Tyndale Bulletin 44. 2 (1993) 323-337. In search of the social elite in the corinthian church

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Tyndale Bulletin 44.2 (1993) 323-337.


David W.J. Gill

As the Corinthian correspondence is read against the cultural background of a

Roman colony, it is possible to identify members of the social élite within the

church. After a consideration of the nature of the city and its élite, various case

studies are presented. These include issues such as law courts, head-dresses,

divisions at the Lord's Supper, households and dining. Through the issue of

benefactions further light is thrown on Corinth's place in the province of Achaia

and an estimate is made for the city's population.
I. Introduction
It was the Younger Pliny writing to the emperor Trajan in c. 110

who noted that among the Christians of Pontus there were

people of 'every rank, age and sex'.1 However can such a state-

ment by an influential figure such as Pliny be applied to the

early years of the church? Certainly by the third century it is

common to hear of Christians holding high civic status.2 This

paper will try to address the status of Christians in the first cen-

tury A.D., and it will draw on material from the Roman colony

of Corinth which was almost certainly the seat of the governor

of the Roman province of Achaia.3 Such a line of enquiry is part

of one pursued by a wider Cambridge-based group of scholars.

These include Andrew Clarke4 and Bruce Winter.5


1 Pliny Ep. 10.96.

2 See, for example, R. Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians (Harmondsworth,

Penguin 1988) 294.

3 Some of the issues will be discussed in greater detail in D.W.J. Gill &

B.W. Winter, A Cultural Commentary on the Corinthian Correspondence

(London, Yale University Press, in preparation). See also D.W.J. Gill,

'Achaia', in D.W.J. Gill & C. Gempf (eds.), The Book of Acts in its Graeco-

Roman Setting (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, in preparation).

4 A.D. Clarke, 'Another Corinthian Erastus inscription', TynB 42 (1991)

146-51; idem., Secular and Christian Leadership in Corinth: a socio-historical and

exegetical study of 1 Corinthians 1-6 (Leiden, E.J. Brill 1993).

5 B.W. Winter, 'The public honouring of Christian benefactors. Romans

13:3-4 and 1 Peter 2:14-15', JSNT 34 (1988) 87-103; 'Secular and Christian

324 TYNDALE BULLETIN 44.2 (1993)
II. Ancient Historians and their view of the status of

Although there has been a tendency in recent years for students

of the New Testament to acknowledge the presence of

members of the social elite in the early church,6 this does not

appear to be the case for those approaching from the historian's

position.7 First let us turn to Robin Lane Fox's discussion on the

status of Christian converts in his chapter on 'The spread of

Christianity' in his Pagans and Christians.8 Attention is drawn to

the low status of the converts. When Paul urges people 'not to

steal',9 Fox interprets this as being addressed to slaves and

people who would normally steal. He emphasises the 'deep,

abysmal poverty' of the Christians in Macedonia.10 At Rome,

those who are 'in Caesar's household' are taken to be slaves.11

Women such as Phoebe, a deaconess in the church at

Cenchreae12 and Lydia from Thyatira13 are seen as ranking 'far

below the civic, let alone the Imperial, aristocracies'.14

Yet Fox's assumptions about status are not always

correct. In Romans 16:23 Paul mentions an Erastus who was the

οἰκονόμος; of the Roman colony at Corinth. Fox takes this to

mean that an οἰκονόμος was 'another eminent post which was


responses to Corinthian famines', TynB 40 (1989) 86-106; 'Theological and

ethical responses to religious pluralism: 1 Corinthians 8-10', TynB 41

(1990) 209-26; 'Civil litigation in secular Corinth and the church: the

forensic background to 1 Corinthians 6', NTS 37 (1991) 559-72.

6 G. Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity (Edinburgh, T. & T.

Clark 1982) esp. pp. 70-1. W. Meeks (The First Urban Christians: the Social

World of the Apostle Paul [New Haven, Yale University Press 1983] 68)

follows Theissen.

7 Honourable exceptions would include, for example, E.A. Judge, 'The

Early Christians as a Scholastic Community', Journal of Religious History 1

(1960) 8: 'Christianity was a movement sponsored by local patrons to their

social dependents'. See also Meeks (pp. 51-53) for a discussion of the

history of scholarship in this area.

8 Fox, 293-312.

9 Eph. 4:28.

10 2 Cor. 8:2.

11 Phil. 4:22.

12 Rom. 16:1.

13 Acts 16:14, 40.

14 Fox 293. See also Meeks (p. 51) for second century examples of how

Christians were viewed.

GILL: In Search of the Social Élite in the Early Church 325
often held by a public slave'.15 He throws doubt on the link

with the Erastus, the aedile of the colony, who dedicated a

piazza adjoining the theatre in fulfilment of an election pledge.16

The link between the two Erasti cannot be certain, especially as

Paul does not give the praenomen and nomen of Erastus, and the

inscription is damaged.17 However, it does seem likely from the

available evidence that the Greek term ' οἰκονόμος of the city'

was the equivalent of the Latin term aedile. Yet as has been

argued elsewhere, why does Paul draw attention to the status

of a man like Erastus if he was only a slave?18 Indeed, the fact

that Paul gives emphasis to the civic status of Erastus may be to

encourage other Christian members of the social elite to

emulate him and take a full part in the life of their respective

cities. If the Erastus of the inscription and of Paul are the same,

then we would be wrong to give him servile status. However

the lack of a patronymic in the inscription19 might suggest that

Erastus was a freedman 'who had acquired considerable wealth

in commercial activities'.20

Yet Fox does allow some contact with the élite.21 At

Athens Paul encounters Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus

which was, in the Roman period, a council drawn from

members of the élite.22 At Ephesus after the riots over Ephesian

Artemis, Paul was encouraged not to go into the crowd; these

included the 'Asiarchs' who were described as his friends

(φιλοί).23 This group, which consisted of ten elected

magistrates, were drawn from the elite of the various cities of


15 Fox, 293.

16 D.W.J. Gill, 'Erastus the aedile', TynB 40 (1989) 293-301; see also A.D.

Clarke, 'Another Corinthian Erastus inscription', TynB 42 (1991) 146-151;

idem., Secular and Christian Leadership 46-56.

17 See Theissen, 75-83, followed by Meeks, 58-9.

18 Theissen, 76; 'an exceptional instance in which the worldly status of one

member of the community is mentioned probably indicates status worth

mentioning, that is, relatively high status'.

19 There is not space for the letters.

20 J.H. Kent, The Inscriptions, 1926-1950, Corinth 8.3 (Princeton (NJ),

American School of Classical Studies at Athens 1966) no. 232.

21 Fox, 293-4.

22 Acts 17:34. For a summary of the arguments see Gill, 'Achaia'; T.D.

Barnes, 'An apostle on trial', JTS 22 (1969) 407-19.

23 Acts 19:31.

326 TYNDALE BULLETIN 44.2 (1993)

the commune Asiae.24 Indeed Fox draws attention to the fact that

subsequent to his meeting with Sergius Paulus, the governor of

Cyprus, Paul travelled to the colony of Pisidian Antioch with

which the governor had strong family ties.25 As Fox puts it,

'Christianity entered Roman Asia on advice from the highest


It would be wrong to draw sole attention to Fox.

Donald Engels in his Roman Corinth places emphasis on the

lowly status of the Christians there.27 It should perhaps be

noted that Engels has been influenced by Meeks.28 For example,

Engels states that 'Paul was highly successful in making

converts among the pagan, urban poor of the city'.29 Or again,

'the humble social origins of Christ would have attracted many

of the city's working poor'.30 Indeed, for Engels the social

group who listened to Paul were not only poor, but they were

Greek: 'the large audience for Paul's letters and sermons were

mainly poor Greeks'.31 For him this seems to reflect the reason

why Paul 'experienced many difficulties with (the Corinthian

Christians) he did not experience with converts in other

cities'.32 Moreover, 'the urban working class. . .found his (sc.

Paul's) message attractive, not because it offered them

something different, but because it was similar to their own

religious beliefs; a complete break with their past religious


24 R.A. Kearsley, 'Asiarchs, archieireis and the archiereiai of Asia', GRBS 27

(1986) 183-92. For the most recent view of Roman Asia Minor see S.

Mitchell, Anatolia. Land, Men, and Gods in Asia Minor. Vol. 1: The Celts and

the Impact of Roman Rule; Vol. 2: The Rise of the Church (Oxford, OUP 1993).

25 Acts 13:7; S. Mitchell, 'Population and the land in Roman Galatia', in

ANRW 7.2 (1980) 1073-4.

26 Fox, 294.

27 D. Engels, Roman Corinth: an Alternative Model for the Classical City

(Chicago, University of Chicago Press 1990). For responses to Engels see

A.J.S. Spawforth, ClRev 42.1 (1992) 119-20; R. Sailer, ClassPhil 86.4 (1991)


28 Meeks, First Urban Christians. See the review by D. Kyrtatas, JRS 75

(1985) 265-7, esp. p. 267: '[Meeks] eliminates all attempts to present early

Christianity as a proletarian movement, or, for that matter, as any kind of

class movement'. For further observations in a review article: E.H. Pagels,

'Born Again', New York Review of Books 30,12 (1983) 41-3.

29 Engels, 108.

30 Engels, 114.

31 Engels, 70.

32 Engels, 107.

GILL: In Search of the Social Élite in the Early Church 327

views was not necessary'.33 Indeed Engels hints that Paul had

no right to apply notions of religious dogma and orthodoxy to

this highly individual group.34
III. The Roman nature of the city of Corinth
In the following discussion of the Corinthian correspondence, I

will take a position which holds that the letters are addressed to

Roman citizens and deal with issues within the setting of a

Roman colony.35 This is not to deny the other cultural

groupings within the church. In Acts (18:2) Paul lived with the

Jews Aquila and Priscilla. The ἀρχισυνάγωγος at Corinth was

called Crispus (Acts 18:8). Yet we should note that all three had

adopted Latin names which could have been used by any

individual across the empire, Pagan, Jew or Christian; they had

all taken on a mantle of Romanness.36 Some scholars have

argued for a Greek presence in the colony and therefore Greek

cultural interpretations for the epistles. Yet we do know that

Greek families at Corinth also took on Roman names. For

example, C. Julius Spartiaticus, a member of a prominent

family at Sparta, set up an inscription in Latin at Corinth, but in

Athens, Epidauros and Sparta, the same text was set up in


The Romanness of the colony should not be

underestimated. The city had a full Roman name, Colonia Laus

Julia Corinthiensis. Its magistrates issued coinage with Latin


33 Engels, 115.

34 Engels, 111.

35 This is dealt with in more detail in D.W.J. Gill, 'Corinth: a Roman colony

in Achaea', BZ 37 (1993) 259-64. Not all scholars would agree that Corinth

was Roman in character; e.g., W. Willis, 'Corinthusne deletus est?', BZ 35.2

(1991) 233-41. R.E. Oster's ('Use, misuse and neglect of archaeological

evidence in some modern works on 1Corinthians [1 Cor 7,1-5; 8,10; 11,2-

16; 12,14-26V, ZNW 83 [1994 52-73) comments may need some revision,

especially with regard to continuity. Meeks (p. 47) claims that the depth of

‘romanization’ ‘should not be exaggerated’; however, he seems to

misunderstand the changes in Greece during the Hadrianic period. For

further insights into first century A.D. Corinth see A.J.S. Spawforth,

'Corinth, Argos, and the imperial cult: Pseudo-Julian, Letters 198', Hesperia,


36 Further on names at Corinth: Theissen, 94-6.

37 D.W.J. Gill, 'The Importance of Roman portraiture for head coverings in

1 Corinthians 11:2-16', TynB 41 (1990) 259.

328 TYNDALE BULLETIN 44.2 (1993)
texts. Until the early second century A.D. public inscriptions

were predominantly in Latin rather than Greek. The exceptions

seem to be linked to the Isthmian games,38 one of the three

most important religious and athletic events in Greece held

every two years; alternate Isthmian games coincided with the

Caesarean games. The architecture for the public buildings was

Italian not Greek. Indeed, it has been argued that Temple E

overlooking the Forum reflects the layout of the Forum of

Augustus at Rome. Even the tombs of the social élite, such as

that of Lucius Castricius Regulus, overlooking the harbour at

Cenchreae, were more in keeping with Italian families. The

individual's public career extended from c. 10 B.C. to A.D. 23,

and he has been described as 'one of the richest Corinthians of

his time'.39 Likewise images of the emperor were in Roman

guise. The portrait of Augustus showed him as an Italian

magistrate with his toga placed over his head. This type is not

found in the Greek city of Athens where more sympathetic

styles of portraiture were set up. Taken together, we should, I

would argue, seek to interpret the Corinthian correspondence

against a background of Roman culture and values.

IV. The Social Elite at Corinth
The Erastus of the theatre pavement inscription may have been

a freedman. Yet such a background was not unusual among the

social élite of the colony. Take for example Cn. Babbius

Philinus. He is known from inscriptions to have dedicated a

monument at the west end of the forum40 and the south-east


38 B.D. Meritt, Greek Inscriptions 1896-1927, Corinth 8.1 (Cambridge (Mass.),

American School of Classical Studies 1931) no. 14 (A.D. 3, list of officials

and victors at Isthmian games), no. 19 (Tiberius, victor's list), no. 70 (Nero

?, honorific base to C. Julius Spartiaticus). The inscriptions break down

chronologically as follows:

Date Greek Latin Total

Augustus-Trajan 4 99 103

Hadrian-Gallienus 35 17 52

39 Kent, under no. 153.

40 Kent, no. 155; West, Latin Inscriptions 1896-1926, Corinth 8.2 (Cambridge

(Mass.), American School of Classical Studies 1931) no. 132.

(Cn Babbius Philinu)s aed pontif(ex)

(d spfc ledmque) II Vir P

(Gaius Babbius Philinus), aedile and pontifex, (had this monument erected

at his own expense), and he approved it in his official capacity as duovir.

GILL: In Search of the Social Elite in the Early Church 329
building,41 both under Tiberius. Indeed his presumed son, Cn.

Babbius Italicus, seems to have been involved with further

work on the same south-east building.42 Despite the importance

of this family it seems that Philinus was a freedman.

Some of the families at Corinth seem to have been

members of the social elite of other cities in the province.

Spawforth has noted the way that the colony attracted people

to it and who went on to serve magistracies. One of the best

known examples is the involvement of the Euryclid family

from Sparta. This family rose to prominence in the late first

century B.C. and continued into the second century A.D.43 A

fragmentary Augustan inscription refers to the gift of baths by

Eurycles Herculanus.44 Indeed Pausanias (ii.3.5) refers to the

Baths of Eurycles in the city although it is not certain that these

are the same ones. The Augustan Eurycles was probably Gaius

Julius Eurycles Herculanus who was born C. Julius Deximachos

and adopted by C. Julius Eurycles sometime between 18 and 12

B.C. Indeed a later member of the family, C. Julius Spartiaticus,

went on to be a magistrate at Corinth.45
V. The Social Élite and 1 Corinthians
The problem of approaching the Corinthian correspondence is

whether or not the issues which Paul addressed were liked by

the social elite. It is noteworthy that at the beginning of 1

Corinthians Paul notes a church divided into separate groups,

and that among the church there were some who were quite

wealthy: 'not many of you were wise (σοφοί) according to


41 West, no. 122; Kent, no. 323.

(Cn Babbius Philinus, II V)ir, pont(ifex, tabularium) et porticum coloni(ae

(?) ------ (?) colo)nia.

42 Kent, no. 327.

43 G,W. Bowersock, 'Eurycles of Sparta', JRS 51 (1961) 112-18. See also

A.J.S. Spawforth, 'Families at Roman Sparta and Epidauros: some

prosopographical notes', BSA 80 (1985) 191-258; P. Cartledge and A.

Spawforth, Hellenistic and Roman Sparta: a Tale of Two Cities (London,

Routledge 1989) 97-105.

44 Kent, no. 314.

45 Kent (p. 25) based on West, no. 68. For further information about the

magistrates of the Roman colony see M. Amandry, Le Monnayage des

duovirs corinthiens (BCH suppl. 15, Paris).

330 TYNDALE BULLETIN 44.2 (1993)

worldly standards, not many were powerful (δυνατοί), not

many were of noble birth (εὐγενεῖς).46

Given this background, it would be worth considering

several sections in the Corinthian correspondence to see if they

can be read against the background of social élites jostling for

power in the church just as they would have done in the colony

itself if we accept the Roman cultural norm.
1. Law courts (1 Corinthians 6:1-8)

The issue of not taking fellow Christians to court is one issue

that should be discussed against the social background.47 Some

have looked to the Jewish settlement of such cases. However,

the 'trivial cases' (κριτηρίων ἐλαχίστων) of Paul probably refers

to civil rather than criminal cases, viz. claims concerning legal

possession, breach of contract, damages, fraud and injury. Such

cases could not be brought by people of lower rank or children,

and thus it seems likely that Paul is referring to cases brought

by members of the social élite against other elite families: the

δυνατοί of chapter 1. Winter has argued that Paul was

addressing the problem of magistrates and jurors who were

ἀδικοί (v. 1) and ἀπιστοί (v. 6). If the legal system could be

corrupted, then there could be no fair trial. A second point was

that such cases could be brought to aggravate personal enmity

by launching a personal attack on the character of one's

opponents.48 Indeed it was a time for young men from the elite

families to demonstrate their forensic skills and put their

oratorical training into practice. If there was rivalry between

households in the Corinthian church—as reflected in chapter

1—then what better way for this to show itself than by

launching civil actions against one's opponents. It is at this

point that Paul asks: 'can it be that there is no man among you

wise enough to decide between members of the

brotherhood.. .?' (v. 5).

Yet Paul has noted that there were people called σοφοί

in the congregation.49 Surely what Paul is doing is asking for

those members of the élite to put their skills to use in the


46 1 Cor. 1:26. This point was emphasised by Theissen, 70-1.

47 B.W. Winter, 'Civil litigation'.

48 Kelly (1976) 98.

49 1 Cor. 1:20, 26, 3:18.

GILL: In Search of the Social Élite in the Early Church 331

church as arbitrators rather than by increasing enmity within

the church by pressing legal cases.

2. Head Dresses (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)

Paul urges men in the church not to wear head coverings when

they come into the ἐκκλησία. On the other hand women are to

cover their heads in the assembly. The norm in Roman worship

was for members of the social élite to cover their heads when

coming to offer sacrifice, the so-called capite velato.50 What he

seems to be suggesting is that members of the social elite who

were also members of the church were adopting pagan forms

of dress for worship. At Corinth it is clear from inscriptions that

the élite were fulfilling such priesthoods and indeed were

honoured by the city for it.51 Thus the élite would be

recognisable by the fact that in the worship they would be the

ones with their heads covered; they would be the ones who

could pray. As a result the non-élite could not pray in the

ἐκκλησία and thus were excluded because of their status. Paul

therefore re-emphasises that forms of worship must not be

adopted which are exclusive; worship was open for all.

Such an approach by the élite is understandable. The

colony was relatively new (less than 100 years old) and as a

result it was very fashionable to adopt Roman styles in all

aspects of civic life as we have seen. Thus, if, as Spawforth has

argued, Corinth was the centre of Romanitas in Greece,52 then

the church too would be trying to express itself in a Roman

rather than Greek or Jewish way. Such cultural 'snobbery' is

perhaps hinted at in chapter 1 (v. 17) when Paul says that he

did not bring the gospel with words of wisdom 'lest the cross of

Christ be emptied of its power'. The implication is that

members of the elite were expecting him to preach in an

acceptable rhetorical style; when Paul did not, they were

critical. Likewise in the church they may have been critical of

non-Roman forms of worship.

The head coverings for women is again a cultural

problem. There was no theological reason for women to


50 This is seen, for example, on the Ara Pacis at Rome. Cf. Plutarch

QuaestRom 266 D. For a discussion see Gill, 'Importance of Roman


51 E.g. Kent, no. 193.

52 A.J.S. Spawforth, in Cartledge & Spawforth, op. cit., 104.

332 TYNDALE BULLETIN 44.2 (1993)

uncover their heads in worship. Indeed women priests could be

shown with their heads uncovered. However in the wider

community the uncovering of the head by women hinted at

dishonour. Thus people outside the church might think that

female members of the church were devalued, especially those

who were wives of men in public office. Therefore Paul advises

the women to bow to cultural norms and cover their heads.

Indeed such an interpretation is supported by Paul's command

which is not to women in general but specifically to wives. In

Roman Corinthian society it was commonplace for wives to

honour their husbands, sometimes erecting elaborate honorific

dedications, and Paul is suggesting that they do nothing to

change this.
3. Divisions at the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-21)

The issue of division caused by dress is continued in the next

few verses. Paul recognised that σχίσματα became particularly

apparent when the church met for the Lord's Supper. It has

been argued by Alastair Campbell that the key group to whom

Paul refers (v. 19) is the élite, the δοκιμοί.53 He suggests that

this verse should be translated as follows: 'For there actually

has to be discrimination in your meetings, so that (if you

please!) the élite may stand out from the rest'. In other words

when the ἐκκλησία met the élite formed a distinct group

arguing that they need not mix. In this way the élite stood apart

from the rest.

4. Christians as benefactors (1 Corinthians 11:17-33)

There is a theme in Romans (13:3-4) and 1 Peter (2:14-15) to do

good deeds. Winter has argued that this should be seen in the

context of public benefactions by members of the social élites.54

This theme of benefactions appears in the Corinthian

correspondence during the discussion of the Lord's Supper

where it has been argued there is a background of food

shortage. There seem to be two specific groups mentioned (v.

21). The first, those for whom food and drink are plentiful and

the second may be described as the 'have nots'. The epistle

seems to have been written 'around the time of a famine—a


53 R.A. Campbell, 'Does Paul acquiesce in divisions at the Lord's supper?',

Novum Testamentum 33 (1991) 61-70.

54 Winter, 'Secular and Christian responses'.

GILL: In Search of the Social Élite in the Early Church 333

time of food shortage—in the eastern Mediterranean. Garnsey

has recorded various shortages which include Egypt and

Boeotia,55 and the Roman historian Tacitus specifically records

A.D. 51 as a famine year.56

If Paul was in Corinth in A.D. 51 it is likely that he

either lived through a famine or one hit the city shortly after his

departure.57 There is a series of at least ten honorific

inscriptions, perhaps supporting a statue, set up by the

different tribes of Corinth to one Tiberius Claudius Dinippus.58

He is recorded as holding the position of curator annonae three

times. This man seems to have held the post of quinquennial

duovir in A.D. 52/3. Thus it seems that in the A.D. 50s there

was a food shortage which required a wealthy member of the

city to hold this important role; and a role which he fulfilled so

well that the citizens of the colony wished to honour him.

The scale of the problem of the food shortage at Corinth

is suggested by the following figures. Although there is no

ancient census recording the population of the colony, some

attempts have been made to estimate it through the size of the

settlement, the water supply, the size of public buildings

(including the theatre), etc. Some years ago I proposed that

Corinth and its territorium should have a population of no

more than 100,000 people.59 More recently Engels has

suggested figures of 80,000 for the colony and 20,000 for its

territorium.60 It has been estimated that the average grain

consumption per person per year in antiquity was in the region

of 175 kg.61 Using other statistics it has been calculated that 55


55 P. Garnsey, Famine and Food Supply in the Graeco-Roman World

(Cambridge, CUP 1988) 261.

56 Tacitus 12.43.1.

57 For a summary of the arguments see Gill, 'Achaia'.

58 West, nos. 86-90; Kent, nos. 158-163. Dinippus was also military tribune

of the Legion VI Hispanensis, and agonothete.

59 In an unpublished lecture given at Tyndale House, Cambridge. This was

based on city size. For a comparison of Corinth with other cities in the

Roman province see S.E. Alcock, Graecia Capta: the Landscape of Roman

Greece (Cambridge, CUP 1993) 162 fig. 56 (based on city perimeters).

60 Engels, 84. See also Alcock, 160, with p. 252, n. 45. The parameters are

100 people/ha: and 160 people/ha.

61 Garnsey, 99. He has an upper figure of 230 kg, and a minimum figure of

150 kg.

334 TYNDALE BULLETIN 44.2 (1993)
consumers could be fed by 1 km2.62 Using these figures and

possible populations for Corinth, the following calculations are

population grain (tonnes) land needed (km2)

100,000 17,500 1818

80,000 14,000 1455

70,000 12,250 1273

60,000 10,500 1091

50,000 8,750 909

40,000 7,000 727
The territorium of Corinth has been calculated as covering

some 825 km2, of which only some 207 km2 is available for

agriculture.63 Using Garnsey's consumption figures such land

would only support some 11,385 people.64 It is quite clear that

there would have been a need to import the vast majority of the

food needs for this city, and that in times of shortage a large

percentage of the population would suffer shortage.

The growing emphasis of field-survey in recent years

has focused on the use of land. One of the current areas of

discussion is the impact of urban centres such as Corinth on

peripheral agricultural areas such as the southern Argolid.65

Yet even in this area with perhaps some 200 km2 there would

not have been enough land to feed its own population, perhaps

some 6,800 to 7,300 people,66 and that of Corinth.

If Christian members of the elite were to be active in the

church to ease the problems of famine, then how were they to

do this? Although we do not know the names of members of

the Christian élite at Corinth, and thus find the base for their

wealth, it is possible to look at other Corinthian families. For

example the Euryclids, who were great benefactors of the


62 The upper figure is 42 km2, the lower 64 km2. Garnsey, 102, with

reference to Table 7.

63 Engels, 27.

64 207 km2 x 55 = 11,385 people. Engels (p. 27) estimates that some 17,600

could be supported as an absolute maximum; elsewhere (p. 29) he

suggests the figure of 10,000.

65 Tj. H. van Andel and C. Runnels, Beyond the Acropolis: a Rural Greek Past

(Stanford, Stanford University Press 1987).

66 van Andel and Runnels, 174. The area need to grow the food for this

population would 124-133 km2.

GILL: In Search of the Social Élite in the Early Church 335
Roman colony, came from Sparta. Their estates would almost

certainly have grown grain as well as olives.

Another example would be Lucius Licinnius Anteros

who was granted grazing rights on the peninsula of Methana in

the Argolid.67 There seems to be a family tie with this polis as

another member of the Licinnii was elected to the

Panhellenion—a cultural grouping—in the second century A.D.

If Anteros was indeed an absentee landlord, it may be possible

to see him linked to the ownership of large flocks, and perhaps,

by analogy with Hierapolis, the production of textiles.68 This of

course would not be to argue that members of the élite were

directly involved in manufacture, but that they had enough

money to invest in flocks which could then be used to generate

wealth. Methana itself has been the scene of a major intensive

field-survey by a team from the University of Liverpool in

conjunction with the British School at Athens. This has

revealed, for the first century A.D., a number of sites mainly in

the area around the urban centre.69 Foxhall has argued from

this evidence that some of the sites may indeed be agricultural

sites belonging to the estates of absentee landlords, as only they

would have the money to invest in the equipment for olive


The last two examples would suggest money from

agriculture and livestock. However Pleket has argued that in

the large harbour cities of the eastern Mediterranean, members

of the social elites were involved with shipping.71 This is linked

to the large risks undertaken by shipping and the élites would

be in a position to finance enterprises. One such member of the

Corinthian elite involved in this way may well have been L.


67 IG IV,1, 853.

68 H.W. Pleket, 'Urban elites and business in the Greek part of the Roman

Empire', in P. Garnsey, K. Hopkins and C.R. Whittaker (eds.), Trade in the

Ancient Economy (London, Chatto & Windus 1983) 141-43.

69 See C.B. Mee, D.W.J. Gill, H.A. Forbes and L. Foxhall, 'Rural settlement

change in the Methana peninsula, Greece', in G. Barker and J. Lloyd (eds.),

Roman Landscapes; Archaeological Survey in the Mediterranean Region

(Archaeological Monographs of the British School at Rome 2, London 1991) 223-


70 L. Foxhall, 'The dependent tenant: landleasing and labour in Italy and

Greece', Journal of Roman Studies 80 (1990) 97-114.

71 Pleket, 138: 'the estate-owning urban elite in harbour cities of some size

and importance were involved indirectly in trade as shipowners'.

336 TYNDALE BULLETIN 44.2 (1993)
Castricius Regulus whose monumental tomb overlooked the

harbour at Cenchreae.72 His offices listed on the tomb included

aedile, quinquennial duovir, agonothete, benefactor of the

sanctuary of Poseidon at Isthmia and entertainer of all the

inhabitants of the colony at a meal, and these reflect the active

public life that he led.73

Paul argued (vv. 33-4) that the Lord's Supper was not

to be a time of feasting for some and not for others. If feasting

was in his mind, he encouraged those with food to eat at home.
5. Household of Stephanas (1 Corinthians 16:15)

It is against this background of food shortage that we should

probably understand the household (οἰκία) of Stephanas. This

man and his household were commended for 'devoting

themselves to the service of the saints'. There is a hint that

Stephanas is a member of the élite as his household is

mentioned.74 If he was like the Licinii or the Euryclids with

estates outside the territorium of Corinth, or like the Castricii

with links to shipping, then, he would have been in a position

to meet the needs of the saints through the distribution of food.

6. Invitations to dinner (1 Corinthians 10:27, 8:4-6)

Dining in the Roman world tended to be restricted to the

Roman élite. This is not to say that the poor were not given

meals. For example Lucius Castricius Regulus was recorded on

an inscription set up by his son to have given a banquet for all

the inhabitants of the colony;75 presumably this was during

some festival given that Regulus was an agonothete for several

of the games. However Paul here does seem to be addressing a

specific social group.

'If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you

are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without

raising any question on the ground of conscience.' This was

even when the food, probably meat, had previously been


72 W.W. Cummer, 'A Roman tomb at Corinthian Kenchreai, Hesperia 40

(1971) 205-31.

73 Kent, no. 153.

74 Cf. Theissen, 87: (in connection with Stephanas) 'Reference to someone's

house is hardly a sure criterion for that person's high social status; but it is

a probable one, particularly if other criteria point in the same direction'.

75 Kent, no. 153.

GILL: In Search of the Social Élite in the Early Church 337

offered as a sacrifice to the gods. A second issue of chapter 8

was actually attending pagan banquets, and the argument used

by Corinthian Christians was that idols were not real.76
VI. Conclusion
correspondence it is becoming clear that there is an underlying

thread of Paul interacting with members of the social élite at

the colony who were also Christians. Other areas, such as

contributions for the saints77 or links with 'debaters of the

age',78 might be further topics to explore in connection with

euergetism and education respectively. I would suggest that

Corinthian Christians were not encouraged to abandon their

civic duties, but Paul did encourage them to put their gifts to

the good of the ἐκκλησία. Moreover he encouraged them not to

bring into the life of the church their cultural 'baggage' but to

think through how the Christian message would affect their life

as influential members of the Roman colony. It was Meeks

himself who called for a greater interaction with the 'secular

study of the Roman Empire'79 in order to understand how

Christianity expressed itself within the context of the Graeco-

Roman city. It is at Corinth, with its wealth of epigraphic,

archaeological and literary data, that the New Testament

scholar can gain important insights into social stratification

within the church. It is at Corinth that the élite can be found to

have played an important role in the ekklesia.80


76 Winter, 'Theological and ethical responses'.

77 1 Cor. 16:1-4.

78 1 Cor. 1:20.

79 Meeks, 1.

80 I am grateful to members of the Early Christian and Jewish Studies

seminar of the Divinity School, University of Cambridge, for their

contributions and comments when this paper was given in 1992.

Economic aspects had been presented to the 'Hellenistic and Roman

Greece' and Laurence seminars in the Faculty of Classics, Cambridge.

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