In this paper the famous “hymn” in Philippians 2:5–11 is considered from the perspective of the
study of ritual failure. It is argued that the crucifixion of Jesus, as it is mentioned in this text, can well
be considered as a ritual that, on the one hand, fails, given that it leads to Jesus’ exaltation rather
than to his permanent death, while it is at the same time reinterpreted as a consequence of Jesus’
obedience rather than of his disobedience, as one would expect. Using the body of theory as it has
been developed concerning ritual and its failure, it is shown how this reinterpretation of a ritual is
more than “just” about ritual, but serves to carve out a space for early Christianity and its selfunderstanding
in the web of power relationships that made up Greco-Roman society.