Ancient and modern Corinth, Greece

Although modern Corinth is much smaller than ancient Corinth, both in size and population, the presence of modern homes, farms, and other structures has limited excavation of the ancient city to a mere fraction of its total area. The above picture contains both ancient and modern Corinth, and the area is believed to be where the synagogue of Paul’s day was located.

In case you would like to familiarize yourself with the background of this coming Sunday’s sermon (Christ into the City: Corinth), here is a brief survey of ancient city.  While two thousand years have passed, and it seems our North American culture is vastly different from that of an ancient Roman city—historians and archaeologists have provided ample evidence that we today in North American, perhaps more intently in our larger cities, could in many ways be considered cultural twins of Corinth.  Many of us might feel right at home living on the eastern slopes facing the Aegean Sea in that giant metropolis.  In fact, we might even be eager to live in Corinth, given the wonderful climate, cutting-edge culture, great wealth to be gained there, and the endless opportunities of pleasure and recreation found there…

Geographically, Corinth had a more-than-adequate water supply for its 700,000 residents, plentiful food sources, and a pleasant climate.  It couldn’t have been better situated for success and wealth, being positioned at the cross-roads of the ancient Roman world between North, South, East, and West.  Its location brought endless opportunities for trade and enrichment to the Corinthians through the variety of goods available in the city and the taxation of merchandise being transported through the city.  Corinth stood on a five-mile-wide isthmus (a narrow neck of land between two large bodies of water), separating the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas.  Rather than sail along the treacherous, rocky shores of Greece (over 200 very dangerous miles) merchant boats would sail to one of Corinth’s two harbors (one on its western side, one on its east), haul their boats out of the sea, and drag them along a marble-paved, well-greased road called the diokos.  The vessels were then put back into the water on the other side of the isthmus, and they continued on either to Asia (if they were going east) or to Italy (if they were going west).  Offering all that a merchant or sailor might look for in a port, Corinth became the favorite port-of-call for those who made their living on the seas.  Click here for a great map of Paul’s Second Missionary Journey.

Economically, being a major cross-roads town made Corinth one of the richest cities in the world.  Though the ancient city of Corinth had been destroyed centuries earlier by the Romans, Julius Caesar had rebuilt the city just 150 years before.  The city had the odor of new money wafting through its narrow, ancient Mediterranean alleys and streets, much like Gold Rush San Francisco or 1980’s Silicon Valley.  It was full of ex-slaves who had gone into business, worked like slaves to make a profit, and then became enslaved to their money and possessions!  If a person was quick on his feet, could smell a good deal and strike quickly to take advantage—he just might become wildly rich.

Culturally, Corinth was one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the ancient world, with Romans, Greeks, Europeans, Asians, and Africans making up its population.  Restaurants, trade-guilds, temples, businesses and shops abounded—along with a thriving adult-entertainment industry providing sexual services of all imaginable varieties, and some that we might have trouble imagining!  The multi-cultural nature of Corinth resulted in many varieties of beliefs and customs found in the city.  The Isthmian Games were held every two years, bringing much wealth and tourism into the city.  At the games, athletes from the ancient Mediterranean world would compete in events such as javelin throwing, foot races, wrestling, long jump, etc., drawing huge crowds to the festival associated with the competition.  Many tourists purchased tents to stay in during their stay for the Isthmian Games.  It is probable that it was to make some money from his trade as a tent-maker that Paul chose to travel to Corinth, of all places.  Another tent-maker couple, Aquila and Priscilla, had recently left Rome, and likely had chosen to go to Corinth for the same, economically-driven reason as Paul.  But aside from the usual practice of supporting himself through tent-making, Paul had another, deeper agenda in his heart as he made the trek from Athens to Corinth: He sought to extend the gospel of his Lord Jesus Christ into the city of Corinth through the preaching of that gospel of Jesus Christ.  But how to accomplish such a task in such a place?  Corinth as decidedly the most un-Christian city in the ancient world before it had even heard about Christ!  Its temple of Aphrodite, which daily sent scores, if not hundreds, of both male and female prostitutes into the streets and squares of Corinth below to perform sexual acts with tourists, visitors, and residents was already legendary in the culture of ancient Rome.  The general party-spirit of the city gave rise to the term Corinthize, which described the most morally base behavior imaginable:  On the stages of theaters across the empire, the classic character of The Corinthian appeared—always drunk, staggering across the stage, and acting the part of the fool.  As it is informally said of Las Vegas today, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” the same could truly be said, “What happens in Corinth stays in Corinth!”

This Sunday, we’ll hear what does happen in such a city when a determined, unknown travelling preacher named Paul arrives with a message of hope and forgiveness to a truly burned out culture, exhausted by its own relentless pursuit of pleasure and meaning…