Saturday, March 15, 2014

Idol Food Is No Idle Business at Corinth

Whew! Just turned in the proof's for the Seyoon Kim Festschrift yesterday. That was brutal. I went through several pots of coffee and about a half-bottle of Advil to get this done... and all this with the help of a TA (Thanks Kerry!) who did fantastic work. But back to where I left off.
   Pardon the pun, but idol food was no idle business in the Roman Corinth of Paul's day. To the contrary, it was a thriving enterprise that produced a high-quality item in mass quantities with amazing efficiency at an affordable price. While we are not sure of the exact location of the butcher shop which took left-over food sacrificed to idols and prepared it to be sold in the marketplace before it could spoil, historically we have three competing locations based on the recovery of inscription fragments found around the area of the Corinthian agora. These have been mapped out below (in burgandy, green and blue): 
Map of Ancient Corinth (credit:
(1) The least likely location was once argued by Broneer who later retracted his initial assertion that based on the discovery of an inscription at the crypto-porticus near the South Basilica (dotted burgandy rectangle on the map), the shops of the south forum was where the macellum was situated. But this location was based on an earlier (mis)conjecture that the fragment read: ΛΟΥKIOC  ΛAN[IO]C ("Loukios the but[che]r"). But it was later determined that the better reconstruction was ΛΟΥKIOC  ΚAN[IO]C ("Loukios Kan[io]s") where the second word is not "butcher" but the nomen "Kanios" [See the discussion by David Gill in his "The Meat Market at Corinth (1 Cor 10:25)," Tyndale Bulletin 43.2 (1992) 391-92; cf. O. Broneer, "Studies in the topography of Corinth at the time of St. Paul," Archaiologike Ephemeris (1937) 125-133].

(2) Bruce Winter mentions the possibility of its location at the basilica near the Lechaion Road where the Roman market existed (green circle; see his After Paul Left Corinth, 294). 

(3) But the most likely location remains the Peribolos of Apollo where a series of shops built by the Romans are located, and these and the Peribolos are built on top of the former location of the old Greek meat market (mentioned by Pausanias in his Description of Greece 2.3.2-2.3.3; see blue circle on the map). Fotopoulos gives a detailed summary for why the Peribolos is the most likely location based on how other macella (e.g., the macellum at Pompeii) are similarly constructed near a water source so live fish can be kept and then butchered on order (see his Food Offered to Idols in Roman Corinth, 139-42).  

(4) Perhaps the safest estimation is by Gill who simply says that the location of the butcher shop, though unspecified, nevertheless was likely near the Lechaion Road. 

   The point, however, is that the butcher was close by the temples. From the Temple of Apollo, it was roughly 15-20 yards away from the Roman market place (green circle) and 25-30 yards away from the Peribolos (blue circle). Or, as I like to say, the butcher shop was just two "first down's" on the football field away from the temple. Not far at all. The food was quickly butchered and sold immediately before it spoiled. It met a real need after major festivals and religious holidays by providing high-quality food at an inexpensive price to the common person off the street. 

   And Paul, against his Jewish instincts, appears to have no qualms about eating idol food sold in the macellum (ἐν μακέλλῳ; 1 Cor 10:25). Much good discussion has already been made about a theology of creation (based on Paul's quotation of Psalm 24:1 LXX  [= 23:1 LXX] in 1 Cor 10:26) which informs Paul's permissibility. But what I find intriguing is the non-sacramental view Paul has towards idol food when it comes to the elements (or meat) themselves. What makes idol food idolatrous (and possibly sacramental) is not the elements or food, but the cultic setting in which pagan worship and fellowship took place. I believe this foil has enormous theological implications for the Lord's Supper in 1 Cor 10:12-24. But more on this next time.

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