Book Reviews

Galatians and the Imperial Cult

Justin K. Hardin Tübingen 2008-03-31

Hardin proposes that the underlying problem in Galatians is related to emperor worship and not to indigenous religions of Anatolia. He argues cogently that the “local Jewish-believer agitators were . . . compelling Gentile Jesus-believers to undergo circumcision in an effort to convince the authorities that Christianity was part of a religio licita” (p. 12). The agitators, who were local Galatians and not emissaries from Jerusalem (pp. 94, 152), sought to have Gentile believers join the ranks of Judaism through circumcision (Gal. 6:12). Thus the agitators hoped to avoid persecution from the civil authorities “for affiliating with Gentiles who had ceased observing the public worship of the emperor” (p. 150). Circumcised Gentiles “would have ‘normalised’ [sic] their place in society” (pp. 142–43).

In chapters 2 and 3 Hardin discusses the pervasiveness of the imperial cult in the Roman Empire, including the province of Galatia, with the cult’s numerous civic celebrations, festivals, and games. Then in the following chapters he discusses the motives of the agitators in Galatians 6:12–13 and Paul’s reference to “days, months, seasons, years” in 4:10. Hardin suggests that this latter verse refers not to Jewish calendar observances but to the calendar of the emperor with its celebrations of birthdays of the emperor and his family and public sacrifices, games, and feasts. Gentile believers in Galatia participated in worshipping the emperor because they were probably “under pressure to continue with their pagan practices” and thus were “motivated from socio-political concerns” (p. 150).

Paul’s focus on Jesus Christ as God’s Son (4:4) was designed to demolish the concept in the Roman Empire that the emperor was “a son of a god.” Besides responding to the charges and false teachings of the agitators, Paul in Galatians was confronting the Galatian believers’ observances of the imperial cult and the possibility of their turning to Judaism by being circumcised.

This scholarly work, an adaptation of the author’s Cambridge University dissertation, deserves careful study and consideration.

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