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27. New Testament Archaeology--Europe

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Philippi

The Egnatian Way was once the main thoroughfare of Philippi. Pieces of the curb stone are still visible. A small river flows about a mile from the town and must have been the one in Acts 16 (if no synagogue was available, Jews were to meet by a flowing stream).

Excavations were carried out by the French École Francaise d’Athènes (1914-1938). The Roman forum was 300 feet by 150 feet. There were temples overlooking it on each side. There was a raised platform for orators and magistrates. It was probably to this that Paul and Silas were dragged. The current ruins date from the second century A.D.

The plain of Philippi was the site of the battle for the control of the Roman Empire after the death of Julius Caesar. In 42 B.C., Antony and Octavian there defeated Caesar’s murders, Brutus and Cassius. To celebrate the victory the conquerors made the city a Roman colony, and veterans of the battle were among the first citizens (coloni, cf. πολιτεύσθε in Phil. 1:27 and πολίτευμα in 3:20). Women seemed to be prominent in the church. There was no synagogue, yet the Judaizers came in.1

Thessalonica

This city was founded by Cassander (315 B.C.) and named after the sister of Alexander the Great. It was made a free city because of its support of Antony and Octavian. It was the most populous city of Macedonia and today is a modern, important sea port. There is an arch in Thessalonica with the inscription “In the time of the politarchs…” a word that is found only in Luke (it was on the Varder gate, now removed for modern construction).

Berea

This town was quiet and off the beaten track. There was a better class of people here, and both Jews and Gentiles were saved.

Athens

The city of Athens has been very well excavated. The acropolis is 512 feet high and comes from the golden age of Pericles. After the sacred precincts of the acropolis, ranks the agora. Areopagus (Hill of Ares, god of war, hence, Mars hill in Latin) is a bare rocky hill 377 feet high. Northwest of the acropolis was Pericles’ criminal court. Paul spoke before the city officials. Unknown gods were common. Paul viewed Athens, not in her aesthetic splendor, but as a city in raw heathenism. His sermon was appropriate and forceful, but not successful. Here were the Stoics, Epicureans, and much sophistry.

Corinth

Going to Corinth involves moving from the intellectual to the commercial center of the world. Shipping went from Corinth to Cenchreae. The Corinthian Canal, built in 1881, is four miles long and allows sailors to avoid a 200 mile trip. Corinth became famous because of its port facilities. The religion of Aphrodite was practiced here. Archaeological work has uncovered the forum and an inscription mentioning Erastus, a chamberlain who was an important person (see Rom 16:23). There is an inscription “Synagogue of the Hebrews” from c. 100 B.C. to 200 A.D. Gallio was Proconsul during Paul’s time there. His name appears on an inscription at Delphi dated c. July, 51. The Isthmian Games were held between the Olympian games.2

Italy

The town of Herculaneum, 15 miles east of Puteoli, was destroyed in 79 A.D. It has an upper room with a cross. Paul spent seven days here (Acts 28:14). Pompeii has a strange inscription which may be Aramaic in Latin characters. (Perhaps: “A strange mind has driven A., and he has pressed in among the Christians who make a man a prisoner as a laughing stock.”)

The streets of Rome were nine feet wide to allow for balconies. There were 60 miles of streets which were cluttered with refuse and people. Finegan discusses the living conditions.3 The population was about 4,100,000 (quadruple today’s population).


1The above comes from Wright, BA.

2See O. Broneer, “The Apostle Paul and the Isthmian Games,” BAR #2, pp. 393-420.

3Finnegan, Light from the Ancient Past, p. 368.

Related Topics: Archaeology, History