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).
Chapter 5 examines the archaeology for third century Philippi. There are no third-century literary references to the church of Philippi. There are many inscriptions in Greek compared to the two preceding centuries, but there is “no evidence of Christianity in any inscription that can be dated to the third century with certainty” (67). One inscription mentions a synagogue, indicating a Jewish presence in the third century.
Chapter 6 traces the growth of the church at Philippi in Christian Rome. The most significant change is the conversion of Constantine. This brought Christianity into the open and permitted them to build sanctuaries. “By the middle of the fourth century the number of Christians had grown to 50 per cent of the population of the Empire” (70). For Philippi, this resulted in two churches built during the fourth century. Verhoef speculates Christians took over some of the sacred space, re-using some the water for a baptistery (73), and a second church was built outside the walls of the city. “Surviving inscriptions show the presence of Christians in Philippi” (73), although Verhoef argues “The cult of Euephenes has probably been adopted by the Christians with some adaptations” (74), a position he argues in more detail in his article “Syncretism in the church of Philippi” (HTS 64 : 697-714). One burial inscription reads “‘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).
In Chapter 7 Verhoef demonstrates the ascendency of Christianity in Philippi. The century witnesses the construction of at least four basilica and a large church along the via Egnatia in the fifth century. Basilica A was about 55 by 27 meters. Verhoef assumes a space of 1 square meter per person, over 1,000 people could worship in the basilica (78). Two bishops of Philippi are known from this century, Flavianus and Sozon. Flavianus attended the Council of Ephesus in 431. “As far as we know the bishops of Philippi always took the orthodox position” (80).
Chapter 8 describes the increasingly Christian character of the city of Philippi in the sixth century. There is a wealth of literary evidence for the church in Philippi and all of the churches were expanded during the sixth century. Bishop Demetrios was active in Constantinople and his familiarity with churches in the capitol may have influenced changes to the churches in Philippi.
Chapter 9 is a brief note on the decline of the city after a series of earthquakes. This chapter adds nothing to the book and could have been omitted. Chapter 10 is a “walking tour” of Philippi one might make on a visit to the site today. The book also includes relevant texts in Acts and the book of Philippians for reference.
The book is illustrated with a number of color photographs. When reading the book in the Logos Library these photographs can be cut and pasted into other documents or Logos can send the illustration directly to PowerPoint. Although these photos are not high resolution, they can be used to illustrate elements of the city of Philippi. Figures 37 and 38 appear to have the description reversed (public toilets). Verhoef includes a short bibliography of the more important works on the history of Philippi.
Conclusion. This book is a good, popular level introduction to the history of Philippi and it could be very helpful for anyone visiting the archaeological site today. Frequently he refers to an inscription by present location so this book could be used as a handbook for exploring the excavations at Philippi. There is a lack of information on the imperial cult in Philippi, although this can be explained by a lack of evidence for the cult in first century Philippi. Nevertheless, given the pervasiveness of the Imperial cult in the Mediterranean world, I would have expected more focus in the book. There is a brief discussion of the Roman Soter in contrast to Jesus as Savior (29), but this is not supported by any inscriptional evidence. This shortcoming does not distract from the value of Verhoef’s monograph.
NB: Thanks to Logos Bible Software for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.