Imperial Presence in the Assembly

Last week we had a doctoral exam (disputatio) here at my school, the School of Mission and Theology, Stavanger -Norway. According to our system, the candidate is to present two test lectures, and have a public defense (disputatio) of her Thesis. In the disputation session two external opponents are enganged as examiners.

The presented dissertation this time dealt with James 2:1-13, and is probably the first Norwagian dissertation applying post-colonial perspectives to any New Testament text.

Ingeborg A.K. Kvammen,

Imperial Presence in the Assembly: An Interpretation of Jas 2:1-13 with a Postcolonial Optic.


This dissertation presents a historical interpretation of Jas 2:1-13 with a postcolonial optic. The postcolonial optic is used due to two reasons. First, it is suitable for the material at hand, and second, there is a research lacuna when it comes to Jas 2:1-13 and postcolonialism.
Methodologically a historical interpretation of the text and postcolonialism is combined through Vernon K. Robbins’ socio-rhetorical interpretation. With Robbins as a point of departure, the methodological focus is a) inner texture, understood as the rhetoric of the text, the structure of the text and the building of an argument, b) intertexture, with a focus on how the text relates to other Jewish-Christian texts and
the Graeco-Roman culture. The latter is found in the historical interpretation as cultural intertexture. The last focus is c) ideological texture, which in this dissertation is the postcolonial optic. The postcolonial optic is applied to Jas 2:1-13 through a focus on some key concepts within postcolonialism. These are a) imperial presence, b) the binary centre-margin, c) mimicry, d) hybrid identities, e) the oppressed becoming oppressors, f) naming of the oppressors, g) the portrayal of ‘the other’, and h) opposition towards the Empire.
There are two main obstacles to the application of a postcolonial optic to the interpretation of Jas 2:1-13. One is that of historical distance. Postcolonialism emerged 2000 years after the text of the New Testament. This is an obvious challenge to postcolonial biblical studies; however, a common focus for postcolonial studies is that they study the effects of imperial processes. One has to assume that the imperial
processes during the Roman Empire affected the imperialised, and it is these effects that are studied in this dissertation. The second obstacle to postcolonial optics and biblical interpretation is that of me as a privileged Western researcher. The crucial question is with what right I can conduct a postcolonial study. My response to this obstacle is on a general level that when a critical theory is developed within academia
it becomes available to all. However, postcolonialism should be used with sensitivity.
Bearing this in mind, the main contributions of this dissertation are: First, the unique combination of a historical interpretation with a postcolonial optic.   Second, from the historical exegesis the main contribution is the identification of the ἀνὴρ χρυσοδακτύλιος as an equestrian seeking political office, and the πτωχός as a beggar and the fact that I in this dissertation have made an interpretative point out of
this specific identification of the ἀνὴρ χρυσοδακτύλιος and the πτωχός. This interpretative point is that the main problem in Jas 2:1-13 is that the members of the assemblies are acting according to Roman cultural etiquette instead of according to their Jewish-Christian religious heritage. When they do this they show partiality, which according to James is incompatible with Christian faith, and they put their trust
towards a Roman equestrian instead of towards God. Third, from the postcolonial optic main contributions are a) the identification of an imperial presence in Jas 2:1-13 through the equestrian, b) that the main problem from the postcolonial perspective really is a case of mimicry and hybrid identities, and c)
that the main problem in the textual unit illustrates centres in conflict, namely Rome as a geographical, political and cultural centre vs. Jerusalem understood figuratively as the religious centre.

Author: TorreyS


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