Conybeare and Howson, on the True and Faithful Representation of the Apostle (1852)

For Friday’s picture of Corinth, I offer another vision from 19th century New Testament scholars. This one comes from W.J. Conybeare and Howson’s The Life and Epistles of St. Paul (1852), a major work of biography in its day and a source for Coleman’s sketch of a “most hopeless city” posted two weeks ago.

Conybeare and Howson are different from many of their contemporaries in their interest in placing Paul the apostle into a real geographic and social setting. As they note, the letters of Paul reveal his inner world, the landscapes and environment his outer world.


As they comment in their preface (iv-vii),

“As we follow the Apostle in the different stages of his varied and adventurous career, we must strive continually to bring out in their true brightness the half effaced forms and colouring of the scene in which he acts; and while he “becomes all things to all men, that he might by all means save “some,” we must form to ourselves a living likeness of the things and of the men among which he moved, if we would rightly estimate his work…While thus trying to live in the life of a bygone age, and to call up the figure of the past from its tomb, duly robed in all its former raiment, every help is welcome which enables us to fill up the dim outline in any part of its reality. Especially we delight to look upon the only one of the manifold features of that past existence, which still is living. We remember with pleasure that the earth, the sea, and the sky still combine for us in the same landscapes which passed before the eyes of the wayfaring Apostle….We can still look upon the same trees and flowers which he saw clothing the mountains, giving colour to the plains, or reflected in the rivers; we may think of him among the palms of Syria, the cedars of Lebanon, the olives of Attica, the green Isthmian pines of Corinth, whose leaves wove those “fading garlands,” which he contrasts with the “incorruptible crown,” the prize for which he fought…”…”For the purposes of such a biography, nothing but true and faithful representations of the real scenes will be valuable; these are what is wanted, and not ideal representations, even though copied from the works of the greatest masters; for, as it has been well said, “nature and reality painted at the time,” and on the spot, a nobler cartoon of St. Paul’s preaching at Athens “than the immortal Rafaelle afterwards has done.”

To complete their sketch, Howson, who was responsible for the background part of the biography, draws widely not only from earlier German New Testament scholarship but a wide array of ancient and medieval authors (Pindar, Herodotus, Xenophon, Polybius, Cicero, Ovid, Horace, Strabo, Plutarch, Dio Chrysostom, Aelius Aristides, Pomponius Mela, Suetonius, Seneca, Pausanias, Zonaras, Chronicon Maius) and the early modern travelers who read and digested them. The author’s picture, which stems from Dodwell, Leake, Wheler, and Clarke, among others, makes this early discussion of Paul in Roman Corinth particularly compelling. The inclusion of engravings provides the reader with pictures to imagine Paul, which, in contrasting modern shepherds against the backdrop of ancient ruins and landscapes, creates a romantic contrast between past and present (on this, see Kaplan’s excellent study).


Howson’s sketch of Paul’s background, which draws from sources spaced two millennia apart, is itself necessarily composite. But a compelling composite nonetheless for an imaginative geography constructed from ancient texts and early modern travel literature alone (I do not see evidence that Howson visited Corinth himself).

You can read the full text (with footnotes) at the HathiTrust Digital Library. I include here a good long section from pp. 440-447:

“We must linger first for a time in Corinth, the great city, where he staid a longer time than at any other point on his previous journeys, and from which, or to which, the most important of his Epistles were written. And, according to the plan we have hitherto observed, we proceed to elucidate its geographical position, and the principal stages of its history.

The Isthmus is the most remarkable feature in the geography of Greece; and the peculiar relation which it established between the land and the water—and between the Morea and the Continent — had the utmost effect on the whole course of the history of Greece. When we were considering the topography and aspect of Athens, all the associations which surrounded us were Athenian. Here at the Isthmus, we are, as it were, at the centre of the activity of the Greek race in general. It has the closest connection with all their most important movements, both military and commercial….

Conspicuous, both in connection with the military defences of the Isthmus, and in the prominent features of its scenery, is the Acrocorinthus, or citadel of Corinth, which rises in form and abruptness like the rock of Dumbarton. But this comparison is quite inadequate to express the magnitude of the Corinthian citadel. It is elevated two thousand feet above the level of the sea; it throws a vast shadow across the plain at its base; the ascent is a journey involving some fatigue; and the space of ground on the summit is so extensive, that it contained a whole town*, which, under the Turkish dominion, had several mosques. Yet, notwithstanding its colossal dimensions, its sides are so precipitous, that a few soldiers are enough to guard it. The possession of this fortress has been the object of repeated struggles in the latest wars between the Turks and the Greeks, and again between the Turks and the Venetians. It was said to Philip, when he wished to acquire possession of the Morea, that the Acrocorinthus was one of the horns he must seize, in order to secure the heifer. Thus Corinth might well be called “the eye of Greece” in a military sense, as Athens has often been so called in another sense. If the rock of Minerva was the Acropolis of the Athenian people, the mountain of the Isthmus was truly named ” the Acropolis of the Greeks.”

It will readily be imagined that the view from the summit is magnificent and extensive. A sea is on either hand. Across that which lies on the east, a clear sight is obtained of the Acropolis of Athens, at a distance of forty-five miles. The mountains of Attica and Boeotia, and the islands of the Archipelago, close the prospect in this direction. Beyond the western sea, which flows in from the Adriatic, are the large masses of the mountains of northeastern Greece, with Parnassus towering above Delphi. Immediately beneath us is the narrow plain which separates the seas. The city itself is on a small table land of no great elevation, connected with the northern base of the Acrocorinthus. At the edge of the lower level are the harbours which made Corinth the emporium of the richest trade of the East and the West.

We are thus brought to that which is really the characteristic both of Corinthian geography and Corinthian history, its close relation to the commerce of the Mediterranean. Plutarch says, that there was a want of good harbours in Achaia; and Strabo speaks of the circumnavigation of the Morea as dangerous. Cape Malea was proverbially formidable, and held the same relation to the voyages of ancient days, which the Cape of Good Hope does to our own.

Thus, a narrow and level isthmus, across which smaller vessels could be dragged from gulph to gulplh, was of inestimable value to the early traders of the Levant. And the two harbours, which received the ships of a more maturely developed trade, — Cenchre on the Eastern Sea, and Lechaeum on the Western, with a third and smaller port, called Schoenus”, where the isthmus was narrowest, — form an essential part of our idea of Corinth. Its common title in the poets is “the city of the two seas.”

…At a very early date, we find Corinth celebrated by the poets for its wealth.’- This wealth must inevitably have grown up, from its mercantile relations, even without reference to its two seas…Thus she became the common resort and the universal market of the Greeks.’ …If we add all these particulars together, we see ample reason why the wealth, luxury, and profligacy of Corinth were proverbial’- in the ancient world.

In passing from the fortunes of the earlier, or Greek Corinth, to its history under the Romans, the first scene that meets us is one of disaster and ruin. The destruction of this city by Mummius, about the same time that Carthage was destroyed by Scipio, was so complete, that, like its previous wealth, it passed into a proverb. Its works of skill and luxury were destroyed or carried away. Polybius the historian saw Roman soldiers playing at draughts on the pictures of famous artists; and the exhibition of vases and statues that decorated the triumph of the Capitol, introduced a new era in the habits of the Romans.” Meanwhile, the very place of the city from which these works were taken remained desolate for many years.’ The honour of presiding over the Isthmian games was given to Sicyon; and Corinth ceased even to be a resting-place of travellers between the East and the West. But a new Corinth rose from the ashes of the old. Julius Caesar, recognising the importance of the Isthmus as a military and mercantile position, sent thither a colony of Italians, who were chiefly freedmen.

This new establishment rapidly increased by the mere force of its position. Within a few years it grew, as Sincapore has grown in our days, from nothing to an enormous city. The Greek merchants, who had fled on the Roman conquest to Delos and the neighbouring coasts, returned to their former home. The Jews settled themselves in a place most convenient both for the business of commerce and for communication with Jerusalem. Thus, when St. Paul arrived at Corinth after his sojourn at Athens, he found himself in the midst of a numerous population of Greeks and Jews. They were probably far more numerous than the Romans, though the city had the constitution of a colony, and was the metropolis of a province.”

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