By Aaron James Buay, Nicodemus George Lim, Yap Jing Yuan & Kenneth Emmanual
Collectively, our group has chosen to do the impacts that the crucifixion of Jesus the Nazarene has inflicted on ancient Roman society. More specifically, we will be focusing on these impacts in the context of wealth and class division. In brief ; What the pre-existing wealth and class structures and divisions were prior to the crucifixion of Jesus, what changes were induced following his death. We will also attempt to offer insight on how these changes and critiques had led to or/and impacted his death. Enjoy!
Christianity, Wealth & Social Classes: (Ondari,W, 2001)
JESUS’S VIEWS ON WEALTH AND CLASS IN ROME
Biblical texts like:
“Truly I say to you that with difficulty a rich person will enter into the kingdom of heaven! And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich person into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23–24).
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)
Jesus’ view of governance and taxation was pretty neutral, except he denounced the people fearing the government and mistaking the authorities as a “divine power”.
Well pretty much throughout Jesus’ time on Earth he has condemned the lack of wealth redistribution to the poor. A biblical analysis shows that Jesus’ teachings on the gift of eternal life, is begotten by charitable acts. He also believes that wealth should be put aside for the sake of following the works of God. That comes with the idea, of humanity helping one another, by reaching out the poor. Wealth and material possessions in turn, should not be a priority in life, for life is only temporary.
On the contrary, the Roman Empire was built on slavery and a huge societal divide. Slavery contributed a huge sum to Ancient Rome’s agricultural slave economy, generating huge income for the wealthy. Everyone placed a heavy emphasis on social status in Ancient Rome.
So all in all, Jesus’ teachings did indeed bring about change in the perceptions of the then-current socioeconomic climate of Rome. With his growing amount of followers during his time, he preached that one can be liberated from eternal damnation by sharing. His teachings spread throughout Israel and Judaea, which covered quite a mass populace then!
Teachings like: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” or “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven”.
This was later seen as political activism by the state, leading to Jesus’ eventual crucifixion under Pontius Pilate.
As a result we see the segregation in perspective between the Romans and the Christians with regards to the issue of wealth and class.
Christianity’s View of Wealth & Class Division:
This quote on its own speaks heaps about the view that Christianity has towards the the poor. In many other quotes within the gospel, there is this constant reiteration of the belief that god has that the poor will always be welcomed to heaven, his home.
There is a constant reiteration through many of the teachings within the old and new testament of Jesus’s teachings - especially that of his love and concern towards the poor and less privileged. The constant reiteration of inclusiveness of the poor and handicapped as exemplified above in Luke 14:13, this example is further supported by Isaiah 58:6-7 - “Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter - when you see the naked, to clothe them” These two examples substantiate the view that Christianity has on the wealth: It should not be a factor that divides people because they are all seen to be the children of god regardless of how wealthy they are.
Roman View of Wealth & Class Division
The Roman Empire was built on a system that hinged on slavery and the subjugation of slaves. This distinct structure that built itself on slavery communicates a clear and direct message of the Roman view of wealth and social classes. Slaves were the lowest life forms in the social structure, often being associated to “res” - or “things”. Inanimate objects whom were disregarded and looked down on. (Burks, A,2008) There is this constant reiteration of social divides and distinct lines between the normal folk, and these slaves. Another interesting point in regard to the Roman’s view of social classes, is their perception of their emperors and rulers. The pagan Romans viewed their rulers and emperors as ethereal beings, in an almost god-like fashion. (Saylor Foundation)
DISPARITY BETWEEN THE TWO VIEWS
Although there is already a disparity due his teachings to the Christians. Jesus further pushed for his cause through his actions, strengthening the beliefs of many of the Christians became a significant contributing factor for his crucifixion.
How his actions led to his eventual crucifixion
Jesus has little regards for the roman societal and cultural norm. Mainly the way in which Jesus was a symbol of hope and relief for many of the poor where he disregarded the Roman Kingdom but instead preach of the Real Kingdom, the Kingdom of God where they will find peace and happiness amidst the chaotic Roman Empire during that time, putting an end to their poverty and suffering. He helped and cared for those poor people, which was something that was against the roman norms. This made crowds of people gather around him to hear his words, and it is these gatherings that made the authorities felt threatened by the influence that this man have to raise a movement that Jesus was ordered to be executed.
Also, he defiantly and openly address the limitations of the human rulers and the institutions that have been built to govern and overlook the people, in comparison to God who holds the ultimate power. This goes against the key pillars that upholds the Roman Empire, which is the Emperor and the political institutions. As such, his revolutionary ideas threatens and undermines the thousands of years of social tradition which led to the built up of the decision to crucify him.
Therefore, we see that his teachings which goes against and threatens the societal norms and culture of the Roman Empire has played a huge impact on the decision of the authorities to execute Jesus in such a brutal manner of crucifixion.
Other Supplementary Information
Before Jesus' Death
Numerous social impacts resulted prior to the death of Jesus the Nazarene. Yet none of these were as prominent as the influence on the social constructs that existed in Roman Civilization for a long time before the birth of Jesus. (3 BC till 28/34 AD). Prior to this, people that resided within the roman empire accepted the existing social constructs, of superiority and wealth. Wealth was a concept that placed an individual above another, making him (the individual) superior.
In Luke 4:14; Leviticus 25 proclaimed the year, the Jubilee year where it would bring equality in Palestine in regard to the Sabbath. In fulfillment of this prophecy, Jesus proclaimed a new social order, where the rich would give to the poor and captives would be free from their hearers.
Such an impact can in no way be understated because even prior to his death, there was a strong belief in his new social order and social construct where equality was was created. This underlying concept can be seen to be crucially significant because it influences the concept of equality that we have today. These teachings and preaching, exist today in that very form, stemming from the call for social reforms that Jesus of the Nazarene preached prior to his death.
Viewing social impacts along the a wider chronological line, the social impacts could be perceived in various forms, namely reforms, revolutions and remuneration (changes in individuals that eventually led to changes in society).
252 AD: The Christians of Corinth saved the city through saving people that were dragged out onto the streets to die.
312 AD: Half of the Roman Empire came under the political and social influence of Christianity under the rule of Constantine leading up to the expansion and widespread preaching of Christianity.
Middle Age: Monasteries and other Christian establishments served for the good of the people, as Hospitals and places of scholastic developments and growth.
Leading up a negative social impact such as the Crusades (The Holy War)
Prior to the death of Jesus the Nazarene, various events and happenings occurred leading to Jesus’s eventual spiritual and political importance (Between 3 BC - (between 28 - 34 AD)).
The temptations in the desert. (Luke 3:21-4:14)
This signified that Jesus was greater than all these temptations, placing him on a pedestal where his morality was unquestionable and beyond corruption; as his choice to suffer punishment rather than to harm others made him altruistic. This would subsequently expand his political reach.
Jesus’s Platform Speech. (Luke 4:14)
His political position is further augmented and supplemented by the fulfilment of the prophecy in Isaiah 61, where social order would be restored - he created a new order in Nazareth where the Rich would give to the poor, and the captives would be free. Social order and restructuring social constructs is something that requires political dominance and influence to implement, which is seen in Luke 6:21.
AFTER THE DEATH OF JESUS THE NAZARENE
The immediate social impact upon the death of Jesus the Nazarene, was first felt by those who witnessed his crucifixion at Golgotha around 30 - 36 CE. According to many accounts, after Jesus let out a cry quoting “My God, why have you forsaken me?”; the earth shook and there was an eclipse during Jesus’ last hours of life. It was reported that at this point, the guards, centurion and witnesses; came to a realization that Jesus was indeed sent by God. This shows us that Jesus’ death did create an immediate impact upon the people at Golgotha. Such a link is hence drawn back to the traditional belief of the Jews where the Son of Man would be wrongly accused and sentenced to death.
However, the greater spread of the belief in Jesus, came three days after his death, in which his body was missing from the tomb where they laid him. Separate readings have stated either Joseph and Nicodemus or Mary Magdalene and Mary Mother of James witnessed Jesus’ body missing from the tomb. Either way, the prophecy of God, where Jesus was to rise again, was believed to be fulfilled, creating a massive oral tradition thereafter. Majority of the records in history suggested that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and visited his disciples. This therefore led to the widespread “Good News” of God, as the Jews’ prophecy was fulfilled; creating a mass amount of followers and believers.
The greatest resonating impact of the Death of Jesus upon the social aspects of society around 36 CE, was the birth a whole religion, Catholicism. The religion was derived from Judaism, keeping a large number of its beliefs, for example: The Ten Commandments and also combining it with the teachings of Jesus himself. The future impact is seen today, with an estimated 2.1 Billion Christians within the world’s population.
Colossians 2:13-15 was the first example of the beginning of the restoration of humanity.
It exemplifies that any mortal being had the power to reject the powers that dominated them and the corruption that they entailed. Jesus submitted himself willingly to these roman powers but refused to partake in the corruption that they entailed and this itself was evidence that salvation existed, through uniting and refuting a false power that disobeyed the prowess of God.
The main significance of Jesus’ crucifixion, represented hope for people that they did not have to live beholden to a system that disregarded them. His crucifixion is often regarded as the beginning of a revolution; the spread of Christianity and upsurge of political equality.
Even up till today Jesus's presence is extremely strong in people who are in poverty, lower end of the world and society. They are the people living in poverty, hunger, conflict and epidemics. But Jesus is what they would refer to as the compass to point them towards the direction of liberation from their suffering. In many countries in Africa, they feel that Jesus is still a figure that feels and represents the majority who are suffering. As such, many seek the peace and assurance they so much desire in Christ.