Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Details about the ancient Roman “honor” system

Larry Hurtado, commenting on Peter M. Head, “‘Witnesses between You and Us’: The Role of Letter-Carriers in 1 Clement, in Studies on the Text of the New Testament and Early Christianity: Essays in Honor of Michael W. Holmes on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday, eds. Daniel M. Gurtner, Juan Hernandez and Paul Foster (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 477-93:

After reviewing major matters widely accepted about the letter among scholars, Head focuses on the named individuals who were apparently sent with this letter from the Roman church to the Corinthian church: Claudius Ephebus, Valerius Bito, and Fortunatus (1 Clem. 65:1). He argues (cogently to my mind) that they are not simply letter-carriers, but important emissaries of the Roman church, who likely had a role in amplifying further the concerns of those who sent them, and may have been intended to have a role also in the resolution of the problem in the Corinthian church.

With previous scholars, Head notes also that the names of these individuals suggest that Claudius Ephebus and Valerius Bito were likely freedmen of the imperial household. Their names reflect the family name of Claudius (emperor, 41-54 AD) and his wife Messalina (from the family of Valerius). Such individuals would have had “a prominent social position” (492), illustrating the early inroads Christianity was beginning to make in somewhat higher levels of Roman society.

I’ve argued elsewhere that it was the presence of the Roman “honor” system that gave the Roman church its own sense of importance. Details like this help us to flesh that out – not only in terms of “who” was in the church, but “what” they were doing, and “why” they were doing it.

See also: Background on the ancient Roman church.

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