I had long been curious how emerging scholarship on the daily lives of people living in in the first century translated into a narrative describing those lives.
What was it like to live in Palestine, for example, during the early years of the church? What was travel like? How did ordinary people live? What impact did the Gospel have on the societies of that day? And how did those first Christians navigate the complexities of being born anew from above, yet continuing to live in the political, cultural, and religious climate down below?
A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman, by Holly Beers, PhD, follows the story Anthia and her little son as she comes to know Jesus in first-century Ephesus. Like most others in her day, Anthia acknowledge the many gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon, but as a dweller in Ephesus, and as a woman, she was partial Artemis. Her story opens with a friend dying in childbirth, a common occurrence in that day, in spite of prayers and offerings to the gods. Would Anthia suffer the same fate?
From the first pages, I was drawn into Anthia’s life, her fears and heartaches, her hardships but also her joys, and how she must have felt and thought about the Gospel, and this strange new God, Jesus. Beers effortlessly weaves together the Greek Testament with the latest research into the lives of women in the first-century Greco-Roman world, describing what it might have been like to be an ordinary woman living during that time. I found Beers’ writing style easy to read, and appreciated how she depicted living conditions, worldview, the excitement and wonder–and anxiety–of the new faith, and how the people of that day must have processed the Gospel.
Ephesus contained one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, the enormous and beautiful temple to Artemis, and her captivating image inside it. To be a woman in Ephesus was to enjoy the protection and patronage of this powerful goddess. Why would anyone turn to Jesus, a stranger and a Jew? But Christianity took deep root among the people there, and Beers offers some interesting and compelling reasons why.
Scripture is woven with research throughout, bringing to life the instructions and explanations in Paul’s letters, and many of the names that show up in the Beers’ story are readily recognizable. The scene depicting a gathering of the assembly for worship, where perhaps the seed of the idea to burn their sorcery books may have began, was seamless. Beers also includes pictures of artifacts and breakout boxes explaining different aspects of first century terms and customs.
There are not many “in-between” books that bring archaeological and textual research to the general audience, but Beers has done a wonderful job of bridging both worlds. An enjoyable read, and a book I’ll be using as I teach.