Profoundly Countercultural

Corinth Museum V – Augustus “Velato Capite” | Augustus is re… | Flickr
Augustus, capite velato

Evidence from archeology demonstrates “the widespread use of male liturgical head coverings in the city of Rome, in Italy, and in numerous cities in the Roman East … on coins, statues, and architectural monuments from around the Mediterranean Basin.” In addition, “The practice of men covering their heads in a context of prayer and prophecy was a common pattern of Roman piety and widespread during the late Republic and early Empire.” A statue of Augustus found at Corinth itself revealed that even Caesar covered his head when sacrificing to the gods. The apostolic practice therefore clashed with society’s expectations for men: “In view of the argument about both men and women and head-coverings, it is likely that both, not just women, were creating the disorder in Christian worship. In light of Roman practice, it is very believable that some Christian Roman males were covering their heads when they were about to pray or prophesy. Paul is not interested in baptizing the status quo or normal Roman practice. He is setting up new customs for a new community, and these customs are deeply grounded in his theological understanding.” … Paul’s instruction to the men in this passage is profoundly countercultural—interestingly, for the women, it is less so! Women normally covered their heads as a sign of modesty and respectability.

Finny Kuruvilla, King Jesus Claims His Church
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2 thoughts on “Profoundly Countercultural

  1. Interestingly, this seems like it would be used as evidence AGAINST the point I am sure Finny is trying to make…

    If this was directed at both men and women, and it was in direct opposition to a distinct Roman culture… wouldn’t that make it seem more cultural than universal?

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    1. Hmm…well, there’s no reason it couldn’t be both countercultural and universal. Lots of Christianity was undeniably countercultural but also undeniably universal. The justifications Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 11 aren’t about sticking it to the Romans or anything like that–it just so happened (at least, this is what Finny would say) that Paul’s instructions were opposed to the common practice of the time in this case.

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