Crowded tenement building churches in Early Christianity, Part II: Philology

The first part of this series was published in my personal blog.  There I react to a budding Master’s student at my alma mater, Regent College, dubbed “Poser or Prophet”, who had in response to the Brooks’ post, House Churches, written:

Also, the early church probably didn’t meet in houses. They probably met in what space they could find in crowded tenement buildings — although if the wealthier first floor resident(s) converted, they could meet there (because, you know, with the risk of buildings falling over or burning down — which tended to happen frequently — it was much better to live on the ground floor than in the penthouse!).

I mentioned that while I often disagree with Poser, this time I agreed, and I was able to find an extensive, though dated, bibliography supporting his view, including multiple examples of the term πολυοχλοικοδομη (poluochloikodome=“crowded tenement building”) in the Early Christian sources.  Text after text supported Poser’s position.

Now Poser has deigned to respond to little ol’ me as such:

Hi Peter,

Methinks you’re a little behind on the literature. For more on churches in tenement buildings, you could start with Jewett’s Romans commentary (it’s pretty much a must-read anyway) and you can follow the trail he provides.

I was deeply moved that Poser remembered my name.  But I felt even more deeply chastened for having not read what is obviously a seminal source, Jewett’s Hermeneia commentary.  Fortunately, being a rich capitalist pig, I own a copy of this book in my personal library.  I was able to read some of it and must say I’ve come to the position of disagreeing with Poser.  Jewett helped me to see that the Greek New Testament that I was using, the NTCB (The New Tenement Church Bible, Greek and English Interlinear ed., published by Zondoudhoorn’s Press, 2009), had fabricated the term πολυοχλοικοδομη / poluochloikodome.  Also I learned that the NIV, RSV and numerous other translations of the original Greek text, just had the term “house”, where I had found “crowded tenement building” in the NTCB!  Can you imagine my surprise?  Returning to my other Greek Bible (I own several of these), I found that the term οἶκος / oikos was used in many of these passages; maybe I should have paid attention when Doc Pecota suggested that we should put our vocabulary on 3×5 cards for the purpose of memorization.  Its been 28 years since I took first-year Greek, so I had to get out my Greek and English dictionary; fortunately, I have several of these because, as I explained, I am a rich capitalist pig.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that this term means “house”; I didn’t think Jesus let his followers own houses.  This term, I learned, is translated domus in the Vulgate of which I also own a copy, being a rich capitalist pig–the term domus comes into English as “dom-inant”, “dom-ination”, “dom-ineering”–this would almost even imply that the apostles, in defiance to the teaching of Jesus, tolerated the early Christian rich capitalists pigs, allowing them to have a dom-inant role in the church; in antiquity, evil householders and landowners were constantly exploiting and dom-inating everyone else.  Heavens.

I couldn’t find in the Vulgate the Latin term, insula (“crowded tenement building”).  So I asked a couple of scholars (who shall remain anonymous to protect the guilty) who are also rich capitalist pigs, having both had the privilege of studying up to the PhD level, to their shame:  one is an Oxford-trained Papyrologist and the other a Swiss national–probably descended from bankers–a professor of Historical Theology, and neither one knew the Greek term for insula.  So I concluded that the original New Testament was written by people who at very least tolerated rich capitalist pig householders; perhaps they even used these economic structures of death to promote the advancement of the Early Church.  Horror!

More to come.

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