A Week in the Life of Rome, by James L. Papandrea. Downers Grove: IVP
Academic, 2019. 223 pages. Paperback. $16.00. Reviewed by Douglas J. Kuiper.
Christians living in Rome in AD 50 endured many earthly struggles. Flimsy apartment buildings could quickly burn or suddenly collapse. People stood in bread lines by order of social status; often the bread ran out before the destitute received any. Another struggle was to live antithetically in a city filled with unregistered marriages, prostitutes, sodomy, slave markets, bribery, games pitting man against man or beast, theatrical plays, gambling, and murder plots.
Persecution—the loss of jobs, status, approval, and life (being thrown to the beasts)—was another significant struggle.
This book highlights their struggles by telling the story of Christians (“Way-followers”) in their service of Jesus (“Iesua”) who met every evening for worship and prayer. Some were strong believers, while others were weak. All lived among ungodly unbelievers during the day, and found the fellowship of other believers at night sweet. The book ends by noting the conversion of three people, two of whom had been antagonistic to Christianity, and one who had only recently heard of Christianity.
The book is historical fiction. It is historical: it contains more than twenty historical sidebars, each usually two or three pages long, regarding Romish customs and culture. And the main characters in the book are based on people mentioned in the Bible (John Mark, mother Mary, Rhoda, and several others), or people who were known to live in Rome at that time (Emperor Claudius and his prefect Lucius Geta).
For all that, it is fiction. That John Mark, Mary, Rhoda, and others were in Rome in AD 50 is fiction. The events narrated in the book are fiction. Its presupposition that the apostle Peter came to Rome in the early 40s to announce the death of James, and its record of Roman Christians smuggling him back into Rome in AD 50, is fiction. Even some of the theology reflected in the book is fiction (“every person is loved by our Lord,” 177).
One aspect of the book particularly struck me. The ancient church fathers exhorted Christians to avoid the theater, viewing it as inherently evil. The book narrates the attendance of some Christian women at the theater (155-161). These left ashamed, having seen the evils of the theater firsthand. Are we ready to turn off our TV, phones, computers, and other devices when they stream filth? Watching sin for entertainment is sin.
A junior-high reader could understand the narrative. I recommend the book to anyone who can distinguish between history and fiction.
A Week in the Life of Ephesus, by David A. DeSilva. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. 176 pages. Paperback. $17.00. Reviewed by Douglas J. Kuiper.
Of the seven books in the series “A Week in the Life of…” this is the newest. The other volumes feature a week in the life of Corinth, the fall of Jerusalem, a slave, a Greco- Roman woman, and a Roman centurion. Each is written by a different author.
This volume regards life in Ephesus in AD 89. In Bible times, Ephesus was the center of the worship of Diana. In 89, it housed a temple to the Emperor Domitian (see sidebars on pages 32, 72, 76, 84, 111, and 148). Specifically, this book features the last week of September in 89; September 23 was the anniversary of the birth of Caesar Augustus, which date became the beginning of a new year (sidebar, 24).
Christians belonged to this idolatrous society, and were to be exemplary citizens. Could they participate in these idolatrous ceremonies at all? If so, to what degree? The narrative explores three different answers to this question.
Some Christians believed they were to take no part in these ceremonies. They were strengthened in this conviction by reading the last book of Scripture, which came to them “hot off the press.”
Another professing Christian, Nicolaus, proposed that by taking part in these ceremonies Christians could be better witnesses of their faith (40-42). For this view, he found himself barred from the Lord’s Supper (125). His unholy outburst at this barring (126) suggests that he was Christian in name only. Sadly, some assessed this barring as manifesting a lack of love (151), a view all too common in our day, but one that forgets that the table of the Lord is holy.
A third Christian, Amyntas, was nominated to hold an official position in the Temple of Domitian. Wondering if Nicolaus is right, Amyntas did not immediately decline the position. That he would even consider it concerned his fellow believers. In the end, hearing the book of Revelation read convinced him to refuse the position and to bear the consequences.
May the story line whet your appetite.
This book also is historical fiction. That Christians both then and today face outward pressure to conform to the world, and that the desire to avoid social and economic consequences adds to the temptation, is not fiction, but historical. God give us grace to be faithful.