Thursday, February 05, 2009

Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 2)

Note: I taught a Sunday School on Church History in 2004 in New Hampshire. Starting in February I'll be teaching the same course here in Virginia. So any posts, including the one below, and especially for the first half of the series, are more or less repeats.

Church History Lesson 1 (Introduction)

Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 1)

Corinth, circa A.D. 50

(Note: generously adopting and lifting from F. F. Bruce's fantastic book: The Spreading Flame.)

During this period of interest, Corinth was in many ways a model of personal religious freedom and tolerance.

The capital of the Roman province of Archia, Corinth, 50 miles southwest of Athens, had a population of over 200,000 that included Greeks, freedmen from Italy, Roman army veterans, slaves, Jews, and others.

Corinthians could boast of an acropolis with a temple to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Worship at her temple included ritualistic prostitution.

Where did worship of this Greek goddess come from? It was the Hellenized form of the Syrian worship of Astarte, who is the Ashtoreth of the Old Testament.

I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, (1 Kings 11:33)

In Corinth, one could also worship Melicertes, the god of navigation. Melicertes is derived from Melkart, the Baal of Tyre, whose worship corrupted the Jews, most notably when King Ahab married Jezebel.

Ashtoreth and Baal, worshipped in Corinth, in A.D. 50, about 900 years after the time of Ahab.
Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD . They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook the LORD and no longer served him, (Judges 10:6)

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecc. 1:9)

Many other gods and goddesses had their acolytes in Corinth. It was a cornucopia of deities.

One place of worship stood apart in Corinth. Archaeological digs have uncovered part of a door with an inscription that, completed, read: Synagogue of the Hebrews. Here it was taught that there was but one true God, and that He imposed moral requirements on all mankind. He had a special people, the Jews, but that did not mean that others were excluded.

Non-Jews (Gentiles) could join this community of worshipers and enjoy full privileges. All proselytes had to undergo a type of baptism, offer a sacrifice and agree to strive to obey the ceremonial and moral law that God had revealed to the Jews. Men, however, were enjoined with an additional requirement: they had to be circumcised. It is perhaps not surprising that there were more women converts than men.

However, there was an intermediate status that one could choose that did not require circumcision. Those who chose this option were called God-fearers. These men were loosely attached to the synagogue and enjoyed a subset of the privileges of full membership. In return, they agreed to obey some of the law (for example, to keep the Sabbath) and to live in a morally acceptable way. We will meet one of these God-fearers shortly.

It is this community that was the destination of our first set of travelers, the Jewish couple from Rome and, shortly thereafter, the learned Rabbi from Tarsus.

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