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Rome

On Jesus and social justice

A poster from Cuba depicts Jesus the revolutionary. 

By Phil Shannon

Christmas seems an appropriate time to turn to the question of the relationship between Christianity and social change. Do pacifism and non-violence, and social change through personal change — which are among the values shared by progressive Christians and secular greens — offer a way forward?

Two thousand years ago in Palestine, exploitation by Rome and its quisling Hebrew ruling class meant severe poverty, political repression and an average life expectancy of around 30 years (less if it was found out that you thought the Romans should go home).

Of the contending politico-religious groups, the Sadducees advocated collaboration with Rome. A moderate wing of the Pharisees, who represented the middle class and the lower and middle priests, embodied the strategy of timid liberal dissent — one proverb said of them "when arms clash in the street, retire to your chamber".

A more militant wing of the Pharisees supported direct action against Caesar and Herod. They eventually split to form the Zealots with a rebel force of peasants from Galilee. Intensely nationalist and religious, the Zealots adopted armed struggle and led large popular uprisings.

The Essenes rejected all political strategies in favour of cultivating personal spiritual perfection.

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