Performing 1 Corinthians

Creating-a-scene.jpgAmong the thousands of publications on St. Paul’s letters to the Christians in Corinth, Creating a Scene in Corinth: A Simulation (MennoMedia 2013) stands out for its unique approach to biblical study through simulation and performance. Written by Reta Finger and George McClain, the work invites its readers to experience 1 Corinthians by directly entering into conversation and even debate with the apostle and his conflicted Christian communities. Creating a Scene is designed to give students and small groups of 15-25 an immersive experience in studying Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. And while this is a work written for church groups, not academics, the authors have attempted to make accessible to their readers an extensive and complex scholarly literature related to Corinth, Pauline studies, and ancient religion.

Like A Week in the Life of Corinth (discussed last week), Creating a Scene is based on imaginative play around a series of characters—some historical, some fictive—such as the individuals known from the Pauline letters and local elite known from inscriptions (e.g., Babbius Italicus and Junia Theodora). But the main purpose of the work is less a primer for bible study than simulating the conflicts of 1 Corinthians through creative role playing. As the publisher page notes,

Creating a Scene imaginatively draws readers into Chloe’s house church, which has just received a letter from their church planter, the apostle Paul. Using group simulation, the book brings to life scholarly research on how the gospel penetrated the Roman Empire. As participants role-play early believers and debate with each other, they gain new insights and will never read 1 Corinthians the same way again.

First-century Corinthians were just as human as church people today. They did not consider Paul’s letters authoritative Scripture when he wrote them, so lively group discussion and debate are encouraged. This method of Bible study works for many levels, from youth groups to Sunday school classes, or in college and seminary courses.

While Creating a Scene frequently moves between simulation and character development, commentary, and voices from the authors themselves, the work consistently interweaves social and historical background content with role playing. One constantly feels while reading this that the community in Corinth had problems (and the leaders of the church just seem a lot less saintly than they do in A Week in the Life of Corinth). The first part of the work (pp. 11-94) includes an introduction to the idea of simulation as well as important matters for understanding Corinth, such as the conflicts in 1 Corinthians, the archaeology and history of the Roman city, the values of a Roman society in the first century, polytheism and religion, social status and inequality, among others. The second part (The Play Begins! Reenacting Chloe’s House Church, pp. 95-209) takes readers into the heart of the simulation, with each successive chapter working through the major points of commentary and conflict in the letter, as for example:

    • Hidden Persuasions in Paul’s Greeting—1 Corinthians 1:1-9
    • The Wisdom of the World versus the Wisdom of God—1 Corinthians 1:10-3:4
    • Field Hands and Master Builders: Images of Unity—1 Corinthians 3:5-4:21

Each of these chapters include background information, commentary, photographs and plans, rubric for simulation, and concluding sections inviting the four different groups—the factions of Christ, Apollos, Paul, and Peter—to respond to and apply what they have learned through reenactment (e.g., “What impact does this topic of resurrection have on you and your faction?…How does Paul’s view of bodily resurrection challenge common assumptions about the afterlife held among Christians today?”). The final chapter includes a simulation exercise for recreating a Corinthian agape meal including prayers, hymns, readings, dialogue, and even recipes! The two appendixes are devoted to additional reenactment (Corinthian elite gathered at the Isthmian games) and a leader’s guide.

Beyond the book, the publisher page makes available a number of extra digital resources including lengthy slide presentations about Corinth with plans and images, imaginary speeches from members in Chloe’s house church, supplemental material for character development, and recommendations for implementing the simulation in churches and seminary classes (based on Finger’s previous simulations carried out in her bible classes). Creating a Scene is intended for study by small groups in churches or introductory academic classes to 1 Corinthians (who can act their way through the book in 10-15 sessions), but it may be of interest  to  anyone interested in learning about the backgrounds of First Corinthians.

For full contents, see the table of contents at Amazon.

Additional reviews of Creating a Scene in Corinth are available here:

This is the eighth post in a series on resources for the study of ancient religion and Christianity in Corinth. Earlier posts include:

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Categories: Books and Articles, Historical Fiction, Periods, Roman, Religion, Religion - Ancient, Religion, 1 Corinthians, Religion, St. Paul

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