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A Week in the Life of Corinth Paperback – April 28, 2012
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"This is historical fiction at its best." (World Magazine, October 27, 2012)
"Ben Witherington III, a good creative writer and accomplished NT scholar, has given us a treat in his short novel A Week in the Life of Corinth. Rather than providing a list of facts about life and culture in NT times, Witherington has composed an interesting story in which we can see and learn this information along the way. This will be a fun way to enhance our understanding of the world in which the NT takes place―and it would be helpful for preachers to read some good fiction along the way!" (Ray Van Neste, Preaching, November/December 2012)
"The book would be an ideal introduction to a course on 1 Corinthians, or to a course on Paul and his mission. It is easy to read, but very well informed by Witherington's scholarship." (David Wenham, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 35(5))
"As I have been teaching on 1 Corinthians, I found this work very beneficial. Not only is the storyline intriguing, but this book also presents itself as a pedagogical tool. Here students can 'feel' what life must have been like in first century Graeco-Roman society―a culture foreign to many of us today. Witherington's book brings biblical times alive and is thus a wonderful gift to the church. It brings us closer to our spiritual ancestors and their experience of the risen Lord in a society hostile to the gospel." (Benjamin Marx, Trinity Journal, Spring 2013)
"[T]his is an appealing view of the social world of Paul and Corinth. I have no doubt that it will arouse the interest and capture the imagination of readers." (Sarah Whittle, Evangelical Quarterly, 86.2 (2014))
"Whether you're well acquainted with Paul's letters to the Corinthian church or are encountering them for the first time, this book will bring the biblical text to life." (Matthew M. Whitehead, Bible Study Magazine, September/October 2012)
"Like the valley of dry bones being covered once more with sinews and flesh, Corinth rises from its overgrown ruins to its former vibrancy, color and intrigue, allowed to re-live one week of its history. Witherington masterfully mingles the pleasant and the useful as he introduces readers to the social institutions, household customs and civic life of the Roman colony of Corinth by telling a delightful story centering on the attempts of one Erastus to win a public office and one Paul to prepare for his trial before the Roman proconsul, Gallio. I know of no other introduction to the Greco-Roman environment of Paul's mission that could also qualify as entertaining 'beach reading.'" (David A. deSilva, Trustees' Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek, Ashland Theological Seminary)
"I highly recommend this fresh approach to familiar territory: it will illuminate as well as entertain!" (Michael A.G. Haykin, Credo Magazine, May 2012)
"This very readable―indeed, gripping―book gives us an imaginative insight into the Greco-Roman world of Paul's mission to Corinth. The details of everyday life for Paul and those he met are set in their historical context by an expert scholar who knows the New Testament and its background very well. I recommend it to all who want to understand the setting in which early Christianity grew and flourished." (Alanna Nobbs, professor of ancient history, Macquarie University)
"If you want to know what it would have been like to live in ancient Corinth, spend a week in the life of a freedman, traverse the olive groves and cobblestone streets, survive the cutthroat politics of a Greek city, encounter pagan priestesses and converse with a Jewish tentmaker named 'Paulos,' then Ben Witherington has written the book for you. This short novella, with pictures and explanations of customs in ancient Corinth, provides a window into the world of Paul's Corinthian letters. Witherington creatively brings the setting of Paul's Corinthian ministry to life with historical rigor and narrative artistry. Witherington brings to us the sights, smells, sounds and culture of Corinth as the apostle Paul knew it." (Michael F. Bird, Crossway College, Australia)
About the Author
Ben Witherington III (PhD, University of Durham) is Jean R. Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. A prominent evangelical scholar, he is also on the doctoral faculty at St. Andrews University in Scotland. Witherington has written over forty books, including The Jesus Quest and The Paul Quest, both of which were selected as top biblical studies works by Christianity Today. His other works include The Indelible Image, Women and the Genesis of Christianity, The Gospel Code, A Week in the Life of Corinth and commentaries on the entire New Testament. He also writes for many church and scholarly publications and is a frequent contributor to Patheos and Beliefnet. Witherington is an elected member of the prestigious Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, a society dedicated to New Testament studies. He is a John Wesley Fellow for Life, a research fellow at Cambridge University and a member of numerous professional organizations, including the Society of Biblical Literature, Society for the Study of the New Testament and the Institute for Biblical Research. He previously taught at institutions like Ashland Theological Seminary, Vanderbilt University, Duke Divinity School and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. An ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church and a popular lecturer, Witherington has presented seminars for churches, colleges and biblical meetings around the world. He has led numerous study tours through the lands of the Bible and is known for bringing the text to life through incisive historical and cultural analysis. Along with many interviews on radio and television networks across the country, Witherington has been seen in programs such as 60 Minutes, 20/20, Dateline and the Peter Jennings ABC special Jesus and Paul―The Word and the Witness.
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Nicanor begins the story skeptical about this Jesus Christ that his former master believes in. Like most in the Greco-Roman world, Nicanor believes in many gods, and the idea of being devoted to only one made him a skeptic. From Nicanor’s perspective, believing that a Jew who was known as a criminal and died a criminal’s death to be God was senseless. I have never thought to think of Jesus in this perspective. Witherington helped me understand the way the early churched evangelized in the New Testament due to the perspective of the Son of God that Nicanor and many others had.
It is not until the end of the book that Nicanor’s perspective is changed. After Erastos is attacked and put into a vegetative state, Nicanor, Paul, and Aquila arrive at Erastos’ household. Nicanor was hoping to find him conscious to gain his perspective on a business deal, however, when Nicanor arrives, he finds Erasto’s unconscious and Paul praying for Erastos’ healing. Right before his very eyes, Nicanor watches his former master rise from bed healed and Nicanor is terrified. His fear was holding him back from believing in the miracle that took place inside of Erasto’s room, but his fear was ultimately holding him back from his salvation.
At the end of the book, Nicanor confronts his fear head on and begins to question the belief’s of Eastros and Paul. Although, the book never accounts for his full conversion, the reader can infer that the conversion took place. Looking at it through the perspective of present day culture, fear is still a motive from the conversion of people. Although there are not other gods to believe in, per say, there are a lot of distractions and complications that can come in the way of full conversion. Fear of trust, fear of faith, fear of relationships are all plausible causes for the rejection of the Christian faith today.
A Week in the Life of Corinth has helped me gain a perspective of the New Testament that I didn’t have before. Many times, I desire to use the words of the New Testament to fit into my culture, American culture, however, while reading this book I began to understand that the full effect of the New Testament cannot be achieved or understood without putting the words into the context of the culture in which it was written. The different types of slaves Paul describes in the New Testament, for example. Because there are no particular English words to distinguish between the types of slaves, my mind put them in context with African slavery in early American history. If the reader of the word “slavery” were to put it into the culture in which Paul is writing from, the understanding of the word changes. Through Witherington’s descriptions of different types of slaves, I was better able to understand the relationships Paul writes about in the New Testament.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. It was slow at the beginning due to the need to establish characters and help the readers understand the culture of Corinth. I would shorten the character descriptions of those who are not as essential to the narrative. However, after the character development, the story takes off and it is relatively easy to read and understand. I would recommend it to many Christians to help form a cultural context around the New Testament and to engage with the New Testament at a deeper level.
This book expertly demonstrates the distinctive differences between Greco-Roman society and Christianity. An example of which can be seen between the contrast of the somewhat rigid social classes of Greco-Roman society, and the equality driven Christians. For example, dining Greco-Roman society differed among classes. As seen in the book, however, Christians such as Paulos wish to treat all as equals, slave and patron alike, all eat together, in common.
Additionally, we further witness differences between the two societies in their Pursuit of Honor. Greco-Romans, particularly Marcus Aurelius Amelianus, Erastos’s opponent for aedile, are obsessed with honor. He finds delight in shaming his opponent and wishes to humiliate Erastos in order to win election. Christianity, on the other hand, is centered around love. As Paulos says, love is not envious, boastful, proud, and does not dishonor others. Christians also emphasized the concept of Soli deo Gloria, “Glory to God alone.”
Patronage, too, saw differences between the two cultures. Free men Greco-Roman society saw patronage as a way to support themselves economically. In return for money or land, clients would pay back with a portion of their earnings and, if applicable, political loyalty. Christians like Paulos refused patronage, as doing so could potentially compromise the integrity of their beliefs.
The idea of reciprocity in Greco-Roman society was often very one-sided, especially in a master/slave or patron/client relationship that weren’t always mutually beneficial. In Christianity, reciprocity goes hand in hand with other Christian values, such as equality, love, faith. Christians faithful to the Lord pray, and the Lord, in turn, answers prayers, such as when Erastos is miraculously revived from the brink of death.
This story follows Nicanor, the freed slave of Erastos. At first, Nicanor’s curiosity is piqued by his patron’s strange new religion. As a practicing member of the Greco-Roman polytheism, the concept of only one God strikes him as utterly impossible. How could one God do the work of thousands? Throughout the course of the book, Nicanor struggles with the belief system he’s been taught and the powerful, Holy presence that he feels at several points throughout the book. It is an experience with Camilla, Erastos’s wife, which ultimately convinces Nicanor to fully convert to Christianity. The Lord, speaking through Camilla, reveals to Nicanor that he has already seen what He is capable of, through the healing of Erastos and through safe travel on his return from Roma. Additionally, while he is of noble character, there is a void that can only be filled through Christ. The Lord tells Nicanor to reject his skepticism and give himself over fully. Overwhelmed once more by the Holy presence, Nicanor graciously gives himself over to the Christian community.
“A Week in the Life of Corinth” proved to be an incredibly interesting and fulfilling read. The story provides in-depth context to the New Testament as it reveals a convincing yet fictional first hand account of life in first century Corinth. Incredibly well-researched, Witherington might as well have been a fly on the wall. I definitely recommend this book to anyone about to read the New Testament, as it breathes a new life into the already rich but matter-of-fact style of the text. Anyone wishing to enhance their understanding of not just the New Testament, but first-century life as well should definitely give this book a chance.