BWIII's Corinthian Tale: A Week In the Life of Corinth (short review)

BWIII's Corinthian Tale: A Week In the Life of Corinth (short review) May 9, 2012

I just finished reading Ben Witherington’s brief historical fiction about Paul and his friends and enemies in Corinth in the middle of the first century (A Week in the Life of Corinth, IVP 2012). While Paul plays an important part in the second half of the book, the story’s main character is a freedman named Nicanor who is in the employ of a Christian house church patron named Erastos. I won’t tell you any more details lest I spoil the fun if you do want to read it. It is a very fun and very enlightening tale about social life in Corinth in the time of the New Testament.

It is hard for me not to compare this work to Bruce Longenecker’s Lost Letters of Pergamum. They are both attempting to use good story-telling to teach students about life in the first century. Both of them highlight the way of life of Christian house churches in the Roman empire and their struggle to survive, remain unified, and avoid persecution. Bruce focuses on Luke, while Ben focuses on Paul.
I think Bruce’s work feels a bit more “raw” because it is not narrated. The stories are a series of letters, so you don’t pay attention to a narrator. That gives it a grittier, more authentic feel – like something someone actually discovered. There is a bit less gap-filling and guesswork involved for Bruce, I would suppose, because he can draw from real letters from about the same time and mimic their style of writing and discourse.
The advantage with Ben’s novel is that you get to see Nicanor out and about, as well as Erastos (an elite) and Gallio. The book also includes little sidebar excurses where Ben-as-scholar gives more information about various social matters in the Greco-Roman world, like bath houses, schooling, and Greek medicine. In the book you get glimpses of Corinthian eating habits, entertainment, social conflict, family life, etc…

One of my favorite parts of Ben’s book is the window into how house church services operated, especially with Paul at the helm! It was enjoyable to see the various stages of the service.
If I ever teach a course on 1 Corinthians, I will probably add this into the textbook mix because it is short, entertaining, and very, very interesting! I think Ben has set the bar pretty high for good first century historical fiction that informs our understanding of early Christianity. Will this become a series? Unless we hear the word from BWIII himself, only time will tell…

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