🔼The name Corinth: Summary
- Place On The Peak, Place Of The Horn
- Place Of Rich Pastures, Place Of Many Sons
- From κερασ (keras), horn, and קרן (qeren), horn or ray of light.
- From κορος (koros), son or satiety, and כרר (karar), to encircle and fill.
🔼The name Corinth in the Bible
The name Corinth belongs to a city that was both the recipient of some of the most stunning pieces of world literature (namely Paul's letters to the Corinthians), as well as abysmal levels of imperial brutality. The name Corinth occurs 6 times in the New Testament, and the ethnonym Corinthian (Κορινθιος) an additional 2 times (Acts 18:8 and 2 Corinthians 6:11). For all these 8 occurrence, see full concordance.
Corinth still exists. It is situated on the north shore of the east-west isthmus (i.e. narrow land bridge) that connects the main southern portion of Greece, namely the Peloponnese peninsula, to the northern mainland. About 100 kilometers south of Corinth, on the Peloponnese, was (and still is) Sparta. About 70 kilometers east, on the main land, was Athens. That means that all land trade between these two great city states came through Corinth. That helped Corinth become a formidable third city state, with 90,000 people by the time of Judah's last canonized prophets. Prophets as early as Isaiah had had their eye on Athens (Isaiah 7:14; see our article on παρθενος, parthenos), and Corinth too had doubtlessly been in the prophetical cross hairs ever since the Dorians had founded it around the time of king Ahab, in 900 BC, a mere few decades after the Temple of YHWH in Jerusalem had been completed.
The Corinthians maintained that the name Corinth (Κορινθος) derived from the city's prehistoric founder, namely Corinthus (Κορινθος; identical name), who was a son of Zeus — and contrary to common beliefs, Greek gods were human ancestors; see our article on the name Apollos.
In his Iliad, Homer counts "wealthy" Corinth (2.570) among Agamemnon's supporters for the war against Troy — and the Iliad, as does the Biblical Exodus, derives its dramatic momentum from the deeply traumatic Bronze Age collapse of 1200 BC, which in turn was all about the victory of the literate administrative class over the illiterate ruling class; see our lengthy article on the name Hellas for more on this.
Some time before that legendary Trojan War, Corinth's most famous native son, Bellerophon, grandson of Sisyphus (and see Luke 4:30 for an obvious wink to this character) captured the hitherto untamed divine and winged horse Pegasus while it was drinking from the eternal well called Pirene (Πειρηνη, peirene, see πειρω, peiro, to pierce) at Corinth. So mounted, the hero Bellerophon engaged the monster Chimera, and unwittingly triggered a theme in iconography that also produced Michael and George and their respective Dragons (and Alexander on Bucephalus, Napoleon on his prancing white steed, and of course the brave Hobbits in the Prancing Pony on their way to defeat Sauron).
In those same legendary times before the Trojan War, Jason of Argonaut fame settled in Corinth and became engaged to the king's daughter. His wife of ten years, the sorceress Medea, disapproved of this and murdered the daughter, the king and even her own two sons with Jason. In an obvious prelude to Helen of Sparta who absconded to Troy, Medea of Corinth escaped to Athens — in an airborne chariot pulled by dragons (see δρακων, drakon, meaning snake), given to her by her grandfather Helios (and note the obvious similarity between the names Helios, Ηλιος, and Elijah, Ηλιας, who went to heaven, rather likewise, in a whirlwind trailed by a chariot of fire: 2 Kings 2:11). It was decided by the Greek poets that the acropolis of Corinth, the Acrocorinth, belonged to Helios.
The name Medea stems from the verb μεδω (medo), to protect or rule over, as does the name Medus (of her son), and Medusa, of the monstrous Gorgo with snakes for hair — which is really another way of talking about a dragon-drawn solar chariot; see our article on κοσμος (kosmos), cosmos. In yet another autonomous semi-variant of really the same story: when Medusa was beheaded by Perseus (whose name, like that of the Pharisees, tradition linked to Persia, falsely but not unreasonably), she was pregnant by Poseidon, and gave birth to Pegasus, the winged horse.
🔼Corinth through Hebrew eyes
What possibly fascinated the Hebrew prophets about Corinth was that from 747 BC to 657 BC (during the reigns of kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah and Manasseh of Judah, and prophets Isaiah, Amos, Jonah, Micah and Hosea), this budding city state was governed not by a single tyrannical king, as was normal in those days, but rather by a very large council (a tribe, really) of men called the Bacchiadae (who claimed descent from Heracles, great-grandson of Perseus, who had beheaded Medusa). Their name appears to relate to Bacchus (via a king Bacchis), whose name in turn appears to relate to anything round (such as a council). An important epithet of Bacchus was Eleutherios or Liberator, and later Greek thinkers considered ελευθερια (eleutheria), meaning freedom-by-law, the democratic ideal (hence Paul writes: it is for freedom that Christ has set you free; Galatians 5:1).
And this made Corinth a sort of early republic — albeit not exactly, because the Bacchiadae were an oligarchical clan, who allowed no outsiders to join. Still, the Bacchiad unique form of government was spectacularly novel and highly successful. Corinth wasn't very large back then, about 5,000 people, but the wise Bacchiadae had clearly set their town on a stellar economic and cultural rise. When the Bacchiadae were ousted by a man named Cypselus, and Corinth descended back into monarchy, surviving Bacchiadae fled west and founded Syracuse on Sicily (later the home of Archimedes), and a line of Etruscan kings (crucially instrumental in the rise of Rome and the Latin script).
Even under the tyrant Cypselus, Corinth continued to do well. His son and successor Periander continued to bring great wealth to Corinth and was counted among the Seven Sages of Greece (the story of the twelve disciples who appointed the seven deacons, Acts 6:3, is an obvious wink to the not unfounded claim that the twelve tribes of Israel had facilitated the seven Greek sages; also see our article on the various Greek words for basket). By the time of Judah's exile to Babylon, Corinth had begun to use its own coinage, a silver stater, which derived from the Phoenician shekel, and was worth about two or three day's wages, or δραχμη (drachme). The Corinthians stater depicted Athena on one side and Pegasus on the other. This made the population refer to these Corinthian coins as πωλοι (poloi), colts or foals, which in turn reminds of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem seated on a colt (Matthew 21:5, Zechariah 9:9).
Near constant war between Sparta and Athens (or with the Persians, of anybody else they could find), weakened the city states to the point at which Philip II of Macedon could subdue them, and unite them in the Leage of Corinth (338 BC). That would have given the name Corinth a ring like Versailles in our modern time (upon the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919).
A year later, the Second Congress of Corinth established the Common Peace: the formidable arrangement that secured and governed permanent peace between the autonomous Greek city states. Unlike the later Pax Romana, which was enforced by centralized brutality, horror and the constant threat of violence, the Greek Common Peace was ratified by reason, cooperation and the mutual understanding of multilateral benefits for all involved. This Greek Common Peace is still the inspiration of charters such as the United Nations. The Greek word for Peace is ειρηνη (eirene), and the word for Common is κοινος (koinos), which is also the name of the creole Greek that became the lingua franca of the Hellenized world: the Greek in which the New Testament was written (and see these words used in one tongue-in-cheek statement in Titus 1:4).
Since their joint foundation in 753 BC (which was just five years shy of the start of the reign of the Bacchiadae in Corinth, or so the poets claimed), the great cities of Rome and Carthage had existed like Cain and Abel on each their own side of the Great Mediterranean Sea. Rome, as everybody knew, had been a continuation of Troy (see our article on Aeneas), whereas Carthage was a colony of Tyre, the great city of the Semitic Phoenicians (see the obvious wink in Matthew 15:21-22), who around 950 BC had joined king Solomon in building the great Temple of YHWH in Jerusalem (1 Kings 5:1).
In 146 BC, Rome engaged Carthage in its third and final war — and the Punic Wars would provide the wedge that destabilized the Republic, and thus facilitated Octavian's disastrous Roman Empire. When Carthage finally fell, the Roman soldiers tore for six days through the streets and killed everyone they found and burned the buildings behind them. On the seventh day, they finally started taking prisoners: 50,000 remaining Carthaginians were sold into slavery. The city and its dazzling culture were utterly erased. In the mid-40s BC, Julius Caesar ordered the building of a new city, a Roman Carthage, in its place.
In the very same year in which Carthage suffered the world's first systematic genocide, the Romans also invaded Greece and bore down on Corinth: the horrific Battle of Corinth ensued. When Corinth fell, the whole of Greece was subjugated to Rome — which in turn cleared the way for the invasion of the Levant, including Judea, in the 60s BC. Upon defeat, the men of Corinth were murdered and the women and children were sold into slavery. The city was utterly raised to the ground. In the mid-40s, Julius Caesar ordered the building of a new city, a Roman Corinth, in its place. Roman Corinth became the capital of the province of Achaia. And that's the one we hear of in the New Testament.
🔼Etymology of the name Corinth
The name Κορινθος is thought to be pre-Greek. But it's also thought to relate to κορυς (koros), helmet, which equally obviously relates to κερασ (keras), horn, and ultimately to the Proto-Indo-European root "ker-", horn or pointy peak:
The Greek noun κερασ (keras) means horn and is cognate with the Latin cornu and probably the Hebrew קרן (qeren). The usage of these words demonstrates a strong association with words and speech. The noun κερασ (keras), horn, is related to κρανιον (kranion) meaning skull, hence the Greek version of the name Calvary.
The related verb κεραννυμι (keranummi) means to mix or blend. Noun ακεραιος (akeraios), unmixed, also means hornless. Noun ακρατος (akratos), unmitigated, also means without caring government. Noun κεραμος (keramos) means pottery; κεραμευς (kerameus) means potter.
Whether or not by sound etymology (which is ultimately not very interesting), in Biblical times, proverbially wealthy Corinth would have certainly been associated with the proverbial Horn of Plenty. It would also have been recognized as paraphrasing the name Acropolis, which consists of the familiar word πολις (polis), city, and ακρις (akris), pointy hill top (hence Matthew 5:14: "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.").
As we point out in our article on Colossae, pre-Greek was strongly influenced by the Semitic languages of the Phoenicians (as was later proper Greek, for that matter, as the Greek alphabet derives entirely from the Hebrew one: see our lengthy article on Hellas). The "-thos" part of our name is a fairly common suffix of origin (later replaced by -θεν, -then), and the first part of our name is virtually the same as the first part of the name Cornelius (Κορνηλιος), and thus the verb קרן (qaran), meaning to radiate or have horns. Our name Corinth was mostly spelled with a Κ (kappa), after the Hebrew כ (kap), but in Dorian texts (and on its coinage) it commonly appeared spelled with a qoppa, after the Hebrew ק (qop):
The verb קרן (qaran) means to radiate and became applied to the having of horns of certain animals. Subsequently, the noun קרן (qeren) means horn or ray.
The spelling with the Κ (kappa) directs our continued attention to the Hebrew verb כרר (karar), to go circular and to amass within (the "n" could be ascribed to the very common suffix -ון, -on, which tends to personify or localize the root):
The verb כרר (karar) is one of a few that describes a circular motion, and particularly a repeated circular motion: a swirl. This verb has the added nuance of amassing something within the circle so formed.
Noun כר (kar) means pasture, a defined region where herds roam and are kept. Identical noun כר (kar) describes a [male] lamb, probably literally as a "unit of herd." Similar noun כר (kor) is a unit of volume. Noun כרכרה (kirkara) is a diminutive and feminine version of כר (kar) and describes some domesticated animal. Noun ככר (kikkar) refers to any "round thing," from a large region to a circular lid or loaf of bread.
Verb כור (kar) means to contain by surrounding or winding about (like a turban). Noun כר (kar) appears to describe a bundle upon a pack animal. Noun כור (kur) describes a smelting pot or furnace; noun כיר (kir) refers to a cooking-furnace, and noun כיר (kir) or כיור (kiyor) describes a cooking pot or laver.
The noun כר (kar) was also used to describe an instrument of war, probably a device that could bundle or leverage force; perhaps a catapult of some sort.
Noun מכרה (mekora) or מכורה (mekurah) literally describes location or agent of the verb כור (kar). In practice it describes the contracting of nomadic social groups into a defining shared cultural identity and ultimately the emergence of a formal nation. Similar noun מכרה (mekera) describes the effect of a sword: probably a forced compliance to a dominating convention.
Verb כרה (kara) emphasizes the accumulative clause of our root. It may describe digging a grave, well or pit but with the understanding that something will be deposited in these holes. This verb may also be used to describe acquisition by means of international trade, or even the concentration of people, goods and merriment in a feast. Noun כרה (kara) refers to the structure created to collect in, and noun מכרה (mikreh) to the act or result of it.
Verb כרת (karat) describes the cutting off what was first rounded up and isolated. This verb may simply describe a cutting down of trees, but it also describes the "cutting" of a covenant. It also describes the social principle by which weaker members of society are isolated and driven out, often to be adopted by another society which not rarely elevates these rejects to an elite class. Noun כריתות (keritut) means dismissal or divorce.
And that, in turn, brings us back to a small group of Greek words all spelled κορος (koros):
The noun κορος (koros) or κουρος (kouros) means son, boy or lad. Soldiers were known as a nation's "sons" and the auxiliary, non-native troops were known as επικουρος (epikouros). The derived noun επικουρια (epikouria) means help (from auxiliary, non-native troops). Noun κορη (kore), means girl.
Other nouns spelled κορος (koros) are: a certain unit of volume, a noun meaning satiety (or insolence). Adjective κορος (koros) means pure or raven-black; κοραξ (korax) means raven.
Zeus had a great many sons and daughters, but the mythical founder Corinthus may have actually been named after the noun κορος (koros), meaning son, which clearly reminds of the divine son(s) of which the Hebrew poets had spoken (Genesis 6:2, Job 1:6, 38:7, Psalm 2:12, Matthew 5:9, Luke 20:36, John 1:12, Romans 8:14-19, Galatians 3:26, Philippians 2:15, 1 John 3:1-2). This combined with the other words κορος (koros) would link Corinth to satiety and divine providence (Luke 12:24), and even a divine purity of mind, which obviously ties neatly into the image of the radiant horn of plenty.
The name Corinth probably relates to very old Indo-European words that had to do with horns and sharp things, and thus means From The Peak or Place Of The Horn. But it may also have resonated with a Semitic stock of words that had to do with rich pastures and having many sons, in which case it would have meant Rich Pastures or Place Of Many Sons.
Proverbially, Corinth was known for its opulence and wealth (although probably no longer so after its destruction in 146 BC). Throughout the ages, Corinth remained associated with the most elaborate of Greek architectural orders, namely the Corinthian order, whose signature column-capitals even came to engrace the Pantheon in Rome.