A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman

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Pub Date 03 Dec 2019 | Archive Date 14 Feb 2020

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In first-century Ephesus, life is not easy for women. A young wife meets her daily struggles with equanimity and courage. She holds poverty and hunger at bay, fights to keep her child healthy and strong, and navigates the unpredictability of her husband's temperament. But into the midst of her daily fears and worries, a new hope appears: a teaching that challenges her society's most basic assumption. What is this new teaching? And what will it demand of her? In this gripping novel, Holly Beers introduces us to the first-century setting where the apostle Paul first proclaimed the gospel. Illuminated by historical images and explanatory sidebars, this lively story not only shows us the rich tapestry of life in a thriving Greco-Roman city, it also foregrounds the interior life of one courageous woman—and the radical new freedom the gospel promised her.

In first-century Ephesus, life is not easy for women. A young wife meets her daily struggles with equanimity and courage. She holds poverty and hunger at bay, fights to keep her child healthy and...

Advance Praise

"Trying to imagine what life would have been like in the Roman empire can be hard enough, it can be harder too if you are trying to imagine what life was like for women, whose voices are mostly muted and marginalized in the annals of history. So it is quite rewarding to have someone like Dr. Holly Beers do the hard work of research and creative storytelling to help us imagine the life of women in the Greco-Roman world. Anyone interested in New Testament background or Roman antiquity will find here an enthralling and informative narrative about the prominence and plight of women in the ancient world." -Michael F. Bird, academic dean and lecturer in theology at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia

"Holly Beers spins a mesmerizing tale that weaves the historical reality of first-century Ephesus—fishing, family life, childbirth, Artemis—with the universal human need for love and purpose. From the opening pages, I could not put down her story. Beers takes her extensive knowledge of the New Testament and shapes a fictional woman's journey of discovery of the gospel and the early church community. The fast-paced narrative is filled with dialogue as biblical characters—Paul, Priscilla, Timothy, and others—come to life under Beers's skilled storytelling. This is a must-read for men and women of all ages who want a fresh look at the power and promise of the gospel."
-Lynn H. Cohick, provost/dean of Denver Seminary

"In a story that simultaneously captivates the imagination and reflects a great deal of historical and socio-cultural research, the daily concerns and plight of a first-century Greco-Roman woman come to life in the fictional Ephesian Anthia. This week-long snapshot of a life offers a truly intersectional approach to a woman's experience, which allows the reader to get an informed feel for how gender, economic status, cultural customs, gynecological health, technology, family structures, and religious practices might coalesce. Re-embedding Paul's proclamation of Christ within this fictional—but potentially realistic and certainly based on careful research—context enables modern readers to hear anew both the scandal and the hope that the gospel must have held for its earliest hearers."
-Kara Lyons-Pardue, professor of New Testament, Point Loma Nazarene University

"Holly Beers masterfully transports her readers into the bustling port city of Ephesus, where we follow Anthia through the drudgery of daily life as an abused fisherman's wife. Caught between her fidelity to Artemis, fascination with Jesus, and fear of reprisal, Anthia and her readers experience the gravity of her dilemma: Will she risk everything to follow Jesus? I highly recommend this book, not only as a gripping page-turner but also as a powerful exegetical tool—rich with historical and cultural details that bring the Bible to life through the eyes of a first-century woman."
-Alicia R. Jackson, assistant professor of Old Testament, Vanguard University

"With its captivating story and attention to detail, A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman paints the ancient world in vivid color. From the sounds in the public and private spaces to the smells of ancient bread and fish, readers will find themselves learning about the ancient world while immersed in a compelling story about a woman, her community, and her journey of faith. Whether for personal reading or as a course textbook, Holly Beers's story will leave a lasting impression on every reader!"
-Beth M. Stovell, associate professor of Old Testament, Ambrose University, National Catalyst for Theological and Spiritual Formation for Vineyard Canada

"A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman gives us beautifully vivid storytelling and superb treatment of the historical background. Each element breathes life to the other such that the story is richer and the historical background more vibrant because of the book's unique genre."
-Rebekah Josberger, professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Multnomah Biblical Seminary

"Holly Beers does some important things in this enjoyable work of historical fiction. First, she makes me care about the characters at the center of the drama. Second, she provides an accessible introduction to the religious, economic, and social world of a Greco-Roman woman with all its difficulties and complexities. Finally, she demonstrates the ways in which those worlds would be upset and transformed through an encounter with the burgeoning Christian community. It's a great resource for anyone wanting to know about the experiences of women in the first years of the church's life."
-Esau McCaulley, assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, coordinator of Call and Response Ministries

"Holly Beers brings keen insights from the social world of the New Testament to her story of Anthia. Beers tells a captivating story of this Ephesian woman, whose life with her husband, son, and soon-to-deliver second child is one of subsistence living from their modest fishing business. The sidebars about life in first-century Ephesus complement the storyline. As Anthia encounters the early Christian movement (Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila), she is drawn into the way they share life and meals together across the fixed boundaries of social status. This book brims with information about life in Ephesus in the first century and shines a light on the experience of people in the Greco-Roman world and how they might have engaged the early church. Beers is a great storyteller and the book is hard to put down. I recommend it for anyone wanting to get a feel for first-century life as it was lived on the ground."
-Jeannine Brown, professor of New Testament and director of online programs at Bethel Seminary, San Diego and St. Paul

"A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman is a fantastic way to engage any student of the Bible with the real people, real places, and real challenges of the first-century church. Beers animates the story of Paul's impact at Ephesus by telling the tale through the eyes of young Anthia—a commoner's wife pregnant with her second child. The reader is drawn into Anthia's story from the very first page, and then—almost without noticing—educated in the realia of life for a woman in the Greco-Roman world. Not only do we walk away with an all-too-rare woman's lens on the impact of the Gospel on her world, we are left with a deeply personal testimony of the confrontation of Artemis's city with the Way of Jesus."
-Sandra Richter, Robert H. Gundry Chair of Biblical Studies, Westmont College

"Trying to imagine what life would have been like in the Roman empire can be hard enough, it can be harder too if you are trying to imagine what life was like for women, whose voices are mostly muted...

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Featured Reviews

Holly Beers gives us an insightful peek into the daily lives of women during the Greco-Roman era. Set in Ephesus, this boom explores what it would have been like for a woman of this period to hear the radical teachings of the apostle Paul. The book features side segments throughout with historical information on the society, the norms, and daily life that enrich the text. As a former history teacher and a women’s ministry leader, I loved this book. I found it insightful and it really helped put some of the teachings of Paul into context. The story, while fictional, was written so well the main character felt real! The only negative I found with the book was that I desired a little bit more closure for her. Overall, an amazing read and I highly recommend it for those looking for a better understanding of why Christianity proves radical.

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A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman by Holly Beers brings the ancient city of Ephesus to life for modern readers. As a preacher, it is my job to attempt to bring the scripture to life every Sunday. It is always my goal to make the first century world that Jesus walked come to life for my congregation; however, this takes a great deal of time and study. That is why I am so grateful for books like this one. Beers, an associate professor of religious studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, does a fabulous job of helping the reader to imagine what life was really liked during the time that St. Paul was preaching and teaching.  The majority of the book is a fictional account of the daily life of a woman named Anthia who lived in Ephesus. Although Anthia and her story are imaginary, the challenges she faces were are all too real for the majority of women in the ancient world. She deals with an abusive husband, the dangers of childbirth, unsanitary living conditions, and the gnawing hunger of a subsistence diet. Anthia's life seems truly bleak until one day she encounters a man named Paul. Soon, she meets other followers of The Way and is exposed to ideas that make her question everything she has ever known.  My favorite part of this book were the realistic and gritty details. Beers does not shy away from exploring the many real dangers and tragedies that people faced in ancient Greco-Roman society. I also appreciated the side bars interspersed throughout the text. These sidebars included diverse information about everything from cosmetics, superstitions surrounding childbirth, and slavery.   The only gentle criticism I have about this book is that Anthia's story felt rather incomplete. I would have preferred a more solid ending.  Nevertheless, I'm certain that I will reference this book in the future when I am preparing sermons, especially sermons based on Paul's epistles.

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This book is partly fiction and partly nonfiction and covered events from the point of view of a poor, married, pregnant woman in Ephesus who witnesses the events of Acts 18-20 and decides if she will follow Jesus (and no other gods). The story read like a documentary show that's primarily made up of fictional reenactments to illustrate the points. The purpose was to educate readers (in an entertaining way) about the cultural background of the first-century Greco-Roman church so that we can better understand the New Testament. The book contained some nice black-and-white pictures of ruins and archaeological artifacts that illustrated information in the non-fiction sidebars or events in the story. A lot of educational material was worked into the story and additional information was provided in "sidebars" (which could take up whole pages) that were placed within the story. In the fictional part, we basically followed the main character through her daily life, but with some significant encounters during that week and ending with a critical decision. I thought that the author did a good job with the educational points that she brought out. Overall, I'd recommend this book to people who aren't very familiar with the cultural background to the New Testament and who aren't interested in pure nonfiction books on the topic.

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Another great book in the series of “A Week in the Life of…” These books are a brilliant way to bring information about Biblical context in an easy to consume narrative. I particularly enjoyed reading a book from a woman’s perspective, which didn’t hold back the punches of the harsh reality of being a woman in this society. It is not often that we here the voices of woman in Greco-Roman times. Holly Beers uses a fictional story to inform us about families, culture, religion, money and health in the period the New Testament was written. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the background of the writings of the New Testament, particularly Paul’s letters.

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