Category: Corinth

The Apostle Paul’s Crown That Would Not Last

The Apostle Paul’s Crown That Would Not Last

The Isthmian Games are very prominent in Phoebe’s Journey Part 1: Of Passion And Pride. Historical records tell us they probably started in the 6th century BC, took place every two years in the Corinth area, and alternated with the other three Panhellenic games. Most likely these games are part of the reason the Apostle Paul, Priscilla and her husband Aquila, set up their tent-making enterprise in Corinth.

The Isthmian Games focused primarily on combat sports. The other three Panhellenic games (Olympics, Pythian, and Nemean) included running sports, as well as combat sports.

Here are the events we know occurred during the Isthmian Games:

  • Greek boxing
  • Greek wrestling
  • Pankration [A brutal combat sport with few rules]
  • Chariot racing

Victors at the festival were awarded a crown of celery. When Greece became part of the Roman Empire, the crown changed Isthmian_Games; Crown; Apostle_Paulfrom celery to laurel leaves. Eventually, the laurel wreath became a symbol of accomplishment and distinction. The expression “resting on one’s laurels” refers to someone relying on past successes for continued recognition. At some universities the laurel wreath is used as a symbol of the master’s degree. The word laureate in poet laureate refers to the laurel wreath. Even the Boy Scouts have borrowed from the Isthmian tradition and put a wreath of service on their patches as a symbol of service. 

When the Apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, he knew the Christians reading it would understand his reference to the crown awarded at the Isthmian Games:

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

1 Corinthians 9:25



Rich Man, Poor Man

Rich Man, Poor Man

After Corinth was rebuilt by Caesar in 44 BC as a Roman colony, people from throughout the empire began to to settle there in droves, including a large number of freed slaves. Because of Corinth’s geographical position it quickly grew into a valuable trade center. Land travelers from throughout Greece had to pass through the city on most southern routes, plus with two nearby ports it was a huge shipping center. Tourism was also a big industry for Corinth. Every two years Corinth hosted the Isthmian Games–similar in size and scope to the Olympics.

All of this meant that Corinth grew very quickly from a backwater town to the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Corinth went from very poor, to very rich. Some of its top officials were children of former slaves who had earned their freedom and come into money. In Phoebe’s Journey, Phoebe’s mother and father are both freed slaves. Miklos builds his shipping agency to be the largest in the region.

But not everyone benefitted from the growth and the booming economy. Like many cities that grow quickly, huge swaths of people were left behind by the more successful. Corinth became a city with a wide disparity between rich and poor.

Corinth was also a city known for its wild living. It had more than three temples devoted to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, desire, and beauty. The city’s worship of Aphrodite coupled with the large numbers of sailors and itinerant travelers led Corinth to become so known for its promiscuity that its name became slang. “To act like a Corinthian,” was to be drunk. “To play like a Corinthian,” was another way of talking about sex.

Prosperity, tourism, pride, promiscuous culture…it’s easy to see why at least one Biblical  scholar has called Corinth, “at once the New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas of the ancient world.”

The Corinthian Shortcut

The Corinthian Shortcut

In the first century, Corinth ranked with Ephesus, Alexandria, and Athens as one of the Roman empire’s greatest cities. Why? One of the main reasons was its geography. The southern half of mainland Greece connects to the northern half near Corinth. The connection is a narrow neck of land, called the Isthmus of Corinth, which is less than four miles wide. In ancient times, mariners traveling between Asia and Rome could avoid about 200 miles of dangerous seas by portaging through this isthmus.

A port was on each side of the Isthmus of Corinth. The eastern port was Cenchrae, Phoebe’s hometown in Phoebe’s Journey. Cenchrae is on the Saronic Gulf, leading to the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean. The western port, just north of Corinth, was Lechaeum in the Corinthian Gulf leading to the Ionian Sea, the Adriatic Sea, and the Western Mediterranean.

The Isthmus of Corinth was often called the bridge of the sea. Small ships were guided by slaves across the four mile isthmus on rollers. Larger ships would be unloaded in one port, their goods transported across the Isthmus, then the ships would be reloaded in the other port.

For centuries there was one plan after another to create a canal from Lechaeum to Cenchrae. It wasn’t until 1893 that a canal was finished. Even though it’s an east/west connector, cutting off more than 400 miles, the canal is still of limited use because it’s only 58 feet wide—too narrow for modern ocean freighters which range from 100 feet to more than 200 feet in width. By contrast, the Panama Canal, was expanded in 2016 from 110 feet to 230 feet. Today, the Corinthian Canal is used mainly by small tourist ships.

Gallio’s Pedigree

Gallio’s Pedigree

In the book of Acts, we’re told about the Apostle Paul being brought before the Roman Proconsul Gallio by the Jewish synagogue leaders:

“But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” And he drove them from the tribunal. And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.” (Acts 18:12-17)

Part 1 of Phoebe’s Journey, imagines a further meeting between Gallio and Paul with a fascinating series of exchanges between the two. Gallio arguing from his Stoic background, the Apostle Paul making his case as a Christian.

Gallio, the Proconsul of Achaia [Ancient Greece] when Paul was in Corinth, was the son of Seneca the Elder, and brother to Seneca the Younger. All three were prominent in Roman society.

Seneca and Gallio were born in Cordoba, Spain into a wealthy equestrian family, but moved with their father to Rome where he became a famed speaker and writer. Seneca the Elder oversaw his sons’ education in the Stoic school of philosophy. Gallio and Seneca the Younger rose in their careers to seats of power.

As an adult, Seneca the Younger was an essayist, a playwright, and Stoic philosopher. He also was a tutor and adviser to the evil emperor Nero. Seneca the Younger was one of the wealthiest men of his time.

Seneca’s life was one of opposites: Great wealth, ambition, and power vs. introspection, self-examination, and a philosophy advocating humility, civil obligation, and self-denial.

Seneca wrote several essays, one was a treatise on The Happy Life that he wrote to his brother, Gallio. Following are some of Seneca’s observations and suggestions:

  • Find a role model.
  • Never be a slave to your riches.
  • Fight your ego.

I pondered whether we find similar admonitions in the New Testament:

  • Find a role model: Hebrews 13:7 “Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith.”
  • Never be a slave to your riches: Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
  • Fight your ego: I Peter 5:5 “God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.”

In Phoebe’s Journey, Gallio and the Apostle Paul are educated and wise men. They come from similar, but different backgrounds. They don’t agree about everything, but they find common ground and form a mutually respectful relationship proving that even in our differences, we have similarities.

If you’d like to read more about the philosophy of stoicism, here are three recommended books:



What’s In A Name?

What’s In A Name?

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Nancy, one of my beta readers for Part 1 of Phoebe’s Journey commented that there were a lot of unfamiliar names that sounded similar and that was confusing and distracting. As an example, in the first drafts, Phoebe’s mother’s name is Demetra, which is very similar to another main character’s name–Demarus. Nancy’s advice was spot on and I changed a few character’s names. Phoebe’s mother is now Sophia.

Character names should never get in the way of a reader’s enjoyment. Roman and Greek names often have a similar sound to our unfamiliar ears, so Nancy’s criticism was certainly valid. Beta readers give valuable input and their comments always make the finished product better.

When I was thinking about names for the characters in Phoebe’s Journey, I went through the New Testament and made a list of the Corinthian Christians. What a melting pot of rich ethnicities this early church was:

Roman (Latin) Names

  • Gaius
  • Fortunatua
  • Crispus
  • Titius Justus
 Greek Names
  • Stephanas
  • Achalcus
  • Erastus 
  • Phoebe

Jewish Names 

  • Aquila
  • Priscilla
  • Sosthenes


Corinthian Columns

Corinthian Columns

You’ve heard of Corinthian columns, but do you know what they look like?

The ancient Greeks invented three types of columns: the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian.




The Parthenon

Of the three, Doric columns are the simplest. A Doric column has a top–called the capital–made of a circle topped by a square. The tall part of the column is called the shaft. The shaft of a Doric column is actually quite plain, but very powerful looking. They are especially impressive when they are lined up along the front of a rectangular structure.




Temple of Athena Nike

Ionic columns have taller shafts than Doric columns. Because of their height, they also look more slender than Doric columns. Ionic columns have a unique characteristic, a sort of optical illusion. There is a slight bulge in the columns, called an entasis, that makes the columns look straight, even at a distance. Without the entasis, your eyes would pick up that Ionic columns get narrower as they rise. An Ionic column’s base is large and looks like a set of stacked rings. At the top, the capitals consist of scrolls above the shaft.




Temple of Olympian Zeus

Corinthian columns are the most decorative and the one that most modern people like the best. Corinthian columns also use an entasis to make the columns look straight. The shaft has slender flutes and the base is like the Doric. The capitals are very ornate with elaborate flowers and acanthus leaves below a small scroll. Ironically, the Romans used the Corinthian column much more often than the Greeks did.

So why is it called a Corinthian column?

De Architectura is commonly accepted as the world’s very first architecture manual. Written in about 30 B.C., De Architectura’s author, Vitruvius, tells the story of a young girl’s death in Corinth. “A free-born maiden of Corinth, just of marriageable age, was attached by an illness and passed away,” he writes.

Vitruvius says the girl was buried near the root of an acanthus tree, with a basket of her favorite things. The next spring, leaves and stalks grew up through the basket. Callimachus, a Corinthian sculptor, walked past the tomb and was so impressed with the beauty he began to incorporate the intricate design onto column capitals. And, so (at least according to this story), the Corinthian column was born.

Corinth–Rebuilt Bigger & Better

Corinth–Rebuilt Bigger & Better

Did you know that in the time-setting of Phoebe’s Journey, beginning around 51-53 AD, Corinth was five times larger than Athens?

This was actually Corinth’s second go-around. In 146 BCE, Corinth was completely destroyed by the Romans. The citizens were either killed or taken into slavery. Seems the Roman occupiers were not too happy with the citizenry when some Corinthians dared to pour the waste from their homes onto Roman officials passing by. The officials sent an army and the city was razed.

Corinth was deserted for nearly one hundred years until Julius Caesar rebuilt the city as a colony in 44 BCE. By the middle of the first century AD, Phoebe’s era, Corinth was bigger and better than ever. In fact, it was the largest city in Greece. A hustling metropolitan area, Corinth was known for its diversity, its great wealth, and yes, its immorality.




Phoebe’s Journey: Part 1 Of Passion and Pride

In this first book in the Phoebe’s Journey series, privileged, impetuous, beautiful and headstrong Phoebe finds herself at the center of a power struggle when her father dies unexpectedly.

Although she is just a teenager, Phoebe is determined to protect her father’s legacy as a leader of the Christian church and successful businessman in Cenchrae, Greece. Phoebe is unwavering in her efforts to retain ownership of her family’s lucrative Greek shipping agency, regardless of the roadblocks she encounters. Evil jealousies, resentment, and power struggles, conspire against her. Even Phoebe’s lifelong friends and family have their doubts and shake her resolve, causing her to question who she can trust and if her love is misplaced.

Meanwhile, just north of Phoebe’s hometown of Cenchrae, the Apostle Paul is struggling to make ends meet alongside fellow tentmakers Priscilla and Aquila in the city of Corinth. When their paths cross, an unlikely partnership is formed between Paul and Phoebe.

This richly imagined backstory of the woman, Paul called “worthy of honor among God’s people,” [Acts 16:1-2] brings texture and nuance to first-century life in the Roman Empire. Corinth is no longer just a dot on a musty map. Experience the excitement and the debauchery of the marketplace, known as the Agora. Enter the hushed halls of Proconsul Gallio’s villa. Meet soldiers, servants, and gladiators. Suddenly, life at all levels of society from the mariners to the merchants and the military to the synagogue leaders and the `Corinthian girls’ is real.

If you like historical Christian historical fiction books like those authored by Francine Rivers, Liz Curtis Higgs, and Tommy Tenney, you’ll want to order your copy of Phoebe’s Journey Part 1: Of Passion And Pride.  The ebook and the paperback books are available now from Amazon.

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