Category: History

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:

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The Apostle Paul’s Postal Service

The Apostle Paul’s Postal Service

Ancient Papyrus Letter

For good reason, Christians focus most of their  attention on the content of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. But, considering how important this letter was to further Paul’s mission, he no doubt spent as much effort on ensuring its delivery as he did writing it.

So exactly how did Paul’s letter get from Greece to Rome? We can’t be certain about the details, but we can make some plausible conjectures.

During this era there were three ways to send a letter: 1) official material was transmitted through the postal service, known as the cursus publicus; 2) wealthy people often used a tabellarius, a slave acting as a courier, to carry their mail; and 3) the majority of mail was carried by anyone–even a stranger–headed to the same destination as the letter. You can imagine that in this case it was never a sure thing that the letter would actually be delivered safely.

Our first supposition, which is clearly supported by Paul’s own writings, is that he put his letters in the hands of people he knew and trusted. In the case of the letter to the Romans, Paul indicates he chose Phoebe to carry his letter.

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. Welcome her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her with anything she may need from you.” Acts 16:1-2

What were Phoebe’s responsibilities?

Most importantly, Phoebe had to get Paul’s letter to the Romans from Corinth, Greece to Rome, Italy safely. By sea the trip was about 700 miles and could take 5-10 days in good weather. With a combination sea/land route following the Adriatic Sea, the distance was about 800 miles. There were paved roads and travelers often rode donkeys and stayed in inns along the way. This route took considerably more time–3 to 4 weeks–but in the winter months it was the only open route for travelers.

Phoebe was also most likely responsible for paying her travel expenses, including sea passage for her and any travel companions, food and wine for her journey, etc.

Importantly, Phoebe needed to physically protect Paul’s letter. The biggest threat was from moisture from the sea and from rain.  The letter could have been wrapped in a parchment wrapper, then stored in a box. Was Phoebe able to book an enclosed cabin for the sea portion of her voyage? We have no way of knowing, but if she did, Paul’s letter would have even been safer.

Once Phoebe arrived safely in Rome, her next responsibility was to deliver the letter to the Christian community on Paul’s behalf.

 

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.

Home

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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.

The reader’s guide is available absolutely free. Please send us your email address below.

Two Sentences

Two Sentences

Phoebe was only mentioned one time in the New Testament. In Romans 16:1-2 the Apostle Paul tells the Christians in Rome: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea. Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people. Help her in whatever she needs, for she has been helpful to many, and especially to me.”

Those two sentences are jam-packed with information about our leading lady. Let’s dig deeper.

It seems obvious that in the first century A.D., most letter writers didn’t carry their own letters. Why would Paul write a letter if he was going to see the recipients in person? Much like letter writers today use the post office, in ancient times, emissaries carried letters on behalf of their writers. It was common for letter writers to include an introduction of the person(s) who brought the letter on their behalf. When Paul introduces `Phoebe, from Cenchrea,’ it’s logical to assume that Phoebe was person who brought Paul’s letter nearly 1000 miles from Corinth, Greece all the way to Rome.

What else can we super-sleuth from this one verse? Well, when Paul says “Welcome her [Phoebe] in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people,” we know that Phoebe was a Christian. We also hear that Paul expects brothers and sisters united in Christianity to treat each other with respect and Christian love–whether or not we have ever met before. Paul wants Phoebe to be honored and to be warmly welcomed into their lives.

Paul goes on to tell his friends in Rome, “…give her any help she may need from you…” There are so many possibilities as to what kind of help Phoebe may have needed while in Rome. In the third book of the Phoebe’s Journey series, you’ll read all about the work I’ve imagined Phoebe doing in Rome. Of course, Paul doesn’t specify any business reason for Phoebe to have traveled to Rome, but we can use our imaginations.

Paul wraps up his introduction of Phoebe, “…she has been helpful to many, and especially to me.” Phoebe was obviously special in Paul’s eyes. Doesn’t that sentence make you wonder about the kindnesses she showed to her fellow Christians, and especially the Apostle Paul?

Two Sentences

Two Sentences

Phoebe was only mentioned one time in the New Testament. In Romans 16:1-2 the Apostle Paul tells the Christians in Rome: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea. Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people. Help her in whatever she needs, for she has been helpful to many, and especially to me.”

Those two sentences are jam-packed with information about our leading lady. Let’s dig deeper.

It seems obvious that in the first century A.D., most letter writers didn’t carry their own letters. Why would Paul write a letter if he was going to see the recipients in person? Much like letter writers today use the post office, in ancient times, emissaries carried letters on behalf of their writers. It was common for letter writers to include an introduction of the person(s) who brought the letter on their behalf. When Paul introduces `Phoebe, from Cenchrea,’ it’s logical to assume that Phoebe was person who brought Paul’s letter nearly 1000 miles from Corinth, Greece all the way to Rome.

What else can we super-sleuth from this one verse? Well, when Paul says “Welcome her [Phoebe] in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people,” we know that Phoebe was a Christian. We also hear that Paul expects brothers and sisters united in Christianity to treat each other with respect and Christian love–whether or not we have ever met before. Paul wants Phoebe to be honored and to be warmly welcomed into their lives.

Paul goes on to tell his friends in Rome, “…give her any help she may need from you…” There are so many possibilities as to what kind of help Phoebe may have needed while in Rome. In the third book of the Phoebe’s Journey series, you’ll read all about the work I’ve imagined Phoebe doing in Rome. Of course, Paul doesn’t specify any business reason for Phoebe to have traveled to Rome, but we can use our imaginations.

Paul wraps up his introduction of Phoebe, “…she has been helpful to many, and especially to me.” Phoebe was obviously special in Paul’s eyes. Doesn’t that sentence make you wonder about the kindnesses she showed to her fellow Christians, and especially the Apostle Paul?

COMING SOON!

COMING SOON!

 

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 and 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,” 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 reserve your copy of Phoebe’s Journey Part 1. Plus, when you reserve now you’ll receive the book absolutely free! Part 1: Of Passion And Pride will be published July 2017. Simply complete the opt-in form below. There are no tricks here, send us your email address and we’ll send you a link to Amazon to get the book free as soon as it’s published.

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