Today began with a long drive north out of Antalya, following the general route of the via Sebaste. I was struck by several things on the four hour drive to Laodicea. First, most people reading Acts do not realize how high the Taurus Mountains are. Paul traveled more than 4000 feet above sea level on a Roman Road to reach Pisidian Antioch. Second, depending on the time of year, the trip may have been quite cold. It is the first week of March and there is still a great deal of snow in the mountains, and at one point we travel miles in a think fog. People tend to think of Paul traveling in blazing hot sands with a camel and a donkey, but that was not always the case.
There are two prohibitions in that chapter (to not preach in Asia and to not enter Bithynia). By observing the Roman province names and the location of the roads, The prohibitions make sense. Paul was in Asia already, so he was not to preach there, but the road went north toward Bithynia, so he was command to even to enter there.
Before arriving at Laodicea we made a brief stop at Colossae. There is virtually nothing to see there except the unexcavated mound. The city was small and unimportant in Paul’s day, and it is still a sadly overlooked site by the archaeological community. Despite several efforts in recent years, there is not much to see there. Many of us climbed to the top of the mound and then walked around the backside to see the outline of a small theater, but nothing of ancient Colossae remains.
Laodicea on the other hand has received a great deal of attention lately. Year-round excavations by the local university and the support of the Denizli community has revived interest in this large Roman site. Although the two theaters have not been restored, some work has been done once smaller theater. The skene has been exposed and now the orchestra area has been cleared. We watched workers restoring some of the seating in the theater, lowering large stones into place with a crane. In addition, there has been work on the larger agora near the theater, with a gate already restored and many of the pillars put back in place. I except to return in another year and see even more of this ongoing work completed.
Another interesting discovery is a marble pillar with a menorah, shofar and perhaps and etrog, with a prominent cross cut into the top of the menorah. Is this evidence of a synagogue in Laodicea? Was the cross added later (perhaps as a sign of supercessionism after Christianity became dominant in the city? I doubt this was the intent, since it would be just as easy to obliterate the menorah. Based on Josephus, there is little doubt of a Jewish presence in Laodicea in the first century Josephus (Ant 14.241–3). Nevertheless the menorah seems to be evidence of a Jewish community in Laodicea well into the Christian Era.
From Laodicea we drove the short distance to Hierapolis. Hierapolis is a very large Roman city, although the association with the white cliffs of Pamukkale, a Turkish word meaning something like “Cotton Castle.” There was an early Christian community in Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13) but there is no evidence Paul ever visited the city. Like Colossae, he may have sent people like Epaphras to the city.
We took a shuttle up to the martyrion of Philip, an octagonal church built on the site of the martyrdom of Philip, although which Philip is unclear. The relevant passage in Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. 3.31.2–5; 3.39.9; 5.24.2) has confused the apostle and the evangelist (who had four daughters. The walls of the church have been nicely reconstructed and the arches between the sections of the octagon are restored. Down a steep flight of stairs is the martyrion, the tomb of Philip and a small chapel.
The shuttle the took us down to the large theater. This theater has been restored, although visitors are only allowed to walk on the upper section. The skene has been partially rebuilt and there are two statues in the niches. Originally the theater seated up to 15,000 people and could stage mock navel battles. I was a bit annoyed at the photographers offering to take my picture with a Roman soldier. Why are there never any Artemis or Aphrodite cosplayers?
We ended the day at the Doga Resort and Spa, one of the thermal hotels just a few minutes from Hierapolis. The rooms are comfortable, although the air conditioning is not functioning before April 1. Opening the slider provides a nice breeze (and I can hear the music from the lounger area). Unfortunately the internet is poor at best, so I will update the photographs when I get to Izmir tomorrow night.