Paul taught the saints at Corinth to,
Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. (1 Corinthians 10:25 ESV)
The Greek word used here for “meat market” is makellon. Archaeological discoveries at Corinth include inscriptions mentioning the meat market and the fish market.
Henry J. Cadbury writes about visiting the Corinth excavations in July, 1933. He says he especially wanted to see “first hand the Erastus inscription….” Some of his comments in the article are still interesting today.
But what was particularly unexpected by me was to note among the inscribed fragments of marble in the new museum one containing quite clearly MACELLV.
As the piece has only seven other letters and these quite unintelligible the discovery of this single word is extremely tantalizing. But since the fragment in question was found in 1898, now thirty-five years ago, while so far as I know its one clear word has never been brought into connection with Paul’s reference to a Corinthian macellum, it is worth while now to do so. And the fragment does not stand quite alone; nine other fragments of the same inscription have been found, and furthermore another copy apparently of a similar inscription is represented by eleven fragments.
Citing A. B. West and L. R. Taylor, Cadbury says the various inscriptions mentioning the macellum at Corinth date to the “last years of Augustus or to the reign of Tiberias.”
In my earliest years of traveling to Corinth I saw this inscription each time I was there. Below is a digitized slide photo from 1971. This inscription was in an open hall surrounding the courtyard of what Cadbury called in 1934 “the new museum” at Corinth. At some point, perhaps in the 1990s the inscription was no longer on display. My guide at the time was well informed and had likewise seen the inscription. Inquiry in the office of the museum provided no information. Finally, a few years ago (probably 2008 or 2012) I found one of the workers preparing for the renovation of a “newer” museum at Corinth. She informed me that the inscription was in their storeroom and that it would eventually be displayed again.
In the photo below you will see the Latin word MACELLV[M] in the fourth line from the top. Paul used the same Greek word in 1 Corinthians 10:25.
Makellum inscription at Corinth Museum in 1971. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
Cadbury refers to published inscriptions from Corinth. This is No. 124. It is thought to have consisted of three blocks. The beginning of the five lines in the first block of No. 124 reads as follows:
Q . C O
M A E C
S E C V
M A C E L L V
I N E A . L O C
New Testament Christians did not live in a vacuum, and the books of the New Testament were not written in a vacuum. Understanding the historical and social context of these writings helps us to better apply them to our own time.
Documentation: Henry J. Cadbury. “The Macellum of Corinth.” JBL 53:2 (1934): 134-141.