Bought with a price: Paul and manumission – Student dissertation (part 3)

In parts one and two of Isabella Wray‘s dissertation (BA) exploring Paul’s use of the term ‘feedman’ (ἀπελεύθερος – apeleutheros) in 1 Corinthians 7:22, Isabella has drawn our attention to the importance of status within Roman society. She makes the point that how one was even treated in the law courts was dependent upon one’s status and rightly noted that this would have informed Paul’s instruction against their use for disputes among assembly members (1 Corinthians 6:1-6).

Furthermore, the relatively recent re-establishment of Corinth created a rather unique environment which resulted in some of the legal obstructions to influential civic/political posts being lifted – even to those who were once slaves. The lure of upward mobility in Corinth was a very tangible and visible possibility; even someone who was a slave could rise up the social ladder, command respect of their peers, and acquire great wealth and power. At the best of times, the promise of freedom for slaves must have been very attractive, but in Corinth there was an added incentive. Was this, partly, behind Paul’s aside concerning whether the members of the Corinthian church who were slaves should remain enslaved or attain the status of an apeleutheros?

In this section Isabella examines the legal process by which a slave could become free (manumission). Continue reading

Power, status and influence in Paul’s Corinth – Student dissertation (part 2)

In Part 1 of Newman graduand Isabella Wray‘s examination of Paul’s use of ‘slave’ and ‘freedman’ in 1 Corinthians 7:20-24 she described the geopolitical setting of Corinth and emphasised how the tumultuous events of the re-establishment of this Roman colony contributed to creating a climate in which social advancement was made possible even for those who would normally have been excluded by law from it – namely freed slaves (the apeleutheroi). This excerpt develops this theme by including an example of just such a freedman, Babbius Philinus.

As Isabella remarked during one tutorial, people like Babbius must have sprung into the minds of the Corinthian readers at his mention of ἀπελεύθερος (apeleutheros), in v.22…

Continue reading

Paul and the freedmen of Corinth – Student dissertation (part 1)

One of the highlights each year is working with undergraduate students on their dissertations. It is the time when they choose the topic they want to research – rather than it being imposed upon them – and apply all their learning and skills that they have gained throughout their three years with us. I have had the pleasure of supervising some excellent work this year. One of the dissertations, by graduand Isabella Wray, is particularly suited for this blog and, I think, many will find it interesting and add a new dimension to your reading of 1 Corinthians 7.

With Isabella’s generous permission, I thought that it would be fun to post excerpts from her work. It is not just a great example of the types of questions and issues that students can explore in our degree programme, but I am also sure that a number of people will appreciate learning a little more about Paul, Corinth and the church that he founded there.

Why ‘slaves’ and ‘free’?

Isabella Wray

Isabella was intrigued by this text that we had  studied in class in relation to Paul’s attitude to women and his community ethics within the Corinthian assembly. Why did Paul suddenly stop halfway through his teaching about marriage (7:1-16) to address circumcision and slavery, only to then pick up the theme of marriage once more (7:25-39)? Isabella was particularly interested in the references to slavery and manumission (the process through which a slave became a freedperson) and was not entirely convinced with my, rather off-hand, remark that this was just Paul, typically, getting side-tracked and his attempt to provide further examples of the principle he was attempting to present. Moreover, Isabella noted that the text relating to slavery and manumission was extremely ambiguous. Furthermore, she was struck by Paul’s language in this section, not just his use of δοῦλος (doulos) , ‘slave’, but also his singular use of ἀπελεύθερος (apeleutheros) , ‘freedman’ in 7:22. Paul uses this term only once in his entire writings; why here and what would it have meant to his Corinthian readers? Isabella’s interest in post-colonialism suggested to her that there might be a far deeper issue behind Paul’s choice of topic and words. The question that Isabella wanted to explore was how would these words have been understood by Paul’s readers? Why would someone who had ‘fought’ for their freedom want to then end up being a slave of Christ (7:22)? Was there anything specifically about the socio-political context of Corinth that would make these terms particularly pertinent and add to their rhetorical power? Continue reading