Re/conceiving Empire in Ancient Texts: Questioning Subaltern Perspectives


With the growing popularity of postcolonial and Empire studies in Biblical Studies, there is an increasing trend in biblical and ANE scholarship to interpret ancient literature as offering resistance to empire. The claim is often made that biblical and related literature is written by the oppressed for the oppressed. Scholars appeal to the work of Scott (1985), or take a more explicitly postcolonial angle (E.g., Carey 2008; Portier-Young 2011; Myers 1988; Friesen 2001) to argue these ancient texts confront, challenge, or deconstruct ‘Empire’. It is often claimed that by privileging the ‘voice of the oppressed’, or subaltern perspectives, such texts create alternative social or cosmic structures less characterised by power and domination than the empires they seek to replace. However, does this scholarly trend adequately reflect possible historical discourses as reflected in the sources, or is it mainly a wishful anachronism of historians? This one year workshop, Re/conceiving Empire in Ancient Texts, will encourage a reexamination of the way in which Biblical, ANE, and other related literature, such as Qumran and pseudepigraphal texts, imagine, engage with, confront, or refashion ‘Empire’. For example, is the literary depiction of a native or divine dynasty ‘anti-imperial’ or merely wishing for a new succession of empire? Do ‘anti-imperial’ tropes merely replace one form of domination with another? How do social and political power structures function in these texts, and how does elite imagination work in changing socio-political contexts? Modern readers cannot help but utilize modern categories, but are analyses proposing resistance effacing likely emic perspectives?

We plan to hold a number of sessions with a mixture of invited papers and an open call for papers that examine the way in which Empire is conceived or reimagined across a wide range of ancient texts and imperial situations.


Empire, Postcolonialism, Metacriticism, Sociology of Literature, ANE, New Testament, Hebrew Bible


Paul Middleton
University of Chester

Jason Silverman 
University of Helsinki

Member Area

Wuppertal 2021 Call for Papers

We welcome proposals for papers which engage any of the questions above in relation to any ancient Empire using the literature of the Ancient Near East, Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Judaism, Qumran, Pseudepigrapha, New Testament or early Christianity.