Last week, I excerpted a text from Lyman Coleman’s historical atlas of the bible (1855) about the Paul’s visit to the “most hopeless city of Corinth.” I decided to trace Coleman’s ideas about Corinth and the consequences of geography.
Coleman notes that for his sections on Paul’s travels, he consulted H.B. Hackett’s A Commentary on the Original Text of the Acts of the Apostles (1852); James Smith’s The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul (1848), and Conybeare and Howson’s The Life and Epistles of St. Paul (1852). A quick look at Smith’s work on the shipwreck of Paul revealed nothing relevant. Conybeare and Howson’s life returned some very rich text and images about Corinth that I will excerpt next week. Hackett’s commentary had very little discussion of Corinth but cited several early 19th century German scholars and included a nice quotation from an English translation (1844) of Augustus Neander’s Geschichte der pflanzung und leitung der christlichen kirche durch die apostel (1832). As Hackett quotes Neander (p. 254):
“ ‘In consequence of its situation,’ says Neander, ‘Corinth furnished a very important central point for the extension of the gospel in a great part of the Roman empire; and hence Paul remained here, as in other similar cities, a longer time than was otherwise usual for him.’”
I followed the path to an English edition of History of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church and found an interesting segment on Corinth (pp. 196-197):
“He travelled alone from Athens, and now visited a place most important for the propagation of the gospel, the city of Corinth, the metropolis of the province of Achaia. This city, within a century a half after its destruction by Julius Caesar, once more became the center of intercourse and traffic to the eastern and western parts of the Roman Empire, for which it was fitted by its natural advantages, namely, by its two noted ports, that of Kenchreai towards Lesser Asia, and that of Lechaion towards Italy. Being thus situated, Corinth became an important position for spreading the gospel in a great part of the Roman Empire, and hence Paul chose this city, as he had chosen others similarly situated, to be the place where he made a long sojourn.
But Christianity had here also at its first promulgation peculiar difficulties to combat and the same causes, which counteracted its reception at first, threatened at a later period, when it had found entrance, to corrupt its purity both in doctrine and practice. The two opposite mental tendencies, which at that time especially opposed the spread of Christianity were, on the one side, an intense devotedness to speculation…, which threatened to stifle altogether the religious nature of men,…and, on the other side, …the carnal mind, which would degrade the divine into an object of sensuous experience…
New Corinth was distinguished from the old city chiefly by becoming, in addition to its commercial celebrity, a seat of literature and philosophy so that a certain tincture of high mental culture pervaded the city…The spread and efficiency of Christianity was opposed by that gross corruption of morals, which then prevailed in all the great cities of the Roman Empire, but especially in Corinth was promoted by the worship of Aphrodite, to which a far-famed temple was here erected, and thus consecrated the indulgence of sensuality, favoured as it was by the incitements constantly presented in a place of immense wealth and commerce.”
The passage is interesting in showing the early development (1830s) in New Testament scholarship of the notion that geography was both the reason for St. Paul’s to Corinth and the causes of the problems of the community. Strangely, Neander associates the carnal mind with the Jewish population in the city while simultaneously connecting it with a Greek cult of Aphrodite. Note that there is nothing here about the diolkos—that is a later development in thinking about geographic consequence.