The pacing is strong, the characters are believable and engaging, the setting comes alive, and the footnotes (a rarity in novels since the days of Walter Scott) are kept at a minimum in A Week in the Life of Corinth (IVP Academic, 2012), New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III’s new venture into didactic fiction.
The story follows Nicanor, trusted freedman of the Erastos who was aedile in Corinth (Romans 16:23) in about A.D. 52. Nicanor is a twentysomething pagan with a talent for business. He maintains a close friendship with the Christian family of Erastos. At the time of the story, Erastos is running for the office of aedile. His opponent, the villainous Aemilianus, is nasty, churlish, and homicidal. But more than politics is going on: Here also is an account of a temple feast and a glimpse of a gladiator school. Witherington’s account of the Apostle Paul’s trial before Gallio (Acts 18) in the marketplace of Corinth is riveting, and his recreation of the circumstances under which 2 Thessalonians was written is both believable and enlightening.
Small text boxes sprinkled liberally throughout the text give additional background information on Roman coins, Greco-Roman homeschooling, and many other topics. The dialogue is a little weak in places, though overall quite believable. The most distracting part of the book is the American slang, as when Aemilianus tells Nicanor, “I am prepared to make you an offer I trust you can’t refuse.”
The climax of the book comes as Nicanor attends a worship service in Erastos’ home. Paul preaches to the Corinthians, and then people begin speaking in tongues and prophesying. Witherington endorses prophesying in a text box, and then—well, read the story and see how Nicanor responds to Paul’s message of a crucified God. This is historical fiction at its best.