Everyday Life in Byzantine Lycaonia

The following article by Sir William M. Ramsay is now available in PDF. This material is in the Public Domain and so can be freely distributed and copied.

William M. Ramsay [1851-1939], “A Country Town of Lycaonia. A Description of the Conditions of Christian Life under the Eastern Empire,” Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute 41 (1909): 36-46.

A Country Town of Lycaonia

My subject is an attempt to set before you some slight picture of the main facts in the life of a country town in the centre of Anatolia in the province called in ancient time Lycaonia, during the Byzantine Empire. Now we read a great deal in books, in ancient history, and in the history of the Church about that period, but historians concern themselves chiefly with great men, the great religious leaders, generals, and statesmen; with the rarest exceptions we find nothing whatsoever with regard to the practical facts of life among the common people in that country during the period when these great men were living and working. There is some literary material, which has still to be collected, with regard to the life of that period in the private letters of Basil and other great men, which give a great deal of material for the facts of ordinary life. The ordinary people made it possible for Churchmen to exercise their leading power, for generals to have .armies to conduct to victory or defeat; and without the knowledge of their common life, a knowledge of history becomes one-sided and misleading in the highest degree. We want therefore to know something of the common people, the way they live, their surroundings, their views of life, and how far they were affected by the great Church leaders, generals and statesmen.

The question may be asked with regard to the Byzantine Empire; Is it worth while to take up our time in making out some picture of a period rightly regarded as a period of decay in the history of the world? There is no doubt that Gibbons’ title, The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, is correct. The fall was in great measure due to the pressure of what was going on in the Byzantine Empire, that is in Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Two remarks will bring out the importance of life in the Byzantine Empire.

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The Jesus Scandals: Book Review and Giveaway

Instone-Brewer, David I was dlighted when David Instone-Brewer, with whom I work on Tyndale House’s STEP Project, contacted me and asked me to write a review of his latest book, The Jesus Scandals: Why He Shocked His Contemporaries (and Still Shocks Today).
I have always been fascinated with research that attempts to shed light on the meaning of obscure biblical texts by drawing upon relevant background material from the culture of day. In this case the author uses the theme of “Scandals” in Jesus’ life and teachings and among Jesus’ friends, using his extensive knowledge of rabbinic sources, to explain why what Jesus said and did was so shocking to the religious people of his day. scandals-small Each chapter contains references to these sources for further reading.

Of course, there are dangers in relying on background alone to clarify the meaning of biblical texts. There are countless examples where new interpretations of particular verses have been suggested based on background material that later turned out to have been misinterpreted, or in one case I can think of, completely fabricated! Rabbinic material is difficult to date, so that danger of an anachronistic interpretation is very real. However, the author is well aware of these potential pitfalls (as he has described in detail elsewhere), and strives to avoid falling into them.
The chapters are deliberately short and pithy, allowing them to be read in a few minutes, meaning that they could easily be used to provoke a discussion in a Bible Study or home group context, especially as a modern day application is suggested. The chapter on “Censored Arrest Warrant”, based on a document acquired by Tyndale House in Cambridge, where David works, can also be viewed as a video:

I found this and the chapter on “Child Abuse” particularly interesting as I had never come across this material before. Those interested in the New Testament teaching on divorce will want to read the chapters on “No Fault Divorce” and “Marital Abuse”, perhaps going on to read the author’s major work on that subject [Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities].

Whether you agree with all of David’s conclusions or not, I am sure that you will find as I did that your understanding of the context of Jesus’ life and ministry is expanded and enhanced, and so warmly recommend this book. For a sample chapter and a peak at the introduction and table of contents, click here.

I thought that this was such a great book that I bought another copy which you can win book by entering the giveaway below [i.e. it is not the free copy I was sent to review 🙂 ].

This Giveaway is now closed.