New Testament Studies


The Eagle and the Dove: Roman Imperial Sonship and the Baptism of Jesus (Mark 1.9-11)*

Michael Pepparda1

a1 Dept. of Theology, Fordham University, Bronx, NY 10458, USA. email:


This essay argues that the common understanding of imperial divine sonship among biblical scholars can be reframed by emphasizing the importance of adoption in Roman society and imperial ideology. A case study from the Gospel of Mark—the portrayal of Jesus' baptism—demonstrates some of the pay-off for reading the NT with a newly contextualized perspective on divine sonship. Through engagement with diverse sources from the Hellenistic and Roman eras, the dove will be interpreted as an omen and counter-symbol to the Roman eagle, which was a public portent of divine favor, election, and ascension to power.


  • Son of God;
  • divi filius;
  • baptism;
  • dove;
  • emperor;
  • adoption;
  • mimicry


* A version of this essay was presented at the 2006 New England SBL Meeting. Subsequently I received helpful suggestions from many colleagues, especially Adela Yarbro Collins and the anonymous reviewer for NTS.