Is it okay for twenty-first century Gentiles to make sweeping negative generalisations about first century Judaism? I presume most of us would want to say no – it is insensitive, distasteful, and unfairly selective with the evidence of first century Judaism.
…so why is it okay to make sweeping negative generalisations about first century Rome?
In the past, people said that Paul was reacting against the “works righteousness” of first century Jewish society. Then people became uncomfortable with the oversimplifications involved in this, partly because Judaism was shown not to have been squarely represented by this label.
Nowadays, people say that Paul was reacting against the implicit power claims of first century Roman society. And I frequently cringe at the overly simplistic and cavalier way in which first century Roman society is demonized.
The New Testament is no more friendly towards the Roman Caesar than it is towards the Jewish Pharisees. But I just hope that we won’t be looking back in embarrassment in 50 years at the insensitive selectivity of today’s scholarship.