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The Lost Letters of Pergamum Reader's Response

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The Lost Letters of Pergamum. Bruce W. Longenecker. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003. 192 pp..

The Mediterranean world of 82 CE was one of much misunderstanding and hostility towards the new and rapidly growing group of Christ's followers. Bruce Longenecker cleverly provides insight into the culture and historical background on the first century Church, in his book The Lost Letters of Pergamum. It is a fictional recording of a correspondence between Luke, author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, and Antipas, an aristocrat and benefactor of Rome, that spans the entirety of 82 CE.

This book is a compilation of the fictional correspondence between Antipas, a wealthy benefactor of Rome , and the scholar Luke, who writes on behalf of Calpurnius, the son of Theophilus and a nobleman in the city of Ephesus, who is absent due to the sudden death of his firstborn.

The correspondence begins with Antipas inviting Calpurnius to join him in Pergamum the following spring for the gladiatorial events taking place there, and then a second letter requesting to borrow Homer from Calpurnius' extensive library. Luke writes to Antipas, informing him of Calpurnius' absence and also sending a copy of his Gospel. Antipas and Luke's mutual love of the written word is what leads to the respect and friendship between them.

Their correspondence begins to shift towards discussions of spiritual, historical, and cultural topics; especially of Luke's writings on Jesus Christ's life and teachings and his faith in Christ. As Luke shares more of his testimony and Antipas returns with his thoughts and questions, Antipas helps make it apparent how the wealthy or aristocratic Roman generally viewed the newly budding following of Christ in that culture. Christians' reputation throughout the Roman Empire was one of suspicion, mutiny of the established social norm, and insurrection of Roman authority.

The honor/shame mind-set dominated the culture of that day, motivating people towards gaining honor for oneself and family. And thus, the teachings of Jesus about humility, servitude, sacrifice, and love were extremely counter-cultural and especially hard for the noblemen to grasp or understand. Antipas shares just these kind of confused thoughts and questions with Luke, who patiently explained, corrected, and responded, and slowly his view starts to jive with Christ's teachings more and more.

The real change in Antipas' view comes about when he meets Simon Ben Joseph, a former employee of his, at the house church of Antonius, also a wealthy Roman citizen. Simon, after being laid off by Antipas' manager and unable to find more work because of his age, slowly digressed to the point of a destitute, homeless beggar on the streets of Pergamum. Antonius approached him on the street, took him into his home and restored him to health; Simon then served in Antonius' house for a little over a year after his recovery. When Antipas sees him, he confesses to having admiration and even sees "a kind of nobility in him--a nobility that I would not expect to see in the eyes of one upon whom the gods have not looked favorably," and "despite his low status." (92) This seems to confuse Antipas because a person of low status had no honor, no nobility in name or acquired. The only thing he can conclude is that Antonius had seemed to instill a sense of nobility in him, but even that did not make sense to him when he realized that Antonius also had acted outside of the honor/shame social system in taking Simon in at all. Antipas writes "But then I am forced to consider Antonius' own actions in this matter. What nobleman stoops down in the street to pick up a diseased beggar and care for him? Such an action is completely impractical by any standard of common sense...Antonuis must certainly have compromised his public honor in the flagrant act of extending hospitality to an expendable such as Simon had been. All of my natural impulses are repelled by the thought of Antonius' action, and my instincts labeled it an impractical, irresponsible, and ultimately dishonorable action." (93) Once more he is giving insight on why the Christian faith was so controversial to the wealthy culture.

Antipas continues to meet at Antonius' home with the mix of local believers there, eager to discover more, and understands that Jesus Christ was indeed a disturber of the social norm, but He is the Son of God and warrants our devotion



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