This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Titius Justus, Polycharmus, and synagogue architecture

Acts 18:7 reads
Τhen he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God; his house adjoined (ἦν συνομοροῦσα) the synagogue.

It is a remarkable coincidence that Titius Justus's house happened to adjoin the synagogue .... or is it?

Well, I recently read Stephen Catto's interesting discussion of ancient synagogues here. Thanks, Mark Goodacre, for the link. Catto discusses the Stobi synagogue inscription:
[Claudius] Tiberius Polycharmus, also (called) Achyrios, the father of the synagogue at Stobi, having lived my whole life according to the (prescriptions of) Judaism, in fulfilment of a vow (have donated) the rooms to the holy place, and the triclinium, with the tetrastoa, out of my personal accounts without touching the sacred (funds) at all. All the right of all the upper (rooms of the building) and the ownership is to be held by me, Claudius Tiberius Polycharmus, and my heirs for all (our?) life. If someone wishes to make changes beyond my decisions, he shall give the Patriarch 250,000 denarii. For thus I have agreed. As for the upkeep of the roof tiles of the upper (rooms of the building), it will be done by me and my heirs.

Until I read Catto's discussion I had not realized that Polycharmus had donated rooms in his own house for use as a synagogue. Polycharmus retained the rooms on the upper floor as his house, while the rooms below became the synagogue. There seems to be a consensus that this is the scenario. Indeed, many believe that the majority of ancient synagogues were formed from domestic houses. So, after his benefaction, Polycharmus's house (the upper rooms) adjoined the synagogue (the ground floor). Sound familiar? This provides a good parallel for the case of Titius Justus and explains the apparent coincidence that his house was part of the same structure as the synagogue.

My suggestion, therefore, is that Titius Justus (or perhaps his forbears) had donated a part of his house for use as a synagogue. The remaining rooms continued to be his house. Thus, his house adjoined the synagogue. Then, after becoming a Christ-believer, he performed a similar benefaction for the church, offering the (rest of) his house as a 'synagogue' for Paul's use. I think this makes sense because someone who is able and willing to be a benefactor of the Jews is likely, after conversion, to provide a similar service for the church.

This is important because it adds another data point for the debate about the origin of synagogue buildings in the ancient world. It also brings Titius Justus into sharper focus and fits nicely with the view that he was Gaius and Stephanas (see my earlier posts here and here and here). Incidentally, the Titius Justus-Stephanas hypotheses came out of discussions with Stephen Carlson, who was the first to connect the two names. I don't know what position, if any, he holds on the hypothesis.

Also incidentally, John Chrysostom wrote about Gaius:
See what a crown (στέφανον) he has framed for him by bearing witness to such great hospitality in him, and brought in the entire Church into this man's house!

Benefactors were commonly given a crown, and for Chrysostom, Paul give Gaius a 'crown' by acknowledging his benefaction. Chrysostom seems to have been a hair's width away from realizing that Paul had given Gaius a 'crown' (στέφανος) by naming him "Stephanas" (Στέφανᾶς).


  1. Thanks for this. I think this background information fleshes out much of the picture nicely.

    As for the Stephanas=Titius Justus link, ever since coming to Duke, ever I've become more of a Knoxian, so I'm now more cautious about using Acts directly as a source (until I do a lot more work in Pauline chronology!).

    Nevertheless, I still think the link bears plausibility, subject to a number of decisions that, to my mind, require further scrutiny (usefulness of Acts, the viability of the Crispus=Sosthenes identification, Paul's conferring of baptismal names and his selective use of them in the letters, etc.).

  2. Thanks for the comments, Stephen.

    I have become increasingly convinced that the Acts chronology is correct (though Luke left out politically sensitive events like imprisonments and collections). You may remember that, on the Xtalk list, I posted a sequence of events that I laid out as a challenge to the Knox hypothesis. I may blog about this at some point.

    Meanwhile, I think the question is whether the information that Acts gives about Titius Justus is likely to be correct. The relevant data set for answering this question is the data on the other minor characters associated with Corinth.

    Luke connects Prisca and Aquila with Corinth, as does Paul, and both say that they were house owners. Also both place Prisca before Aquila at times, which is significant. And both connect them with Rome.
    Both Luke and Paul mention Erastus (who travelled with Timothy from Ephesus to Corinth via Macedonia.
    Paul's use of Sosthenes as a co-sender of 1 Corinthians fits well with the role that Acts gives him (Corinthian Archisynagogos and, if he was Crispus, founding benefactor).
    Luke and Paul both say that Apollos went to Corinth after Paul's first visit there and they agree that Apollos was an important missionary there and was independent of Paul.
    Both Paul and Luke tell us that Timothy and Silas/Silvanus were with Paul during this first visit to Corinth.

    So, Acts does seem to be accurate in its reporting of the minor characters associated with Corinth, whatever chronology we favor.

    I don't think the term "baptismal names" is the right one here. Since both Titius Justus and Crispus were almost certainly Roman citizens, it would be better to call their new names Agnomina.

    Concerning Paul's selective use of these new names, the discussion with Doug Chaplin was useful to me and allowed me to tighten the arguments. See the comments to my blog post of Nov 28. Paul's use of "Peter" in Gal 2:7-8 is important here.

  3. Well, I'm more of a Knoxian on the methodological side, than on his specific chronology. I do think there's a lot of value in Acts (with some major topical displacements), but getting my thoughts to explain that point will take some time.

    "Baptismal names" may be begging the question too much. Paul may have conferred these names later, though he did baptize Crispus and Gaius (and I almost forgot, the household of Stephanas) in Corinth.