Re: economic conditions

David Kaylor (
Wed, 13 Mar 1996 07:32:54 +0500

Steve Davies responds to the following comment I made:
>> Further, I would cite as evidence of economic stress the growth of
>> apocalyptic literature. What gives rise to apocalyptic? It does not come
>> from good times, but from bad. Perhaps religious persecution may lead to
>> apocalyptic, but generally it arises when the social/political situation
>> seems out of control and oppressive.

Steve's first response:

>First, regarding the latter paragraph, I know that apocalyptic in the
>United States in the later twentieth century is a very powerful
>force, generating best-sellers (e.g. The Late Great Planet Earth),
>present in goverment (e.g. James Watt), influencing peoples' lives
>(the millions who look forward to the Rapture) and so on. And
>possibly this correlates with folks thinking the social/political situation
>is out of control and oppressive.


I don't know much about contemporary millenialism, but I suspect it is
related to perception that things are out of control, and that is due in
part to anxiety about -- or experience with -- economic stress. The response
Pat Buchanan has received to his economic message means he connects with
some sort of realities.

I would not want to argue simply on the basis of apocalyptic that the
situation in the first century was "objectively" bad, but I would argue that
that is one more ingredient that must be accounted for. The evidence, I
think is cumulative; without confirmation from the other elements I
mentioned, I would not necessarily conclude that the economic situation in
general was bad.

>Second, David, I'm still not clear about your thesis re:
>Jesus the Prophet. I gather that it is that Jesus gave his opinions on
>relating to the political/economic conditions of the times. I
>understand that a return to covenant justice plays a role, but what
>does that mean in actual real economic/political life? No loans? Low
>interest loans? No sexual roles? I really don't know. I hope you will spell
>your thesis out in more detail and include some comment on why it would be
>that anyone would have cared about Jesus' opinions.

"Gave his opinions"? I would put it a bit differently. I don't think Jesus
was writing for the op-ed page in the Capernaum Times. I think he was
preaching, healing. Why would people listen? Because they saw in him someone
who spoke to their needs, who cared about their condition, who brought God's
kingdom into their midst and who gave them hope for the future. He connected
the tradition of covenant justice with their present situation, he led them
to believe God cared for them in their context, he made it seem that they
mattered. Hope, I think, is a key word. Without it, people perish; with hope
they can begin to take charge of their lives, make their voices heard,
assert their humanity and dignity. Had he not been a charismatic person (at
least in my definition, and possible in yours as well), no one would have
listened. He was no Bob Dole; he had a vision that sparked their imagination
and claimed their support.

I do not think they followed him because they thought he was God; but they
must have thought he had an authority granted him by God, that he was
endowed with God's Spirit, that his message was not "his opinions" but the
gospel of God's kingdom.

Is that very far from what you think he was doing?


R. David Kaylor
Religion Department
Davidson College