Book Review: Eduard Verhoef, Philippi: How Christianity Began in Europe

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Verhoef, Eduard. Philippi: How Christianity Began in Europe: The Epistle to the Philippians and the Excavations at Philippi. London: T&T Clark, 2013. Hb $100.00; Pb $29.99; ePub / Logos $24.99 Link to Bloomsbury T&T Clark  Link to Logos

This monograph is an introduction to the archaeology of Philippi, tracing the history of the city from the time of Paul through A.D. 600. Verhoef contributed an article on the history of Philippi (“The Church of Philippi in the First Six Centuries of Our Era,” Teologiese Studies 61 (2005): 565–92) and has visited the archaeological site many times. This book is aimed at a general readership and does not attempt to be a technical study of the archaeology of Philippi.

Chapter 1 traces the history of Philippi prior to the first century. Verhoef’s interest is in Roman Philippi so he quickly sketches the origin of the old city. After the battle of Actium Augustus refounded the city and settled additional veterans. According to Verhoef, the total number of inhabitants of Philippi at the time of time of Paul’s visit was nearly 10,000 (9), with slaves making up about 20% of the population (12); “Philippi was certainly not a metropolis, even by the standards of its own time” (12). For Verhoef, it “is significant that authors in the first centuries wrote about Philippi virtually exclusively with respect to the battle in 42 B.C.E. Words were hardly ever devoted to the town itself.” (12).

Chapter 2 traces the origin of the church and Philippi and chapter 3 concerns Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Verhoef observes the city of Philippi had a distinct Roman atmosphere when Paul visited in A.D. 49-50. “The majority of the inhabitants of Philippi were Greeks by birth, but to a great extent the Romans were decisive for the atmosphere of the town” (16). After examining the relevant texts on the founding of the church in the New Testament, he points out there are eleven named individuals associated with Philippi. If families are included, then a reasonable estimate for the original church was about 33 adult members in a city of 10,000 (22). If there was a reasonable growth pattern of 15% growth per decade, the church not have reached 1000 members until the A.D. 300.

For each century after the founding of the church Verhoef examines the archaeology, literary and inscriptional data pertaining to the growth of Christianity in Philippi. In chapter 4, Verhoef examines the archaeological evidence for Philippi in the second century. He observes “no Christians were mentioned as such in inscriptions, nor was there any construction of churches.” (53) The only literary evidence is the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians and a brief mention of the church in Tertullian. There is inscriptional evidence for the cult of Silvanus and Isis. With respect to the archaeology of Philippi in the second century, Verhoef observes the forum was completely reconstructed with impressive buildings erected around it. These buildings reduced Hellenistic Philippi to almost nothing (60).  With respect to the so-called Paul’s “prison,” archaeology shows the location was constructed by the Romans as a water reservoir and was later converted into chapel by Christians. “It has never been a jail” (61).

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Eduard Verhoef, Philippi: How Christianity Began in Europe

  1. In 4th Century Philippi, someone said:
    “‘Lord have mercy on us and raise us up who passed away in the true, orthodox faith” suggesting there was some tension between rival groups in Philippi (75).

    Sure there was. Marcion the 2nd century heretic established a rival group of churches that existed for a couple hundred years, based on his “New Testament.” (nothing in it except 10 of Paul’s letters, and an abbreviated Gospel of Luke.)

    So then Constantine merged this “New Testament” with the Scriptures of the true orthodox faith and the Hebrew Scriptures, to create our “Bible”. Syncretism.

    • SlimJim,
      The day you posted this, I looked at your blog, and posted some words of Jesus to support your position, with Jesus quoting the Torah about “The Creator made them male and female,” and Jesus describing what marriage is. [Matthew 19:4-6]

      Why did you “moderate this out” and refuse to post it, then delete it? Are you ashamed of the words of Jesus?

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