In our last article we saw how Corinth was rebuilt as a Roman city. The construction was instigated by Julius Caesar making it quite different to Greek cities in the region. Old temples were restored and enlarged, new shops and markets were built, new water supplies were developed until it became a formidable industrial and commercial hub. In this article we want to look at the remaining ruins of Corinth, particularly, how they are connected to the New Testament.

The Corinth Canal is a waterway that crosses the narrow isthmus of Corinth to link the Gulf of Corinth to the Saronic Gulf. As such, the canal separates the Greek mainland from the Peloponnese, turning this southern portion of Greece into an island.

It is believed that Periander, the tyrant of Corinth (602BC), was the first to conceive of the idea of digging the canal. As the project was too complicated, given the limited technical capabilities of the times, Periander constructed the diolkós, a stone road which allowed ships to be transferred on wheeled platforms, similar to how a train operates. To reduce the weight of the ship, the cargo was unloaded before the ship was hoisted onto the diolkós, and the unloaded commodities hauled separately across land. This method of overland transportation of ships was used at least until the time of the Apostle Paul.

Julius Caesar and Caligula also considered making a canal, but it was Nero who started building it—digging the first basket load of soil himself in AD67 (C. Suetonius Tranquillus, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars Nero, Chap 19). During that time the first 700 metres of the canal were excavated using Jewish prisoners, but the work was later abandoned. The modern canal was dug over 11 years, finishing in 1893 and it followed the same route as that planned by Nero’s engineers. It is 6.4 kilometres long and only 25 meters wide, making it impossible for modern ships to go through. This means that the canal has lost any significant economic importance it once had and was closed in January 2021 due to a landslide.

 

There were other canals dug in ancient times. Xerxes dug a canal across the Mt Athos peninsula in northern Greece. It was two kilometres long and finished in 480BC, taking three years to build for his invasion of Greece. It has since silted up. A canal was dug across the Pallene peninsula (two peninsulas farther west) possibly around about 300BC, and it is still used today. It is 950 metres long.

We know from Acts 18:4 that there was a synagogue at Corinth where Paul reasoned every sabbath. There was the house of Justus next to the synagogue, and Crispus the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed.

A pillar capital was found with three menorahs carved into it, which must have belonged to the synagogue in Corinth. There is also a damaged partial inscription saying, “synagogue Hebrews” (ΓΩΓΗ ΕΒΡ), though it is written in rough, non-aligned, Greek letters as a stark contrast to the neat menorah piece.

Next, we see in Acts 18:12, that the Jews brought Paul to the judgment seat to be judged by Gallio. The word translated “judgment seat” is the Greek bema (pron. Vee-ma) and it means “a step”. It can mean a small step, or a large step like a platform referred to here. It’s also the word in plural form you would use to describe a baby taking its first steps.

This bema is slightly over two metres high and 10 metres wide and is situated on the south side of the agora or market; just marginally jutting into the market space proper. Here, Gallio refused to judge Paul according to the laws of the Jews and, here, the new chief ruler of the synagogue, Sosthenes, was beaten in front of him by the Corinthians. Luke records, “And Gallio cared for none of those things” (Acts 18:17). As an aside, we learn from 1 Corinthians 1:1 that Sosthenes later became a brother.

Gallio was a Roman senator and brother of the writer Seneca. He asked Senaca to write a piece on how anger can be mitigated, so he wrote ‘De Ira’, which is part of Stoic philosophy. Seneca also wrote a work entitled, To Gallio on the happy life, commonly referred to as ‘De Vita Beata’. Gallio was a friend of Claudius, according to a stone inscription at Delphi, and it is thought Gallio was the deputy of Achaia from AD mid-51 to mid-52.

At the front of the excavated theatre is an inscribed limestone pavement which reads: ERASTVS PRO AEDILITATE S P STRAVI. It is incomplete but has been translated “Erastus in return for his aedileship laid the pavement at his own expense”.  The letters are cut out of the stone, and it’s believed that they were inset with brass.

Erastus is mentioned in Romans 16:23 as one who greets the Romans, and it gives his position as the treasurer of the city (from the ESV; the KJV has “chamberlain”). The Greek is oikonoms, (pron. ekonomos) from which we get economics. This is quite a significant archaeological connection to the Bible, and also reveals that this man was very wealthy having such a high position in a city that was a major trading centre. When money was sent for the Jerusalem poor fund, it’s quite likely that Erastus would have contributed to a significant portion of the contributions. How true it is that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

The theatre at Corinth faced north, overlooking the Corinthian Gulf. The first theatre was built on the slope of a natural hill around the 5th century BC and could hold 18,000 spectators. It was rebuilt in the 1st century and Paul would have been aware of its central place in Greek culture. The Greeks are regarded as the inventors of drama, and the Greek theatre consisted essentially of the orchestra, the flat dancing floor of the chorus, and the theatron—the actual structure of the theatre building—as well as the performance itself.

Paul alluded to this arrangement in 1 Corinthians 4:9: “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.” The word “spectacle” is theatron, which here refers to the show or the display. The apostles were like acts on stage (or victims in a gladiatorial arena as others interpret this picture) for all the world to see. Paul states that they were the final act, the finale, the show where they were brought forth at the conclusion of the event to face certain death at the hands of the gladiators.

We await the day when this will be reversed and the Apostle Paul will stand amongst the redeemed, victorious over death.