In the sailing season, mid-March to mid-November (with the window of greatest safety open only May 27-September 14), the prevailing winds in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean blow from the north or northwest. Travelers such as Paul did best to journey overland, if they could, when going west from Asia or north from Greece and to sail to the east or south. With a good following wind, the ship might travel at 4-5 knots, straight as a die, 100 nautical miles in a day. In the face of a contrary wind, a ship might be held up for days. A ship caught in a storm could well sink with all hands lost.
Major Roman roads were furnished with hostels, set apart at distances that a foot traveler could expect to cover in a day, about 20 modern miles. To travel by road-unless protected by imperial troops or private retainers-was to be forever on the alert for robbers or gangs of robbers, for wolves, or for press-gangs seeking slaves. On smaller roads the dangers multiplied. Often enough Paul used the great roads: the Egnatian Road (in Macedonia), for instance, or the Augustan Road (in southern Galatia). The Augustan Road linked a cluster of Roman colonies; Paul traveled much of its length, probably on foot, on his first journey. The northern arm of the Augustan Road was part of the ancient "general road" of Asia Minor, from Antioch-in-Syria in the east to Ephesus in the west. Paul came to know it well. On the second journey he walked its eastern part; and on the third, from one end to the other.
Paul traveled some 10,000 miles on these journeys. Others journeyed much farther. A tombstone has survived that marked the grave of a merchant who traveled from Phrygia to Rome 72 times. Some approximate distances: From Antioch-in-Syria by sea to Salamis, 125 miles, and from Paphos to Perge, 175 miles. Overland from Perge to Antioch-in-Pisidia, 125 miles, and on to Iconium, 110 miles.
A standard map of the Roman province of Asia would show, between Antioch-in-Pisidia and Ephesus, 16 other cities, 14 of them sufficiently important to mint coinage of their own. Paul passed through or near them all.
Over the last 30 years scholars have been looking with ever greater care at the social and economic factors of Paul's mission, at the part these factors played in his own life, in his converts' lives, and in the converts' needs and hopes that were met by membership in an assembly. If we can once envisage life in a Greco-Roman city, we can see what made Paul's good news attractive to different people-what needs or aspirations he satisfied, what fears he allayed, what hopes he offered. We can find, on page after page, aspects of such life illumined in I Corinthians.
Paul probably reached Corinth in the spring of 50. He was still in good standing with Antioch and Jerusalem, an energetic and valued emissary. (The Jerusalem council did not take place until the autumn of 51.) Corinth was a city in a hurry. It drew migrants as an Francisco drew prospectors during the Gold Rush. Corinth lay at the eastern end of the isthmus that nearly divides Greece in two. It was far quicker and safer to trade through Corinth (and even to haul a boat over the isthmus) than to sail round the Peloponnese. With the ships from east and west and land trade from north and south, there was money to be made in Corinth-and money to be lost. Corinth was a hub of trade; it would become a hub of Paul's mission, too.
In Thessalonica Paul attracted the poor. In Corinth he found-and had likely looked for-a core of richer and more powerful followers. These were people with influence. They would be expected to use it. How did Paul keep-or attempt to keep-his converts true to the faith and life they had embraced?
The new cult of the Anointed offered security by offering a life, here and now, that was at its heart the life to come. Paul hoped, by such good news, to insulate his assembly from the search for standing in which its members lived their daily lives. We can still see, all these years later, why Paul's good news attracted some Corinthians. Some at least of Paul's intiates were given extraordinary powers: to heal, to prophesy, to speak-as it seemed-in the language of angels. And none of these gifts, as far as we know, was graded to match the social or economic prestige of its recipients. Such gifts brought high standing in the assembly. This standing did not depend on Paul's say-so to the poor or his influence on the rich.
Paul is guiding his Corinthian converts in the ways of their new faith in a hard-nosed commercial city that knew little and cared less about this new assembly and its strange ideals. Not that the city was, in our terms, secular. Far from it. The ancient world was full of gods. They protected the home and all who lived there, the workplace and the prosperity of all who worked there. Paganism was not by its nature childish or naïve. In some minds it was sophisticated and nuanced; in others, simplistic and crude. Paganism was public, displayed in statues, shrines and temples, in the sacrifice and processions of civic celebrations.
Scholars have long sought in Paul's thought a direct dependence on the "rebirth" apparently offered to devotees of the mystery gods, and among them to the devotees of Isis, at their initiation. More important than any debt, however, was mere similarity. Membership in Isis's cult was expensive, beyond the means-and probably the social standing-of most of those who heard Paul speak.
But here was Paul, offering just such people, without crippling cost or the retraints of snobbery, a "mystery" that offered to initiates a new life in a new creation. And Paul was offering it to men and women, to the free-born, to past and to present slaves-to all alike. The cult of Isis was the preserve of their patrons and local grandees. The city's tradesmen, artisans, and laborers knew as much. But here was Paul offering no less-and perhaps far more-to them.