Wednesday, 9 December 2015

The Ancient City of Corinth

     Ancient Corinth was built at the foot of the large hill of Acrocorinth on the narrow isthmus connecting the Peloponnesus peninsula with the mainland of Greece. The city was strategically located, linking the principal land route between East and West, while several sea lanes converged on its two harbors. Its crowning era as a Greek city-state was from the 8th century BC until its destruction by the Romans in 146 BC.
     Rome rebuilt and repopulated Corinth in 44 BC, designating it the capital of the Roman province of Achaia and the seat of the Roman proconsul. The city was also a center of industry and commerce, with a socially, economically, religiously, and culturally diverse populace. It appears to have been one of the larger municipalities of Roman Greece, with an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 urban residents and a rural population of approximately 40,000 to 60,000.1
     The apostle Paul arrived in Corinth from Athens around autumn of 50. If he traveled by land, he would have approached the capital from the north on the Lechaion road. To the left of the pavement lined with walkways, porticos, and administrative buildings was the public fountain of Peirene, a potential site for baptizing the first converts (Acts 18:8; 1 Cor 1:14-16), and the nearby Jewish synagogue was a good place to start (Acts 18:4, 7).2 Further along was the agora (marketplace), where a prominent space was occupied by the marble-covered bema (elevated platform) upon which Paul would later stand accused before the proconsul Gallio (Acts 18:12-16). The numerous shops in the vicinity would have provided a suitable location for manufacturing and/or selling tents (Acts 18:2-3), while pagan temples and shrines permeated the city’s landscape (1 Cor 8:1-10; 10:14).
     The apostle labored diligently with Aquila, Priscilla, Silas and Timothy until spring of 52, leaving behind an established Christian community (Acts 18:1-18). Subsequently Gaius is referenced as the host of “the whole church” (Rom 16:23 ESV), an apparent allusion to the assemblies in his home. A typical upper class Roman-style house was centered around a columned courtyard with an open room (atrium), large enough to accommodate about 30 to 50 people.
     Since initiating his second missionary campaign, Paul had encountered violent opposition and expulsion from every Macedonian community he targeted. Venturing south into the province of Achaia, he faced a general lack of receptivity in Athens as his eager attempts were largely met with amusement and disregard. Moving on to Corinth, although dejected and fearful (Acts 18:9-10; 1 Cor 2:3), his resolve remained intact. Eighteen months of sowing the gospel seed with extensive follow up resulted in the Lord of the harvest reaping a bounty of souls (1 Cor 3:6-9). In the most unlikely of places there now existed “the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia” (2 Cor 1:1).
     Nearly two millennia later the commission and the One who gave it remain unchanged. And there is still no scarcity of unlikely places.
-- Kevin L. Moore

     1 Available evidence does not corroborate the inflated estimates of up to half a million or more.
     2 In 1898 along the Lechaion road the limestone lintel of the doorway of Corinth’s synagogue was discovered near the entrance to the forum.

Works Consulted:
Aune, David E. The New Testament in Its Literary Environment. LEC. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1987.  
Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. NICNT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987.
Malherbe, Abraham J. Social Aspects of Early Christianity. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983.
Moore, Kevin L. A Critical Introduction to the New Testament: Study and Lecture Notes. Henderson, TN: Hester, 2009.
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. St. Paul’s Corinth: Texts and Archaeology. 3rd ed. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2002.
Willet, Rinse. “Whirlwind of Numbers: Demographic Experiments for Roman Corinth,” AncSoc 42 (2012): 127-58.

*First appearing in the Freed-Hardeman University Graduate School of Theology newsletter, Reflections on Theology and Ministry 1:3 (1 Dec. 2015): 2-4.

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