Month: March 2012

cephas and the via egnatia

I’ve been reading outside my specific and current research interests, not only to keep the juices flowing but also to see where I might like to go next (i.e. post-PhD). On a whim I picked up Peter H. Davids‘ 1990 commentary on 1 Peter, mainly because I enjoy Davids’ work and writing style but also because the Petrine epistles have always interested me, especially 1 Peter.

To date my only struggle has been I just never knew where to go with the Petrine epistles, in terms of specific research.¹ However, a few important questions raised in Davids’ commentary (at least those I’ve seen in a day’s worth of reading) have suggested some possible entry-points. We’ll see what happens. For now I want to focus one incidental detail that Davids notes in his commentary, a detail that has some connections with my present work.

In his introduction (which can be mostly read using the above link), Davids signals the curious detail about “how Peter came in contact with the Christians in the provinces named in 1 Pet 1:1” (p.5)²–i.e. Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. (For you visually-orientated people, see here). For Davids, the slight trouble is not so much the possibility of Peter overlapping with Paul’s mission-field (based on a certain assumption about Paul’s Galatian churches), but rather the lack of information regarding the more general question of Peter’s travel habits.  As Davids puts it (p.5):

Acts places Peter in Judea and Samaria, although he probably also visited his native Galilee. Paul mentions that Peter visited Syria (Gal 2.11 [specifically Syria-Antioch]). Tradition connects Peter with Rome, where he was said to have been executed, and a journey there would be one explanation of the Petrine party in Corinth (1 Cor 1:12).

The incidental detail I want to address is twofold, although my concern is only with one half of it. First (and the half that doesn’t really concern me [too much]), there is the assumption not only of an actual Petrine party in Corinth but also that Peter’s (supposed) visit to Corinth essentially paved the way for such a party to form. This assumption is a part of a scholarly debate that has been going on for some time, and it will likely continue into the unforeseeable future. Suffice it to say, I am of the opinion that does not see actual parties in Corinth (I tend to agree with Munck’s “bickering cliques” idea)³ and I do not think there is any good, solid evidence that proves Peter/Cephas visited Corinth.

Now for the second half of the incidental detail, and thus the reason for this post. Linked with the above assumption that Peter visited Corinth is the suggestion that he would have traveled to Corinth from Bithynia on his way to Rome. Davids appears to describe this detour as though such a detour would not be out of the way or unreasonable for Peter to take. But I have some trouble agreeing with this proposal, not only because I do not see evidence or even a need for Peter to visit Pauline churches but also because such a detour seems both out of the way and unreasonable if journeying from Bithynia to Rome.

Picture time! (My apologies for the crudity of the map–it’s the best I could do on short notice):

*NB: not to scale. The actual size map would have taken up too much space.

As can be seen in map, between Asia and Italy stands the massive landmass of Greece (or, “Macedonia” and “Thrace” in ancient terms). With a desire to traverse this landmass with relative ease and speed, the industrious Romans (c. 2nd century BCE) established the Via Egnatia–noted with the blue line. (I should point out that the map does not include the numerous “stops” along the Via Egnatia; the number of yellow dots required for that would have rendered the blue line almost meaningless).

On the eastern side is the city of Byzantium, which straddles the gap between Thrace and Asia, and on the western side is the city of Dyrrhachium, which Strabo recognizes as the start of the Via Egnatia (see Geogr. According to Pliny the Elder, the distance between the two cities was 711 miles (see Nat.Hist. 4.18). From Dyrrhachium it was roughly a 150-mile swim to Brundisium (Italy), which marked the beginning of the Via Appia and where the maxim “all roads lead to Rome” finds its fulfillment. Thus it would seem that if one wanted to travel to Rome from Asia (or within Thrace and/or Macedonia), then the Via Egnatia is the route to take.

For Peter, on his journey toward Rome, to detour south (after passing through Thessalonica) for nearly 250 miles to Corinth; it just doesn’t make sense. Let me be clear: in saying that it doesn’t make sense I am not claiming that it did (or could) not happen; I certainly allow for the possibility, and I am fully aware of later traditions that place Peter in Corinth prior to Rome (e.g. Bishop Dionysius [Eusebius, HE 2.25.8]). However this tradition suggests that both Peter and Paul founded the church in Corinth, yet this suggestion creates tension (or conflicts) with the Acts narrative regarding the formation of the Corinthian church (i.e. Peter ain’t mentioned; he ain’t even there).

My trouble is with the reasons why Peter would radically alter (and extend) his journey to Rome by diverting to Corinth, only either to retrace his steps or pick up a ferry heading to where he was already going (i.e. Brundisium). What would be the need for such an out-of-the-way visit? We might be tempted to say: “Peter, as an apostle, merely wanted to check in with the churches and see how things were going.” Fair enough, but what exactly would compel Peter to do such a thing, especially since we have no evidence that he did something similar in other places for similar reasons? Moreover, given what happened in Antioch (see Gal 2.11-14), one would think that Peter might be a bit hesitant to enter Pauline territory.

However, if we’re arguing simply in terms of routes, it would make more sense for Peter to stay on the Via Egnatia, cross the Adriatic Sea, hop on the Via Appia and stroll right into Rome. Thus I do not think that saying, “He went to Corinth because it was on the way to Rome” is a reasonable conclusion; that chosen route would be both counterproductive and more expensive (i.e. a longer ship journey). Therefore we are left with the problem of “why”? While I acknowledge the impossibility of discovering the motives of ancient figures, I think that would be the only way to deal with the question of whether Peter visited Corinth.

¹ Okay, honesty time: ignorance of research ideas is not my only struggle with the Petrine epistles. The Greek of 1 Peter is notoriously difficult and I am far from qualified to deal with its complexity. I guess I could look at it as an opportunity to refine my almost-mad Greek skills.
² And yes, Davids does allow for the likelihood that the historical Peter is in fact the author–or, at the very least, the one who dictates the letter to Silvanus (cf. 1Pt 5.12). Bravo Davids!
³ See J. Munck, Paul and the Salvation of Mankind (1959), 135-67.