Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis

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 Tarsus Mountains are. Paul traveled more than 3000 feet above sea level on a Roman Road to reach Pisidian Antioch. Second, our guide Mark Wilson did a masterful job explaining the network of roads in the area and relating this to the beginnings of the second missionary journey in Acts 16.

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. A third observation is simply that this part of the country is sparsely populated both then and now.

IMG_0981Before 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.

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 no been restored, some work has been done once smaller, morning theater. The skene has been exposed and a great deal of work is being done there. A very large fifth century church has been excavated and restored, but was closed when we visited. I suspect this was to force me to buy the book.

Menorah and Cross at Laodicea

Menorah and Cross at Laodicea

Another recent discovery is a marble pillar with a menorah, shofar and perhaps and etrog, with a prominent cross cut into the top of the menorah. Mark Wilson suggested is was an indication the pillar was used in a synagogue, and the cross was added later (perhaps as a sign of supercessionism after Christianity became dominant in the city). I wondered if 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.

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 walls of the church have been nicely reconstructed and the arches between the sections of the octagon are restored. Next to the martyrion is the recently discovered tomb of Philip and accompanying 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. From the theater we walked down the hill past the Temple of Apollo and tried to get a peek into the recently discovered Plutonian. If you visited Hierapolis more than a few years ago, you would have been shown a different location since this new (and certain) location is a recent discovery. Unfortunately the area was fenced off, so I was unable to see if the gates of hell will not prevail.

The Hot Springs at Pamukkale

After a short time on the white cliffs of Pamukkale we walked out the northern gates and through the necropolis where over a thousand tombs are located, with about three hundred inscriptions. I took photographs of many, but so many of the tombs were well off the main path and we had to be out of the park by 6:00 PM. It was also bitterly cold and windy (which is good for a walk in a necropolis I suppose!)

We ended the day at the Hotel Colossae, one of the thermal hotels just a few minutes from Hierapolis. The rooms are comfortable, although this is the first hotel in which we have encountered huge tourist groups. Unfortunately the internet was down in the hotel, so I was not able to post this until our next night in Izmir.

Who is Epaphras? (Colossians 1:1-8)

“Without doubt…the least important church to which any epistle of Paul is addressed.” J. B. Lightfoot, Colossians, 16.

By the first century, the city of Colossae could only be described as a “small town” by Strabo, (Geography, 7.8.13.)  Little is known about the town in this period other than it was nearly destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 60/61. The cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis are quickly rebuilt; Laodicea can even be described as “rich” when the book of Revelation is written thirty years later. Colossae never recovered from this disaster. Unfortunately, the ancient site of Colossae has not yet been excavated so little is known about the city in the first century.

ColossiansThe church at Colossae was founded by Epaphras (Ἐπαφρᾶς, pronounced “e-paf-ras”), a disciple of Paul from Ephesus (cf. 1:7, 4:12). Paul calls Epaphras  a “faithful minister” (1:7). The name is short for Epaphroditus (Ἐπαφρόδιτος), a name common in the first century meaning “lovely, fascinating, charming” (LSJ). It is also the name of the servant who delivered a gift to Paul from Philippi) (Phil 2:25 and 4:13; Philemon 23). An inscription was found in Colossae mentioning a T. Asinius Epaphroditus, although it is unlikely this is the biblical Epaphras (F. M. Gillman, ABD 2:533).

Epaphras was from Colossae (4:12) and may be an evangelist in the Lycus valley. The cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis both had thriving churches in the first century (4:12, Rev 3:14-22).  Paul tells the church that Epaphras has reported their faith to Paul, and in 4:12 Paul describes himself as “wrestling in prayer” on behalf of the church while he is working hard in other churches.  The Colossian believers learned from Epaphras, who learned from Paul.

The verb μανθάνω is associated with “systematic instruction” rather than a brief outline (BDAG). Perhaps Paul used this verb in order to set the gospel preached by Epaphras apart from the Colossian heresy. Epaphras was disciple by Paul and trained to be an evangelist and church planter by the apostle Paul himself. The opponents do not appear to be associated with anyone in the apostolic circle and their teaching is not approved by Paul. In fact, the bulk of the letter engages the ideas of the opponents in order to show their teaching falls short of the Gospel.

Paul may associate himself with Epaphras in this letter because his opponents in Colossae are question his credentials–who is Epaphras to be teaching the congregation spiritual things?  The church may be influenced by other teachers for guidance rather than a young evangelist like Epaphras. Paul gives Epaphras has his personal approval in the opening of this letter, what Epaphras teaches is exactly what Paul taught.

Paul’s prayer serves to underscore the authority of a local pastor-evangelist who faced questions from by his church. Paul lets the church know from the first paragraph that he will be siding with Epaphras in any theological debates in the church!

Colossae – The Least Important Church?

Commenting on the city of Colossae , J. B. Lightfoot said “Without doubt…the least important church to which any epistle of Paul is addressed” (Colossians and Philemon, 16). Colossae was, in pre-Christian times, a station on a highway through the Lycus and Meander valleys, a highway that connected Ephesus and Phrygia.  This route was a main road connecting the East with the West.  By the first century, the city of Colossae could only be described as a “small town” by Strabo, (Geography, 7.8.13.)   Little is known about the town in this period other than it was nearly destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 60/61.  The cities of Laodicea and Heiropolis are quickly rebuilt; Laodicea can even be described as “rich” when the book of Revelation is written thirty years later.  Colossae probably never recovered from this disaster.

The Lycus Valley appeared to have had a sizable Jewish population, perhaps explaining the establishment of churches in Colossae, Laodicea and Heiropolis and the type of problem described by the book.  The Jewish Population is an inference drawn from Cicero’s description of the proconsul Flacus who seized the Temple tax in Laodicea in 62 B.C. (Flac. 28.68).  Cicero was the “defense attorney” for Flacus who was accused of illegally taking the Temple tax (Bruce, 4).

The church of Colossae was not founded by Paul, although there is no reference in the book of Acts to him visited the city before the church was founded.  It is known that on Paul’s first missionary journey he went as far as Pisidian Antioch, which is 200 kilometers from Colossae, and that a great number of men from other areas came to Christ at that time.  Sometimes it is assumed that since Colossae was connected to Pisidian Antioch it is likely that some converts there were from Colossae and they carried the Gospel back to their town, as well as to Laodicea and the rest of the Lycus valley.

Paul has only heard of their faith (1:4, 9) and has not yet met the church personally (2:1).  They do seem to know one of Paul’s co-workers, Epaphras (1:7) who was from the city of Colossae (2:7).  Both the Colossian letter and Philemon imply that Paul has older connections with the church at Colossae and Laodicea.  it is thought that on his third missionary journey he made a swing through the area, very generally reported in Acts 18-19.  It would be at this time that he made contact with the church and led Philemon and Epaphras to the Lord, as mentioned in the letters.

Bibliography:
C. Arnold, “Colossae” in ABD 1:1089-1090.
F. F. Bruce, “Colossian Problems  –  Part 1: Jews and Christians in the Lycus Valley,” BibSac 141 (1984).

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