Saturday, March 25, 2023

Nope, not stasis!

If you continuously show that the Christians are disruptive, aren’t the Athenian prosecutors basically right to try Paul? Wouldn’t the Philippians or the Ephesian Demetrius have correctly discerned that the economic unfolding of Christian practice is a threat to religiously based economic or political order? Wouldn’t the Romans be right to judge Christians seditious, guilty of the crime of riot-causing revolt—the dreaded stasis, the punishment for which is death? Wherever they go, the Christians upset normal cultural patterns, which in turn leads to disorder. What more in the way of evidence is needed?

You are very close to the truth, Luke might reply, but, alas, sit on the wrong side of it. The Christians do in fact bring the possibility of disorder, but such disorder is not the same thing as stasis. In fact, Paul was accused of this very crime—and declared innocent.

The second feature of Luke’s view of church is thus his negation of a particular way of interpreting the cultural disorder brought by Christianity’s arrival. Over the course of a long stretch of the end of Acts (24:1—26:32), Luke tells of Paul's trial for stasis. This trial is the narrative culmination of a long series of occasions when the Christians have been brought before local authorities and accused of disruption. In this particular case, Paul’s opponents have a good argument, at least prima facie. Paul has incited a riotous crowd in the capital of Judea—in Roman eyes, one of the more incendiary provinces of the ancient world—and drawn the attention of the local tribune Claudius Lysias (Acts 21:27-23:35). Upon learning that Paul is a Roman citizen and dealing with a plot to take his life, Lysias does the most politically careful thing he can and sends Paul under protective escort to Judea’s governor in Caesarea for trial.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 137

<idle musing>
And again, he is found innocent. Yes, Paul and the Christian message bring disruption to the local order, but that disruption is a good disruption, not stasis. The same arguments are brought against the early Christians repeatedly. Tertullian, around 200, has to defend the Christians against the same charges. He doesn't deny that the Christian message is disruptive—it plainly is—but instead argues that Christians make the best citizens because they pray for the empire and don't cause stasis.

Would that the same were true of Christians today!
</idle musing>

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