THE BUILDING OF THE CHURCH
In the last section we discussed some of the early Christian churches along with the archaeological finds at those sites--Nazareth, Bethlehem, Cana, Capernaum, and the sites by the lake where Jesus had such a rich ministry. This section will continue the focus on the beginnings of Christianity, primarily where the archaeology provides some information about the Church or the culture that characterized the ministry in that region. The easiest way to organize the material is to start in Jerusalem, and then move to other cities in the land and eventually throughout Syria and Asia Minor. Here especially we shall have to be brief, focusing on the most significant things for biblical studies--otherwise this becomes a study of the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine worlds.
Christian Sites in Old Jerusalem
The Pools of Bethesda and Siloam
Just inside St. Stephen’s Gate, or Lion’s Gate, there is the Church of St. Anne, the best preserved Crusader Church in Jerusalem. It was built in 1140 A.D. over an old Byzantine Church to commemorate the birthplace of the Virgin Mary and her parents, Anne and Joachim. The church became the possession of the French after the Crimean War in 1856. And it is still a center for the White Friars. The acoustics in the church are superb; not surprisingly groups of Christians love to sing here.
In the courtyard of the church are the remains of the pools of Bethesda with their tradition of the healing waters (John 5:2-9). Here Jesus healed the man without the help of the troubled waters. The pools themselves are immense, including several deep and shallow pools. The plaster is still in place on some of the walls, but very little of the buildings that covered the pools remains.
The Pool of Siloam is also the place of several biblical events, most notably Christ’s healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-41). The water for the Feast of Tabernacles was drawn from this pool, so it probably formed the background to Jesus’ sermon in John 7:37. But this site is in the Moslem Quarter and so nothing of a Christian center has been built by it or near it. This pool is down at the bottom of the hill where the Kidron Valley meets the other valleys of Jerusalem, the Tryopean and the Valley of Gehenna.
The Kidron Valley divides Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. This is a long valley, extending some twenty miles from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. There are several remarkable tombs in the valley cut from the rock, some of which tradition has identified with Absalom, James, Zechariah, and others. These traditions are difficult to evaluate; but the tombs may be those of priestly families. On the left of the valley are the walls of the city that border the Temple area. The southwest corner of this wall may very well be the “pinnacle of the Temple” which was the site of the second temptation of Jesus (Matt. 4:5-7). Others suggest the corner of the building itself inside the complex.
“Mount Zion” of the Upper City
Along the road from the area of Jaffa Gate through the Armenian Quarter and around the bend of the road lies Zion Gate which opens to the area where Hebrew Christianity began. It has been called “Mount Zion,” but that is incorrect, for in biblical times Mount Zion was the temple mount.
But in this area the followers of Jesus met for Passover with him, and here they remained waiting for the Holy Spirit. Here the early “church” met to settle various matters, and in this area the Jerusalem Council took place.
The early Church of Mount Zion was erected here in the Byzantine period, but destroyed by the Persians. Remains of it were found under the Dormitian Abbey, an abbey marking the place where Mary went into her eternal sleep. In the area there is a synagogue which claims to have the Tomb of David. This tradition dates back to the 12th century; but the tomb is believed to be elsewhere.
Close by is the site of the Upper Room. The room that exists today is part of the 12th century crusader Church of Our Lady of Mount Zion, and so not the original room. But the Upper Room had to be in this area; and this room as well as any affords the visitor the opportunity to reflect on that strange and powerful time when the Holy Spirit descended on those gathered together. It transformed them from fearful followers of Jesus into bold apostles whose preaching turned the world around.
Down through the parking lot and across the main road is the Church of Peter of Gallicantu (“cock crowing”). It belongs to the Roman Catholic Assumptionist Fathers. By Roman Catholic tradition this is the site of the home of Caiaphas and so the place where Jesus was taken when arrested in the garden. There are first century steps from the valley up to the church, on which he may have been led up to the judgment (even if he was led elsewhere in the Upper City). And in the lowest level of the basement of the church there are cells that no doubt were used for keeping prisoners. However, as mentioned in class 21 the home of Caiaphas may have been further over in the Jewish Quarter, in the Herodian Quarters.
But before leaving the area of the church, at the corner of the parking lot through the garden there is access to an overview of the city and valleys from a rooftop. From this vantage point there is a good view to the right of the Valley of Gehenna, the area known as the valley of depravity. It was the place where the rubbish of the city was burned. But it was also an area where some of the kings and commoners burned their children (2 Chron. 28:3; 2 Chron. 33:6). The valley provided a vivid illustration of the future place of judgment. At the bottom of the valley is the location of Aceldama, the “field of blood” where Judas hung himself (Matt. 27:5-10; Acts 1:18,19). There is now a monastery there to Saint Onuphrius (Greek Orthodox), a fourth century Egyptian hermit. Only one or two monks occupy the place now.
The Garden of Gethsemane
The “Church of All Nations” occupies the site identified by Christians as the Garden of Gethsemane, and serves as a memorial to the agony and arrest of Jesus. This church stands above the ruins of the Crusader Church, which is above the Byzantine church of the fourth century. The Byzantine Church (385 A.D.) incorporated a large flat rock identified as the one on which Jesus prayed; the rock is situated right before the high altar and has kneelers and rails on three sides for people to pray in what may be all that is left of spot of the agony. Jesus certainly could have prayed here since the location is within the garden. Early pilgrims identified the rock as the place where Jesus fell down in agony and prayed before being betrayed by Judas.
The Bible is not exact in its descriptions when it says he withdrew to the garden with his disciples, went a little farther to pray, and that this was about a stone's throw beyond them. Jesus then returned to the disciples and was betrayed at that place. So we should probably think of two places, the place he prayed (the Church of All nations) and the place he was betrayed (the grotto). They are about 290 feet apart. The grotto is down the hill a bit beside the church that is dedicated to Mary. It was an olive garden, and so an olive oil press was here in the cave area (hence, “gath-shemen” or oil press.
The stained glass windows in the Church of All Nations are most impressive. The designs are done in dark purples, greens and browns, all intended to give the impression of being in an olive garden at night. Naturally, the sanctuary is darker than most.
Whether these are the exact spots for the events or not cannot be said with certainty; but the biblical places have to be found within an olive grove across the Kidron Valley in the lower regions of the Mount of Olives, and since the area is not very big, they would have to be pretty much here.
The Via Dolorosa
The modern Via Dolorosa, “The Way of Sorrows,” lays out a definite way that Jesus was supposed to have been led from the judgment hall to Calvary. The Scripture gives us very little information about this way, and the archaeological work is very restricted because of the density of the occupation. If Jesus was finally judged in the Antonia Fortress and then led to be crucified in what is now the area of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, then the general route was west and south.
Early pilgrims were looking for ways to commemorate the suffering of Jesus on his journey to the cross, primarily for their worship throughout the world, and so beginning in about 385 A.D. the so-called “stations of the cross” became very useful. But we cannot count on the traditional route or the locations of the fourteen stations to give us accurate details of the route and the events in Jesus walk to Calvary.
In fact, it may very well be that Jesus was led to Calvary from the other direction. We know that he was arrested in the garden and taken around the valleys to the Sanhedrin that was meeting in the home of the High Priest early that morning. This was surely over in what is today the Jewish Quarter, probably the Herodian villas. He was then taken to Pilate and to Herod. But where would that be? The traditional view is that it was the Fortress over by the northwest corner of the temple. But Luke says it was a “palace”; and Pilate, as well as Herod Antipas, would most certainly stay in a palace rather than a barracks.
Right inside Jaffa Gate was Herod’s Palace. It was apparently huge, but all that remains are three of the towers on the north corner. The whole archaeological site has been turned into a Museum of the City of David, an excellent exhibit tracing the history of Jerusalem. The main entrance to the towers as well as the museum is right across the street from Christ Church, the oldest Protestant Church in the Middle East. This was probably where Jesus was taken to be tried by Pilate. And Herod may have even been staying in the same palace, making the trial before him easy. There was also a Maccabean palace to the east of that a few hundred yards. One of them could have been staying there as well. After the trials the soldiers could have taken Jesus down by the fortress for the flogging and the mockery, and from there to Golgotha.
At any rate the Via Dolorosa remains spiritually valuable for Christians today to retrace the last events of Jesus’ suffering by means of this ancient way. Like so many places in Israel, one cannot be absolutely sure of the exact spot where biblical events occurred; but to be there among all the things mentioned in the Bible brings the events to life in a vivid way. The following are the stations of the cross and the churches that often accompany or house them (distinguishing which are mentioned in the Bible and which come from tradition):
First Station: Judgment in the Praetorium (Antonia)
(in the courtyard of the Umariyah School)
Second Station: Flagellation and Receiving the Cross
(Church of the Flagellation)
Third Station: The First Fall (Tradition)
(Polish Catholic Church)
Fourth Station: Jesus Meets His Mother (tradition)
(Armenian Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Spasms)
Fifth Station: Simon Takes the Cross
Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes His Face (Tradition)
(Church of Saint Veronica; Latin Vera icone, “two likenesses”)
Seventh Station: The Second Fall (Tradition)
(Originally a Coptic Church)
Eighth Station: Weeping over the Daughters of Jerusalem
(Chapel of Saint Charalampos; small cross in the wall of the convent))
Ninth Station: The Third Fall (Tradition)
(At the Ethiopian Coptic Church)
Tenth Station: Garments Stripped
(Altar of Nails of the Cross in the Church)
Eleventh Station: Crucified
(Altar of Stabat Mater in the Church)
Twelfth Station: Setting of the Cross in Place
(Altar of Crucifixion in the Church)
Thirteenth Station: The Body Removed
(Slab called Stone of Unction)
Fourteenth Station: Jesus Laid in the Sepulcher
(Covered by a large two tomb in the church)
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher
It stands to reason that the place to which most pilgrims would be drawn would be the place of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Of the many churches built to commemorate the events surrounding the passion of Jesus, none is as important as the church now known as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (named by the Moslems), but originally called the Church of the Resurrection (by the Christians).
For many Christians the present structure seems a rather dark and foreboding place; and it is hard to picture how the crucifixion could have occurred here, and where the burial took place. That is because the site has undergone so many changes over the centuries, which it would not have had if it were not the most likely location for that holy place. Many Christians visit this church and simply use the present structure with its commemorative symbols to reflect on the events of the Gospel. But it is also possible to study the data more closely to see that although very little in this place goes back to the actual events, the place itself is most likely the site of the death and the burial of our Lord.
The current building is essentially a Crusader church. The earlier Byzantine church was destroyed under the Caliph Hakim in 1009, a desecration that gave rise to the Crusades. The next caliph gave the Christians the right to rebuild the shrine over the tomb and a chapel on what was believed to be Golgotha. But when the Crusaders seized Jerusalem in 1099 they built a church to enclose both. The church was called the Church the Holy Sepulcher; but the Byzantine name had been Anastasis, “Resurrection.”
Archaeological Evidence. Excavations have clearly shown that this location was outside the walls of Jerusalem until the third wall of the city was built by Agrippa II and expanded by Hadrian after the death of Jesus. This is important for it to fit the biblical accounts. Ever since Agrippa the area is inside the walls--but the early Christians knew it was the spot in spite of that.
The excavations also have shown that this place was a former stone quarry that was later used for tombs when no longer a quarry. (Romans preferred to crucify in such places, for it was easier to stand up a cross there than to have to dig a hole). The excavations discovered a 35 foot high mound of gray rock containing two small caves that might have given the appearance of a skull. This hill would have been just outside the wall in a corner where the wall formed an angle. In the church today, up in a balcony by the entrance, one can see parts of the rocky hill under an altar built by the Orthodox to commemorate the crucifixion.
The so-called hill of Calvary was the result of the stone-cutters working around a flaw in the stone, leaving a formation that looked like a skull (Hebrew gulgolet, “Golgotha”). It is important, however, to note that Scripture does not say it looked like a skull, but that it was simply called “the place of a skull.” It could have been named because of the skulls of people crucified and scattered there.
Another result of the archaeological work is the discovery of tombs off the southeast side of the rotunda. Opposite some ancient masonry work are two ancient kokim graves (the type made by a horizontal shaft cut straight back into the rock). These are traditionally known as the family tomb of Nicodemus. While the traditional naming cannot be authenticated, it is clear that these are ancient tombs of the type that would have been used. Moreover, Jewish tombs would not have been located inside the city walls--again, this spot was at one time outside the city.
So the archaeological evidence points to this as the probable place: (1) It was outside the city walls, (2) the church has a large rock within it that was high enough to be a hill, and that rock was quarried, and (3) ancient tombs have been found and can be seen within the church itself. Recall that John's Gospel makes it clear that the tomb was in the same place as the site of the crucifixion; and so one large church could preserve both spots.
The Support of Tradition. When the Byzantine Christians built their church to commemorate the place Jesus died and was buried, they built it within the walls of Jerusalem of their day, even though the Bible states that he died outside the walls. The witness for the location was so strong that it pulled them to this place even though it seemed to contradict the witness of Scripture.
The traditional witness that this was the spot was ancient. The Jewish Christians who fled to Pella certainly retained the memory of the spot; and the Gentile Christians who lived here would not have forgotten it. Jerome records that in Jerusalem from the time of Hadrian to Constantine the place of the resurrection was occupied by a statue of Jupiter, and the place of the crucifixion by a marble statue of Venus (Letter 58 to Paulinus, A.D. 395). Eusebius said that Hadrian covered the area of the tomb with earth, laid down a pavement, and built his temple on it (Life of Constantine 3.26, A.D. 337). So whatever garden that had existed by the hill was by Hadrian’s time deep under ground. Eusebius also says that when Constantine had the Venus structure removed he came upon the tomb. He then had a basilica built over it. Besides Jerome and Eusebius several others have written to this effect.
We can trace step by step what must have occurred in order to understand the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. First, there was a rock quarry on the hillside outside the walls where Jesus was crucified, and not far from it a garden where there were tombs.
Second, in 135 or thereabouts Hadrian filled in the whole area between the hill and the tomb to make a level platform on which he built a temple to Venus in order to prevent the Christians from venerating the place. The hill and the garden were concealed, but remembered by Christians.
Third, in 330 or so the Byzantines under Constantine removed enough of this fill to reveal the tomb for pilgrims, but retained what was needed for a level foundation for the church. The rock around the tomb was all taken away so that the large church could enclose both the tomb and the hill of calvary.
So today in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher one has to imagine all this construction and arrangement to understand why the things are where they are. The tomb is under the huge rotunda, as it would have been in the church Constantine built. This particular tomb is not the original one—that one, unfortunately, was taken away over the centuries by pilgrims. Parts of the original rock may very well be still by its foundation, or in the shrine around behind it. The place called Golgotha can only observed through openings under the altar in the balcony up and below that on the ground floor.
The size of this rock quarry can be seen from the area down below the main church, down in the cave at the end of the church, in the area where Helena found some of the cross. All of this may seem at first unsatisfying, and even offensive, to some modern Christians. But one evidence of its authenticity is the religious clutter and at times confusion in the place. All of this attests to centuries of pilgrims coming here and marking the place with their signs and symbols.
The pre-Constantinian Christian community had preserved the memory of the location. So Hadrian’s temple was torn down in 326 by Constantine (or his mother). It was the bishop of Jerusalem, Makairos, who identified one of the tombs as that of Jesus. And Constantine’s church, built to honor the site, was dedicated in 335.
Eusebius described the church Constantine built in great detail. It had two buildings connected by a great courtyard. One building was the basilica for the assembly; and the other was a building carved out of the limestone to enclose the tomb. Entrance into the church was through a triple doorway that led from the Cardo Maximus, the main road, into an atrium. Then, three doors opened into the basilica. This basilica had five naves formed by four rows of columns. And there was one apse with twelve columns. The floor was mosaic, the facade covered with marble, and the rest of the building made of polished limestone to resemble marble. The tomb was enclosed in the other building, a circular area 48 meters in circumference. The dome over it was supported by 12 columns.
The Byzantine Christians saw this as witness to the triumph of the resurrection, and so they called it the Church of the Resurrection.
The church was damaged by the Persians who invaded in 614. But Modestus, the patriarch of Jerusalem, built another in 626. His was a larger church with an enclosed atrium connecting the church and the tomb. Even though this building remained for 300 years, there is little that remains of it today either. Our knowledge of it comes from the description of Arculf the pilgrim.
On October 18, 1009, anti-Christian fanaticism begun by the Caliph Hakim (who was mad) brought the destruction of the church and the obliteration of the tomb. Only portions of the rotunda over the tomb survived.
The rotunda was restored in the eleventh century. It was dedicated July 15, 1149. The Crusaders kept the building over the tomb intact while trying to rebuild the church to the pattern of Constantine. The church today is essentially this church; the dome, however, has been rebuilt several times, the present one being 100 years old.
One might have wished for a scene of a “green hill” outside the walls of Jerusalem; but the fact that this is the most important shrine of the faith ensured that it could never have been left untouched, not by pilgrims or pagans. For an opportunity to reflect on the resurrection one can always look inside the tomb under the dome. But a more authentic setting would be the tomb in the chamber behind the rotunda. This is a first century tomb. But here again one must visualize a garden near the stone quarry in which tombs would have been cut into the rocks on the hillside. Nothing of this remains here, of course.
There is another location that has been put forward as the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb. This spot fits what everyone is looking for in the garden tomb when they come to Jerusalem—a hill that looks like a skull, a garden, and a tomb with a stone. And the location is satisfactory in that it would have been outside the walls. The setting also is a rock quarry beside a roadway for passers-by to see. It was in 1867 that the British General Charles G. Gordon found the tomb with a stone that rolls to the side.
The difficulty is that the garden tomb in no way matches the architecture of tombs from the first century A.D. It is in fact an Iron Age II tomb (part of a complex found on the grounds of the Ecole Biblique) that was used in Old Testament times (and so not a new tomb in the days of Jesus), and then re-used in the later Byzantine period. When it was discovered there were Byzantine crosses on the wall of the chamber. Other Byzantine tombs were found in the area. Since it was an earlier Iron Age tomb it could not have been the one in which Jesus was laid, for the John 19:41 makes it clear that it was a new tomb in which no one had ever been placed.
Nonetheless, the meaning is far more important than the finding of the exact location. And the people who are in charge of the Garden Tomb have an excellent witness to visitors to the holy land, reminding them that wherever the tomb might be, it is surely empty, because Jesus rose from the dead. This is a favorite place for Christians to worship, in their own groups and at their own times throughout the week, or on Sunday in a service that is directed by the folks who manage the place.
The Mount of Olives
East of the old city across the Kidron Valley is the Mount, or the mountains called Olives (Olivet). It was once very heavily wooded with olive trees providing oil for the Temple. Its summit is 240 feet above the city, giving a wonderful overview of the sanctuary area and the old city behind it.
In addition to all the events in the biblical history that occurred on the Mount of Olives, the ascension took place from the summit (Acts 1:6-12), and according to the Bible Christ will return to the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:1-5). Several churches line the summit: the Church of the Ascension (Russian Orthodox), now a monastery; the Dome of the Ascension, originally a Byzantine and Crusader church but now a mosque; the Pater Noster Carmelite Sisters Convent that contains the Lord’s Prayer in eighty-two languages; and down the slope on the west side the Basilica of Dominus Flevit, a Franciscan church where Jesus wept; and the Church of Mary Magdalene (Russian Orthodox), marking where Jesus prayed in the garden. Of course, at the bottom is the Church of All Nations.
On the eastern side of the Mount of Olives down below is the village of Bethany, the home of Mary and Martha. There is a church commemorating the raising of Lazarus, and a tomb that very well could be Lazarus’ tomb. The entrance down to it is more recent, of course. Nearing the summit of Olives is the little village of Bethpage, “house of figs.” The church there commemorates Jesus’ riding on the donkey over the hill and into Jerusalem at the triumphal entry. In the fields down behind the church there are a couple of authentic, unadorned, first-century tombs. If the visitor wants to see what such a garden tomb would have looked like in Jesus’ day, this may be the best place to do it.
The Israel Museum. West of the Old City by a few miles is the Knesset, the Israeli government, and the Israel Museum. There is much to see in any museum, but this one in particular has an excellent presentation of the biblical discoveries. Starting from the top of the hill, the display leads you from early pre-historical material down to modern times. Some of the things to note particularly are: the display of flint knives and tools, the collection of copper-bronze objects from the Chalcolithic period, the presentation of the materials from Arad in the desert, a good display of Canaanite jewelry and religious objects in a balcony area, wall relief of the Assyrian destruction of Lachish, the hall of writing with displays of early Hebrew writing from the biblical period, ossuaries and sarcophagi, especially that of Caiaphas, Moses’ seat from the synagogue in Chorazin, the Pontius Pilate inscription, the House of David inscription from Dan, and a wide range of glass and pottery items from ancient Israel. Downstairs there is material from Egypt, Babylon, Persia and other regions. Several excellent examples of cuneiform writing from kings and lawgivers, as well as bas reliefs from temples showing ancient mythological motifs. Throughout this museum a good guide or guide book would be most helpful. Then, across the central walkway is the Shrine of the Book. Here is the display of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Before leaving the area one might also consider visiting the Bible Lands Museum across the street. This is a private collection; but it has some of the best examples of seals you will see--these were the ID cards of the ancient world, small inscribed tubes that could be rolled out on the clay to leave the identification.
The Holy Land Hotel has a marvelous scale model of the old city in the first century. Some of its details need to be modified, but overall it will give a clearer picture of what Jerusalem was like in the days of Jesus. It is a large model, put together brick by brick. And so a good hour or so could be spent here studying what the Temple looked like, or Herod’s palace, or the city walls by Calvary.
The impact of Jerusalem is very powerful on those who come here with any knowledge of the faith. It would be impossible in a short visit of several days to take in all that is here, let alone even see it all. The events that have occurred here and the ideas presented here have shaped the human race. This is the ancient seat of Melchizedek, the friend of Abraham. This is ancient Moriah. It is the City of David, and of Solomon, and all the kings of Judah, the Hezekiahs and Josiahs with their reforms. It is the home of Isaiah and Jeremiah and Habakkuk and Zachariah, Haggai, and Malachi. It is where Ezra and Nehemiah came to rebuild and to restore.
And it is the focus of the ministry of Jesus the Messiah, his teaching and his mighty works in the Temple and in the areas surrounding the city, his Last Supper in the Upper Room, and most notably his crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ascension.
And it was here that the Church began when the Holy Spirit was sent by Christ to empower the disciples to preach the Gospel. Here the Council met and heard how the Gospel had gone to the Gentiles. And down through the centuries this city has attracted believers of every order and persuasion, many of them remaining to build churches and monuments to the events that occurred in this little area. While it is a troubled city, always living under the threat of war and dissension, to the pilgrims it is a holy city, for God chose this place to accomplish our salvation.
Today the city of Jerusalem is at the heart of the settlement negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Whose city is it, historically? It has been conquered some thirty times over the centuries. It has been the possession of the Jebusites, the Egyptians, the Israelites, the Babylonians, the Persians, Greeks, the Jews again, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Arabs again, the Turks, the British by mandate, the Jordanians, and now the Israelis. Some of the Jewish people believe strongly that this is the fulfillment of that promise and it is their destiny to have it. Other Jewish people do not think the promises will be realized until Messiah comes. The Palestinians, of course, claim it by virtue of their presence in the land. It looks like only the second coming of Jesus the Messiah will sort this one out, as indeed he predicted.
Fruchtenbaum, Arnold G. A Study Guide of Israel, Historical--Geographical. Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1994.
Hoppe, Leslie J. The Synagogues and Churches of Ancient Palestine. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1994.
Mare, W. Harold. The Archaeology of the Jerusalem Area. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987.
The Ancient Sea Port of Israel
The city of Joppa, or Jaffa, is located just at the southern end of the modern city of Tel Aviv. It was built on a little hill that juts out from the coast; at the foot of the hill was the port that was protected by the rock pilings. The setting is extremely beautiful (the name Yapho means “beautiful”); it has become a popular place for visitors because of the many restaurants, shops, museums and galleries that are located in the area and along the shore.
The city of Joppa/Jaffa in the Old Testament was Israel’s main Mediterranean port between Egypt and Haifa north of Mount Carmel. But it was never a very useful port because it lacked a breakwater. The longshoremen had to dock the boats safely through the rough surf.
But the city is very ancient; it is mentioned in the lists of Thutmose III at Karnak (15th century B.C.), in the Amarna letters (14th century), and in the Assyrian records (as Yafu) a number of centuries later. It is first mentioned in the Bible in Joshua 19:46 at the time of the conquest and land allotments; it was given to Dan.
Just before the Maccabean rebellion in 167 B.C. when Antiochus Epiphanes came to plunder Jerusalem, he drowned 200 Jews at Ashdod. It was burned by Judas Maccabee in 163 B.C. for this crime; but Jonathan and Simon took the city again in 147. The city then remained staunchly Jewish through the Maccabean and Herodian periods, right up to the time of the Roman conqueror Vespasian. Such a strict Jewish environment was the perfect place for Peter’s vision. At the time that Peter was there, however, the city had lost its importance as a port, for Herod had built Caesarea up the coast—with excellent breakwaters. Caesarea now was the chief harbor and the capital of the Roman province of Judea.
In more recent history, Napoleon took the city in 1799 and slaughtered 2,000 prisoners (Arabs and Jews). The regiment that was responsible for this caught the plague of leprosy, and all but seven of them died.
The archaeological work was done in Jaffa between 1955 and 1966. The excavators found the remains of an Egyptian fort that was mentioned on an Egyptian papyrus. There was also found a gate to the fort that had the titles of Ramses II. The archaeologists found material from the Philistine destruction of the twelfth century, a Sidonian fort from the fifth century, and evidence of the destruction by Vespasian in 70 A.D. A small archaeological museum has been built underneath the central plaza of the old town of Jaffa.
There are a couple of traditional locations to visit; if they cannot be absolutely authenticated, they at least afford the opportunity to recall the biblical events. One is Saint Peter’s Church which claims Tabitha’s tomb and preserves the memory of the miracle. And the other is the house of Simon the Tanner.
The ancient city of Joppa is important for biblical studies of both Testaments because of a couple of significant events that took place here. In the Old Testament we know that King Solomon had wood shipped from Tyre down the coast to this port so that it could be hauled inland to Jerusalem for the building of the Temple (2 Chron. 2:16; see also Ezra 3:7 for the building of the second Temple).
But better known to most Bible readers is the account of the prophet Jonah. When he received the call of God to go to Nineveh, he went to Joppa instead where he found a boat sailing for Tarshish—the opposite direction, because Tarshish was probably Crete.
In the New Testament the apostle Peter came from Lydda to Joppa where he restored the life of the widow Dorcas (also called Tabitha) and then resided by the seaside with Simon the tanner (Acts 9:36-43). It was here that Peter saw the vision, the sheet from heaven with all kinds of unclean animals in it. He was told to eat, but when he protested the Lord announced that he had made things clean. At that time the messengers from Cornelius were at the door seeking Peter. The significance of the vision then became known—the Gospel was open to Gentiles and not just Jews (Acts 9:43—10:33). And so Peter went up the coastal road to Caesarea.
Joppa, then, in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, was the place where the Mission to the Gentiles set out from Israel.
In the old city of Jerusalem “Jaffa Gate” is located on the western side of the city. It was called “Jaffa Gate” because that way would lead westward to the Sea, to the region of Jaffa (just as the road from the Damascus Gate would lead north to Damascus).
Where Believers Were First Called Christians
The city of Antioch, now called Antakya (ahn-TAHK-yah), is situated on the lower course of the Orontes River at the northern end of the Palestinian litoral. The city, which was one of the four largest cities in the Roman Empire, was surrounded by mountains, and although twelve miles from the coast had access to the port by the Orontes River. It drew its water from mountain springs. Today it is still more Arabic in its culture and language.
The Church in Jerusalem had never spread in missionary endeavor apart from its own immediate area, except when persecution scattered it (Acts 8:1-4). Refugees from the persecution fled to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and of course Antioch. The Syrian capital and metropolis became the true mother of the churches of Asia and Europe, moreso than Jerusalem. At first the Gospel was preached to the Jews who were here, but when it was opened to Gentiles, the Church grew in amazing numbers. The new church immediately assumed missionary responsibility, and commissioned people to take the news to other places. Among the talented prophets and teachers were Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaean the foster brother of Herod the tetrarch, and of course Saul (Acts 11:25, 26; 13:1). Teaching, fasting, and prayer were among the church’s duties here. The spiritual vitality of the church in Antioch is attested by the theological language that describes their missionary work: “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate to me Barnabas and Saul for the work unto which I have called them” (13:2).
Antioch was in Paul’s day the third largest city in the empire, behind Rome and Alexandria. The beautiful city was situated in a magnificent setting in a valley on the banks of the river at the foot of Mt. Silpius. The Lebanon chain of mountains runs northward, and the Taurus range southward. The whole area is one panorama.
Alexander’s chief in command, Seleucus Nicanor I, founded the city in 301 B.C. on the site of an altar that Alexander the Great had made for Zeus. Tradition was that the deity had chosen the place through an oracle. Seleucus named it after his father Antiochus, although some suggest it was named after his son Antiochus I Soter. Since this man built fifteen other cities with the same name, this one came to be known as Antioch by Daphne, referring to one of its famous suburbs. This became the Seleucid empire’s western capital and remained a center of government for 250 years. Each of the four main areas were added by kings, Antiochus I adding a second sector on the east, Seleucus II (246-226) added a third area on the island, and Antiochus IV Epiphanes (174-164) built a fourth section on Mount Silpius. It was this latter king, you may recall, who caused so much grief in Palestine that the Jews revolted and overthrew his rule over them to establish the Hasmonean or Maccabean kingdom.
In 83 B.C. the city came under the control of Armenia, but twenty years later Rome assumed control.
It was a unique city, a Macedonian city. The soldiers of Alexander who settled here had been commanded to round up women for a mass marriage in Susa; this contributed to making the west orientalized as much as the east was Hellenized. Very soon it had a population of a half a million people.
Under Roman rule of Pompey in 64 B.C. a new era of development began. The empire aided in restoring earthquake damaged buildings. Julius Caesar in 47 granted the city internal autonomy. Augustus added further adornments to the city, and made his son-in-law Agrippa governor of the province with the capital in Antioch. He built a sumptuous public bath called Agrippianon. Herod the Great gave the town a colonnaded street and a paved highway to Daphne. Tiberius also constructed marble-paved roads running through the southern sector. But perhaps the most amazing feature of the city was its distinction of being the only ancient city that had a regular system of street lighting. Jerome refers to this in his Dialogue Against the Luciferians.
In the days of the apostle Paul Antioch was the capital of the Roman province of Syria. The city had colonnades, paved streets, street lights, temples, baths, and the circus, which was the greatest in the Roman empire. The city would also have had an Agora, where Paul reasoned with the crowds about the faith. The view from Mt. Silpius with the Acropolis to the east, Caesar’s baths to the west, and the large theater to the north, must have been inspiring even for the apostle. Here Paul devoted much attention to the evangelism. People in the city spoke Syriac, Greek, Phoenician, Persian, Aramaic, and Latin. All religions from the East and from the West were practiced here.
But the city suffered from frequent earthquakes and conquests.
The city very quickly became a center for Christianity. Paul was sent from Antioch on his journeys into Asia Minor, even though Jerusalem remained the historic center of the faith. Believers were first called Christians in this city. And, it is estimated, that by the end of the first century there were fifty thousand believers in this location. The first Christian Church independent of a synagogue was founded in Antioch.
In 526 there was a huge earthquake in the area (in the days of Justinian); it may have taken tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives.
When the Moslems took over these lands, they were tolerant towards the Christians — until the troubles increased that led to the crusades.
Daphne and Antioch’s Moral Climate
The city had become a mecca for people from east and west, and along with the flood of people the undesirable features of both the Orient and the Occident were brought. The material prosperity and the complexion of the population led to affluent living and moral degeneracy.
Chrysostom says the population of the citizenry (demos) was 200,000. If his term demos did not include slaves, women and children, then the population in 300 A.D. was closer to 500,000 or even more. This alone would have been a sufficient challenge for the Church; but the city was also know for its enjoyment of living and its vice. The pleasure gardens and parks of the suburb of Daphne became the symbol of the depravity of Antioch. This place was on a plateau some 300 feet higher than the city; it was filled with villas, groves, temples, and a theater overlooking the valley. Ancient and modern writers have depicted both the beauty and the debauchery of Antioch’s suburb.
It is amazing that the Gospel drew out of this population such a large and vital church. The power of the Gospel was able to transform multitudes who were probably weary of the moral corruption and the inanity of the pagan cults. The power of the Gospel here in this strategic center made it the birthplace of foreign missions.
The substantial Jewish population diminished when the Church began to grow here, for there is much less opposition from the Jews here than elsewhere. The Greeks naturally disliked the Jews for their rigid monotheism and separation, but also because of the Maccabean War against Hellenism. A further uprising of the Jews in the city in 39 A.D. further reduced their influence. Some kind of quarrel ensued that led to many Jews being killed and the synagogue destroyed. A detachment of Jews under Phinehas of Tiberias invaded and terrorized the city. Caligula put it down convincingly. There was a providential side to this unfortunate incident — the Church was freed from Jewish opposition and infiltration of legalism to pursue its missionary goals.
Not many pilgrims come to Antioch, modern Antakiyeh, for a number of reasons. The modern city is only a fraction of what the city was in size and in population. But the ruins have been open to archaeological investigation, although there is not a whole lot to see of the ancient city. You can see a Roman bridge built under the reign of Diocletian, an aqueduct, numerous baths, a stadium, the old city walls, several villas, Arab-style mosques (different from Turkish), and the museum. On the edge of town is the Senpiyer Silisesi, the Church of St Peter. In the grotto the tradition is that Peter preached.
Of all the material remains of the early century the most striking are the floor mosaics from the time of the apostles to the sixth century. Several of them reflect the cult of Isis, one in particular depicts the “Voluntary Death,” the climax of the initiation into the sacred mysteries. Another mosaic celebrates the resumption of navigation in the spring when the image of the goddess was transported to the seaside.
The mosaic of the Phoenix, now in the Louvre, is some forty feet long and thirty feet wide. It has a border of rams’ heads inclosing a mass of roses with a phoenix perched on a rock with a halo about its head. This represents the myth that the bird after five or six centuries would immolate itself on a funeral pyre and rise from its ashes in youthful vigor. Early Christians connected the fable with the idea of bodily resurrection; pagans used it for the idea of eternity.
Two other carvings associated with Antioch are significant. The first is the Charonion. On a limestone cliff northeast of the city the bust of Charon, the ferryman over the river Styx was chiseled in bold relief. Sixteen feet high, it was in plain view. The image, according to tradition, was done in the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes (175-163) to ward off a dangerous plague. The other was the statue of the goddess Tyche of Antioch, preserved now in a fine marble replica in the Vatican. It portrays the graceful goddess of fortune sitting on a rock with a youth (the Orontes) swimming at her feet.
More than twenty Christian buildings have been found in Antioch, witnessing to the health of the believing community. Two of the most significant and earliest were the one at Kaoussie, a suburb of the city, which was a cross-shaped building dating from 387. The other was the great octagonal building of Constantine with a gilded dome.
Where a Man Lived on a Pole
In the region of modern Syria there are a couple of other sites important to Christian history. One is Aleppo. The city of Aleppo is known for many things down through history, perhaps the least important being the story of Simon Stylitos, the monk who decided to make his dwelling on top of a pole to avoid the people. There he lived for some time, separated from the curious world below. The city is called Haleb by the Arabs, who say that Abram watered his animals here. The region around Aleppo is more desert and sand.
The city of Aleppo seems to have been founded in the third millennium B.C. It was settled by the Amorites at their great migration west, and controlled by the Hittites to the north when they were powerful.
The Codex Ben Asher, also known as the Aleppo Codex, is preserved in the Synagogue of Sopherim (“scribes”) in Aleppo. This is the earliest complete (or nearly complete) Masoretic Hebrew manuscript of the Old Testament; it dates from the tenth century.
The Oldest Continuously Occupied City in the World
Another very important location in Syria for the study of the spread of the Church is, of course, Damascus. Damascus is an ancient city; people have lived here for some six thousand years at least. It is the capital of the modern state of Syria; it was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Syria. It was a perennial enemy of Jerusalem; and yet its people are the closest relatives of the Jews. There is much that can be learned from a study of the city of Damascus.
In the Old Testament we first come across the name in Genesis 15, for Abram’s servant was the Damascene Eliezer. Abram must have acquired him when he passed through Damascus on his way to the promised land of Canaan. The people who lived in the region were called Aramaeans, descendants of Aram, who is mentioned in the genealogy of Genesis 10 as a close relative of the ancestor of the Hebrews. In later biblical tradition, Uncle Laban is identified as an Aramaean (KJV says Syrian), from Padan Aram; he and Jacob needed a border treaty to keep them apart, for they were too much alike and would have gone on destroying each other. Aram is the area of the ancestors, for all the names of the places there are reflected on the genealogy of Genesis 11. Scripture identifies father Abraham as a “wandering Aramaean.”
But in the time of the kingdom the Israelites fought against the Aramaeans of Damascus constantly. David, even though one of his wives was Aramaean, fought against them on his borders. During the divided monarchy, wars with Ben Hadad or Hazael are commonplace in the records of Kings. At times Damascus allied with Samaria against Jerusalem, as in the case of Isaiah 7 when the prophet announced the Messianic promise — and the doom of Israel and Aram.
At the time of Saul’s conversion and escape from the city, Damascus ,may have been under Nabataean rule, for the governor of King Aretas was guarding the city of the Damascenes (2 Cor. 11:32).
But Damascus was for the most part one of the cities of the Decapolis under Roman government. The ten cities were Beth-shean (Skythopolis) on the west side of the Jordan, and Pella, Dion, Kanatha, Raphana, Hippos, Gadara, Philadelphia, Damascus, and Jerash on the east.
As one of the Decapolis, the city of Damascus could mint its own coins. There are coins from the city from the reigns of Augustus, Tiberias and Nero, but none from Caligula (37-41). Some have suggested that he may have arbitrarily handed the city over to its neighbors. But the Romans would not have given up such an important city to Aretas IV (9-40), especially when they planned to attack him after he conducted a successful war against his son-in-law, Herod in 36 A.D, because the latter had divorced his daughter to marry one Herodias. But the erratic Caligula may have sided with Aretas, allowing for a short time that Damascus was under Nabataean control. C. S. C. Williams offers a better view of the situation. He suggests that Aretas’ governor, or ethnarch, was outside the city waiting to catch Paul.
The issue is not fully resolved. From Galatians 1:17 we know that Paul’s stay in Damascus was punctuated by his trip to Arabia. His withdrawal to Arabia did not last beyond the third year after his conversion (Gal. 1:8), about the year 39, before Aretas’ death in 40 and after Caligula’s accession. It may be that Paul fled the city when it no longer belonged to the Romans but to Aretas.
Because the city has been occupied for millennia the archaeology has been impossible. Some of the walls, and some gates are ancient. The “Street Straight” still bisects the city east to west. The Church of John the Baptist, although turned into a mosque in the eighth century, had an inscription which read “Thy kingdom, O Christ, is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations.”
There is a little Chapel of Ananias, and a church that commemorates Paul’s escape over the wall in a basket. But authentic first century Christian sites, or even Roman sites, have not been preserved.
A Refuge for Early Christians
On the eastern side of the Jordan River in the Kingdom of Jordan, about seven miles southeast of Beth Shean, is the city of Pella, known today as Fahl in Arabic. This was an important city from the old Canaanite period down to the Middle Ages; but our main interest in it comes from the time of the Christian settlement.
The city is first mentioned in the Egyptian Execration Texts of the nineteenth century B.C. It then is referred to in other Egyptian administrative and military texts from the 15th and 14th centuries B.C. There is a letter in the collection from Amarna (Tell el Amarna Letters) that identifies one Mot-Baal as the king of Pella, and indicates that his territory bordered on Hazor, over and to the north of Galilee. This would make it a rather large Canaanite “city-state.” The reason that it flourished, according to Eusebius (Onomostica), is that it was situated on the main road from Beth Shean to Gerasa.
Pella is not mentioned in the Bible at all. The name Pella seems to have been given to the ancient site in honor of Pella in Macedonia, the birthplace of Alexander the Great.
Closer to New Testament times, we know that the place was captured by the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus in 80 B.C. But in 63 B.C. when Rome re-organized the country Pella was detached from the territory of Judea and became part of the newly formed “Decapolis” (along with Beth Shean), the loose federation of ten Graeco-Roman cities. We know from the Gospels that Jesus ministered through all the Decapolis, and so it is likely that he came here, or to this region.
Eusebius tells us that many of the Jewish Christians who escaped from Jerusalem when it was destroyed in 70 A.D. fled to Pella (Ecclesiastical History, 3, 5, 3-4). It then became quite a center for Christianity, so that in the Byzantine period there were several important bishops located here.
The rectangular-shaped city is on a mound some thirty-one meters high. It covers an area measuring three hundred by two hundred meters. The city was surrounded by a formidable wall; the north wall towers over the Jordan Valley, and the south over Wadi Jirm, where the famous springs of water are located.
At the location the archaeologists have uncovered both Roman remains such as the theater, and Christian remains such as churches and basilica. There are numerous graves in the hills around the city; and there are also caves that were apparently used by hermits in the Christian period.
One of the more interesting finds was the tri-apsidal church foundations with its long nave that dates from about 530-610 A.D., or in the time the emperor Justinian I. The church was ruined with a violent destruction around 610, the time of the great Persian invasion of the land. It was rebuilt a number of times, but never apparently with the quality of the original.
There was a sarcophagus in a vault under the northeast corner of the sanctuary that dates from the first or second century, judging from the decoration with leaves, tendrils, and grapes. This area in Byzantine churches came to be known as the martyr’s chapel. Examination of the bones in the sepulcher gave a date in the seventh century, which would mean that there was a later, secondary interment in the old sarcophagus. The sarcophagus itself may very well have been for a venerated ancestor, one of the Jewish Christians who fled from Jerusalem in 66 A.D.
The only biblical link we can make with Pella is with Jesus’ warnings about the destruction that was going to come on Jerusalem, and his advice that those who are in Judea should flee to the mountains (Matt. 24:15-18; Luke 21:20-22). From the historians we know that many Christians did just this when the Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem.
Glueck, Nelson. “Explorations in Eastern Palestine,” AASOR 25-28 (1945-1949) and
BASOR 89, 90, and 91 (1943).
Smith, R. Houston. Pella of the Decapolis I. London, 1973.
The Home of Saint Paul
Tarsus was an outstanding city in the time of the apostle Paul, or Saul as he was called in his early years, a university town, a town once governed by Cicero, and the honeymoon choice of Antony and Cleopatra. So it was beautiful, intellectual, and historical. The industry of the city was primary in wool, given by goats from the Taurus Mountains. They also made tents.
The town was also strategically located on the highways on land as well as near the seaway travel. The city was ten miles from the sea on the Cydnus River, but the river branched out to form a lake, which was a natural harbor. The city had a prosperous maritime commerce to go with its land trades.
The place was very early inhabited. The town is mentioned on the Black Obelisk as a conquest of the Assyrian conqueror Shalmaneser in the ninth century B.C. Persia ruled the city through satraps. In Xenophon’s day, the fourth cen tury, the city was flourishing and famous. Alexander the Great turned this formerly Oriental city into a Greek one. The Greek influence was fostered under the Seleucid empire. Antiochus Epiphanes in 170 made the city autonomous Greek town and settled a colony of Jews there to stimulate business.
In 64 B.C. Pompey made it the capital of Cilicia, a province. Marc Antony made it a free city and decreed full citizenship on all the Tarsians, and Saul’s family received this important benefit which stood the apostle in good stead later in his career (Acts 22:28-30). Augustus confirmed these rights. The people were proud of this. Paul himself would say, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city” (Acts 21:39).
The cultural and intellectual life of the city was remarkable. It had a state supported university and prided itself in learning. Famous philosophers of Tarsus included the Stoics Antipater, Archedemus, Athenodorus. Another philosopher was Nestor who tutored famous Romans. The grammarians Diodorus and Artemidorus and the tragic poet Dionysides were here.
Paul learned the trade of Cilician cloth manufacture here, but no doubt the intellectual and philosophical environment of the town had an impact on him as well. Here was a town ith world trade, oriental traditions, cosmopolitan learning, Hellenic culture, autonomous government, and Stoic and Cynic philosophers who wandered through its streets and taught in its agora. The apostle Paul united Jewish heritage, Greek culture, Roman citizenship, prodigious learning in Judaism under Gamaliel — and then his conversion and divine revelation in the desert, to form him into the one capable of meeting the colossal task God had called him to.
The Taurus Mountains extend with the adjacent Anti-Taurus Mountains from the southwest corner of Asia Minor for about 600 miles to Kurdestan. They form a wall of mountains, in many ways more hostile than the Alps. There are no mountain passes, except for one place. There is a geological break in the range about thirty miles north of Tarsus. At its narrowest point, this break, or gorge, is only sixty feet wide. These walls in the canyon are known as the Cilician Gates. This famous pass is modern Gulek Bogaz, 3575 feet above sea level. Paul and Silas began the second missionary journey through this pass, which connected Tarsus and Antioch in the east with Derbe across the Taurus. All traffic must go through this break; and so every major army has passed through here, up to World War I when the Germans and the Turks were retreating from Suez.
Tarsus, then, lies at the end of this pass, fifteen miles from the sea. It had a harbor linked by a lagoon with the city. The city was strategically located.
Lystra and Derbe
Lystra and Derbe were two important cities in the Roman province of Galatia; later when Paul addressed the Galatian churches (Gal. 1:2), he was addressing these places along with Antioch and Iconium. The Roman province was named from the smaller northern district of Galatia which it included, which in turn took its name from the Gallic tribes which settled there in the third century B.C. When the last Galatian king died, Rome made the area a province.
Archaeology of Lystra
The location of Lystra was identified in 1885 with the discovery of ruins near the modern town of Katyn Serai, about twenty-one miles southwest of Iconium. This identification was made certain by the discovery of the inscribed Roman altar, still in its original position. The altar, three and a half feet high and a foot thick, had the name Lustra, explaining that it had become a Roman colony under Augustus.
When it became a Roman colony Lystra flourished. As a colony it required a Roman road to connect it with other coloniae. This road was made primarily for military purposes, but served commercial purposes as well since it passed Iconium. But Lystra was not a commercial center. This city had very few Jews, and certainly no synagogue.
As a result of the ministry of healing, the native Lycaonians (not Greeks or Romans; see Acts 14) thought Paul and Barnabas were gods visiting them, “Hermes” and “Zeus” respectively.
That this fits the local native religious cult has been documented from other sources as well. Ovid’s well known tale, located in nearby Phrygia, names the same two deities. One inscription found in the vicinity lists several “priests of Zeus.” Another inscription tells how two worshipers at the local cult made a statue of Hermes Most Great and dedicated it to Zeus the sun-god.
The arrival of persecuting Jews from Antioch and Iconium and the stoning of Paul by the people shows how uneducated and superstitious the people were. They and they religious ideas were distinct from the educated Greek and Roman society of the colony.
On his second missionary journey Paul and Silas came over land to Derbe, where he received a warm welcome, and Lystra. In Lystra Paul invited the young Timothy, who had been converted on the first journey, together with his mother and grand-mother (2 Tim. 1:5), to join his evangelistic trip. Timothy had already distinguished himself as a witness to the Christian faith (Acts 16:2). Because of the Jews who were in the region, Paul circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:3); this was not a denial of what Paul taught, but a practical act to preserve peace and harmony. It was something that was permissible because of tradition, but not obligatory for salvation. (And so Paul did not circumcise Titus [see also Acts 18:18; 21:26; and 1 Cor. 9:20]). So Timothy was ordained (2 Tim. 1:6) to be Paul’s secretary and assistant.
Paul, Silas, and Timothy, continued to visit churches in the region, probably visiting the north Galatian area as well (Acts 16:6).
Nearly put to death in Lystra, Paul and Barnabas headed for Derbe, the last city of distinctly Roman territory on the road east to Syria. It was here that commerce coming from the east had to pay customs; so Strabo called Derbe “a customs station.” Paul and Barnabas no doubt visited it because it was strategically located on the Roman road connecting east and west. Claudius honored the city; some of the coins are inscribed “Claudio-Derbe.”
The ruins of the city have been identified at Gudelisin, where there is a large mound with Roman remains. But there is no exact evidence that links this site with the biblical city of Derbe.
Here Paul preached the Gospel and made many disciples (Acts 14:21). Paul’s efforts were directed to the center of Graeco-Roman culture, and so at this time he did not journey further into the kingdom of Commagene, under Antiochus, who was an independent king although a vassal of Rome. Paul was interested in both the immediate and long-range effect of the ministry. Paul was successful here, according to Luke; and he does not mention it later among the places that he was persecuted (2 Tim. 3:11).
 Some scholars think Paul was addressing some unknown churches in north Galatia. This “North Galatian Theory” is popular among German and French scholars.
Where Paul and Barnabas Were Driven Out
Paul and Barnabas first visited Iconium (modern Konya) after being driven out of Pisidian Antioch by a mob instigated by unbelieving Jews. Iconium in those days was a garden spot, situated in the middle of orchards and farms, but surrounded by deserts.
Luke stated that Iconium was in Phrygia (Acts 14:6), as distinguished from Derbe and Lystra which are said to be cities of Lycaonia. Xenophon and Pliny both agree with Luke’s location, but Cicero and Strabo assign it to Lacaonia. In 1910 Sir William Ramsay found the monument that proved that it was Phrygian, so Phrygian that the Phrygian language was still used in dedicatory notices in the third century A.D. Other evidence shows that the city could be described as Phrygian racially and Galatian administratively. When Paul arrived, Iconium was an important center of population in the southern part of the Roman province of Galatia. The emperor Claudius gave it the title “Claudiconium,” which appears on coins. It was made a colony by Hadrian in the next century.
There was an important Jewish population in Iconium, perhaps attracted by commercial interests. The fields of flax and the flocks of sheep and goats on the Taurus ranges provided enough material for the weaving shops in the city, making it easy for someone like Paul to apply his craft and pay his own way. Iconium was also on the main highway connecting Ephesus with Syria.
With a good Jewish population the city had a large and influential synagogue. There Paul began to preach the Gospel with great success, so great that a multitude of both Jews and Greeks (Jewish proselytes) believed (Acts 14:1). But aroused by jealousy a group of unbelievers came together to stone Paul. Paul and Barnabas escaped to Lystra in Lycaonia. The inscriptions tell us that the magistrates of Iconium were supreme during this time, and could whip or expel people without trial, if the people who put them in office wished it, or did not oppose it. Paul and Barnabas had no other recourse but to flee.
Where Paul Ministered Directly to Gentiles
Pisidian Antioch was founded as a Roman colony with Latin as its official language, although the Greek spirit thrived there. When Paul came to the city there was no doubt a Greek-speaking audience in the synagogue.
Jews were an important part of the city, and so the narrative in Acts 13:14,50 shows them to figure prominently. Paul’s zeal for reaching the proselytes aroused the anger of the Jewish leaders, who thought their leadership and influence was being undermined. There is an inscription in the nearby town of Apollonia, dating from the first or early second century. It is a funeral monument of a Jewess named Deborah, who married a Gentile named Pamphylus. This public declaration shows that Jews were prominent, and that their separation from Gentiles was breaking down.
There were Greek and perhaps Phrygian and Roman proselytes in the synagogue as well (Acts 13:17,26,43). The Roman element was the military administration of the city, and was influential in the synagogue. Perhaps numbered among them were the “devout women of honorable estate” and the “chief men” (13:50). These men were probably husbands of the women, and although not converts themselves could have been persuaded to expel Paul and Barnabas. The Jews would go to these leaders anytime there was a need for assistance.
Paul’s experience at Pisidian Antioch marked a significant change in his missionary methods. Up til now he had not directly addressed the Gentiles, only indirectly through the Jews. Now, however, when the Jews rejected the Gospel, Paul turned to the Gentiles outside the synagogue. In his first Galatian sermon (Acts 13:38) Paul addressed Jews and Greeks as equals. This opened the door for the Gospel to the Gentiles immediately and not through the Jews.
This was all facilitated by the freer relations in the Seleucid colonies of Phrygia, where Hellenic education adapted itself to Oriental people. East and West joined. This is why almost the whole town crowded together to hear a Jew speak (Acts 13:55). Gentiles in large number believed the word (Acts 13:48).
The site was excavated in 1833. It is located on the right bank of the River Anthios on the slopes of the scenic mountain called Sultan Dagh. The present ruins are close to the town Yalovach and are in total desolation on a plateau that ranges from 50-200 feet above the plain.
Coins show the river god Anthios sitting down resting his left arm on an urn from which the water flows. The ruins show that the city was strongly fortified to withstand invading mountain tribes. There are some remains of the aqueduct that brought water from the mountain, although the river was also a source of water, even in a siege.
In 1910-1913 Sir William Ramsey excavated the sanctuary of the chief deity, Men. The sacred area was 241 feet by 136 feet, and surrounded by a five-foot-thick wall. The altar itself measured 66 by 41 feet. There were found here many tablets, and emblems of Men with horned bull’s head. In one part of the sanctuary there was found the throne of the deity, who was paired with Artemic (Diana), a Hellenized form of Cybele.
This was an important discovery, because the Phrygian mysteries celebrated here were known to the early Christians (Col. 2:18). They were influential on Greek and Roman life.
One inscription found here was “To Lucius Sergius Paulus the younger.” Ramsey concluded this was the son of the pro-consul at Cyprus.
Later excavations by the University of Michigan uncovered the Roman city established by Augustus. They found two town squares, the Square of Augustus and the Square of Tiberias. They were connected by a flight of stairs adorned with archways and decorated with statues and friezes depicting the Roman conquests on land and sea. A temple of the Roman age was in the Augustan Square. It included a superb representation of bulls’ heads garlanded with leaves and fruit, symbolizing Men, the local god.
Other discoveries include terra-cotta pipes for water from the aqueduct, gaming boards, an edict from Domitian’s time, a triple gateway from the third century A.D., and a Christian basilica from the fourth century.
The Mission of Epaphras
The city of Hierapolis is mentioned only one time in the Bible, in Colossians 4:12,13 in conjunction with the evangelistic activities of Epaphras, a member of the Colossian church.
The city was located six miles north of Laodicea on an elevated terrace about 500 feet above the Lycus plain (which is some 700 feet in elevation). The area had hot sulphur springs and a cave with noxious vapors from them. The deep cave with sulphurous odors was called the Plutonium or Charonium. The vapors gave rise to a good deal of superstition. The city became the center of the mysteries of the Phrygian deity Leto, the native goddess of nature, corresponding to Cybele. These mysterious places may have been the reason for the name “Hierapolis,” “holy city,” although it is more likely that the name came from Hiera, a mythical Amazon queen.
The early history of the city is obscure. We know that in 190 B.C. it came under the control of Pergamum. Coins then began to turn up, especially when the realm of the Attalan dynasty of Pergamum was bequeathed to Rome in 133. There was a flow of coins from Augustus to Nero, when the city was leveled with an earthquake (60 A.D.). In the Trajianic period (98-117) the coins appear again, indicating the city revived.
The original inhabitants were Greeks from Macedonia and Pergamum along with Phrygians. There were also a good number of Romans and Jews in the area. The mixed population gave rise to a complex religious activity as well — Apollo Archegetes was identified with the native deity Lairbenos; Phrygian Leto was identified with Cybele and was served with eunuch priests immune to the fumes; Pluto was worshiped by the Romans, as well as healing deities Hygeia and Asclepius, and then there was the Imperial Cult, at least after 211 A.D. Men, Isis, and other Oriental deities were worshiped here.
The Jewish population was sizeable; inscriptions refer to “the archives of the Jews,” as well as “the community of the Jews who inhabit Hierapolis.” The Jewish element seems to have vanished when Christianity took root. Christianity prospered in the town. It became a see in the Byzantine period, and then the seat of a Metropolitan. It continued until the Middle Ages.
The modern city is Pamukkale (“cotton castle”), so named because of the white chemical deposits formed on the ancient ruins by the calcareous springs. The remains of the Roman era appear in russet-brown structures set in a grassy meadow behind which is a mineral pool with flowing waters whose chemical contents have deposited sediments that have covered the lower courses of the buildings.
Monolithic pillars mark the spot where the gymnasium stood. Next to these on the cliff edges are the baths. These are built of beautifully cut stone, which was an industry that flourished here, as well as metal working and wooden manufactures. The baths cover quite an area; some of the arches remain, with a width of fifty-two feet, with stones as large as 78 inches by 35 inches by 23 inches. This was a health center as well as a religious center.
The Roman theater is the most striking feature of the ancient remains. It has a width of over 325 feet at the front. This dominated the view of the city.
The city was planned. There was a main thoroughfare running from its northwest to its southwest edge, with streets crossing at right angles. Some of the buildings date from the beginning of the Christian period. A basilica on the east side of the main street has the Chi Rho monogram and may be dedicated to St. Philip — although three other buildings have been identified as churches and one of them could be the one dedicated to him.
Some of the famous people who came from this town include Papias, a disciple of John, who was martyred in 155 A.D. He collected information about the apostolic age that has been preserved by Irenaus and Eusebius.
Epictetus came from Hierapolis. He was a slave in the first century who had been given his freedom and then became a celebrated Stoic philosopher. He was not able to distinguish Christianity from Judaism, even though the Gospel witness was there in his days. He was apparently describing a Christian when he spoke of a man who was baptized and made a decision as one who is in reality a Jew. The pagans elsewhere did not see a great deal of difference between Judaism and Christianity. In Palestine Christians and Jews alike suffered during the Roman wars. Early in the second century the letter of Ignatius of Antioch warned of the peril of relapsing into Judaism. And the Council of Laodicea enjoined Christians not to Judaize and be idle of Saturday but to work on that day.
Philip the Evangelist (Acts 21:8) is connected with this city through a tradition from Polycrates of Ephesus. The tradition, however, does not distinguish between the evangelist and the apostle. Philips four daughters prophesied, and women prophets are attested in Phrygia in a later period. Two of these who remained single were claimed to have been buried at Hierapolis, while a third who later married was buried at Ephesus.
An Opulent City with a Luke-warm Church
Laodicea was located on the River Lycus at the confluence of the Asopus and Caprus, some ten miles northwest of Colossae and three miles north of modern Denizli. It was at the crossroads of the great trade routes to Pergamum and Ephesus. The city was first called Diospolis, then Rhoas, but then Antiohcus II (261-246 B.C.) Made it a military base to guard the northern frontier of his kingdom, and renamed it in honor of his sister-wife Laodice.
Wealth of the City
The city became a wealthy city very early. Its location on the trade route gave it a good deal of commercial prosperity; it was particularly rich in livestock as well as the garment trade with its trademark black glossy wool. The wool was woven directly into garments, and into bolts of cloth as today.
There was a distinct seamless garment called paenulae (2 Tim. 4:13) that was rain-resistent. There were also the shorter cloaks (chlamydes) and the dalmatics (paragaudae) with purple borders. The dark wool was probably produced from dark black sheep, although dying was also possible.
Also, another industry came from the eye remedy known as “Phrygian powder” which was compounded here. These and other industries led to the prosperity of the city, and made it a banking center.
We know that the city was affluent because the people were able to rebuild after earthquakes (in the reign of Tiberias and also Nero ) without help from Rome or the provincial governor.
The city had a large population of Jews as well.
The Book of Revelation indicates that the city was well-to-do. “For you say, ‘I am rich; I have grown wealthy; I need nothing . . .” (Rev. 3:17). The advice to buy gold, and white clothes, and salve for their eyes (Rev 3:18) has greater meaning in view of the industry here, especially the black linens and the eye-powder. Their real need was spiritual.
Church in Laodicea
The Gospel spread to this area within a generation after Jesus’ death, but we know very little about that. It appears that Epaphras, a Colossian believer who had vision for the Lycus Valley, especially for the cities of Laodicea and Hieropolis (Col. 4:12,13), was the one who introduced the faith to those places — he certainly labored for them. Paul’s ministry in Ephesus produced many converts who in turn carried the message to these cities. A Christian church met in the house of Nymphus (Col. 4:15) at an early period. Philip and John probably preached there; and Paul may have as well on his third journey. At any rate, Laodicea was one of the cities where the letter to the Colossians was to be read, as well as the letter to the Ephesians. The “letter from Laodicea” (Col. 4:16) may have been the Ephesian letter, since the latter apparently had no name in Ephesians 1:1, only a blank space.
Paul knew others in Laodicea beside Epaphras and Nymphus, for he sent greetings to “the brethren who are in Laodicea” (Col. 4:12).
The church enjoyed the material prosperity, but by the end of the first century had succumbed to apostasy and spiritual lukewarmness (Rev. 3:15-22). Some have thought that the water supply of the city was lukewarm and unpalatable, providing John with the occasion for the description. The water tower, with its lime-clogged terra cotta pipes, remains. But much of the city has been carried off for modern construction.
There is some information to suggest that Philemon might have lived in Laodicea. It cannot be proved, but there is monumental evidence to one Marcus Sestius Philemon, who owned slaves. At least one citizen by this name owned slaves here. If Apphia (Philemon 2) was his wife, it is worth noting that the masculine form of this name has been found at Hieropolis. This is not much to go on, but shows that this area is a plausible candidate for the location of Philemon. Laodicea was the place of a medical school whose physicians prepared the Phrygian eye powder to treat ophthalmia. It is interesting that Luke the physician joins in the salutations in Philemon 1:24. Did he study there?
In the later period we know that Laodicea became the chief bishopric of Phrygia. In 166 its bishop, a Phrygian with the name Segaris, was martyred. The synod of Laodicea was held here in 367; it was a regional synod, but contributory to the New Testament canon and ecclesiastical law. The city remained important to the faith until taken by the Seljuks in 1071. It was retaken in 1119, but in the thirteenth century fell again to the Turks. It was abandoned in the fourteenth century.
All that remains today are the ruins of the old castle, two theaters of uncertain date, as well as baths, a stadium, blocks of stone from the eastern gate, part of an aqueduct, and some remains of churches. The area covers a small plateau about a mile in area with snow-capped peaks on the horizon in every direction. The Lycus Valley spreads out in the foreground; and the deposits of Hieropolis, some six miles away, are visible.
An Important Center for Christianity
There are several cities in the Roman province of Asia that are located in the Valley of the Lycus River, a tributary of the Maeander, that are important to Christianity — Colossae, Laodicea, and Hieropolis. The Maeander (now Menderes) has its source in the highlands and empties into the Aegean near Miletus. The Lycus joins this river about a hundred miles from the mouth. The Lycus Valley, running southeast to northwest, a distance of about twenty-four miles, was a natural gateway to Caria, Phrygia, and Lydia.
History of Colossae
The town of Colossae is of interest to Christians because it had a church that received one of Paul’s letters, “Colossians.” Colossae was in the upper part of the Valley less that twelve miles from Laodicea. It was built on a double hill just south of the Lycus River. To its south lay the 8,000 foot Mount Cadmus; its melting snows formed streams that bounded the city on two sides.
According to the historians Herodotus and Xenophon this was an important town in the fifth century B.C. It must have been an important military position, because it dominated the road eastward to Apamaea, Pisidian Antioch, and the Cilician Gates.
The city was famous for its wool industry. Its product called the collossinus was famous. Jewish and pagan influences in the city left their mark on the early Christians who perverted the faith with the worship of angels (Col. 1:16; 2:15, 18), legal scruples concerning food and festal days (Col. 2:16), and a form of asceticism (2:23; 3:5-10).
The pagan cults were well represented in this town. The gods worshiped there included the Phrygian god Men, as well as Isis, Serapis, Helios, Artemis, Demeter, and Selene. Paul’s reference to pride in visions and “being puffed up with reason” certainly fits a city with the Phrygian background and its interest in the mystery cult of Isis (see Col. 2:18).
Did Paul ever visit the city? Colossians 2:1 makes it sound like he never did, but that reference is not decisive. “And as many as have not seen my face in the flesh.” Nothing in the statement preculdes the possibility that Christians in the Lycus Valley did not know Paul personally. Certainly, Timothy and Epaphras were instrumental in establishing the church (Col. 1:7,8), and many converts probably had never seen Paul, but he may well have passed through on his third journey. Acts 18:23 and 19:1 report how he passed through the whole region on his way to Ephesus. The text refers to the “upper country” which is the whole hinterland of Ephesus. The normal route he would have followed would have been on the highway from Apamaea, Colossae, and Laodicea, down the Maeander River to Ephesus.
The archaeologist W. J. Hamilton in 1835 reported extensive ruins in the form of columns, architraves, foundations, and large blocks of stone. Those have disappeared, being quarried out and used in more recent construction at nearby Chonai (modern Honaz). There is really nothing to see now at the site, except the mound of ruins; occasionally bits of pottery can be picked up in the fields.
Colossae was abandoned in the beginning of the 8th century A.D. and its people settled in Chonai. But the faith had been established in Colossae, and it had become a center of a bishopric. Ephiphanius, a Colossian bishop, is known from his metropolitan Nunechius of Laodicea, who signed the Chalcedonian decrees of 451.
Paul was in prison in Rome when he wrote the Colossians, about 60 A.D. He sent the letter to them by Tychichus, who also carried the epistle to the Ephesians.
A City that Became the Seat of Satan
Pergamum was a city of prime importance in the first century. Although it is not as significant to the history of Christianity as Ephesus, it is important due to its being addressed by John in his message to the seven churches in the Revelation (2:12-17).
The name Pergamum is the Latinized form of the Greek Pergamos, which was sometimes written Pergamon. The city is located sixty miles north of Smyrna (Izmir); and fifteen miles from the sea, between two tributaries of the Caicus River, the Selinus and the Cetius, the former flowing through the city and the latter around it.
The modern Turkish town of Bergama is built among the ruins of the ancient metropolis. Bergama has fifteen mosques, one of which is the early Byzantine church of St. Sophia.
The name “Pergamum” has been perpetuated in the word “parchment” (Latin pergamena, Greek pergamene and charta), since the city developed the use of the material for writing. The story goes that during the reign of Eumenes II the city began to develop an enormous library, some 200,000 volumes. Ptolemy Philadelphus in Egypt was afraid that the library there would surpass his in Alexandria (which had 700,000 volumes at its height), and so he cut off the supply of papyrus to them. They in turn developed parchment. How valid all this is is not sure; but the fact is that Pergamum became world famous for making fine writing material from sheep or goat skin, highly polished with pumice stone and slit into sheets.
The story continues. Ironically, when the kingdom of Pergamum came to its end, the king bequeathed it to Rome. Eventually, when fire destroyed much of the library of Alexandria, Marc Antony brought much of the library of Pergamum to Egypt for Cleopatra. That ended the threat of the library of Pergamum.
The town was founded by Greek colonists. Lysimachos, one of Alexander’s generals, chose it as the depository of his wealth, placing 9,000 talents of gold here under the care of his lieutenant Philetaerus. When the general died, Philetaerus (283-263) used the money to establish the independent Greek dynasty of Attalid kings. Under Eumenes I (263-241) minted coins appeared, and the kingdom began to expand.
Attalus I (241-197) defeated the Celts (who became the Galatians) and distinguished himself as a defender of Hellenistic culture. He assisted the Romans in their contest with Hannibal, and so became a friend of Rome as well. He was rewarded with the Seleucid dominions west of the Taurus mountains. Pergamum was now a powerful kingdom, controlling Mysia, Lydia, Caria, Pamphylia, and Phrygia. But Rome kept some control over Pergamum, and did not give it Galatia.
Attalus also adorned the city with magnificent building projects. His successor, Eumenes II (197-159) brought the city to the height of its glory, establishing the great library of 200,000 volumes. His successor, Attalus III, bequeathed the kingdom to Rome when he died in 133. Rome formed it into the province of Asia, with the capital in Pergamum.
The Church at Pergamum
The Gospel came to the city through the efforts of Paul at Ephesus. A church was established in this city which John described as “the place where Satan’s throne is” (Rev. 2:13). The reference is no doubt to the deeply entrenched idolatry of the city, which is connected to evil supernaturalism. The Bible affirms that demonism is at the heart of idolatry (Deut., 32:17; Ps. 95:6; 1 Cor. 10:20; Rev. 9:20,21).
Two attributes are highlighted for this church. One is its fidelity to the faith, in spite of persecution, resulting in the martyrdom of some. The other is infidelity manifested in doctrinal defection and compromise with paganism on the part of others.
The first is linked to the Imperial Cult and the refusal of some to worship the Emperor. As the provincial capital, the state religion would have been promoted vigorously here. The indication of Revelation 2:134 is that Antipas must have been the first Christian martyr under the policy established by Nero. An example had to be made of those who refused to comply with emperor worship. The city was styled as “Thrice Neokoros,” meaning it had three temples where people were to worship the emperor as god. John’s description of the city as the place where “Satan’s throne is” may be a reference to these temples of the Imperial Cult.
Other gods were worshiped in the city: Zeus, Dionysus, Athena, and Asklepios. John could be referring to them as well. The healing god Asklepios was popular here, even referred to as “the Pergamene god.” His temple drew crowds of sick and afflicted from all over to get medical and magical aid.
Athena was the patron goddess of the city, as at Athens. Her temple had a prominent place in the city. There was also a gigantic altar to Zeus here, portraying Zeus’s battles with primeval giants. This altar was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Dionysus was also worshiped here, and had his temple west of Zeus’s.
Some in the church of Pergamum proved unfaithful. They apparently yielded to the pagan pressures in the city. Two false doctrines were prominent: Balaamism and Nicolaitanism. The first was the teaching of Balaam to corrupt the people of Israel by enticing them to fornication and unification with false religion (Num. 31:15, 16; 22:5; 23:8). This false doctrine then constitutes union with the world and the admixture of Christianity with pagan beliefs and fornication. The second, Nicolaitanism, is usually taken to refer to antinomian license and the excesses of heathen practices. Since no group appears historically with this name, until a group of morally lax Gnostics in the third century, the word is conceivably to be taken to describe the origin of unscriptural clericalism in which the individual priesthood of the believer is violated by the usurpation of a human-constituted priesthood. So it may be that the problems involved the sin of conformity to worldliness and paganism, as well as the lapse of simple apostolic Christianity into hierarchical clericalism.
The archaeology of this place is quite rich; it must be divided between the pagan temples on the acropolis, the health center in the valley, and the early church construction in the city. The work has been done since 1878 by Berlin Museum, with subsequent work carried out by the German Institute of Archaeology. The wonderful decorations of the great altar of Zeus from the top of the mountain as well as other great works found here are now housed in the Pergamene Museum in Berlin. The work was interrupted in 1938, of course, and not resumed until 1957.
Soundings were made in the theater and the amphitheater, as well as several phases of habitations.
The ruins of the temple of Asklepios reflect the splendor of this place for the sick. The healing baths and the ritual sites in the area show that it was a well thought out institution for its time.
The Strategic Center of Paul’s Ministry
In the late summer or early autumn of 51 A.D. the Apostle Paul left Corinth by sea to return to Palestine after his second missionary journey. He and his companions disembarked on the way in Ephesus; Paul conducted a brief ministry in the synagogue before continuing to Jerusalem, and Priscilla and Aquila remained in Ephesus to establish their work.
Luke tells us that Paul docked at Caesarea and then traveled up to Jerusalem to give a report of the advance of the faith in the West. After a brief time there he returned to Antioch to report to the original sponsors of his trips. His third missionary journey began with visits to the churches in Galatia and Phrygia to strengthen the believers there. He apparently went by foot through the Cilician Gates again as he did on the second journey, and not by sea to Perga and then north to Pisidian Antioch as he did on the first journey.
Paul’s interest on this journey was to get to Ephesus quickly and make that the strategic center of his missionary labor. Ephesus was the metropolis of the Roman province of Asia, ranking in greatness with Antioch in Syria and Alexandria in North Africa. The city was located near the mouth of the Cayster River, three miles from the Aegean Sea, opposite the island of Samos. The harbor was systematically dredged of the silt from the Cayster so that the largest ships could dock. The busy sea lanes to the harbor connected the sea with the entrance to the fertile valley that stretched far into the interior of Asia Minor, which opened to other valleys by easy passes. Ephesus was the most easily accessible city in Asia Minor, which made it a prominent location for a commercial, political, and religious center.
The earliest accounts of the founding of Ephesus are mythological. The Amazons are said to have built the town and the temple to the mother goddess of the earth who was allegedly born here. The town prospered until Androclus, the prince of Athens, made it a Greek city. Some traditions date this to the eleventh century B.C.
The Greek influence gradually replaced the Oriental culture that was here. The Asiatic goddess of the temple became more and more identified with the Greek Artemis. The city had a mixture of Oriental and Occidental religion and culture, and in its earliest period belonged to the league of Ionian cities. The Ionian city was on Mount Koressos, about a mile south of the ancient Temple and cultic center.
In 560 B.C. the city fell to King Croesus of Lydia, and then to the Persians three years later (note, at this time the Israelites were in captivity in Babylon, and in 536 when Persia conquered Babylon the Jews were sent home to their land).
Alexander the Great possessed the city in the later half of the fourth century. When he died and his empire was divided among his generals, Lysimachos received this city and named it Arsinoe after his wife. But in 133 B.C. the city passed under Roman rule when Attalus III, king of Pergamum, bequeathed the city to Rome. Ephesus for a while vied with Pergamum as the chief city in Asia, but eventually outstripped it. It was a racial melting pot and a cosmopolitan commercial center for the Eastern Mediterranean.
In Paul’s day Ephesus was a wealthy city. When he sailed into the harbor (Acts 18:18,19) he would have been impressed by all the activity because the wealth of the area was based on the harbor business. But land trade augmented the sea trade, making the city a prosperous place. The city was connected to the east with a network of highways; and it controlled other cities in the region to help swell its wealth. Its population has been estimated to have been a quarter of a million people.
At the center of the cultural and economical concerns of Ephesus was the cult of the goddess Artemis, or Diana. The temple was known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. This Artemision was located between two hills, Ayasoluk (or Seljuk today) and Pion. It was one of the largest buildings in the ancient world, covering about two-thirds of the area of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The temple probably has its origin in an eighth century B.C. shrine for the goddess. The temple was rebuilt a couple of times over the centuries, including once by Croesus, which was destroyed by fire in 356 but replaced by a grander temple. It was still be worked on when Alexander came in 334. The temple was destroyed in A.D. 262 by the Goths.
The temple was 340 feet long, more than 160 feet wide, and decorated with 100 columns more than 55 feet tall. The goddess Artemis was a fertility deity similar to Cybele of the Phrygians and Astarte of the Phoenicians. To the Romans she was known as Diana. She was represented as many-breasted and belonged to nature divinities, a Magna Mater, who was to produce and preserve life. She presided over births; and legend says she was presiding over the birth of Alexander the Great in 356 when the temple burned down.
In the time of the Christian era the worship of the goddess was under the direction of virgin priestesses. There were also large numbers of men and women in the priestly ranks that served in the temple.
One interesting feature of the temple was its activity in financial matters. It was not only the temple of the goddess, but it was also a bank, lending money, and receiving funds for safe-keeping. It also served as a asylum for fugitives and runaway slaves. The city had to defend their right of asylum during the reign of Tiberias when it was t be abolished for abuses.
The persistent work of the archaeologists led to the discovery of the great ruins of Ephesus. In 1869 J. T. Wood began the search that led only to an inscription, but the inscription dated from 50 years after Paul’s time gave the ritual procession and so led to the discovery of the Artemision. The inscription said that the procession from the theater to the temple passed through the Magnesian Gate. They soon found the Gate and its three exits, as well as the 35 foot marble roadway. They then discovered at a depth of 20 feet the white marble pavement of the temple within the sacred temenos. During the next five years the beautiful capitals, sculptured columns, and massive blocks in various colors of marble were found--which now adorn the Ephesian Gallery in the British Museum in London. They also found statues of Hercules struggling with the queen of the Amazons, and hundreds of temple inscriptions detailing the cult and its ritual.
Thirty years later David G. Hogarth under the auspices of the British Museum did further archaeological work at the site (1904,5). They found a treasure trove of rich deposits to the goddess under the pedestal that held the image of the deity. Many statuettes of the goddess were found from the 8th century B.C., a time when she was portrayed not as the multi-breasted idol but a beautiful woman, or a mummy.
Other work explored the town itself. The early Greek town was founded about 1044 B.C. with mostly Greek and native population. The area it covered lay about a mile north of the Artemision. In 560 when the city was conquered by Croesus, and then shortly after by Cyrus of Persia, it moved to the lower ground by the temple. Then, Lysimachos wanted to move it to the higher ground, so he deliberately stopped up the drains so that the city flooded; the people were willing to move. It was then rebuilt between Mt. Pion on the east and the hill of Astyages on the west. This city was now so well located it lasted a thousand years. This new city was the one that Paul visited.
The great theater where the people rioted against Paul was on the hollow slope of Mt. Pion. This theater was about 495 feet in diameter and could seat 24,500 folks. It overlooked the city and had an imposing facade. The extant ruins represent a reconstruction after Paul’s day, but the plan and the structure was essentially the same.
There was a beautiful marble-paved road thirty-six feet wide called the “Arkadiane” and about a third of a mile long which extended from the theater to the harbor. It was colonnaded with buildings and stores behind it. The eastern end came to a double-arched gate opposite the theater square. At the western end there was a beautiful harbor gate.
Just south and southwest of the theater was the Greek agora. It was a rectangular area with colonnades, ornate gateways, and surrounded with public and commercial buildings. Nearby there was a magnificent library, constructed with columns and its walls recessed with niches for bookcases. The larger Roman agora was just north of the Arkadiane and contained many impressive structures.
North of the theater was the spacious gymnasium, and farther toward the northeast near the Koressos Gate was a huge stadium near the Sacred Way that continued to the Artemision.
In the southeastern part of the city was the Magnesian Gate, and north of that the ruins of another Gymnasium. On the slope of Mt. Pion and southeastward of the Artemision is the Cave of the Seven Sleepers. Under the persecution of Rome in about the years 249-251 (under Decius), or perhaps 283-304 (under Diocletian), according to legend, seven young men entered the cave for refuge and fell asleep, not awakening until the reign of the Christian emperor Theodosius II (408-450). They were amazed to find the city entirely Christian. They died on the day of their awakening , and so they were buried in their cave.
Northwest of the Magnesian Gate was the Odeum, or lyric theater, like a music hall. Southeast of the Odeum and near the street leading to the Magnesian Gate is the so-called tomb of St. Luke, so named by Wood. Later work has shown it to be a tomb of a number of men of a particular family who died in a common cause or war.
On the west of the city is a fort on the spot which tradition has correctly identified as the prison in which Paul was confined. The structure that is there now is much later than his time.
From the Christian period there is abundant evidence of how Christianity took hold of this city. There are the ruins of Justinian’s Church of St. John, south of the Byzantine castle and north of the temple or Artemis on the holy hill of Ayassoluk.
There is also the double Church of the Virgin Mary, called also the Church of the Council after the council that met here in 431. The church is north of the Roman agora; it was built about 350 on the ruins of the Museum. The huge building was nearly 481 feet in length, and consisted of a three-nave columnar basilica, with apse flanked by two side rooms, a narthex, consisting of an outer court with a columnar entrance, and a baptistry.
The Growth of Christianity in Ephesus
Paul knew that a cosmopolitan area like Ephesus was the right place to establish the church -- Pergamum, Smyrna, Miletus were all in the region. In fact, there were 500 cities in the province, and Ephesus would be the broadcasting station. So Paul spent two years here, with the result that “all they who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks (Acts 19:10).
The first phase of Paul’s work met with a hybrid type of Judaism. The strange religion was a mongrel between Christianity and Judaism -- it was more than Judaism because it accepted Jesus as the Messiah, but less than Christianity because it knew only the baptism of John, which was preparatory for the Gospel and the baptism of the Spirit, following upon Christ’s death and resurrection and the sending of the Spirit. The dozen or so disciples were living in a pre-Pentecost experience, and were ignorant of the coming of the Spirit and the ministry the Spirit performs in every believer (Acts 19:1-7). The reason for their situation was that they were followers of the Alexandrian Jew Apollos, who knew none of these things (Acts 18:25). He was probably a student of Philo in Alexandria, and must have followed an allegorical method, attempting to reconcile Moses and Plato while expounding Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in Jesus. Apollos lacked knowledge of the Holy Spirit and the Gospel of grace, and so his disciples were thus deficiently trained (Acts 19:2). When they were instructed in the full Gospel, they were introduced into the normal ministry of the Holy Spirit by the imposition of the apostle’s hands. The incident is clearly representative of others that brought Jewish believers in the Messiah, who had not come in contact with the Gospel of grace, into the full spiritual blessings of Christianity. Subnormal Christians became normal Christians; they left the transition phase of the spread of the Gospel.
Paul’s teaching took place in the Synagogue and the School of Tyrannus. Paul was able to teach in the Synagogue for three months before he was forced out. He then moved to the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). Tyrannus was probably a Greek rhetorician whose school was a rented room or hall. When he finished his lessons about eleven in the morning, the place was available for Paul for the rest of the day (the ancients got up early and probably studied or conducted business (negotia) from dawn til eleven; afternoons were devoted to leisure (otia).
Paul would have been busy at his job from dawn till he went to the lecture hall. He had no “leisure time” because he was there on a mission. The place that was in the morning dedicated to scholarly interests reached its highest use in the afternoon when Paul taught the wisdom and knowledge of God.
Paul’s work also collided with demonism in the city. Because Paul’s ministry was powerful with the Word and the Spirit, especially in expelling demons (Acts 19:11,12), there was a response. These mighty works advertised the faith all over Asia, and challenged demon powers that energized the city’s idolatry as well. There were traveling Jewish exorcists who tried to do the same with their incantations and pagan rituals. But the result was a expose of these men and their methods. The demons recognized Christ Jesus as lord of the spirit realm, and Paul as his servant. The magical use of the name of Jesus by these frauds only revealed the error of mixing the truth of the gospel with pagan superstition. The Gospel made great gains, even among those who had practiced such superstition (Acts 19:19). They burned their books, their magical texts that had the sacred letters of the alphabet and the formulas muttered by the temple staff. There arose an industry of these little magical books which may have been worn as amulets or carried as leaflets to help in cases of sickness, love, or domestic affairs. The bonfire consumed an amazing number of these booklets, representing an enormous sum of something equivalent to 9200 dollars.
Paul also had to deal with the cult of Diana. Paul’s success began to affect the temple and its devotees. The prosperity of the craftsmen who made the statues for pilgrims who would make a donation began to wane. Many of these statuettes have been found, terra cotta for the poor, silver and gold for the rich. Demetrius, perhaps the head of the guild, stirred up a riot and the people rushed into the theater, the place for public meetings. The mob yelled for two hours “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” (Acts 19:28). She was great in that city, and worshiped throughout the world. The epithet “great” for a deity was common in the ancient world. The town clerk was finally able to quiet the uprising after the people had exhausted themselves. They may have been the “guardians” of the temple for the world, but they did not want to incur the wrath of Rome.
Paul was warned not to go into the crowd in the theater by “certain Asiarchs who were his friends” (Acts 19:31). These officers, unlike the town clerk and the temple-keeper were provincial dignitaries and guardians of the Imperial Roman cult. They traveled in state and had oversight over the great festival in adoration of the Emperor. One was in office for four years; so there would be several “ex-Asiarchs” around. Eventually Ephesus had three temples for the Emperor. Emperor worship may have been overshadowed by Diana in the time of Paul, but by the end of the century it was dominant, as Revelation indicates.
The City with a Great Past
This is the fifth city mentioned in the New Testament letters to churches in Asia Minor (Rev. 3:1-6). But it is also one of the oldest and most important cities of the region.
Sardis had been the capital of the kingdom of Lydia in 549 B.C. and the residence of the opulent King Croesus. It was situated at the foot of Mt. Timolus (@ 6000 feet high), two and a half miles south of the Hermus River. The Pactolus River traversed the city as it flowed into the Hermus.
The ancient acropolis was on a spur of the mountain about 800 feet above the plain. This citadel was the center of the city’s defense, the place of refuge in times of attack. It was connected to the city below by a single road. Despite its position, a Median soldier scaled the acropolis in 549 when it passed into Persian control. It was destroyed by the Ionians in 501, but rebuilt quickly to become the home of the satraps during the Persian period.
The city gained its wealth from the gold found in the Pactolus River; the city issued the first gold and silver coins in antiquity. The industry of the city included woolens and the growing of fruits.
The city had a temple to Cybele, whose cult was identified with Artemis.
After the conquest of Alexander the city was granted independence, but that ended after twelve years when the city fell to Antigonus in 322. The city was under the Seleucid empire from 301 to 190 when it became autonomous again, constituted part of the Pergamene empire.
Under the Romans it flourished. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 17 A.D., under the reign of Tiberias. The emperor remitted their taxes and rebuilt the city, but it never regained its glory. It had a name to live, but its splendor was dead. John exhorted the church to strengthen the things that remained that are ready to die (3:1,2). Later the city was the home of Bishop Melito, a distinguished leader in the early church. It was finally destroyed by the fierce attack of the Asiatic conqueror Tamerlane in 1402.
The little village of Sert exists among the ancient ruins. The triple walls around the elevated acropolis can still be seen. The lower slope has the better remains, including the temple of Cybele (Artemis), although only two of the columns survived the earthquakes and wars and remain standing. The temple measured 327 feet by 163 feet. Crouching lions still flank the way to the temple.
But the sign of the cross has been found engraved on the pagan place of worship, showing how the church supplanted the pagan worship in the place. More recent excavations have found a large Christian house, a late Roman statue of a young god, perhaps Bacchus, a gymnasium from the second century and other things.
In the vicinity of the temple of Artemes there was found one of the earliest Cybeles in Sardis (4th century B.C.).
The work of soundings in the strata showed that the Lydian city was well preserved, yielding ointment jars and lots of pottery.
City of Suffering
Smyrna was situated on the Asiatic coastland at the sheltered head of a large gulf that extends thirty miles inland. The city was founded by Aeolic Greeks in the 12th century B.C. In the 7th century it was controlled by Ionian Greeks, but was later captured by Lydia. In the time of Alexander the city was wealthy from trade; his general Lysimachos rebuilt the city and enclosed it with a wall. In the Roman period the city was absolutely brilliant, rivaling Ephesus and Pergamum. It was characterized by wide, well-paved streets and gracefully designed buildings; it was referred to as “the golden.” The city also was known for its institutions of learning and medicine. It is supposed to be the birthplace of Homer; the people built an honorary building called the Homerium.
The modern city is called Izmir (a Turkish variant of the name). The Turkish political division of the city has a population of a million, and the seaport (ancient Smyrna) a population of about 200,000. The ancient city had declined in the 13th century A.D., but it began to revive with the conquest of the Turks in the 15th century. The harbor that was there has been filled in; the ancient stadium levelled for other construction. So, Smyrna’s archaeological ruins lie beneath the modern city, except for traces of ancient walls and gates.
According to Revelation 2:8-11 the church of Smyrna was faithful in the midst of material poverty and tribulation. The persecution is represented by that of Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, in 155. Likewise, there was intense antagonism of the Jewish population of the city to the spread of Christianity. John said they were those “who say they are Jews and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan” (2:9). This pointed reference can be illustrated by the fact that the Jews desecrated their sabbath in order to bring wood to burn Polycarp.
A City of Guilds
Thyatira was one of the seven churches addressed by John in the Book of Revelation (2:18-29). It was located in Lydia near the border of Mysia on the road from Pergamum to Sardis on a tributary of the Hermus River.
The ancient site is occupied by the modern town of Ak-Hissar (“white castle”), named for the ruins of the castle in the area. Evidence of the antiquity of the town can be seen in bits and pieces of the ancient ruins employed in secondary building use. In the higher part of the town there are ruins of the pagan temples; but little can be learned about the town from archaeology any more.
This was an insignificant town until is was rebuilt by Seleucus Nicator between 301-281 B.C. It probably was originally a military base, not a strong fortress but a good look-out place at the entrance of the valley. With the pax Romana its function changed to commercial interests; and being situated on a key highway it flourished.
The city developed a complex of labor organizations, trade guilds. But in those days these were very religious in their orientation. Every kind of working trade was represented in this way; some of the larger ones were bronze workers (2:18), dyers who made a “Turkish red” or purple dye from the madder root. Lydia of Thyatira seems to have represented her guild at Philippe (Acts 16:14) when she sold dyes. But these guilds were connected with pagan religions in the city, and took part in the pagan rituals and festivals.
When John criticized the place for having prophetess Jezebel teaching false doctrine, he certainly was not referring to any one particular woman. The reference was symbolic, based on the historic Jezebel. The “prophetess Jezebel” then represents a position of world conformity and social adaptability to the popular beliefs and customs of the idolatrous society (Unger, p. 280). To people in town the accommodation must have seem necessary, and harmless. But John saw the danger of alliance with such a world view.
The main deity of the city was Tyrimos, who is portrayed as riding on a horse and carrying a battle ax. This god became syncretized with Apollo. Artemis was the female deity venerated here. In fact, the high priest of Tyrimos-Apollo was the husband of the high priestess of Artemis.
The Little Athens of Asia
This city was founded by Attalus II of Pergamum in 189 B.C. It was built on an elevated terrace above the Cogamus Valley, 105 miles from Smyrna. Behind it were the volcanic cliffs of the mountain range popularly called Devitt, “ink wells.” Below the city there was a rich plain known for its vintage.
The city was named after its founder, who was known as Philadelphus, “brother-lover” because of his love for his brother Eumenes II of Lydia. It was rebuilt after the earthquake of 17 and was known as Neokaisareia, or “New Caesar,” in honor of the generosity of Tiberias. The new name did not last, and by 50 A.D. the old name was in use again.
In the reign of Vespasian (70-79) the city was given the name Flavia, which remained in use for the next two centuries. By the fifth century the temples and festivals were so popular that the city was called “little Athens.” After the Turkish conquest in 1392 it was called Alah-Shehir, “the city of God.”
The city in the first century was an important and wealthy city, having recovered from several earthquakes. It contained a large Jewish population, as did other prosperous cities of the region. The church was very evangelistic and won many people to the faith. The reference to those in the city who were of the synagogue of Satan (Rev. 3:9) indicates a strong Jewish antagonism to the church and to Jewish people who converted. The encouragement from John was that those who scorned the believers would bow before them and know that they were the true Jews (3:9).
Also, the promise of the over-comer becoming a pillar (3:12) is interesting in the light of damaged temples and ruined pillars in the city. Also, meaningful in the light of the renamings of the city after rebuildings is the promise that God would write his name on them, the name of the city of God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from heaven (3:12). The name Neokaisareia was the Emperor’s writing a new name on the city--but it did not last. This name was granted by imperial approval, and was also evidence that there was a cult of Emperor worship there. The church will be inscribed with the name of the eternal God, not a temporal ruler.
Alah-Shehir is still a largely Christian town and the residence of a bishop. There is evidence of a church from the fourth century on the terrace, but only the bases of the massive columns that formed its central building. Few archaeological diggings have been undertaken here.
Ancient Troy and Troas
Where Paul Saw the Macedonian Vision
The city of Troas lay on the Aegean Sea. It was an old seaport town, which before 300 B.C. was called Antigona Troas after the name of its founder Antigonus. Afterwards the place was called Alexandria Troas in honor of Alexander the Great.
In 133 B.C. the city became the possession of Rome. The city received every kind of privilege from the gens Julia because of the Homeric memories associated with the origins of the family. Julius Caesar planned to make it the capital of the Roman Empire. Augustus made it a Roman colony and a free city, independent of the provincial Roman governor of Asia. Its citizens were exempt from poll and land tax.
The ruins of the ancient seaport (now called Ekistanbul) are extensive, attesting to the size and importance of the city. But the place has fallen into disrepair, and much of the building material taken to Constantinople for mosques and palaces. Structures excavated include a gymnasium, baths, temple, theater, and an aqueduct, all witnessing to a flourishing Roman city.
Northeast of Troas lie the ruins of Troy-Illium, made famous by Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. The place is now called Hissarlik, and is located a few miles from the entrance to the Dardanelles. Excavations by Heinrich Schliemann, a German-born Californian businessman and amateur archaeologist, from 1870-1890 revealed seven cities of Troy--at least--on the site. Later excavations have traced successive occupations from the most remote times down to Roman times. At least nine cities can now be traced, going back some 3000 years. The first people to live here were of the Early Bronze Age, and the last were Turkish soldiers in the 1300s.
The cities called Troy I through Troy V (3000-1800 B.C.) had a similar culture to them. But Troy VI (1800-1275 B.C.) had a new character, a new population of Indo-European folks related to the Mycenaeans. The town doubled in size, and traded prosperously with Mycenae. It also was the defender of the straits and controlled trade with Greek colonies on the Black Sea.
Troy VI was the city of Priam, the city which engaged in the Trojan War. An earthquake ruined the city in 1275 and hastened the Achaean victory.
Troy VII (1275-1100 B.C.) followed shortly after the Achaeans burned the city; they were a Balkan folk who came in around 1190. For four centuries the city sank into torpor. It revived as a Greek city with Troy VIII (700-300 B.C.) and then as a Roman city (Troy IX, 300 B.C. to 300 A.D.).
The city had such a strategic location and legendary past that Julius Caesar had thoughts of making Troy the capital of the Roman Empire. And Constantine the Great also thought of building his capital here as well, but chose Byzantium.
The approach to Troy is across low, rolling countryside of grain fields, with small villages along the way. This is the Troad of ancient times.
According to Homer we have this interpretation. In the Iliad this is the town of Ilium. The battle took place in the 1200s, with Agamemnon, Achilles, Odysseus (Ulysses), Patroclus and Nestor on the Achaean or Greek side, and Priam with his sons Hector and Paris on the Trojan side. Homer refers to no commercial rivalries as causes for the war. He says that Paris kidnaped the beautiful Helen from her husband Menelaus, king of Sparta, and the king asked the Achaeans to get her back. The war went on for a decade, in which time Hector killed Patroclus, and Achilles killed Hector. When it was time for Paris to kill Achilles, he was ready. He knew that Achilles mother had dipped her son in the River Styx, holding him by the heel, and so protected him from wounds everywhere but the heel, everywhere the water touched. So Paris shot Achilles in the heel. Even all this did not end the war, so Odysseus came up with the idea of the wooden horse filled with soldiers (not in the Iliad). One view is that an earthquake in 1275 brought down the walls and allowed the Achaeans to battle their way into the city. In gratitude to Poseidon, the earth-shaker, they built a monumental statue of his horse. Thus there may have been a real Trojan horse, even though Homer’s account differs.
The structures that remain of Troy are the Bouleterion or Council Chamber, built about the time that Homer was alive (700s B.C.), and the temple of Athena, from Troy VIII, but rebuilt by the Romans. The view over the Troads is very beautiful. On a clear day one can sea the war memorials of Gallipoli on the far shore, and ships passing through the Dardanelles. One can almost see the Achaean fleet beached on the Trojan shores, ready to begin a battle that would be remembered for 3000 years.
Paul’s Macedonian Vision
The missionary group was clearly led westward by the Holy Spirit. When they tried to enter Bythinia to the north and east, they were hindered by the Spirit (Acts 16:6,7). So they went down by Mysia to Troas. They had to leave some of the fascinating cities of the region to the witness of others (see 1 Peter 1:1), two of which became prominent in later Church History — Nicaea and Chalcedon.
Mysia formed the northwestern part of the Roman province of Asia. It was closest to Europe, only the Propontis, the Hellespont, and the Aegean Sea separated it from that continent. In its area lay the city of Troas.
At Troas Paul waited for divine direction. There he met Luke, a physician, a member of the profession that Hippocrates had founded four centuries earlier. Some have suggested that Paul might have been stricken with Malaria and had to send for a physician; but there is no indication of the occasion for their meeting. Whatever happened, Luke would now join the group traveling with Paul and serve in a number of ways, notably in writing both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.
It was at Troas that one of the most significant decisions in the faith was made. If Paul had turned back to retrace his steps through Asia Minor towards Syria and the East, Christianity might have remained an eastern religion. Christianity, however, was to be taken beyond Asia, into Europe. The faith was no longer a sect of Judaism, attacked by Jewish leaders from synagogue to synagogue in the wake of Paul’s travels. It now would move into a totally new spiritual and cultural setting with results that could not have been imagined. The momentous decision was made on the basis of the vision that Paul received; in the night he saw a Macedonian :standing beseeching him, and saying, ‘Come over into Macedonia and help us’” (Acts 16:9). Some scholars have felt that Luke was instrumental in the decision since he seems to have been a native of Macedonia. The timing of Paul’s meeting with Luke was certainly significant.