I was interested to see the release of Richard Last’s new book The Pauline Church and the Corinthian Ekklesia: Greco-Roman Associations in Comparative Context (Cambridge University Press 2015), which publishes the author’s 2013 dissertation from University of Toronto. Published as volume 146 in the Society for New Testament Monograph Series, the work adopts a fresh approach to the role of religious associations and philosophical cults and and Judean synagogues generally for understanding the first Christian communities of Corinth specifically. The table of contents (here for the PDF) list chapters that suggest interesting discussions about Greco-Roman associations as a category, the meeting places of the Christian communities, the very small size of the earliest Christian group (so, in the abstract below, “all ten members”!), the economic capacities of associations, and the internal dynamics, structure, organization, hierarchies, and financing of assocations. Among Last’s provocative interpretations include the view that the first Christian groups at Corinth were internally structured from the beginning, and that ecclesiastical organization was not simply a later development from a primitive egalitarian community.
The publisher page outlining the scope of the book suggests conclusions that are sure to spawn debate in New Testament studies generally and the Corinthian correspondence specifically:
Moving past earlier descriptions of first-century Christ groups that were based on examining the New Testament in isolation from extant sources produced by analogous cult groups throughout Mediterranean antiquity, this book engages with underexplored epigraphic and papyrological records and situates the behaviour of Paul’s Corinthian ekklēsia within broader patterns of behaviour practiced by Greco-Roman associations. Richard Last’s comparative analysis generates highly original contributions to our understanding of the social history of the Jesus movement: he shows that the Corinthians were a small group who had no fixed meeting place, who depended on financial contributions from all ten members in order to survive, and who attracted recruits by offering social benefits such as crowns and office-holding that made other ancient cult groups successful. This volume provides a much-needed robust alternative to the traditional portrayal of Pauline Christ groups as ecclesiastically egalitarian, devoid of normative honorific practices, and free for the poor.