The Debate on Erastus Continues

In August, I covered the recent debate among New Testament scholars over the status and rank of an individual (or individuals) by the name of Erastus.  The post, called “The Search for the Historical Erastus,” summarized the work of three articles by different scholars that appeared in 2010: John Goodrich (NTS), Steve Friesen (Corinth in Context), and Alexander Weiss (NTS).  Goodrich argued that Erastus, the oikonomos of Romans 16.23, was a municipal quaestor in Corinth, that is, a treasury magistrate of significant rank and status (a wealthy and well-connected Christian).  Friesen suggested, on the other hand, that Erastus of the New Testament was a low-status public servant, probably a slave, and not even a Christian, and that the Erastus inscription from Corinth 2nd century, much later than the Erastus of Romans.  Weiss responded to Goodrich’s piece by arguing that Corinth, as a Caesarian colony, did not have municipal quaestors and that the quaestors noted in four Corinth inscriptions were part of the staff of the provincial governor.   See this page for these references.

John Goodrich’s newest piece on Erastus appeared last month in New Testament Studies as “Erastus of Corinth (Romans 16.23): Responding to Recent Proposals on his Rank, Status, and Faith.”  In it, the author responds to both Alexander Weiss and Steve Friesen.  While he accepts Weiss’ critiques as valid—municipal quaestors are rare in Caesarian colonies—he argues that we cannot dismiss the idea of the possibility of municipal quaestors at Corinth since they are attested at other Caesarian colonies in Spain (Tarraco) and Italy (Venusia), even when they were not included in the city’s original charters.  As I read Goodrich’s response, it struck me that a methodological discussion could be extremely useful for establishing his argument (or Weiss’ critique based on negative evidence): how frequently are quaestors noted in the archaeological record compared to the higher municipal offices?  To what extent do we feel confident in our extant epigraphic evidence from the Roman colony Corinth to rule out municipal quaestorship?

Because Goodrich’s and Friesen’s articles appeared independently in 2010, this piece marks Goodrich’s first response to Friesen’s radical reappraisal of Erastus.  In response to the 2nd century dating of the plaza and the Erastus inscription, Goodrich respects Friesen’s reanalysis of the plaza and aedile inscription from Corinth as 2nd century but asks for a more thorough explanation for why the inscription must be second century.  Goodrich also responds to Friesen’s argument that Erastus the oikonomos of Romans 16.23 is a low-status individual.  Goodrich shows that there is, in fact, good epigraphic evidence that oikonomoi could be high ranking officers. And finally, he offers a thorough response to Friesen’s argument that Erastus was not a Christian: the fact that Erastus greets the church in Rome is itself significant. 

Goodrich concludes that there is, surprisingly, much left to say about Erastus:

“Given the significant collection of literature now available on Erastus in comparison with the minimal biographical data he is afforded in the NT, it is probably surprising to many that there remains anything worthwhile left to say about him. Still, the debate persists, and deservedly so…in the quest to access the nature of early urban Christianity, the question of Erastus should remain front and center.”

I recommend reading all these short publications together as a starting point for understanding both sides of the Erastus debate.  They also provide an index of how New Testament scholarships are currently working with epigraphic and archaeological evidence.  

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