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26. New Testament Archaeology--Asia Minor

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The route from the Euphrates and Antioch converged and entered the city of Tarsus. The road then ran north to the Taurus Mountains thirty miles away. The Cilician Gates were an engineered pass through the mountains 100 yards in length. The city of Tarsus was located on a navigable river. It was important as a land and sea port. It is mentioned on the Black Obelisk (c. 841 B.C.). It became Hellenized and Pompey made Cilicia a Roman province in 64 B.C. and Tarsus the residence of the Roman governor. Tarsus was then made a free city. There was a university there.1

Cyprus (See Acts 13:4-7)

The island was captured by Thutmose III of Egypt (c. 1500 B.C.). It was colonized by Phoenicians and Greeks. Rome took it from Ptolemy Auletes c. 58 B.C. and made it a province. It was transferred to the Senate in 22 B.C. The governor had the title of Pro-consul. An inscription of the year A.D. 55 names Paulus as Pro-consul. This is an anchor date in New Testament chronology. The date of the inscription (A.D. 55) is not the same as the date of Paulus (A.D. 46-48?), but it describes an event of Paulus’ period. The tenure of a Pro-consul was one year.2

Cities of Galatia

Antioch (Acts 13:13-16)

Antioch of Pisidia was founded by Hellenists and named after Antiochus. It was a fortress against Pisidia highlanders and an island of Hellenism amidst Phrygian Asiatics. There are scant references to Jews, but there was an inscription of Debbora. She was married to a well-to-do man. There are several generations of a ruling family. These Jews were receptive and less narrow than Palestinian Jews. The Greeks were imported Magnesians (members of the Greek family), but the Phrygians were different from the people in the city. There must have been some in the city, but it was primarily Greek. Antioch was made a Roman colony in 25 B.C. The chief god was Men (not moon). There was also a female goddess exalted by the Phrygians. The religion was similar to that of the Canaanites. When Paul was at Antioch, the people who were not responsive were the aristocracy (cf. 13:50). There were important women there. The inhabitants, according to Ramsay, spoke Latin. The Coloni were against Paul.

Iconium (Acts 14:1-6)

Iconium is very similar to Damascus; it is high, has a river to its door, and mountains around it. It became famous under the Seljuks: “See all the world but see Conia.”

There was a flood tradition there. The name given after the flood was eikones (Greek: images). Ramsay gives the tradition as follows: King Nannakos lived before the flood to 300 years. He learned from an oracle that when he died, all men should perish. He called the people together for great weeping. “The weeping in the time of Nannakos” appears as a proverb in 270 B.C. and antedates Jewish influence which does not come into play until much later. (The Jews first settled in Iconium c. 280 B.C. under the Seleucids.) The gods made eikones from mud after the flood, hence, the name. Ramsay says it was an old Phrygian legend which was perhaps influenced by later Judaism but not originated by it. (The Gilgamesh Epic was known to the Hittites.)

Emperor Claudius (A.D. 41-54) paid attention to the organization of Lycaonia. Three cities were named after him: Claudiconium, Claudio-Derbe, Claudio-Laodicea. These were not colonies. Paul spent more time here. It was not ruled by an oligarchy. It became an important center for Christianity in Asia Minor. Christian cults were still in existence in the time of Ramsay.


Derbe lies at the foot of the Taurus Mountains. A conspicuous mountain rises to 8,000 feet in the south. The various mountain names were changed to Christian ones, but pagan belief survived. Derbe was the rudest of the Pauline cities and evidenced little progress. It made no strong impression on Asia Minor Christianity. It was located on the “Imperial Road.” There was considerable western influence in this town.


Lystra was beautiful and productive but off the main road. Berea and Lystra were more alike: rustic not cosmopolitan. Travelers may have used it as a rest place to return to Iconium. Both Lystra and Derbe were cities of Lycaonia and ranked as villages under the Anatolian system. Acts 14:6 means that they were in Roman Lycaonia (Galati Lycaonia). Lystra was a colony but a young one compared to Antioch.

Summary: Tarsus was the most oriental; Antioch was a Hellenistic city or colony. All were mixed.3


Paul spent three years here (Acts 19:1, 8-10; 20:31) the longest in any city. Ephesus was Asiatic and Greek, going through the usual changing of hands. According to Wright, the population was about 250,000. It was on a river three miles from the sea, and its location caused it to rank with Antioch in Syria and Alexandria in Egypt. However, the river had to be dredged.

Diana (Roman name) or Artimus (Greek name) represented the mother goddess who was Asiatic and similar to the goddesses in the Canaanite pantheon (fertility cult). Her temple was one of the seven wonders of the world. Excavations go back to the strata of the eighth century B.C. There was a greater temple in 550 B.C. which was burned in 356 B.C. The Hellenistic temple was built in 350 B.C. and paid for by Alexander the Great. The city was sacked in 262 A.D. and the temple destroyed. The platform was 239 feet by 418 and the temple itself was 160 feet by 340. There were 100 columns over 55 feet high. Some were sculptured to twenty feet. The statue may have been sculptured from a meteorite (fallen from Jupiter, Acts 19:35). The month Artimision (March-April) brought tourists and pilgrims. Perhaps this was why Paul tarried (Acts 19:26).

The theater held about 25,000 people and the finest street was called the Arkadiane. It extended 1735 feet from the theater to the harbor and was paved with marble.4

1See Ramsay, The Cities of Saint Paul, p. 228. Most of the discussion that follows is from this source.

2See Wright, BA, p. 252, Zahn, New Testament Introduction, III, 464ff.

3Outline from Ramsay, Cities of Saint Paul.

4This Ephesus summary is from Parvis, BAR #2 (1945).

Related Topics: Archaeology, History

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