Judging from blogosphere traffic, the hit book on Corinth this summer was an historical fiction about Nicanor, a Corinthian of the mid-1st century, who encounters Paul the apostle and becomes a Christian. I noted this book by Ben Witherington III on this blog back in May, and I’ve continued to see reviews and summaries over the summer.
The publisher, IVP Academic Press, describes it this way:
“Ben Witherington III attempts to reenchant our reading of Paul in this creative reconstruction of ancient Corinth. Following a fictitious Corinthian man named Nicanor through an eventful week of business dealings and conflict, you will encounter life at various levels of Roman society–eventually meeting Paul himself and gaining entrance into the Christian community there. The result is an unforgettable introduction to life in a major center of the New Testament world. Numerous full-page text boxes expand on a variety of aspects of life and culture as we encounter them in the narrative.”
Recent reviews describe the story as interesting, engaging, and entertaining, and comment on its usefulness for drawing the reader into the world of first century Corinth. Captured by Christ, for example, describes it in this way:
It traces the business, social, political and religious dealings of Nicanor and his patron Erastos. Don’t make the mistake by thinking that this will be a boring and dry book. To the contrary “A Week in the Life of Corinth” is filled with twists and turns, attempted murder, bribes, gladiators, and of course the Apostle Paul makes a few appearances. It is an engaging story.
Nijay Gupta notes its potential for teaching 1 Corinthians:
The advantage with Ben’s novel is that you get to see Nicanor out and about, as well as Erastos (an elite) and Gallio. The book also includes little sidebar excurses where Ben-as-scholar gives more information about various social matters in the Greco-Roman world, like bath houses, schooling, and Greek medicine. In the book you get glimpses of Corinthian eating habits, entertainment, social conflict, family life, etc…One of my favorite parts of Ben’s book is the window into how house church services operated, especially with Paul at the helm! It was enjoyable to see the various stages of the service.
Some other reviews:
- Tim Challies’ blog
- Goodread reviews here
- The Proclaimer
- Shaun Tabatt in part 1 and part 2
- Theology for the road
- Mark Meynell
Judging from the wide range of reviews that mainly come from pastors and non-academic evangelical Christians, I would say the author is right in thinking that fiction makes accessible the otherwise enormous and complex world of New Testament scholarship.
In two 14 minute podcasts (here and here), Gordon Govier (of the book and the spade) interviews the author about why he chose Corinth for this work, the character of Erastus, and background information on everything from Roman slavery to fast food to house churches. Some discussion of American School excavations there as well. Clearly there are some points of contention here in the sort of world that the author has cast as the backdrop to his story. we meet the character Erastus, for example, who is the center of a debate about the social composition of the early Christian community in Corinth.
Historical fictions about Corinth are nothing new, and in their modern guise, date back to at least the mid-19th century. I have noted their current popularity here. What makes Witherington’s book a little different is that the author is an established and well-published New Testament scholar who has turned his attention to fiction.