aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Quibbling about Jesus and immigration

The sign outside the church said, “Jesus wasn’t neutral. He sided with the poor, sick & immigrant. Be like Jesus.”

It made me think for a moment about immigration under Augustus and Tiberius, the Roman Emperors during Christ’s earthly life. Who was an immigrant in the 1st Century? The Roman Empire was a cosmopolitan collocation of provinces and client kingdoms, but very much a single State. There were no internal controls that forbad a Baetican from Spain from moving to Italy, or a Greek from moving to Judea, or an Egyptian from moving to Numidia. Immigration in the way we usually understand it – moving from one sovereign State to another – didn’t apply among the provinces and client kingdoms of the Roman Empire.

So what about the sovereignties beyond Rome’s borders? Who else was there? Well, there were the Parthians. They were generally hostile at this time, and the Mesopotamian region was a tense place because of the rivalry between Rome and Parthia. There were the buffer kingdoms like Armenia, that moved back and forth between Roman and Parthian spheres of influence, but at this time were distinct from either. There were the Germans in their forests beyond the Rhine and Danube, along with various Scythians, Dacians, and so on. There were the Picts beyond Hadrian’s Wall, and the Scots across the Irish Sea from Britannia. There were Nubia and the Arabs. The Romans visited India from time to time and they were aware that somewhere beyond that lay China, but there was no immigration to speak of back and forth. And for those closer in – the Parthians, Armenians, Germans, Scythians, Dacians, Picts, Scots, Nubians, and Arabs – how many immigrated to a Roman province or client kingdom? How many Romans emigrated to these surrounding polities?

I suppose there were some. But it doesn’t seem to be a question that comes up much in the contemporary literature. Rome had grown so big that all the usual moving about that went on had all become intramural. Traders, of course, went back and forth, but usually not to stay.

But wasn’t Jesus an immigrant? No. Fleeing from Herod’s kingdom to Egypt was still moving from one part of the empire to another. His family’s flight from Herod’s soldiers was like someone crossing a State line in the US, not an international border. Was he a refugee? Yes, I suppose, though his family only stayed in Egypt until Herod had died, and Herod was probably mortally ill when Jesus was born. They were more like somebody evacuating ahead of a Florida hurricane than someone showing up at the US-Mexico border and asking for asylum.

Do I mean to denigrate the plight of immigrants? No. I just think that taking the cause du jour and tacking “Jesus said/did/was” onto it doesn’t add much to the cause. The Old Testament Law said plenty about the sojourner and stranger, and it bears repeating. But using Jesus as a bumper sticker isn’t very deep, theologically speaking. Mostly, I just wish people knew more about history. More about the Bible, too, but you need the historical background in order to not misconstrue the biblical narrative.

Oh, well. Just my quirk, I guess.

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