TheLost Letters of Pergamum
Longenecker’sLostLetters of Pergamumis a fictional collection of letters between Luke and a benefactor ofRome, Antipas. The book narrates the culture and framework ofChristians during the first century. The first letter is from Antipasto a nobleman, Calpurnius, as an invitation to attend thegladiatorial contest in Pergamum (Longenecker and Witherington19-20). The story then transitions with the introduction of Antipasinterest in reading. Antipas is studying Alexandrian history, and hesends a request for Homer’s literature from Theophilus library(Longenecker and Witherington 28-29). After receiving the texts,Antipas and Calpurnius meet for the annual gladiatorial contest.However, the nobleman is unable to attend further games due to thedeath of his nephew. The tragedy opens a door for Calpurnius’friend, Luke, to start exchanging letters with Antipas (Longeneckerand Witherington 35-38).
Lukeis a physician and a passionate scholar who starts writing letters toexplains the Christians’ norms and beliefs to his acquaintanceAntipas. The conversations entail spiritual matters because theyshare a love of the written gospel, particularly the texts aboutChrist’s life. They also discuss historical events that took placeduring the first century. Luke encouraged Antipas to engage withChristians and learn more about their beliefs and behavior.Therefore, Antipas is accompanied by Rufinus, who is a leader andsponsor of the gladiatorial games, to a Christian gathering on theLord’s Day. In the meeting, Antipas is asked to read Luke’swriting, and he is intrigued by his observations of the Christians.He indicates that these people are diverse in their ethnicbackgrounds, social status, and public positions (Longenecker andWitherington 87-90). Subsequently, Antipas letter to Luke explainedthat he had never encountered a group that displayed such behavior.Therefore, the Christians made a positive impression on a man withpagan beliefs. On the other hand, Rufinus did not have the sameopinion as Antipas because he was superstitious and skeptical.
Astheir conversation progressed, Antipas find it interesting to readabout Luke’s description of the man from Galilee, Jesus(Longenecker and Witherington 29). The correspondences revolve aroundreligious matters hence, Antipas starts sending Luke his thoughtsabout the narrative of Christ. Later, Antipas joined a group ofChristians and met with them regularly to discover the effect ofChrist’s lifestyle on social norms. He is overwhelmed byChristians’ hospitality, love for one another, and the family-likebonds they possessed. Initially, Antipas was devoted to the gods ofJupiter, Zeus, and Olympios (Longenecker and Witherington 19). Aftercontinued communication with Luke and meeting with the localChristians, Antipas understands that he should be worshiping Jesusbecause he is the son of God.
Theauthor illustrates Christ’s life using these letters and hiseffects on modern culture. The correspondences are arranged logicallyas the story develops from Antipas invitation letter to Luke sharingthe news of Antipas death. The book is well-established and giveshistorical information that allows the reader to go back in historyand learn about Christians. Longenecker’s expertise in the NewTestament studies is clear through the detailed account of historicalcontexts, cultural settings, and the struggles encountered by theearly Christians.
Itis fascinating that Longeneckerchose to demonstrate the communication between a Luke and a pagan ofhigh social standing because it shows how the Christian traditionspread. The author illustrates a transformation of heart and behaviorin Antipas’ life. Longenecker explains this slow change of beliefsand the fundamental issues of the Roman society through the characterof Antipas. Therefore, the background information acts as a solutionagainst obsolete projections of modern perception into thefirst-century world. At first, Antipasis concerned with being connected with the Christians as evident inthe way he signs his letters indicating that Jupiter is the highestgod (Longenecker and Witherington 35).
Besides,Christians were regarded social outcasts who worshiped a differentGod (Longenecker and Witherington 41). On the other hand, Luke iscomfortable stating that he is a follower of Christ. Luke takes theopportunity to challenge the perception that Christians areantisocial rebels. He also shows that Jesus has changed the lives ofmany people in the society. The letters illustrate how Christ bringsharmony to the community, redefines the code of respect, andintroduces a different way of life characterized by values ofgoodness (Longenecker and Witherington 45-47).
Theauthor portrays the three key components of the Roman world throughthe interaction of characters based on their response to shame,honor, and other social norms during the early Christians era. Thenagain, the author illustrates diversity in the Christian societieswhen he portrays the differences between the group gathering inAntonius’s residence and those in the house of Kalandion. Throughhis letter, Antipas indicates that Christians in the house ofKalandion are more concerned in interpreting Jesus as a miracleworker (Longeneckerand Witherington 70-72).Thus, this group does not desire to have an in-depth analysis ofChrist. On the contrary, the Christians meeting at the house ofAntonius were more interested in Christ’s radical lifestyle ratherthat his miracles (Longeneckerand Witherington 76).The group was engaged in charity work and helping the deprived in thesociety. Consequently, these Christians had a distinctive andintriguing sense of community spirit.
Accordingly,Longenecker’s ideas contradict the one-dimensional stereotypes ofthe complexity of Jesus’ ministry and identity (Longeneckerand Witherington 117-119).Instead, he shows how modern Christians should live.The book explains that ignorance and hatred just because a persondoes not understand something is unjustifiable. For example, inthe house of Antonius, everyone is treated with the respect reservedfor the noblemen (Longeneckerand Witherington 85-88).Antipas’ reaction demonstrates Longenecker’s ideas that theprosperity of Christianity is based on human relationships. Antipas’change begins when he helps serve food to the Christians gathered atAntonius’ house, which was below his social standing. Longeneckeralso portrays Antipas’ change of heart when he offers to supportthe welfare of a young orphan girl, Nouna (Longeneckerand Witherington 180-183).Besides, Antipas decides to follow Christianity due to the radicallifestyle and teachings of Jesus thus, he continued to attendmeetings at the house of Antonius despite Rufinus’ warnings. In theend, Antipasconverted to Christianity, and he later died as a martyr who opposedthe gladiatorial events, which resulted in the murder of his fellowChristians.
Inconclusion, the LostLetters of Pergamumis a historically accurate description of Antipas’ first impressiontowards early Christians and his gradual redemption.The readers gain insight into thefirst centurythrough the detailed illustrations of the rich history and context. Although the story is fictional, it provides information about theNew Testament and the Christian culture. Therefore, Longenecker’snarration of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ helps thefictional characters develop a correct perception of the Christianlife. Using different beliefs of two characters, Longenecker capturesthe representation of a lifestyle that challenges the modernChristians to consider if they are faithfully living within theteachings of Christ.
Longenecker,Bruce W, and Ben Witherington. TheLost Letters of Pergamum: A Story from the New Testament World.Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Academic, 2003. Print.