"A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman" by Holly Beers. A Review
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It's hard to read the New Testament and attempt to imaginatively transport ourselves into another time and environment, with all of it's unwritten expectations and pressures. It takes some creative fancy, softly putting aside our own situation and cultural packaging as best we can, and reaching into another world. Holly Beers, author and associate professor of religious studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, has taken on the challenge in her brand new release "A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman." This 176-page soft back is the most recent installment in IVP's "A Week in the Life" series, and it is a fun read!
As the title suggests, the chapters unfold over seven days in the life of "Anthia," a young woman, large with child and living in Ephesus. Beers gives her audience a robust story from the inner and outer life of Anthia, drawing in her living arrangements in the insula (crammed apartment structure), health concerns, daily responsibilities, family relationships, mild domestic abuses, and fears. It's a troubled pregnancy in an era of high infant mortality, where many women die in childbirth, with no antibiotics, and hygiene is archaic. Because I was stationed in that part of the world several decades ago, I can testify that she hit all of these nails squarely on their shiny heads! Beers also rightly colors in the place of social honor and shame in that context, as well as the religious atmosphere that surrounded all participants, feed to them from their mother's breast. At stages, the tale becomes gripping. I found myself both teary-eyed and enthused as I became swallowed up on Day 3, the Day of Venus/Aphrodite.
There are places where the story likely goes a bit overboard. For example, the way Claudia, a wealthy Christ-follower, treats her slaves as equals. She's not the only one in the tale to do so, but she stands out. If Paul had to charge Masters to treat their slaves justly and fairly (Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1) and felt compelled to entreat Philemon to not treat his run-away slave as the social justice of the day demanded, then the likelihood is that Christian slave owners did not treat their servants as equals, and had to be coaxed to at least handle them more graciously than their neighbors managed their own. One other episode sticks out as well, and it was the assembly of Christians. It's a bit raucous the way it is portrayed, as Beers seems to be using 1 Corinthians 14:26 as her model. It's possible that in 1 Corinthians 14:26 Paul is giving his approval of a liturgical free-for-all; but it is more likely he is simply describing one of the Corinthians' worship assemblies to make a specific point, and then corrects it at the end with his "But all things should be done decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:40). In fact, it is strongly probable that the early Christian worship gatherings followed an orderly synagogue meeting as is implied in the Greek in James 2:2. But none of these are "show-stoppers" as one becomes enveloped in the story.
"A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman" is doubtlessly tamer than real life in that place and time. But some of the grit comes in here and there to give her readers a sense of how things would have been. The book flowed easily, and was a pleasure to get into. As soon as I completed the manuscript, I told my wife about it, and how much I thought she would enjoy it. If you want a better perspective on what life was like as the New Testament was written, here's a great place to start. I highly recommend the book.
I am so glad that IVP agreed to send me a copy of the book used for this review, at my request. My analysis is given freely, without any duress or distress. IVP made no demands on me other than that I write up, and share, my evaluation.
If you're interested in obtaining a copy of the book, look here: A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman
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