For my write-up today on Helmut Koester's History, Culture, and Religion of the Hellenistic Age, I'll talk about economic policy. I have three items.
On page 329, Koester talks about imperial Roman attempts to end
exploitation, to bring economic recovery to the east, and to "provide
for the constantly growing masses of poor in Rome's population."
Essentially, imperial Rome set up "a new system of imperial
administration"; remitted taxes; stimulated the building of "temples,
administrative buildings, roads, and ports"; and reestablished "secure
trade routes". The result was "a new economic upturn in many countries
of the east, especially in the heavily populated and culturally
developed western part of Asia Minor." The imperial economic
program for recovery appears to resemble features of what the Left and
the Right propose. The Left supports stimulus for building
infrastructure, regulations that aim to get rid of exploitation, and tax
cuts for the middle class. Many on the Right support tax cuts and free
2. On pages 331-332, Koester talks about state
welfare programs in Rome. According to Koester, there weren't that
many. Trajan established a fund for the education of orphans and poor
children, but, overall, charity was left to private benefactors. There
were some facilities for public health care, but mostly the wealthy got
"regular medical attention", and so the common people had to resort to
the services of "somewhat questionable wandering physicians, miracle
workers, magicians, and astrologers". Families took care of their own
But Christians made things better, at the private
and also the public level. Christian communities took care of their
elderly. And Christian emperors and churches helped to establish
"almshouses, orphanages, and hospitals". As in item 1, we see
features of what the modern-day Left and Right in America support, for
the Left believes that the government should play a role in charity,
whereas the Right believes that the role belongs to the private sector.
On pages 335-336, Koester talks about Christian associations, which
included a few rich people but "larger numbers of craftsmen and working
people...and some poor people and slaves." According to
Koester, "these Christian 'associations' in the cities of the Roman
empire developed a system of mutual reliance and dependence that
required greater sacrifices by the rich and thus created much more
closely knit communities".
I do not know if the wealthy Christians were required to sacrifice more, or if that was voluntary on their part.
Of course, it was up to them whether or not they wanted to become
Christians, but the teaching that their eternal destiny depended on them
doing so would somewhat lessen the voluntary nature of the conversion.
In the Book of Acts, Ananias and Sapphira were apparently not required
to give all of their proceeds to the church (Acts 5:4), but there was
probably social pressure to give a lot, since giving was considered the
Christian thing to do.
Naturally, when setting up a system of
"mutual reliance and dependence" within the church, those who had more
would give more. But, as one can see in II Thessalonians 3:10 and I
Timothy 5, there was concern that those who truly needed help would be
the ones who would receive it. People had to work, if they could, and
so they could not be freeloaders. And many probably did work, for there
were plenty of working people who were not rich (craftsmen, slaves,
etc.), as is the case today.