The Importance Of Roman Portraiture For Head-Coverings In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 -- By: David W. J. Gill

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 41:2 (NA 1990)
Article: The Importance Of Roman Portraiture For Head-Coverings In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Author: David W. J. Gill


The Importance Of Roman Portraiture For Head-Coverings In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

David W.J. Gill

The Corinthian correspondence presents an insight into one of the earliest Christian churches. The issues with which Paul deals have helped to mould our current views on a variety of subjects. Although the epistles speak about topics such as litigation, which is a subject familiar to us, one of the barriers to the understanding of these letters and their application for a late twentieth century church is the coming to grips with the original cultural context. Paul’s teaching on the use of law courts, for example, needs to be understood against the background of litigation against the social elites of the Roman world.1 If we are to understand the background or cultural context of these letters we need to read them against the backdrop of a Roman colony,2 not a Greek city.3 Institutions, legal procedures, social customs, architecture, public images and to some extent language owed more to Rome than to the Greek world. This paper will explore the issue of head-coverings and hair-styles in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 against the background of Roman portraiture and forms a response to C.L. Thompson’s recent discussion in the Biblical Archaeologist (1989).4 It is

part of a wider project to provide the cultural background to the Corinthian correspondence by Bruce Winter and the present writer.5

I. Men Covering Their Heads

Paul reminds men in the church at Corinth that ‘any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head’ (v. 4). He is referring to specific actions within the meeting of the church; it does not refer to every action. At Corinth several images of men with their heads covered have been found. The best known is a slightly larger than life-size statue of the emperor Augustus.6 It was found in the so-called Julian Basilica at the east end of the Roman forum.7 Augustus is shown wearing a tunic and a toga, the dress of a Roman citizen, which is drawn up over his head. The right hand, although missing, would almost certainly have held a patera, or shallow dish, for pouring libations.

This image of Augustus is one that is...

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