Last night, my boss and I discussed the perverse similarities between the U.S. and the Roman Empire. I observed how the relationship runs as deep as the crops both emphasized. Rome mono-cropped wheat all across the empire since it proved incredibly profitable for the elite. The same thing happens in this country. Before I go any further, we need to put forward some very plain truths. First, the U.S. itself is an empire. The movement from the Atlantic coastline to the Pacific was imperial. People lived here on the west coast before the fledgling U.S. committed genocide against countless tribes of indigenous peoples. They titled this genocide “Manifest Destiny”. They claimed it was inevitable. The truth of this genocide and imperialization of the western part of middle North America is inarguable. It happened. If you do not believe me, look at an U.S. map and tell me the etymology of a majority of the names of the states on that map. Dakota, Minnesota, Utah, Nevada, even Kentucky are all names of tribes. Look closely at the greater Seattle metropolitan area. Seattle, Snohomish, Sammamish, Issaquah, Tacoma, Skykomish, and more are certainly not British names. Have you ever seen the bumper sticker that reads, “Urban Sprawl: Cut down the trees and name the streets after them”? Well, that is what the U.S. did to people groups. They cut down tribes and chiefs and named cities after them. I care little as to your political affiliation; it does not change the fact that the very existence of the U.S. is founded on imperial genocide.
We live in an empire similar to Rome. The similarities between the two look strikingly alarming. Both, at the peak of their power, maintained a massive standing military that possessed the greatest technology and training in the world. They used this military to cast an economic influence over most of Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. Though their spheres of influence are much, much larger than Rome’s, the United States employs a similar militaristic tactic. Again, Republican or Democrat, it does not matter. This is a bi-partisan commitment. The power to command this army rests in the hands of one person: the president. In the same way, Caesar commanded Rome’s military. Of course Caesar needed the Senate’s consent to go to war just like the president does, but we saw how much that was necessary in Vietnam and countless other secret and not-so-secret wars the U.S. fights.
The similarities go on and on: disparity of wealth, implicit and explicit worship of executive power, peace through war, government deception of the people, exclusive rights to capital punishment, a standing army for both foreign and domestic enforcement, etc. They even go so far as the Holy Land. When we look at modern day Palestine in comparison to 1st century Palestine, the contexts are frighteningly similar. In the 1st century, three ethnic groups who claimed to follow the G-d of Abraham occupied Palestine: the Judeans, the Galileans, and the Samaritans. Centered on the temple cult and the capital city of Jerusalem, the Judeans held the largest influence on the entire region. They possessed a powerful puppet government known as the Hasmonean dynasty ruled by the Herods. The Judeans marginalized the Samaritans as outsiders and ruled over the Galileans with an iron fist. The ruling elite in Judea enjoyed massive economic and military support from the Romans.
Something analogous is going on right now in modern Palestine. Three groups emerged: Israelis, Palestinian Christians, and Palestinian Muslims. All three claim allegiance to the G-d of Abraham. The Israelis act exactly like the Judeans did. They centralize their power in Jerusalem as the hub of religious piety and importance. They marginalize Palestinian Muslims, who are the Samaritans, in the worst possible ways. The Samaritans and Islam are very close in relationship. Both spawn out of Judaism, but both have a different take and authority on it. Palestinian Christians make up the Galileans. Small, ignored, and looked down upon, both of these groups could be roughly equated with Judaism, but look like a cult of it. Both marginalized groups of Palestinians withstand the coalition of the Jerusalem centered oppressors and the powerful empire. The United States funds state sponsored terrorism in Palestine. No one can argue that the U.S. does help fund the militarism of Israel. Furthermore, the Israelis derive much political power from the economic and militaristic support of the powerful American empire. This enables them to be as repressive as they like without eliciting the wrath of people who have a sense of morality. Even worse, this Israeli and imperial coalition derives out of exile. After the Babylonian exile, Judean leaders became deeply entrenched in an imperial collaboration. The Holocaust looks suspiciously like the Babylonian exile, and in its aftermath, allowed for the elite to create an oppressive regime similar to the 1st century Judean-Roman coalition.
What does this mean? Right now, in Palestine, almost the exact same social setting into which Jesus was born has been recreated. Countless groups run around spewing out baseless remarks concerning Jesus’ return and how G-d is going to come make all the bad people suck it. They spend no time actually understanding what merited Jesus’ arrival in the first place and what may elicit his coming once again. One of my professors once told me we could be positive that Jesus would come back with power acting all bad ass, yet a significant group of people thought the messiah would be all bad ass the first time around. Instead, he came, loved, died, and rose again. We should not make the same mistakes people made when Jesus arrived the first time. Instead, we should look in the cradles of Palestinians for the Lamb of G-d. Whoever it is, they will start a revolution of nonviolent resistance to the imperial coalition and their monopoly on death and faith. Jesus is coming back, but it will not be with power. Jesus lives in the faces of those who suffer under the Judeans. We look for Jesus there in the midst of the oppressed masses of Palestine, coming with humility and love. If we look for a powerful political leader, we will be disappointed. Let us realize the time is ripe for the second coming, but many of us may miss it while waiting for trumpets to blow and an explosion to happen. Rather, we should wait for a baby to be born to poor peasants. Will we recognize G-d when G-d returns?