A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman (A Week in the Life series), Holly Beers. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.
Summary: A creative rendering of what life was like for a woman from the lower free classes in Ephesus during the period when Paul was preaching in the city.
This book grabs your attention from the very first pages as the main fictional character, a woman from the poorer laboring classes of Ephesus, Anthia, assists her friend Dorema in the perilous experience of childbirth. Something goes badly wrong, and Dorema, her best friend cannot deliver her child despite potions and prayers and the ministrations of her midwife. Dorema exhales her final breath looking blankly past Anthia.
Like other books in this series, we go through a week, in this case with Anthia. She is also pregnant with her second child. She lives a demanding routine of caring for an aging father who soils himself, lives in a crowded one room dwelling with her family (imagine intimacy!), tries to please a husband who doesn’t hesitate to physically abuse her at any threat to his honor, hauls water, cooks what food there is on a coal brazier, and works in the market selling whatever fish her husband catches. The book describes emptying chamber pots and using public latrines open to both sexes. Amid all this she begins bleeding, her baby stops kicking and her pleas to the gods seem of little avail.
Then she hears of this person called Paul who is preaching. And healing. Healing comes close when a handkerchief from Paul heals the deadly fever of her neighbors son. Eventually she joins a gathering of the Way, as they call themselves, for a dinner and time of worship–a dinner where those of higher classes, lower classes, and slaves eat and worship together without distinctions–where slaves are even served by their betters. They even pray for her.
The portrayal helps us understand the confrontation between the worshipers of Artemis, the goddess of Ephesus, and the followers of Jesus, whom Paul proclaims. How will those like the silversmiths who fashion idols respond? How will Anthia’s husband respond? And how will this nascent community meet the challenges?
As with other books in the series, there are images and sidebars on cultural backgrounds for things like marriage, food, pregnancy and labor, Artemis, housing, sanitation, cosmetics, honor and shame and other topics that come up in the narrative. We come to understand what embodied life at its most elemental was like in a city like Ephesus.
We also grasp what it was like for the first Christians to engage this culture with its social strata, its relations between men and women, its ideas of honor and shame, and its gods. Holly Beers helps us understand how powerful, how radically different both the message and the new community of the Way appeared to the culture, and also how strangely attractive it was in the ways it broke down barriers between classes, and men and women. Read this book to enrich your reading of Acts, Ephesians and Paul’s letters to Timothy–or just to read a good story.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.