Lyman Coleman, on the most hopeless city of Corinth (1855)

One of the projects I’m working on this year is a study of how ancient and modern writers have interpreted the historical fortunes of Corinth through the lens of its eastern landscape, the Isthmus. How did a land bridge become so consequential for writing the history of the city?

It’s a topic I’ve commented on before (e.g., see the various posts in the Corinth in the mind category), and I even wondered in a post on Oscar Bronner’s wicked city when some of the popular myths about Corinth originated in the modern era.

I’ve had a little time recently to dig into some travel literature, historical geography, and New Testament commentaries of the 17th-19th centuries, and I’ve found some gems.

For this week’s picture of Corinth, I’ll post this mid-19th century description of the city in Lyman Coleman’s An Historical Text Book and Atlas of Biblical Geography, Philadelphia 1855: Lippincott, Grambo & Co.

Published about the middle of the 19th century, and related to another work on Historical Geography of the Bible, Lyman describes the apostle Paul’s decision to move from Athens to Corinth in this way (pp. 231-232):

“It is a singular and instructive fact, that the ministry of the apostle appears to have been attended with little profit at this seat of Grecian refinement and learning; nor does he appear ever again to have visited Athens. The rich, voluptuous, and mercantile population of Corinth offered him far more encouragement than the orators, sages, and philosophers of her proud rival…

…This metropolis, rivaling Athens in wealth and commerce, in luxury and licentiousness, and scarcely inferior in the fine arts, was situated on the isthmus of the Peloponnesus, fifty miles west of Athens, guarded and defended by a lofty acropolis, which rises two thousand feet above the platform of the city. The region is now unhealthy, and only a few miserable hovels still occupy the site of this far-famed city of Corinth…

But even in that corrupt city, the most hopeless, it would seem, that could have been selected, the Lord had ‘much people,’ and many of the Corinthians, both Jews and Greeks, believed and were baptized.”

In the weeks to come, I’ll be posting some of these old historical interpretations that have continued to shape modern interpretations of Corinth.

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Categories: Commentaries, Corinth in the Mind, Isthmus, Religion, St. Paul

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