Disestablishing the kingdom

By Tom Hurcombe
December 8, 2008

...But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
Brought peace.
Oh ... peace ... SHADDUP! — Monty Python’s 'Life of Brian'

Where’s your working-class God, then? Eh? You’ve got your upper-class God – oh, yes. Just look at his name: Lord God, not Fred God or Harry God. — Johnny Speight’s Alf Garnett


The establishment of the Church of England is not only a legal question, it is also a political one based on often unexamined theological assumptions about how the church should define its place in relation to divine order, human order (in this case, monarchy) and national territory. In this essay I suggest that it is our political inheritance which is defining how we see God and the place of the church, rather than a vision of the kingdom of God which is shaping our politics.

Monarchy is a close relation of imperialism, and in our history they are inextricably linked. Indeed, the model for the United Kingdom is still not a partnership of equals but an imperial one, with all parts finally ruled from the metropolis. Far from being the focus of unity, the British monarchy perpetuates an unequal — and divided — society.

Because of our own colonial past, we view the biblical text with an imperial eye. Long after the sun has set on the British empire, it is still deeply rooted in our cultural psyche [1]. That is why the Monty Python piece quoted above is funny: it is our ambiguity about colonialism which is the joke. It is the British empire we are likely to have in mind when we look at colonial first-century Palestine, [2] and we are inclined to identify with the Romans — peacekeepers and bringers of civilisation — rather than the Jews — unruly, primitive, racially inferior, foreign.

I remember learning about British history as a child: it was the Romans who were the good guys, the Britons were rude and crude and nasty. We see Rome as kind, peaceful, generous, a civilising force, rather than as the ruthless exploitative ruler it was.[3] We forget our earlier history as part of the Roman empire and do not understand what it felt like to be a province. This blinds us to both the spirituality and the politics of Jesus’ teaching and praxis, which must be seen in juxtaposition to the imperial status quo.

Further, the imperialist hermeneutics of the historical biblical criticism that we inherit deterritorialises the kingdom of God, abstracts it, pushes it into the hereafter, and makes it irrelevant to both the first-century context and our own. By spiritualising the kingdom, we miss the thickness and polyvalence of the kingdom metaphor — and more importantly, cease to be under its judgement.

Living in a kingdom, we ought perhaps to be heirs to a unique insight into the kingdom of God — in both Jesus’ context and our own. I believe the opposite is the case, however, since at its heart kingdom theology is an anti-monarchist theology. I want now to look at the development of this theology and some ways in which our political context — present monarchy and imperial past — impede our vision of the kingdom in the biblical text and in our own world.


When the possibility of kingship is introduced into the narrative of Hebrew history, the text is ambivalent, if not downright comical. When the Israelites ask Gideon, the judge, to be their king, he refuses because God is king (Judges 8.22ff). Yet Gideon’s son is named Abimelech, which means ‘my father is king’! Samuel is equally ambivalent: he is the one whom Yahweh instructs to anoint both Saul and David, yet he tries to dissuade the people when they ask for a king (1 Samuel 8.4ff). He cites a whole tariff of what it will cost: monarchy is exploitative, a king will take their sons, their daughters and their produce — and with the Naboth story it will become clear that he will take their land as well (1 Kings 21).

The monarchical model — ‘like the other nations’ — is that of the Canaanite city-states with a king, aristocracy, temple, bureaucracy, harem, standing army and tax system. [4] There is evidence that the early Israelites identified their uniqueness not with tribal or racial difference but by an ideological or class difference. [5] Whether this anti-monarchism dates from pre-monarchical times, as the narrative suggests, or represents a later, retrospective interpretation after the failure of both Hebrew kingdoms, the outcome is a double tradition: one establishment and the other anti-establishment. This is reflected in what Walter Breuggemann identifies as two competing trajectories in the Hebrew Bible: [6] a Mosaic liberation trajectory — egalitarian, anti-monarchist, anti-temple — from the ‘have nots’ and an Aaronic, royal, conservative tradition from the ‘haves’.

The liberation paradigm is founded on Moses’ experience of the God whom he met in the cloud on Sinai, in the ‘thick darkness where God was’ (Exodus 20.21), rather than on a theory about God. In this sense it is a mystical tradition that can be traced down through prophets and apocalyptists. (Gershom Scholem has suggested that this apocalyptic tradition is in the Hebrew mystical tradition, and that it continues in later medieval Rabbinic Merkabah mysticism. [7])

Moses is a complex character, however, and alongside this liberation tradition based on an encounter with Yahweh — the only one to whom may be entrusted kingship and under whom all are equal — runs, at the very least, an ambiguity about racial purity. We note, for example, the ambiguity in the narrative about Moses’ foreign partner(s). His great nephew, Aaron’s grandson Phineas, is a proto-zealot, thrusting his spear through an Israelite and his Midianite partner caught in flagrante delicto (Numbers 25.6ff). But Moses, we are told, has a foreign wife — a Cushite, which may mean a Midianite and so may be the same woman as Jethro’s daughter, Zipporah, whom we know is a Midianite (Numbers 12.1).

Racial (and moral) impurity is a continuing thread through the Hebrew testament (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, all in the Davidic line) which Matthew picks up in his genealogy of Jesus. In the post-exilic restoration, racial purity becomes a major issue. The ‘people of the land’ (am’haaretz) are the outsiders even though they are the continuing community who have remained in the land throughout the exile — the Palestinians. [8] They are excluded from Israel in the priestly Ezra/Nehemiah narrative, for example. The question of whose land it is thus becomes ‘Who are the people of the land?’


No wonder the Jews believed in God as their only king: both their southern and northern attempts at monarchy were such disasters! And though the prophets are full of grand promises, the dissonance between the future that Yahweh promises and the actual experience of his people is astounding: their own kingdoms fail and they are exploited by others. Their story is one of relentless bombardment, a litany of defeat by various imperial powers — Egypt, Syria, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome.

The colonial experience is usually of peoples’ having it done for them or to them — whether ‘it’ be civilisation, culture, history, writing [9] — and most history is a construction of the winners. But the narrative of Hebrew history is, perhaps uniquely, that of the losers. Hebrew spirituality is of those below, not the spirituality of the conquerors, the colonisers or the imperialists. The Jews were a poor, subject people and we learn of the poor in history from them — so much so, in fact, that there is some confusion about what ‘poor’ means in their Bible. It becomes a faith word. Their history, their theology, is not for the poor, it is of the poor — a crucial distinction.

Likewise, in the biblical narrative it is not so much that God has what we have come to know as an ‘option for the poor’ but that God’s option is the ‘option of the poor’. God is with the poor, perhaps one of the poor. The poor tell us something about the nature of God that others cannot. God’s poverty is real, not just ‘spiritual’. And God is not objective or balanced, but passionately involved, one of the colonised.

So God’s story is an un-imperial story. As in our own context, it is the marginalised who tell us what a society is about, the excluded who tell us what is wrong. Jesus’ mission with the poor and marginalised in his context will be to reclaim not only their dignity, but their land — for landedness is about belonging.


Jesus’ political context was, of course, the Roman empire, which brought all kinds of ‘civilising’ influences yet was economically exploitative and ruthless in the face of resistance. [10] Heavy taxes meant that there were many, trapped between empire and church, who lost their land because of debt. [11]

Yet apart from the Passion stories, the Romans are not very apparent in the gospel narratives. [12] Jesus travels around Galilee and Judaea avoiding the centres of Hellenistic culture, the cities. And even in these the Romans may not have been as visible as we might expect. Some of the Romans who do appear — the Centurions, for example (cf. Matthew 8.5, Luke 7.2) — might have been Jews in Herod’s service. [13] Resistance to Rome surfaced from time to time but seems not to have been particularly organised. It is not hard to imagine a general resentment towards the Romans and Hellenistic culture (perhaps rather like the English middle-class resentment of US culture), particularly in the environment in which Jesus chose to move.

Josephus, writing his histories of the Jews towards the end of the first century, blames what he calls the ‘Fourth Philosophy’ [14] for being the root of all the Jews’ problems, influencing particularly the young. He suggests that this ‘philosophy’ originates with the tax revolt of Judas of Galilee in 6 CE, at the death of Herod, and is characterised (with overtones of Samuel’s anti-monarchy speech) by a refusal to accept any master or ruler other than God, a resistance to taxes, egalitarianism and a willingness to die for these principles.

Josephus contends that the Jewish War (66-72 CE), far from being initiated by any left-wing radicals or Zealots, was started by Eleazar’s refusal to offer the daily sacrifice for the emperor (albeit exacerbated by the cruelty of the Roman governors, especially Gessius Florus). He thus implies that this troublesome ideology had penetrated the highest ranks of the temple, as Eleazar was the son of the high priest and No. 2 in the temple hierarchy!

Remember that Josephus himself sympathises with Eleazar at first. But the war was soon taken out of the hands of ‘moderates’ and into the hands of people with much more of a grudge against Rome, and the temple. There seems to be a connection between this Fourth Philosophy and a negative attitude to the temple. Certainly, when the radicals take the city of Jerusalem, the first thing they do is force their way into the temple and burn the treasury because of what it represents: it contains the records of debt and land ownership.

Jesus’ sayings about lordship, the accusations about his anti-temple attitudes at his trial and his response to the ‘Caesar’s coin’ episode suggest some parallels with the Mosaic liberation tradition as well as the Fourth Philosophy. The Caesar’s coin episode (Mark 12.14ff) turns around the Pharisees’ trap, a choice between taking a pro- or anti-tax stance. Both present difficulties, either with the people — and his street cred — or the authorities, and criminality. Jesus avoids the trap by changing the subject, pointing to the Pharisees’ hypocrisy: holding an unclean coin with the image of a human, and worse, a man who claims divinity. It is their own rules they are breaking. And what are they doing with the Herodians, collaborators? Clearly these are pragmatic Pharisees. New Pharisees, New Coin.


Because of our own colonial tradition, we are all too comfortable with the historical critical method and its imperial view of the text — a view that is still at the heart of what we assume to be our post-colonial culture. They have common roots in early modernity and the Enlightenment, in what has been called the agenda of the ‘white male European hegemony’. [15]

Classical historical biblical criticism takes a colonial view in that it claims to see the text objectively, from above, or in a balanced way, from the centre — the way the colonisers have seen the colonised. So there appears to be no politics in either the present or the text. But the politics sneak out.

In Jesus and the Politics of His Day, for example, a collection of essays arguing that Jesus had no political agenda, Ernst Bammel discusses ‘political’ studies of Jesus and points out the tendency of Jewish scholars to assign political motives to Jesus. Of course Jewish scholars take a different view of Jesus, particularly of his messiahship, and would be more likely to have a politic about first-century Palestine. But Bammel’s arguments are hardly ‘objective’: ‘The zealot theory is never far from the Jewish mind when approaching Jesus,’ he says. ‘It is the approach which is the supreme achievement of making him equal to oneself.’ And elsewhere, ‘It enables the Jew thereby to shake off a certain cultural inferiority complex, which was apparent in former generations.’ [16] This is not balance, it is racism. And it is certainly political. It displays a familiar colonial attitude to the Jewish people.

The common roots of imperialism and historical biblical criticism lead to the inevitable irony that whilst ‘secular’ literary critics have assumed the literary genius of the Evangelists, the guild of biblical scholars has seen the Evangelists as naive, colonial peasants — an attitude which disengages us from the text. With little sense of an appropriate (post-critical) naiveté, of being under the judgement of the text, we end up as either liberals or biblical fundamentalists, de-mythologising or apologetic. Neither takes the text nor its context, especially its political context, seriously.

More important, we fail to see the doubt and ambiguity in the text itself, which are subversive, dangerous even. We either interpret the text with an august disdain or are entirely uncritical of it — often managing both at once. I think of books from both liberals and fundamentalists, dedicated to explaining away the fundamentally radical nature of the text.

Again we have two (by now familiar) questions: Who owns the text, who are the people of the text? Who do we exclude from the text?


In much contemporary biblical interpretation there is a tendency to equate the kingdom of God with apocalyptic and apocalyptic with eschatology — thus, the kingdom is simply an eschatology. [17] It has become solely a future-time construct, a projection into the afterlife – afterdeath. [18]

I am not suggesting that apocalyptic has no future-time reference, but it has often been reduced to a futurist construct only. Yet apocalyptic is as much a description of the present as it is of the future. It describes the thickness (depth) of present spiritual reality. It suggests that if the present could be seen properly, the rule of God would be apparent.

This is how John the Seer comforts his persecuted community: by describing the full picture — a different picture from their perceived reality, now with the God-bits included. He is suggesting that with our ‘ordinary’ eyes we see only a part of reality — like an iceberg, only 10 percent visible. But with the eyes of the Seer we would be able to see all of reality, the whole iceberg, with God on the throne surrounded by other thrones and apostles and angels, as well as the ultimate weakness of the Beast of Babylon. John’s community could see only the Roman persecution; John the Seer could reassure and challenge them with a vision (like that of Moses and the prophets) that God was in charge of history. To see the present fully is to prepare for God’s future.

Over the last two hundred years we have reeled through massive paradigm shifts in the scale of time, from six thousand to billions of years. Little wonder that we have been obsessed with time in late modernity, with its meaning and its limits, with myths of progress and of endings. [19] What we often associate with biblical apocalyptic is in fact a product of ‘secular’ modernity. The myth of progress points to the present: that culture, learning, technology have progressed so far that we are now better off, more informed, cleverer than we were. The protagonists are always at the ‘end’ — not just the end of this historical progression, but the most perfect, the fulfilment or purpose of the progression. So we have our many endings — ‘post’s — modernism, industrialism, history, capitalism, feminism, evangelicalism. (Why are there no post-catholics?)

The influence of secular apocalypticism comes to us through 19th-century biblical studies. Dalman [20] is responsible for enlightening us about Matthew’s circumlocution in his use of the term ‘kingdom of heaven’ [21] — a Jewish way of avoiding the use of the word ‘God’ in ‘kingdom of God’ — an interpretation which brings the kingdom into the present. But I suspect Dalman’s notion that ‘kingdom’ refers to ‘rule’ rather than to any territorial reference has as much to do with his use of the disembodied discourse of modernity as it does with Hebrew usage. The effect of this assertion, unfortunately, has been to push the kingdom back into the hereafter. Rule in this sense is an abstract concept, thus turning the kingdom into an abstract concept, somewhere other than the here and now — as though someone could rule in the abstract without any territory to rule over! Surely, if the territory is taken away, then there is no rule.

Dalman’s abstraction is part of the impulse to push the kingdom away from God’s praxis to a concept of God, from God’s activity in the here and now into a concept of the hereafter, the afterlife. Surely the kingdom metaphor is to do with both rule and territory, it is not a choice between the two.

But it is with Albert Schweitzer that we can see most clearly the origins of 20th-century eschatology and its obsession with time in apocalyptic. Schweitzer never used the word apocalyptic, which did not come into common use until later in the century. However, his Quest of the Historical Jesus [22] — much more influential in Britain than Germany, because he slates German liberalism though remaining a liberal himself — is credited with forcing apocalyptic to be taken seriously in New Testament studies. (Surprisingly, though Schweitzer rightly places Jesus in the apocalyptic tradition, he does not appear to be familiar with any of the apocalyptic texts.)

Schweitzer’s kingdom eschatology is based on the work of Johannes Weiss, [23] and both are disparaging of Jewish eschatology. They find it distasteful, take a colonial view of it: [24] it is crude, passionate, political, native theology. Schweitzer clearly does not like the Jesus he finds, and sees nothing but endings and eschatology — an arid eschatology at that. He calls this konsequenteschatologie, thoroughgoing or consistent eschatology. We might call it relentless: everything Jesus said is reduced to the expectation of the imminent end of time, an expectation that Jesus gets wrong. So Schweitzer kills off this historical Jesus in favour of the more abstract ‘Christ born in the hearts of men’, and eventually the even more abstract ‘reverence for life’.

Schweitzer’s Quest is itself an eschatological discourse, and the protagonist is Schweitzer — not Jesus, Reimarus or even Wrede. He is the end of the quest for the historical Jesus in all senses — the final and hence ultimate discovery, and the fulfilment of the quest.


The New Testament is full of the language of imperialism: Jesus is Lord, as is Caesar. After two millennia we are inclined to think of Jesus as the original, but of course Caesar is. Jesus’ lordship is metaphorical in this sense. But what a metaphor! It is filled with irony, because Jesus is an un-lordly lord. He does not lord it over his friends (Mark 10.42ff), nor do his followers. Even stranger is the Lamb who conquers — a conquering dead sheep! In this apocalyptic metaphor is an ironic back-talk, a secret language in which words seem to mean the very opposite of what they usually do. This is one of the ways in which the kingdom of God metaphor is used. It is also an imperial metaphor: Caesar is a king, as is Herod. The kingdom of God is, in the Hebrew tradition, an anti-monarchist kingdom led by an unkingly king. Jesus is in this tradition, and it informs his kingdom teaching.

There is a long tradition in literary criticism, in this century going back to I A Richards, which emphasises that metaphor is a creative extension of the ordinary use of language, not just decorative language. The development of metaphor in theology is as important as it is in science and the empirical method. [25] Norman Perrin calls the kingdom of God a ‘tensive symbol’, [26] describing the dissonance between a word’s ordinary use and its metaphoric meaning. But if Jesus’ kingdom theology is in an anti-monarchist tradition, ‘tension’ is hardly a strong enough word!

Metaphor is a particularly embodied, [27] incarnated use of language, not abstract or reductive. The kingdom of God is about the activity of God in the here and now; it is a symbol taken from this world, not an abstraction about another. Jesus’ parables are placed in the context of the land and its rhythms of life. Who owns the vineyard (of Israel)? Will it be given to others? How productive is the land? Jesus’ language of the kingdom is spatial: it is ‘entered’, it is ‘here’ (a reference which is both spatial and temporal, though usually reduced to the latter), it is ‘among’ and ‘within’ us.

The kingdom of God is the foundational metaphor in the New Testament. Surely if the kingdom metaphor is about anything, it is about politics, a kind of government — and space, where that rule holds. But these are the very two places it is not allowed to be. Conventional biblical interpretation attempts to reduce the kingdom to an abstract concept and place it anywhere other than in the here and now, in this present reality. If there is a drive to push the kingdom into the hereafter and away from the ‘now’, there is an equal drive to deny the ‘here’. We find this often in the propensity of English Christians, because of our colonial past, to see that the kingdom might be about this world as long as it is about somewhere else: in Martin Luther King’s southern United States, or Ghandi’s India, or Desmond Tutu’s South Africa, even Northern Ireland. In our Sunday morning prayers injustice is more easily ‘theirs’ than ‘ours’. [28]

The kingdom metaphor is polysemic, it has a number of meanings on several levels. In kingdom of God discourse, there is at least a double spatial reference — the vertical and the horizontal. The latter refers to the land itself, the where of the kingdom. Behind this metaphor is the theology of land: that it belongs to God, that it is a gift, that it ought to be justly distributed, that it is the meek who will own it. [29] To understand the kingdom we need to be aware of all this Jubilee theology, [30] just as we have to be aware of the debt system to understand Jesus’ theology of forgiveness. [31]

Vertically the metaphor refers to the spiritual ‘thickness’ of God’s presence — where God breaks in. In the cosmology of the ancient world, the earth and the heavens (both the sky and the ‘spiritual’) were contiguous. They were part of the same cosmos, the same geography. God was only just out of sight, and if one travelled in the right direction for long enough one might find the entrance to Hades. Our forebears shifted heaven, and with it the spiritual, by reducing it to another time as well as another space — to the afterlife. So kingdom language became more abstract. It is not as ‘real’ as the present — indeed, for some it is not real at all. However, kingdom language is no less real than scientific language; it is another way we struggle to fully describe the world in which we live. [32]

The use of metaphor and parable (extended metaphor) is not just an aesthetic, rhetoric. It is a process, praxis. In the telling of the story, the parable, the metaphor, something happens. This peculiar upside-downness, this back-talk, that is the language of the kingdom of God evokes the very presence of the divine that it describes and elicits a response. Dodd calls it ‘teasing into active thought’, which may not go far enough; Ricouer terms it ‘orientation by disorientation’. By telling the stories, the kingdom of God is somehow made present. [33] This is a sacramental process that works at several levels.

The kingdom brings healing, both communal and individual. Jesus’ kingdom sayings are part of his healing praxis. They are like Zen koans or, to put it crudely, a kind of very brief therapy. [34] The stories are therapeutic because, in the parables for example, people hear their own stories — prodigal children and lost sheep hear and participate in their own healing. This is not new in the therapeutic process. In both telling one’s story — being heard — and in hearing stories, healing can happen. [35]

However, it is not just a process of healing but also of judgement. The hearer comes under the judgement of the kingdom, a powerful critique of the imperial status quo in which there is no release from debt, no forgiveness, no land for the landless, no acceptance for the marginalised people of the land. Coming under the judgement of the kingdom opens up the possibility of release, forgiveness, landedness, belonging, ritual and racial acceptance. To tell the parable of the forgiving father is not only to disturb the patriarchy of the religious status quo, but to challenge the authority of the empire, and global capitalism. The deaf hear the parable of God and the blind see God — as well as the demonic injustice of the imperial system. When the woman with a haemorrhage is healed, the community is healed, made whole, which threatens both religious leaders and the empire who would have it otherwise. This is the justice of God, not of Rome or Herod or temple or Pharisees (nor of Westminster, St James, the City or Canterbury).

Jesus’ ministry is founded in his experience of God, and beyond this the strange notion that in seeing Jesus people are somehow seeing God. As we have seen, it is not simply a subversive healing praxis, but a radical politic — and it threatens the whole system. [36] The clearest indication of how big that threat was is the crucifixion narrative itself. Indeed, because Jesus’ God-ness is most obvious in this event, the crucifixion is the lens through which we can best see what all the other processes are based on.

The kingdom process is a process of hope. We see the kingdom of God in the dissonance between what is and what might be. It is not a choice: it is both here and not yet.


Like the country bumpkin who, when asked the way to a certain place, answers that he wouldn’t start from here, Jesus tells the rich young ruler that he can’t get into the kingdom from where he is. He first needs to sell all he has and give to the poor. We likewise, with all our baggage of monarchy and establishment, cannot get through the eye of the needle. We are not a whole community. We are trapped in the injustices of our class-ridden society by the injustices of the monarchical model.

Jesus’ kingdom of God teaching is not about monarchy or imperialism, not about any particular political status quo. Rather, being under the judgement of the kingdom forces us to ask the difficult questions about our own society: Who owns the land? Who are the marginalised — the poor, women, sexual minorities, the disabled, ethnic minorities, the homeless, the unemployed?

The monarchy that we are dis-enables the kingdom project. It is a sacrament of inequality. If one family, simply by birth, can be heir to so much privilege, untold wealth and power, then other kinds of inequality and exploitation are acceptable. These inequalities may be supported by new ideologies, but the basic model remains the same; trickle-down theories and People’s Charters do not challenge the force which drives our peculiar class system.

An especially troubling example of the problems this begets for the established church is its colonial model of mission. We seem to believe in the moral inferiority of the marginalised, that it is their fault — single mothers, asylum seekers, homosexuals — so our mission is to or for them, but never of them. This is not Jesus’ model. He makes it clear when he brings the forgiveness and healing of God that it is ‘your faith that has made you whole’. We don’t like that; we prefer the power of withholding forgiveness.

There is also something eminently dishonest about the British monarchy. It is ambiguous about its own political existence. We pretend that these days the monarchy is a romantic, harmless throwback, that it is above politics, that it has no power. We want to pretend that it does not even 'really' exist. [37] Here is a peculiar dualism reminiscent of Dalman’s ‘rule’ that can exist in the abstract and blinds us to what justice is, what the kingdom is.

Establishment means that the Church of England is married to the political status quo. It can hardly be a genuinely prophetic voice, particularly when its leaders often seem to relish the fact that they are part of the establishment, intimate with both Crown and Government and largely uncritical of either at any fundamental level. In order to unravel ‘establishment’, we need to re-examine and re-focus our understanding of the centrality of the biblical metaphor and actuality of the kingdom of God as a world-transforming demand on our present polity, orienting it towards God’s (and our) future.



1. Edward Said, Imperialism, (London, Penguin, 1981)
2. John Pareman Brown, ‘Techniques of Imperial Control: The Background of the Gospel Event’ in Gottwald, The Bible and Liberation (Maryknoll, Orbis, 1983).
3. Klaus Wengst, Pax Romana and the Peace of Christ (London, SCM Press, 1987).
4. George Pixley, God’s Kingdom (London, SCM Press, 1981).
5. Cf. Norman Gottwald, The Tribes of Jahweh (London, SCM Press, 1979).
6. Cf. Brueggemann, ‘Trajectories in Old Testament Literature and the Sociology of Ancient Israel’ in Gottwald, The Bible and Liberation. Cf. Rex Mason, Propaganda and Subversion in the Old Testament (London, SPCK, 1997).
7. Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York, Schoken Books, 1974) and The Messianic Idea in Judaism (New York, Schoken Books, 1971). Cf. Christopher Rowland, The Open Heaven (London, SPCK, 1982).
8. Cf. Michael Prior, The Bible and Colonialism (Sheffield Academic Press, 1997).
9. Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (London, Vintage, 1993).
10. Cf. Wengst, Pax Romana and the Peace of Christ.
11. Richard Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence (Fortress Press, 1993). Cf. G. E. M. de Ste. Croix, The Class Struggle in the Ancient World (London, Duckworth, 1983).
12. Temple. John P. Brown, ‘Techniques of Imperial Control: The Background of Gospel Event’ in Gottwald, The Bible and Liberation.
13. Ibid.
14. Antiquities 18.4ff in Horsley, p. 81.
15. Brueggemann, The Bible and Postmodern Imagination (London, SCM Press, 1993). Cf. Edward Said, Orientalism (London, Penguin, 1978).
16. Ernst Bammel and CFG Moule (eds.), Jesus and the Politics of His Day (Cambridge University Press, 1985), p .
17. The main issues in the modern history of kingdom interpretation are about time. Cf. Norman Perrin, The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus (London, SCM Press, 1963).
18. Cf. William Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land (Waco, Texas, Word Books, 1973).
19. Kermode, A Sense of an Ending, and in Bull, Apocalyptic Theory (Oxford, Blackwell, 1995).
20. Dalman in Perrin.
21. The misunderstanding of Matthew’s circumlocution has been responsible for pushing the kingdom into the afterlife.
22. Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (London, SCM Press, 1911/1981).
23. Johannes Weiss, Jesus Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, (London, SCM Press, 1971) (translation of Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes, 1892).
24. Schweitzer’s colonialism shocked James Cameron when he ‘found’ the historical Albert Schweitzer in Africa in the mid-‘50s, when he makes it clear that he believes the Africans to be incapable of self-government. Cf. Cameron, Point of Departure (London, Oriel Press, 1978).
25. McFague, Speaking in Parables (London, SCM Press, 1976) and Metaphorical Theology, (London, SCM Press, 1981). Cf. Janet Soskice, Metaphor and Religious Language (Oxford University Press, 1985).
26. Perrin, Jesus and the Language of the Kingdom (London, SCM Press, 1976).
27. McFague, Metaphorical Theology (London, SCM Press, 19
28. Moltmann, The Coming of God (London, SCM Press, 1996), p. 134f.
29. Breuggemann, The Land (London, SPCK, 1978).
30. Sharon Ringe, Jesus, Liberation and the Biblical Jubilee (Fortress, 1989).
31. Peter Selby, Grace and Mortgage (London, DLT, 1997).
32. But cf. Walter Wink’s Naming the Powers (Philadelphia, Fortress, 1984); Unmasking the Powers, Ditto 1986; Unmasking the Powers (Minneapolis, Fortress, 1992) and Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land.
33. Perrin, Jesus and the Language of the Kingdom; TaSelle MacFague, Speaking in Parables (London, SCM Press, 1976); Donahue, The Gospel in Parables (Philadelphia, Fortress, 1988).
34. Stephan Davies, Jesus the Healer (London, SCM Press, 1995).
35. Cf. the bibliography on the development of the ‘talking cure’ is endless. I particularly recommend Judith Hermans, Trauma and Recovery (New York, Basic Books, 1992) because of its emphasis on the abused being heard and believed, and how the healing experience is similar for abused women and Vietnam veterans. The literature on storytelling and the therapeutic process is growing, cf. Bettleheim, The Uses of Enchantment (London, Penguin) and Alida Gersie, Story Telling and Bereavement (London, Jessica Kingsley, 1991).
36. Wink, the ‘Powers’ trilogy,
37. Tom Nairn, The Enchanted Glass (London, Vintage, 1988, 1994).

This article first appeared as a chapter in (ed.) Kenneth Leech, Setting the Church of England Free: The case for disestablishment (Jubilee Group, 2002), along with Christopher Rowland’s ‘A kingdom, but not as we know it’ (http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/8020) and Simon Barrow’s ‘Unravelling the rhetoric of Establishment’ (forthcoming on Ekklesia). The author would like to thank Carla J. Roth for her editorial assistance.


© Tom Hurcombe is an Anglican priest based at St Mark’s Church, South Norwood, London.

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