Does Romans 1:23 refer to Roman legion standards?

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FransJVermeiren
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Does Romans 1:23 refer to Roman legion standards?

Post by FransJVermeiren » Thu Sep 19, 2019 9:35 pm

Paul's letter to the Romans 1:22-23 goes as follows: (22) Claiming to be wise, they became fools, (23) and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.

I have a small question: have the mortal man, birds, animals and reptiles above ever been explained as referring to the Roman imperial army?
Maybe the four categories refer to different Roman legion standards. The mortal man could be the Roman emperor, whose image was present on military standards, as well as the eagle (Latin aquila), some quadrupeds (wolf, boar, horse) or a reptile (Latin draco).

Any reference to relevant literature is welcome.
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Ben C. Smith
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Re: Does Romans 1:23 refer to Roman legion standards?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Thu Sep 19, 2019 10:37 pm

FransJVermeiren wrote:
Thu Sep 19, 2019 9:35 pm
Paul's letter to the Romans 1:22-23 goes as follows: (22) Claiming to be wise, they became fools, (23) and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.

I have a small question: have the mortal man, birds, animals and reptiles above ever been explained as referring to the Roman imperial army?
Maybe the four categories refer to different Roman legion standards. The mortal man could be the Roman emperor, whose image was present on military standards, as well as the eagle (Latin aquila), some quadrupeds (wolf, boar, horse) or a reptile (Latin draco).

Any reference to relevant literature is welcome.
I have just checked five commentaries on Romans (by Ernst Käsemann, Leon Morris, Charles H. Talbert, Frank J. Matera, and Douglas J. Moo), and none of them goes in that direction. Nor do the commentaries on BibleHub.

The usual suspect is Egyptian religion, as suggested by the range of scriptural and parascriptural parallels on offer:

Romans 1.22-23: 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory [ἤλλαξαν τὴν δόξαν] of the imperishable [ἀφθάρτου] God for an image in the form of perishable [φθαρτοῦ] man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. / 22 φάσκοντες εἶναι σοφοὶ ἐμωράνθησαν 23 καὶ ἤλλαξαν τὴν δόξαν τοῦ ἀφθάρτου θεοῦ ἐν ὁμοιώματι εἰκόνος φθαρτοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ πετεινῶν καὶ τετραπόδων καὶ ἑρπετῶν.

Deuteronomy 4.15-16: 15 So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day Yahweh spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, 16 so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water below the earth.

Psalm 106.19-20 (105.19-20 OG): 19 They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a molten image. 20 Thus they exchanged their glory [ἠλλάξαντο τὴν δόξαν αὐτῶν] for the image of an ox that eats grass.

Jeremiah 2.11: 11 Has a nation changed gods when they were not gods? But My people exchanged their glory [ἠλλάξατο τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ] for that which does not profit.

Wisdom of Solomon 11.15-16: 15 In return for their foolish and wicked thoughts, which led them astray to worship irrational serpents and worthless animals, thou didst send upon them a multitude of irrational creatures to punish them, 16 that they might learn that one is punished by the very things by which he sins.

Wisdom of Solomon 12.24: 24 For they went far astray on the paths of error, accepting as gods those animals which even their enemies despised; they were deceived like foolish babes.

Philo, On the Life of Moses 2.32 §171: 171 And, when Moses saw them rushing forward as if starting from the goal in a race, he said, "Surely it is not with your bodies alone that you are hastening to come unto me, but you shall soon bear witness with your minds to your eagerness; let every one of you take a sword, and slay those men who have done things worthy of ten thousand deaths, who have forsaken the true God, and made for themselves false gods, of perishable [φθαρταῖς] and created substances, calling them by the name which belongs only to the uncreated and imperishable [ἀφθάρτου] God; let every one, I say, slay those men, whether it be his own kinsmen or his friends, looking upon nothing to be either friendship or kindred but the holy fellowship of good men."

Deuteronomy 4.15-16; Psalm 106.19-20 (105.19-20 OG); Wisdom of Solomon 11.15-16; 12.24; and Philo are all dealing with the exodus from Egypt. Psalm 106.19-20 (105.19-20 OG) and Jeremiah 2.11 provide that line about exchanging glory.
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FransJVermeiren
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Re: Does Romans 1:23 refer to Roman legion standards?

Post by FransJVermeiren » Fri Sep 20, 2019 9:47 am

Thanks Ben for checking these commentaries. It saves me a lot of time.

Isn't it strange that Paul would refer to Egyptian religion here? As far as I can see this subject is not prominent in Paul's letters. However, there are quite some anti-Roman cryptograms in Paul's oeuvre, so maybe this is another one. Then it is the Romans who, claiming to be wise, have become fools.
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Re: Does Romans 1:23 refer to Roman legion standards?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Fri Sep 20, 2019 10:03 am

FransJVermeiren wrote:
Fri Sep 20, 2019 9:47 am
Thanks Ben for checking these commentaries. It saves me a lot of time.

Isn't it strange that Paul would refer to Egyptian religion here? As far as I can see this subject is not prominent in Paul's letters. However, there are quite some anti-Roman cryptograms in Paul's oeuvre, so maybe this is another one. Then it is the Romans who, claiming to be wise, have become fools.
Two independent comments. First, this verse is part of a section that some suspect of being an interpolation into Paul. Second, the author may not have really given a lick about which religion he was referring to; he may have simply been following the precedents in the Hebrew scriptures, and they happened to be talking about Egyptian religion.
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Re: Does Romans 1:23 refer to Roman legion standards?

Post by neilgodfrey » Fri Sep 20, 2019 2:07 pm

Fwiw, Sturdy in Redrawing the Boundaries compiled a list of scholars who deemed Romans 1:23 to be part of an interpolation:
Romans 1:18-32, parts by Michelsen (1876); Couchoud (1926); Harrison (1936:298f.); Carrington (1939); Hawkins (1941); O’Neill (1975: 40-45, continues until Rom. 2:29); Munro (1983: 112f).
William Walker in Interpolations in the Pauline Letters devotes and entire chapter to the various scholarly claims for that section to be largely interpolated.
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GakuseiDon
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Re: Does Romans 1:23 refer to Roman legion standards?

Post by GakuseiDon » Fri Sep 20, 2019 3:56 pm

FransJVermeiren wrote:
Thu Sep 19, 2019 9:35 pm
I have a small question: have the mortal man, birds, animals and reptiles above ever been explained as referring to the Roman imperial army?
Maybe the four categories refer to different Roman legion standards. The mortal man could be the Roman emperor, whose image was present on military standards, as well as the eagle (Latin aquila), some quadrupeds (wolf, boar, horse) or a reptile (Latin draco).

Any reference to relevant literature is welcome.
May not be relevant, but later Christian apologists like Justin Martyr and Tertullian used Roman banners to claim that, in effect, Romans also worshipped men on crosses. For example: Justin Martyr's First Apology: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/t ... ology.html

And the power of this form [the cross] is shown by your own symbols on what are called "vexilla" [banners] and trophies, with which all your state possessions are made, using these as the insignia of your power and government, even though you do so unwittingly. And with this form you consecrate the images of your emperors when they die, and you name them gods by inscriptions.

If you google Roman banners, you can see birds and other animals on them, though I didn't see any with reptiles.
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Re: Does Romans 1:23 refer to Roman legion standards?

Post by FJVermeiren » Sat Sep 21, 2019 5:20 am

GakuseiDon wrote:
Fri Sep 20, 2019 3:56 pm
If you google Roman banners, you can see birds and other animals on them, though I didn't see any with reptiles.
At first sight the draco seems to be a late development.
On the Roman Army Talk forum (https://www.romanarmytalk.com/rat/thread-21744.html) the following is mentioned on 11/03/2012 (with minor corrections):
As far as I know the first appeareance of a "draco" was on the Trajan Column where it is used exclusively by Dacians. (...)
Some authors mention an even earlier presence ("Roman Military Equipment from the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome", M. C. Bishop and J.C. Coulston - 2005).

I do not have this book available, so it is not clear to me what evidence the authors have for this earlier presence.

In 68 CE the African usurper Clodius Macer minted coins with on the reverse the Roman aquila in the middle flanked by two legion standards. Could Paul's mention of 'birds' first in his enumeration point to the priority of the aquila as a military icon?
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Re: Does Romans 1:23 refer to Roman legion standards?

Post by FJVermeiren » Mon Sep 23, 2019 11:22 am

Today I consulted Roman Military Equipment from the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome. The most relevant passage goes as follows:

Dracones were most likely first brought to Roman attention by Sarmatian contacts during the Civil War, or through Domitian's Danubian wars. The type is first seen with a wolf's head and a beribboned tail on a Domitianic(?) throphy frieze, and carried by Dacians on Trajan's Column. Others are featured amid the spolia on the Column pedestal. It was a steppe nomad standard form which continued in use in Asia into the Mediaeval period, one which was particularly effective carried on a galloping horse with the tail streaming behind. Roman cavalry had already adopted the draco, changing the head and body imagery to that of a snake, by the time of Hadrian, according to Arrian.

M.C. Bishop and J.C.N. Coulston, Roman Military Equipment from the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome, second edition, p. 188-189.
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The practical modes of concealment are limited only by the imaginative capacity of subordinates.
James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance p. 139

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