The Headless Statues of Corinth



In 400 BCE, the ancient city of Corinth was one of the largest and most important cities in Greece, boasting a population of nearly 100,000 people.  

However, the Romans demolished the city in 146 BCE when they expanded their empire and rebuilt it as the provincial capital of their Grecian conquest in 44 BCE. 

So the city that the Apostle Paul visited on one of his missionary journeys, which would plant a church that would persevere for centuries, was a fairly new city, with only vestiges of its former Grecian glory. 

Paul would go on to write two very important letters to the church in Corinth, letters that would address the various issues the church was facing as it struggled to live into the unity that Paul preached.  

Paul spent a year and a half in Corinth, living with two Christian Jews, Pricilla, and Aquilla, who had fled Rome when Jews were expelled from the city in 19 AD by Emperor Claudius.  

My recent visit to the ancient archaeological site of Corinth was my first, and I found it enlightening and inspiring.  

One of the many interesting things that I learned while we were there had to do with the many headless statues found at the site.  I've often wondered why so many statues from antiquity were headless and also why some of them appeared to be hollow below the neck. 

Unlike the Greeks, the Romans frequently fashioned statues so that the heads could be removed and replaced, most often with the head of a different subject than the original. 

Headless Roman statue in Corinth

This speaks to the constant change of leadership in the Roman Empire, from one Ceasar to the next, provincial governors who were all too easily replaced during regime change, and the like. 

When it came to the various Ceasars who would come to power, things would get complicated in the provinces of Rome because most of them either demanded or encouraged that they be worshipped as a god by the subjects of Rome. 

So rather than create new statues, many of the cities and provinces of the Empire would simply change their heads when a new ruler came to power. 

As I contemplated this while walking through the archaeological site of Corinth, I  couldn't help but sing to the outro line from the 1971 song by The Who, "We Won't Get Fooled Again": 

"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss..." 

I'm sure if the citizens of Corinth heard that line, it would have resonated with them.  They would have also thought themselves patriotic to worship the new Ceasar when they replaced the heads on the statue, either ignoring or letting the irony of it escape them. 

For the Apostle Paul, this must have been disturbing.  Perhaps it was in Corinth where he began to form the ideas that would eventually make their way into his letter to the church in Rome years later when he said: 

Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being... (Romans 1:22-23, NIV)

Our current culture is not that dissimilar from the culture Paul discovered in ancient Corinth. We replace the heads on statues differently, but we do so with the same kind of misplaced devotion and allegiance. 

Far too many Christians in our society think that by simply "replacing the heads" on the "statues" of our political leaders, everything will be better.  

In so doing, they abandon their faith and trust in an invisible but ever-present God and foolishly believe these visible "gods" will fix everything that they consider to be wrong. 

But as followers of Christ, we are called to put our faith in trust in a God who never leaves nor forsakes us, no matter how troubled the world might seem.  

We simply follow in the footsteps of the One who loved us and gave himself for us, showing how far God is willing to go to redeem and restore even what we perceive to be beyond hope.  

May we find the strength to resist the headless statues of lesser gods, who cannot save, and continue to find the defiant hope that comes from a faith that looks beyond our present circumstances to a future filled with the promise of light an d life.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and forever. Amen.  

 

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