James Douglass has a gift for making the Bible come alive and become relevant concerning the vital issues of our times, especially the problem of violence and the possibility for an alternative. Through Douglass' recent book, The Nonviolent Coming of God, we get to know Jesus better, even intimately. Jesus - hardly recognizable within our violent culture - stands before us, with us as friend and companion, nonviolent agitator, and loving and confrontational prophet.
Douglass shares a key to understanding the ministry of Jesus: the destruction of Sepphoris, a city four miles from Jesus' home town of Nazareth. Douglass describes Rome's sophisticated means for maintaining control of its subjects in distant territories. The empire worked with client kings amenable to Rome's economic and political interests. It also appointed the high priest -- the highest religious authority in Judaism -- who maintained his position by pleasing Rome.
Religious authorities often not only defended the interests of Rome, they also helped maintain an economic and cultural order that victimized the vast majority of people who were poor. Not surprising, rebellions were common and reflected resentments that were both anti-imperial (against Roman occupation) and anti-Jewish elite (against what were seen as Jewish collaborators).
Rome discouraged such rebellions by employing sophisticated psychological warfare techniques, most notably crucifixion. People considered dangerous were crucified. Public execution of "dissidents" -- whose bodies were left to rot and be eaten by wild animals -- was a powerful deterrent.
When client kings, appointed priests, and selective terror failed to deter would-be rebels, Rome sent in its legions and destroyed entire cities. This, according to Douglass, was the fate of Sepphoris.