Students of the New Testament know that knowledge of first century Mediterranean culture is of great help in understanding much of what is said in the New Testament documents. This poses something of a problem for many who may desire to read the bible in deeper ways yet have neither the training nor resources to do it. Fortunately, we live in a day when resources intended for the non-specialist are becoming increasingly common. One of those resources is A Week in the Life of Corinth (IVP Academic, 2012), a new book by my one of my teachers, Ben Witherington.
The book is a novel set in Corinth in the middle of the first century. It is the story of Nicanor, a freed slave become entrepreneur who finds himself in a potentially dangerous situation. You will follow Nicanor as he travels around Corinth interacting with gladiators, benefactors, business associates, and, among others, a Christian missionary names Paulos who is busy making tents to support his church planting ministry in the city. Witherington tells a good story; and the plot left me eager to read on and discover what might happen to Nicanor, Paulos, and the other characters.
The story will introduce you to many features of life in a first century Greco-Roman city. You will get a sense for many important aspects of ancient culture like benefaction and reciprocity, class divisions, the judicial system, and ancient slavery. You will also get to glimpse what life was like for the earliest Christians when Nicanor visits a house church worship meeting led by Paulos. The book also contains quite a few brief excurses under the heading “A Closer Look,” in which extra historical detail is given about any number of topics – ancient coinage, schooling, dining, and medicine, to name a few.
The book will be particularly helpful in introducing readers of the New Testament to the social and cultural context of Paul’s letters. I highly recommend it as a fun and effective way to learn about the world in which the New Testament was written.