Good Tidings of Caesar and Jesus

“The most divine Caesar…we should consider equal to the Beginning of all things…for when everything was falling into disorder and tending toward dissolution, he restored it once more and gave the whole world a new aspect; Caesar…the common good Fortune of all…The Beginning of life and vitality…All the cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the divine Caesar as the new beginning of the year…Whereas the Providence which has regulated our whole existence…has brought our life to the climax of perfection in giving to us the emperor Augustus…who being sent to us and our descendants as Savior, has put an end to war and has set all things in order; and whereas, having become God manifest, Caesar has fulfilled all the hopes of earlier times…the birthday of the God Augustus has been for the whole world the beginning of good news concerning him.” (The Priene Inscription, written 9 BCE)

“Thine age, O Caesar, has brought back fertile crops to the fields,…has wiped away our sins and revived the ancient virtues,…and the fame and majesty of our empire were spread from the sun’s bed in the west to the east. As long as Caesar is the guardian of the state, neither civil dissension nor violence shall banish peace.” (Horace, Odes 4.15, published 13 BCE)

Luke 2:1-20 (New Revised Standard Version)

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

“As Ernst Barker pointed out… the Roman empire was a religious as well as a political reality. Just as a city-state entailed a civic religion, ‘an Empire-State entailed an empire-worship; and an empire-worship in turn … entailed the worship of an emperor.’ And, in connection with the nativity narrative in Luke 2, the important point is to realize that the key symbols of the sacral imperial politics were that Caesar (Augustus and his successors) was the divine savior who had brought peace to the world.” – Richard Horsley, The Liberation of Christmas, pg. 28


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