Bible and archaeology news
In the September/October 2011 issue of BAR, Dorothy D. Resig highlighted recent discoveries of early churches. Read an excerpt on Laodicea from “Crossing the Holy Land: New church discoveries from the Biblical world.”
Given the importance of Asia Minor to the apostle Paul and other early followers of Jesus, it should come as no surprise that a church from the fourth century was discovered recently in western Turkey. Turkey announced at the end of January 2011 that a large, well-preserved church had been found at Laodicea using ground-penetrating radar. According to excavation director Celal Şimşek of Pamukkale University, the church was built during the reign of Constantine (306–337) and destroyed by an earthquake in the early seventh century. There are 11 apses—one facing east and five each on the northern and southern sides. Floral and geometric mosaics as well as opus sectile pavement cover the floors. The cross-shaped marble baptistery, located at the end of a long corridor on the north side of the church, is one of the oldest and best-preserved ever discovered.
Laodicea is mentioned several times in the New Testament, in both Paul’s letter to the Colossians (2:1, 4:13–16) and the Book of Revelation, in which it is one of the seven churches in Asia [Minor] to receive the message revealed to John that the “time is near” (Revelation 1:3, 11, 3:14–22). Paul’s letter suggests that Laodicea had a very early Christian community with close ties to the one in Colossus (11 mi away), possibly having been evangelized by Paul’s disciple Epaphras, who is mentioned by name in the epistle.In the Book of Revelation, however, the Laodiceans are chastised for being “lukewarm, neither cold nor hot” and for failing to recognize their spiritual want in the midst of their material wealth and prosperity (Revelation 3:16–17). The ruins of ancient Laodicea indicate that its residents were indeed fairly well-to-do, no doubt benefiting from their position on a bustling trade route. According to first-century Greek historian Strabo, Laodicea was also home to a well-known medical school. The Seleucid king Antiochus II of Syria founded Laodicea ad Lyceum (as it is more properly called) between 261 and 253 B.C. and named it in honor of his wife, Laodice. Remains from the Hellenistic and Roman periods include two theaters, a stadium and a nymphaeum, a monumental fountain that continued in use into the Byzantine period (fourth–seventh centuries), when it was walled off and converted into a Christian structure.
A bishop’s seat was located at Laodicea very early on, and it remains a titular see of the Roman Catholic Church today, although the city is uninhabited and the bishop’s seat has been vacant since 1968. In 363–364 A.D., clergy from all over Asia Minor convened at the regional Council of Laodicea to discuss issues of clerical and lay conduct and to specify the authoritative texts of the Biblical canon. The council included the Book of Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah in its canon of the Old Testament but did not include the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. (The later ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 and the Quinisext Council of 692 confirmed all the decisions of the Laodicean Council, although the Biblical canon differs somewhat today.) It is possible that the newly discovered church is the very same building where Asia Minor’s clergy met to hold the influential Council of Laodicea, but certainly much remains to be revealed and studied here.
Read the full article “Crossing the Holy Land: New church discoveries from the Biblical world” in the BAS Library, or see “When Did Christianity Begin to Spread?” in Bible History Daily.
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