In which we we find out how we know all this ancient history

by Craig on March 11, 2011

I just got done telling a story yesterday – historical fiction about a family from 2000 years ago.

Anybody wonder how I could speak with such certainty of how things would had have played out?

With Philippi it’s really easy. It’s all in the Philippian P.R.

In this city where social rank meant everything, everybody wanted their names and accomplishments recorded for posterity. The richer and more vain you were the more engraved press you would receive.

Their version of a paper trail, the stone inscription, was their signature hobby.

Everyone from Senator to local baker engraved their accomplishments, called a “cursus”, somewhere. This is why we have so much information about people, places, and dates from the Roman Empire.

The Romans were the most prolific show offs in antiquity.

How do we know what language was spoken? We dig through the dirt and then look at the inscriptions in every corner of town.

How do we know who was in charge? Everyone who had any position proudly engraved it on some rock, somewhere.

How do we know the Philippians were so Roman? They laid out their city like a typical Roman city, they had Latin (Roman) inscriptions, their form of government was Roman (we can tell by the inscriptions), as was their Forum, as was their housing, as was their clothing, and so on.

How important was status to the Philippians? Let’s just say that unengraved stones were an endangered species. More than that, the inscriptions they left behind are the most detailed of the entire Roman Empire.

In one of the most status conscious societies around our Philippians top the vanity list.

We’d like to think our Philippian church of about 80 members would have been above this. But that was most likely not the case and Paul knew it. In all of his letters, the one to the Philippians is the only one where he specifically greets ‘officials’ of the church by title (1:1).

Yet, let it not be missed that he left off his own title of apostle. He obviously understood their propensity for boasting and chose not to make any boast except for Jesus.

It’s probably also no coincidence that in just one of Paul’s letters he refers to our Lord as a slave – just the one to Philippi. Unlike the letter of James, which was written for everyone, across the Empire, this letter was written just for this little hilltop town.

Just thought you might like to know this. I’ve always wondered how scholars, and the little notes in our study Bibles were able to say stuff like, “The Corinthian church was quarellsome.” Or “The people of Ephesus were…”.

The Bible says that Our Lord was born “when the fullness of time had come” (Gal 4:4).

It was the perfect time. One of the many reasons it was the perfect time, was the Roman Empire. A hundred years earlier – and things were a mess. A couple of hundred years later – and things descended into the chaos known as “the Dark Ages”.

The Romans and Greeks left us nice languages to read.

They left behind lots of breadcrumbs (stones) to follow.

Archaeologists and anthropologists have sorted through the breadcrumbs

put the pieces together

using the patterns of history – which really haven’t changed that much

and give us a really clear view

of 2000 years ago.

It’s just really smart people doing really smart things.

And we get to benefit from it.

Next time we continue the walk through of the city they’ve uncovered.

God Bless

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

A. March 11, 2011 at 10:09 am

This is all so very interesting and insightful, too. I look forward to all that you illuminate for us in as much of the bible as you have time for, Craig!


Craig March 11, 2011 at 10:13 am

A. Learning how we know this kind of stuff was breathtaking. Some century when we get through the Book of James – Philippians is next I think. Thank you A. God bless.


Michelle March 11, 2011 at 7:35 pm

I need to show this to my hubby. He is a Thomas – unless you were there, how could you know kinda person, especially when hearing scientists talk. But also historians.

Thank you for your insight.


Craig March 12, 2011 at 8:39 am

There is a method. I think to be called “science” something has to be observable and quantifiable” that’s why social sciences like anthropology and archaeology are sometimes not technically “science”. But this is were “evolution” lies – and “throretical” physics. But so many of the “learned” like to think of these as pure science – when they aren’t. It doesn’t mean they are invalid – just not “technically” science. That make sense?

Bottom line is there is good reason to believe what we do – ant that the words of the Bible are true. We don’t need to check our brain at the door of faith. God Bless you Michelle.


Debbie March 12, 2011 at 2:57 am

Thanking God for you being one of those really smart people. :) I love learning about this kind of thing. God bless you and help you continue to use the gift He has given you!


Craig March 12, 2011 at 8:44 am

Me one of the really smart ones – no. Deb – people who are good with words always look smarter then they are :) – like people with English accents :)

My mom always said I had the “gift of gab” – and I like to think about stuff – so I don’t want to be “falsely modest” – I have gifts, we all do, mine is words I think. So thank you Deb – and God Bless.


Cora March 12, 2011 at 8:42 am

I sat for hours last night reading earlier posts here on your blog!!!! I’m hooked! These posts on Phillipi are just so full and I love this kind of background, etc. Can you tell me your secrets???? I love to “dig deeper” and I do know how to use a concordance, the numbering system of Strong’s, Bible Dictionary, etc., and also the online tools of commentaries available. But where in the world can I find the depth of historical information that makes all this come alive????? Are there certain websites or certain types of books that you are using to glean all this information from? I would love to know more about the people, how they lived, what they wore, habits of the times, culture, etc. Your posts threw me over the edge to where now I HAVE to know where to find these tools! Thanks, Craig!


Cora March 12, 2011 at 8:47 am

I lost my post! I f you got it, please disregard this one! I’m just so interested in what books or websites you use to gather all this information from. I read for hours last night, as I was so intrigued with all your past posts. I know how to use a concordance and the numbering system of Strong’s, a Bible dictionary, and the commentaries, etc. But I never get that “meaty” stuff that has all the historical culture information that you include here. Where do I find that stuff?????


Craig March 13, 2011 at 12:48 pm

First of all – Sorry Cora – you got stuck in my Spam comment program. I love that program – I get about 1000 spam comments a week – that’s what happens when you don’t have the word identification thing – but I don’t want anyone to have to jump through extra hoops to leave a comment – it’s nice enough that people do :) Anyway about one or two real comments, like yours – get trapped there every week. But I review all of them and make sure – that’s how I found yours – both of them – I’m glad I did – I’d hate for you to think I ignored you :)

Now – the official response :) Cora – thank you for the kind words, part of the stuff comes from a handy Master’s Degree in Theological Studies from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. The rest from a burning desire to study deeply for 25 years of Christian life. The remainder is from books – and I am lucky enough to live close to my Seminary Library where there is a sea of them. I know my Seminary allows local area residents to check out books – if you have one in your area they may too. None of this comes from the internet – except the pictures.

And the Study of the Book of James? That comes from translating it as I go (handy leftover from Seminary) and oodles of commentaries. BIG ONES (from the library) – hope this answers your question. If not – let me know and I’ll email you more :)

Be warned though :)

These posts I write take about 4 hours a day of research and writing for each one:) But it’s a joy. Thank you for reading. God Bless.


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