Status and Social class in The City
The artisans, manual laborers, and merchants who lived in a typical Roman city had little time for the pleasures of the city's main streets. Long days in cramped and often dark shops would have been more typical of Paul's life as a tentmaker, for instance (Acts 18.3; 2 Cor 6.5; 11.27 ). This trade involved creating the awnings, made of a rough, thick fabric like sailcloth, that provided cover from the sun in theaters and the forum, and in front of the booths from which goods were sold. When crowds thronged the city for a festival, such as the biennial Isthmian games outside Corinth in honor of Poseidon (see Dio Chrysostom, Discourses 8.9 ), there would be no shortage of work for tentmakers.
The members of the wealthy elite and the educated scribes, Pharisees, or philosophers who were attached to them despised such lowly occupations, as well as those who collected the taxes. The tensions between rich and poor that were evident in Corinth (1 Cor 11.17–34 ) show how difficult it could be to cross social divisions of class and status. Those in whose homes the community assembled would have thought it their right to provide a feast for the others who were from their own group; as for the rest— artisans who had to work from dawn to dusk, as well as slave members of the community—they should be glad for the meager rations provided for them. Similarly, the letter of James ( 2.1–13 ) excoriates Christians for showing deference to a rich man, giving him a comfortable seat and asking the poor to squat on the floor in the assembly. Although Paul's letters lack the sharp attacks on wealth found in the teaching of Jesus or in the letter of James, Paul does attack the privileges of social superiority to one's fellows when they surface in the Christian community.
Although most Christians did not belong to the local civic elite (1 Cor 1.26–30 ), a few individuals associated with the Corinthian church could claim such status. Acts 18.8 refers to Crispus (1 Cor 1.14 ) as archisynagogos, a title that he may have been accorded as a benefactor, perhaps by contributing funds for a synagogue building. Women can appear as patronesses and archisynagogoi as well. Paul recommends Phoebe, a deaconess from the Corinthian port city Cenchrea (Rom 16.1–2 ). Such recommendations were a common letter form in the ancient world, in which patronage relationships were essential to success. Gaius (1 Cor 1.14 ) was wealthy enough to host all the Christians in Corinth at once (Rom 16.23 ).
Paul also conveys greetings from a certain Erastus, who is oikonomos of Corinth (1 Cor 16.23 ), the only convert who is known to have held a civic office. A pavement from the area between the north market and the theater bears an inscription stating that Erastus paved the area at his own expense in return for the office of aedile (one of the four magistrates who governed the city, and particularly the public officers in charge of the streets). Since the name is an unusual one (no other instances are known), scholars think it possible that it was the same person. The term that Paul uses is not the Greek equivalent for aedile, so it may therefore represent a lesser position in the municipal government that was an intermediate step on the way to becoming a magistrate.
Since Corinth had been refounded as a Roman colony under Julius Caesar less than a century before, and therefore would have had no long‐entrenched ruling class, the opportunities it could offer for civic advancement may have encouraged competition. For other cities, the ranks of citizens—those enrolled who could hold various public offices—were strictly limited to a particular group of aristocratic families. Other residents, no matter how wealthy or influential, were excluded. Jews who sought to be included on the citizen rolls of Alexandria were rebuffed. Since Roman citizens and the Greek citizens of Alexandria were exempt from poll taxes levied by the Roman state, this status carried some economic advantage. Most Jews, who were laborers and artisans, would not have been eligible for enrollment in any case. Whether Jewish families succeeded in joining the citizen elite elsewhere in the Diaspora is less clear. Luke has Paul claim to be a citizen of Tarsus (Acts 21.39 ), but this may be mistaken or imprecise.