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The Morning After in Corinth: Bread-and-Butter Notes, Part I

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image of Biblical Interpretation

Although moralists pined for the days of traditional virtues and simple foodstuffs, the elites of the Roman Empire pursued luxury and excess both in literature and cuisine. Distrust of fancy preparations extended even to the categorization of the constituent elements of diet. James Davidson writes of Greek cuisine, "Victuals were regularly divided into three parts: sitos (the staple, usually bread), opson (whatever one eats with the staple) and poton (drink)." The opson adds nothing and everything, both necessary and unnecessary. No meal is complete without opson, but an ancient proverb held that the very best opson is hunger. Writing to the Corinthian Christians, Paul reminds them that they can fill their bellies at home, with opson, one imagines, and simply gather to share the bread and the wine. Bread and wine suffice. Or do they? Paul proposes a menu: bread, wine, and some words to accompany the sitos and poton. The words of institution serve as an opson; bread and wine are not a banquet without the prescribed words. Paul writes that members of the community have sickened and even died for consuming the Lord's Supper unworthily. Surely it is not the bread and wine that turn their stomachs, but the accompaniment, the opson, the edible words that prove to be lethal. What if the members of the Corinthian community were not, as Paul claims, ill from swallowing the words of institution in an unworthy manner, but rather from the opposite, ingesting the words too literally? An overlooked source of indigestion: the postprandial effects of human flesh and blood.

Affiliations: 1: Case Western Reserve University; 2: Le Moyne College


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