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Biblical Archaeology Review 49:2, Summer 2023

Book Review: Render Unto Caesar

By Zeba Crook

Every book is a product of its time and place. This book’s time and place? The fierce political, cultural, and theological polarization that characterizes contemporary America. The author, New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan, seeks to explore the precarious balance between secular culture and religion, using as his stepping off point Jesus’s rebuke of Peter for his focus on human (rather than divine) concerns (Mark 8:33).

Commendably, Crossan does not fall into the common modern fallacy of equating Jesus’s distinction between ta tou Theou (“the [things] of God”) and ta Kaisaros (“the [things] of Caesar”) with an anachronistic separation of church and state (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25). Recognizing that such a separation is impossible, Crossan counsels the reader to understand the two Greek phrases very broadly, to include the cultural and political power (rule) of God and the cultural and political power (rule) of Caesar.

Crossan’s work is more biblical theology than biblical scholarship, in that his main purpose is to address whether contemporary Christians can “live in a single world with both God and Caesar.” He presents two well-known but problematic answers that the New Testament provides to this question (demonization and acculturation), and a preferable answer (confrontation) that is actually found outside of early Christian literature.

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