Precedence at the Communal Meal in Corinth

in Novum Testamentum
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The explanation of 1 Cor 11:14-37, that Corinthian meal practice involved either peer benefaction (wealthy members providing the meal), or eranistic practices (members each contributing differing amounts and qualities of food), and the late arrival of the poorer members, is flawed in several respects. This paper uses data from Graeco-Roman associations to show that association meals were rarely funded by endowments or peer benefaction on a continuing basis, and there is no evidence of eranistic practices. The idea that poorer members typically arrived late at meals is based on anachronistic views of the structure of labor and on ambiguities in translations of προλαμβάνειν in 11:21. The disturbances at the communal meal, like those typical of association meals, likely involved competitive behavior that used differential allotments of food to assert status and privilege.

Precedence at the Communal Meal in Corinth

in Novum Testamentum




G. TheissenThe Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth (Philadelphia: Fortress1982) 149.


See M. WecowskiThe Rise of the Greek Aristocratic Banquet (Oxford: Oxford University Press2014) 198-199.


P.-B. Smit“Ritual Failure, Ritual Negotiation, and Paul’s Argument in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34,” Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters 3 (2013) 165-193 suggests that the Corinthian meal is an instance of “ritual failure.” Smit however is quick to point out that Paul evaluates the Corinthian meal by a very different “ritual script” than the script employed in the Corinthian meal.


TheissenSocial Setting145-174; T. Schmeller Hierarchie und Egalität: Eine sozialgeschichtliche Untersuchung paulinischer Gemeinden und griechisch-römischer Vereine (sbs 162; Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk 1995) 71: “[Die Reicheren] brachten aber das Essen für die ganze Gemeinde mit waren also Patronen oder Amtsträger in Vereinen ähnlich.” J.M.D. Barclay “Money and Meetings: Group Formation Among Diaspora Jews and Early Christians” in Vereine Synagogen und Gemeinden im kairserzeitlichen Kleinasiens (ed. A. Gutsfeld and D.-A. Koch; Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christientum 25; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2006) 113-128 (120) is undecided: “Paul’s church in Corinth seems to have relied on members bringing their own food or on the wealthier supplying food for them.”


WeissDer erste Korintherbrief281; C.K. Barrett A Commentary of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (2nd ed; London: A. & C. Black; New York: Harper & Row 1968) 263; P. Lampe “Das korinthische Herrenmahl im Schnittpunkt hellenistisch-römischer Mahlpraxis und paulinischer Theologia Crucis [1 Kor 1117-34]” znw 82 (1991) 183-212; O. Hofius “The Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Supper Tradition: Reflections on 1 Corinthians 11 23b-25” in One Loaf One Cup: Ecumenical Studies of 1 Cor. 11 and Other Eucharistic Texts: The Cambridge Conference on the Eucharist August 1988 (ed. B.F. Meyer; New Gospel Studies 6; Macon Ga.: Peeters and Mercer University Press 1993) 75-115 (92); B.W. Winter After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change (Grand Rapids Mich.: Eerdmans 2001) 157; S. Friesen “Poverty in Pauline Studies: Beyond the So-Called New Consensus” jsnt 26 3 (2004) 323-361 349 n. 83. Winter (After Paul Left 157) thinks that Paul might have established this custom but erroneously calls this a ἀσύμβολος δεῖπνον where participants brought their own food. In fact an ἀσύμβολος δεῖπνον as the adjective itself indicates is a dinner to which participants do not contribute: Aeschines In Timarchum 75; Amphis frag. 39; Timocles Frag. 8 (on the parasite and free meals); Plutarch Quaest. Conv. 727F; Lucian Merc. Cond. 3. In inscriptions and papyri pertaining to associations the term ἀσύμβολος designates persons who are exempt from paying dues or contributing to a banquet. See below n. 71.


See J.S. Kloppenborg“Graeco-Roman Thiasoi, the Corinthian Ekklesia at Corinth, and Conflict Management,” in Redescribing Paul and the Corinthians (ed. R. Cameron and M. Miller; Early Christianity and Its Literature 5; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature2011) 187-218 (212). I distinguish “peer benefaction” from “patronage.” The latter refers to resources drawn from someone who is not a member of the group (though might be invited to its meetings); the former is benefaction from a group member. “Peer” is intended broadly and does not imply that all members were social and status peers.


TheissenSocial Setting148. This is a misconstrual of the term ἐκ τῶν ἰδίων (or de suo) which occurs with great frequency in donative and honorific inscriptions and indicates that a gift to a city or association has been paid for not from public or the association’s funds but by the donor (see J.S. Kloppenborg and R.S. Ascough Attica Central Greece Macedonia Thrace [vol. 1 of Greco-Roman Associations: Texts Translations and Commentary i; bznw 181; Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter 2011] 447 448 hereafter grai). It is almost always applied to individual donors paying for monuments or other durable objects or undertaking liturgies. And while there are instances of a patron funding a meal for an association I know of no instances where ἐκ τῶν ἰδίων designates a meal practice such as what Theissen imagines.


TheissenSocial Setting153.


TheissenSocial Setting155.


VarroDe re rustica 3.2.16; Philo De ebrietate 20-21 23; Flacc. 4 136; Cyprian Ep. 67.6; Tertullian Apol. 39 quips ad fumum coenae Serapiacae sparteoli excitabuntur “And at the smoke of Sarapis’ banquet the firefighters will have to get up.” Livy 39.8 also suggests that excessive consumption contributed to the Bacchanalia conspiracy.


See K.M.D. DunbabinThe Roman Banquet: Images of Conviviality (New York: Cambridge University Press2004) 72-102.


C. Grignon“Commensality and Social Morphology: An Essay of Typology,” in Food Drink and Identity: Cooking Eating and Drinking in Europe Since the Middle Ages (ed. P. Scholliers; Oxford and New York: Berg2001) 23-33. I am indebted to R. Ascough for alerting me to Grignon’s work. See R.S. Ascough “Forms of Commensality in Greco-Roman Associations” Classical World 102 (2008) 33-45.


Grignon“Commensality” 26-27.


Grignon“Commensality” 29.


J.F. Donahue“Toward a Typology of Roman Public Feasting,” AJPh 124 (2003) 423-441 (434).


Grignon“Commensality” 30.


WeissDer erste Korintherbrief281.


See J. VondelingEranos (Groningen: J.B. Wolters1961); G. Maier Eranos als Kreditinstitut (Erlangen: Universität Erlangen–Nürnberg 1969); O. Longo “Eranos” in Mélanges Edouard Delebecque (Aix-en-Provence: Publications Université de Provence 1983) 245-258. E.g. honours for a treasurer: igii2 1291.2-7 = grai 19 (Piraeus iii bce): “[he] managed accurately and fairly the common fund which the eranistai had entrusted to him in accordance with the common bylaws of the eranistai and the contributors’ fund (eranos). . . .’


HomerOd. 1.226-227. See also Hesiod Opera et dies 722-723: μηδὲ πολυξείνου δαιτὸς δυσπέμφελος εἶναι ἐκ κοινοῦ· πλείστη δὲ χάρις δαπάνη τ’ ὀλιγίστη “Do not be boorish at a common feast where there are many guests; the pleasure is the greatest and the expense is least” (trans.: lcl).


AthenaeusDeipn. 8.68 (364F-365D) says that such a banquet is called an ἐπιδόσιμα or δεῖπνον ἐξ ἐπιδομάτων by the Alexandrians. It is also called a σύνδειπνον or συναγώγιον.


P. CoutsoumposPaul and the Lord’s Supper: A Socio-Historical Investigation (Studies in Biblical Literature 84; Frankfurt, Berlin and Bern: Peter Lang2005) 47; similarly idem Community Conflict and the Eucharist in Roman Corinth: The Social Setting of Paul’s Letter (Lanham Md.: University Press of America 2006) 102-103 and n. 9.


AthenaeusDeipn. 8.68 [365E] quoting Menander: “‘and he finished the synagogion’. Probably this is what is also called τὸ ἀπὸ συμβολων δεῖπνον. But what the συμβολαὶ (contributions) are Alexis [ca. 375-ca. 275 bce] himself indicates in his ‘Angry Woman in Mandragora’. . . . ”


P. Lampe“The Eucharist: Identifying with Christ on the Cross,” Int 48 1 (1994) 39: “In the light of the Greco-Roman potluck custom I suggest that the Christian situation at Corinth be construed in the following manner. Each Corinthian celebrating the eucharistic dinner party according to the eranos custom brought his or her own food but some came early and began eating before the others arrived. Some of the latecomers either had no time or no money to prepare sufficient food baskets for themselves. Because of this they remained hungry for when they arrived those who had brought enough for themselves had already eaten most of their own food and thus could no longer share it” (emphasis original).


R. Duncan-JonesThe Economy of the Roman Empire: Quantitative Studies (rev. ed.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1982) 364-365 assumes a 6% draw on income and calculates the price of an amphora of wine at hs 61-88.


J. Liu“The Economy of Endowments: The Case of the Roman Collegia,” in Pistoi Dia Tèn Technèn. Bankers Loans and Archives in the Ancient World: Studies in Honour of Raymond Bogaert (ed. K. Verboven, K. Vandorpe, and V. Chankowski; Studia Hellenistica 44; Leuven: Peeters2007) 231-256 (235).


Above p. 17.


See T. Reekmans“Monetary History and the Dating of Ptolemaic Papyri,” Studia Hellenistica 5 (1948) 15-43.


R. SchollCorpus der ptolemäischen Sklaventexte (Forschungen zur antiken Sklaverei, Beiheft 1; Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag1990) 1:333-342 (no. 91).


DownsThe Offering of the Gentiles101.


P. Pilhofer“Ökonomische Attraktivität christlicher Gemeinden der Frühzeit,” in Die frühen Christen und ihre Welt: Greifswalder Aufsätze 1996-2001 (wunt 2. Reihe 145; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2002) 194-216; E. Ebel Die Attraktivität früher christlicher Gemeinden: Die Gemeinde von Korinth im Spiegel griechisch-römischer Vereine (wunt 2. Reihe 178; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2004).


Pilhofer“Ökonomische Attraktivität” 206.


Pilhofer“Ökonomische Attraktivität” 207. Similarly Ebel Attraktivität 163.


See in general J.E. LendonEmpire of Honour: The Art of Government in the Roman World (Oxford: Clarendon1997).


P. Van Minnen“Urban Craftsmen in Roman Egypt,” Münstersche Beiträge zur antiken Handelsgeschichte 6 (1987) 31-88.


E.M. Harris“Workshop, Marketplace and Household: The Nature of Technical Specialization in Classical Athens and Its Influence on Economy and Society,” in Money Labour and Land: Approaches to the Economies of Ancient Greece (ed. P. Cartledge et al.; London: Routledge 2002) 67-99 (71).


D.P. Kehoe“The Early Roman Empire: Production,” in The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World (ed. W. Scheidel et al.; Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press 2007) 453-569.


K. Hopkins“Introduction,” in Trade in the Ancient Economy (ed. P. Garnsey et al.; Berkeley and London: University of California Press 1983) ix-xxv (xi-xii).


Treggiari“Domestic Staff” 246-247.


Digest; Aulus GelliusNoctes Atticae 4.1.17.


R.P. Saller“Women, Slaves and the Economy of the Roman Household,” in Early Christian Families in Context: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue (ed. D.L. Balch and C. Osiek; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans2003) 185-204 (192).


Saller“Women Slaves and the Economy” 197.


P. Arzt-Grabner et al.1. Korinther (Papyrologische Kommentare zum Neuen Testament 2; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht2006) 394-395 and nn. 680 681 cites a number of papyri using the verb mostly in relation to taxes rents loans grain and land. See also igxii/6 1.172 (Samos 250 bce): “to buy (grain) earlier and to arrange the grain supply more profitably.” I.Corinth 83 305 = seg 11:153 (late iii ce) uses the verb to mean “seize” but given the age of the deceased perhaps “seize beforehand”: “This tomb holds my body which death-dealing Fate seized (‹προ›λαβοῦσα) and slayed beloved son of Alexander my name is Neikies Ephyrēios of twenty years the best of orthographers. . . .”


AthenaeusDeipn. 2.24 (45E): “but if some of us might be discontent take some sweet wine beforehand (προλαμβανέτω)”; 3.28 (84D): “I know well that when the citron is taken before (προλαμβανόμενον) any food dry or liquid it is an antidote to every poisonous ingredient.” See Winter After Paul Left 144 n. 4 (both of Winter’s references are incorrect).


Thus BarrettFirst Corinthians262; Theissen Social Setting 151; Lampe “Das korinthische Herrenmahl” 193.


Hofius“Presence in the Lord’s Supper” 89-90.


Hofius“Presence in the Lord’s Supper” 94.


H. Conzelmann1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress1975) 195 n. 22; Hofius “Presence in the Lord’s Supper” 91; Surburg “Corinthian Lord’s Supper” 24-26. One could also cite mamaiv 279.10-14 (Dionysopolis ii-iii ce): “I have been punished greatly by the god and he has come to me in dreams and before my eyes took (‹π›ρολαβὼν) my slave. . . .”


J.F. DonahueThe Roman Community at Table During the Principate (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press2004) 89.

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