Bible Archaeology

From  the  book  by  the  same  name



Most of the land area that today comprises the modern country of Turkey was earlier called Anatolia and, before that, Asia Minor. It stretches approximately 1,000 air miles west-east with Troy on its western limits and "Mount Ararat" on its eastern edge (there is no biblical basis for accepting the peak popularly labeled Mount Ararat as authentic, see page 44). Within Old Testament times Anatolia was the homeland of the Hittites. For the New Testament it was the region through which some of Paul's missionary journeys led. It was also the location of the seven churches of the Revelation.


Less archaeological attention has been paid to Anatolia than to some other parts of the Near East. What excavation has been done shows that the area was initially comparable to, or even more advanced than, much of the Near East. The Neolithic site of Qatal Hiiyuk in south central Anatolia, for example, boasted well-planned architecture, elaborate wall paintings, dozens of decorated shrines, and both male and female statues. Even in size, it was at least three times larger than Neolithic Jericho in Palestine, and ten times the size of Jarmo in Mesopotamia.

There is clear "evidence of early contact with the outside world. By the sixth millennium, in the east, pottery dating to the Halaf

Left: The walls of Troy VI. Although Troy is a place of enduring interest in both literature and archaeology, it has no biblical significance. Its major distinction is as the site of the events surrounding the mythical battle between the Greeks and Trojans in the epics usually attributed to the blind Greek poet Homer. Archaeologically, it is important, because although it is a small site, about 656 feet (200 meters) from one end to the other, its forty-six separate occupation levels and nine settlements (designated Troy I, to Troy IX) illuminate the gradual development of northwestern Anatolian civilization from 3000 B.C. to a.d, 400. The area around Troy, known as the Troad, is an area of rich farmland and forest strategically located at an intersection of routes that linked Europe and Asia throughout history. It is near the shortest crossing of the Hellespont or Dardanelles. It is important to biblical study because of its nearness (13 miles [21 kilometers]) to Alexandrian Troas, the embarkation point of the apostle Paul from Asia Minor to Greece.

and Ubaid periods of Mesopotamia began to appear. In the west, the lower levels of Troy (third millennium) contained megarons (buildings featuring a rectangular hall and an open porch on one end) that later became characteristic of temples in the Greek world.


The origin of the Hittites is not yet fully understood. A people speaking an Indo-European language, they apparently entered Anatolia from Europe in the beginning of the second millennium, but some would say earlier. In time they imposed their rule over the indigenous population. The following summary provides examples of how, as today, the history of one country is intertwined with that of its neighbors.

The Hittite "Old Kingdom" dates from about 1650 to 1400 B.C. Of the several kings known from this period, Hattushili I is credited with founding the capital at Hattusha. He advanced into Syria where he defeated Aleppo, the first time the Hittites claimed territory outside Anatolia (Hatti) proper. The next king (Murshili I) went even farther afield, sending an expeditionary force down the Euphrates where it sacked Babylon, ending the First Dynasty of Babylon founded by Hammurapi. A period of internal trouble soon followed and, as Syria was lost to the rising power of Mitanni, parts of Anatolia fell from Hittite control. When Teleptnu took the throne, he did not reclaim the territories but, importantly, he issued an edict on succession, and rules of conduct for kings and nobles, reforms which seem to have been observed until the last days of the Empire period. Toward the end of the Hittite Old Kingdom Thutmose III (see pages 79-82) of Egypt marched into Syria and pushed Mitanni back east of the Euphrates.

The Hittite Empire, or New Kingdom period, is dated from about 1400-1180 B.C. Its opening years saw a swirl of marching armies and short-lived alliances as the Hittites,  Mitanni,  and  Egypt  vied  for

The rock-sanctuary of Yazilikiya is located a mile or so from Hattusha. A temple fronted a limestone outcropping on which the rock faces of two open-air "galleries" were covered with several dozen gods and goddesses carved in bas-relief. This relief, from the smaller gallery, is 5.4 feet (1.67 meters) high. "Hittite hieroglyphs" identify the two figures as the god Sharruma and King Tudhaliya IV. Sharruma, son of the storm god, wears a short tunic and tall horned crown. He embraces the king, who carries a curved staff and is dressed in a robe and cap used for religious ceremonies.

control of Syria. When Shuppiluliuma I led a successful surprise attack, the Mitannians were crushed and Hittite control of Syria stretched from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates River. Sons of Shuppiluliuma were installed as governors in key Syrian cities. When Shuppiluliuma advanced toward Damas-cus, he intruded into territory claimed by Egypt but at that time Egypt was too internally preoccupied to respond (see pages 82-83). One fascinating episode during Egypt's internal turmoil came when a queen (probably the widow of Tutankhamon) asked Shuppiluliuma to send a son for her to marry!

Hattusha. Exterior view of the arched Lion Gate and adjoining Upper City wall. This gate is one of five constructed when the Upper City was added to Hattusha during the latter part of the New Kingdom period. The gateway, 10 feet (3 meters) wide at ground level, is named after the high-relief sculpture on its door jambs. Another sculptured gate is called the King's Gate (where a god is depicted as a warrior and protector of the city). A third decorated gate is known as the Sphinx Gate.

A son was sent, but he was murdered by a faction in Egypt opposed to such a union. Empire continued past the reign of Shuppiluliuma, but difficulties arose and intensified when Egypt entered her nineteenth dynasty and again began pressing for control of Syria. The armies of Muwatalli of Hatti and Ramses II of Egypt fought one of the more famous battles of antiquity at Kadesh. Ramses II rode into a trap and was fortunate to escape with his life, but the subsequent Egyptian account of the battle boasts of victory.

Some years later Ramses II signed a parity treaty (a treaty in which each party sees the other as an equal) with Hattushili III, then the Hittite king; both countries seemed worried over an emerging Assyria. Hattushili III also signed a treaty with the Kassites in southern Mesopotamia, undoubtedly in the hope that this alliance would further keep the Assyrians in check. Some two dozen treaties between the Hittite king, the "Great King," and subject kings were also found in the archives at Hattusha.

As the twelfth century began, Anatolia was caught up in the upheavals that rocked the eastern Mediterranean. Hattusha was burned to the ground. For the next five centuries, an afterglow, termed either Neo-Hittite or Syro-Hittite, existed in the southeastern portion of the old empire as people who had been acculturated tried to maintain aspects of the Hittite way of life. In the ninth century Assyrian forces began marching west into Syria, or "Greater Hatti," as they called it. Greater Hatti was finally snuffed out by Tiglath-pileserIII during his campaigns of 734 to 732 B.C. into Syria and Israel (see page 52).


The modern Turkish town of Boghazkale (formerly called Boghazkoy) sits beside the ruins of Hattusha, and its name is sometimes used in reference to the Hittite capital. During the Empire period Hattusha is said to have been the largest and most strongly fortified city in the Near East. As much a fortress as a city, it spread out on both sides of a rocky gorge, and a double wall encircled the 300 plus acres (123 hectares) of the upper and lower city. Brick battlements sat atop megalithic-sized stones, and gateways protected by two sets of doors and flanked by massive towers allowed access to the city. Several tunnels cut through the defensive ramparts served as sally ports in the event of attack. There were several temples within the city; the largest, 138 feet by 210 feet (42 meters by 64 meters), was surrounded by rows of storerooms. The royal palace perched on a rocky citadel.

When excavation of the site began early in the twentieth century, clay tablets were immediately found, and over 10,000 tablets and fragments have been recovered thus far. These tablets, in a cuneiform script that had been adapted to write Hittite (and several other languages), provide rich insights into the whole fabric of Hittite life. References to foreign kings, places, and events help to place the Hittites firmly within the history of the ancient Near East.

The Hittites and the Old Testament

Hittites are mentioned nearly four dozen times in the Old Testament, but as recently as the mid-nineteenth century some scholars insisted they must be an imaginary people since there was no record of them except in the Bible. Clues to their existence began to be recognized, however, and before the end of that century no doubt remained that the Hittites had indeed existed. Today the history of these "imaginary" people can be expanded far beyond the sketch above.

Hundreds of books and articles now deal with Hittite history, religion, art, literature, law, and more.

The recovery of the Hittites was seen as one of the early archaeological "triumphs" over those who would question the reliability of the Bible. At the same time, the recovery provides another example of how archaeology can sometimes present problems not previously envisioned. Hittites are mentioned several times within the Patriarchal period, the most well-known instance being in Genesis 23 where Abraham purchased a cave from Ephron the Hittite. But evidence that any group that could be identified with the Hittites existed in Palestine prior to 1200 B.C. is tenuous at best. How, then, could Abraham and other patriarchs living in the first half of the second millennium have interacted with Hittites living in southern Palestine?

Various options have been proposed to account for this apparent discrepancy but the simplest solution is that put forth by a leading Hittitologist, Harry A. Hoffner Jr.: Hittite and Hethite are written identically in consonantal Hebrew and the pre-monarchal references are to Hethites, one of the Semitic speaking sub-groups mentioned as populating Palestine in the second millennium B.C. This reading can be found in scholarly literature and the margin notes of some current Bible translations. On the other hand, when Hittites are mentioned in monarchal times, that reading can stand. They, like Uriah the Hittite who was married to Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), were Neo-Hittites, people from Greater Hatti who clung to aspects of Hittite culture long after the collapse of the Hittite empire in 1180 B.C.


The Phrygians, who, according to tradition, migrated to Asia Minor from Thrace in the early twelfth century B.C., replaced the Hittites as the controlling power in central Asia Minor. Gordion became the capital city of Phrygia. In Homers Iliad (2.862) the Phrygians are closely associated with the Trojans. Phrygian control was broken by the Cimmerian invasion from the steppes of Russia, and Midas, the last Phrygian king, committed suicide during this invasion (693 B.C.). After this invasion Lydia emerged as the dominant Anatolian power with its capital at Sardis. Cyrus, the king of Persia, overthrew the Lydian Croesus in 546 B.C., but Persia was not to remain supreme, and Alexander the Great eventually led the Macedonians in the conquest of Asia Minor in 334 B.C., securing his control of Asia by "cutting the Gordian knot."

After the death of Alexander, who had not appointed a successor, his seven generals competed among themselves for control of the Mediterranean world.

Four survived the struggle for power and created their own empires in the huge area ruled by Alexander. Seleucus I Nicator, one of these Greek-speaking generals, took control of much of Alexanders empire and established the Seleucid dynasty, which ruled Syria and adjacent areas. As many as ten cities in his new empire were named Seleucia, including the one in Syria, which is mentioned in Acts 13:4, and others in the Anatohan districts of Phyrgia, Pisidia, Pamphylia, and Caria. Although Seleucus probably considered Seleucia in Syria as his primary city, choosing it as his burial place, Antioch-on-the-Orontes eventually became the capital of the Seleucid empire after his death, largely because the intersection of the major land routes that connected the Euphrates, Asia Minor, and central and southern Syria ran through it. These routes, combined with the accessibility of the Levant (Palestine/Israel/Syria) to Rome via the Mediterranean Sea, facilitated the conquest of the area by the Roman empire in the New Testament period.



Archaeological remains in Asia Minor relating to the New Testament center primarily around the lives of the apostles John and Paul. John received his revelation on the island of Patmos, which is 8 miles long and 5 miles wide and lies 65 miles west of Ephesus. Skala, the small modem port of Patmos, is one of the finest anchorages in the Aegean Sea. The modern town of Patmos clusters around an eleventh-century monastery located on Ayios Elias, an 800-foot (244-meter) summit that dominates the southern half of the island. Tradition has it that John received his revelation here, in a cave behind the monastery.

The nature of John's exile on Patmos is not revealed. Whether he was under imperial or proconsular ban is not recorded. Early church history attributes his presence here to a persecution of the church that resulted in John's condemnation to exile on the island. The text of Revelation merely states that he was "on the island called Patmos, because of the word of God" (1:9). This does not necessarily imply a penal sentence; the earliest evidence for that interpretation is Clement of Alexandria in the late second century. Nevertheless, some form of judicial exile remains the best hypothesis for the separation of John from the churches in Asia and his presence on the island.

Some have thought that he might have been exiled here to work in mines, but no archaeological evidence of ancient mining has been found. Iron-bearing rocks have been discovered, however, and there is a record of mining in modern times, so the supposition is not improbable.


The seven churches to which the book of Revelation is addressed were all located in the Roman province of Asia, in western Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey. The main routes of communication in this area have remained the same through the centuries, being dictated by natural topography. The main road ran clockwise up the coast from Ephesus to Smyrna and Pergamum, and from there through the valleys to Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, thus connecting the cities with one another on what functioned as an ancient postal route. It is no accident that the letters in Revelation 1 to 3 are arranged in this same sequence. Beginning with Ephesus, they form a geographical semicircle, extending northward, turning to the east, and continuing southward to Laodicea.

Undoubtedly Ephesus, the largest and most important city of the province, situated on a commercial harbor and functioning as a distribution point for a wide area, circulated goods and correspondence to the other cities. Ephesus was the mother church, from which Paul evangelized the entire province of Asia over a two-year period. These other cities in the group must have, in turn, been postal centers for further dissemination of information to still other cities farther inland. Paul asked the church in Colosse to be certain that the Laodicean church read its letter and vice versa (Colossians 4:15). The book of Revelation was clearly meant to be circulated to at least the seven churches to which it was addressed, and if the number seven is apocalyptically symbolic, it may have been intended for the entire province.


Ephesus, a city of about 200,000 people, was called "a most illustrious city" in an inscription found there, and the first-century geographer Strabo called it the greatest emporium in the province of Asia. The city contained a fine harbor, which eventually silted up because engineers narrowed the entrance in a counter-productive effort to prevent that very problem. Much of it remains in that condition today, but underwater investigations are under way in the twenty-three-foot (7-meter-) deep lagoon to establish the harbor's original shape. Its commerce, trade guilds, and banking capacities made it a city of preeminent importance.

Ephesus was uniquely laid out to relate to the two hills, Mount Koressos and Mount Pion, around which it was built. The main thoroughfare of Ephesus was composed of several sections. The section called Curetes Street began at the Magnesian Gate in the east and proceeded westward to the lower marketplace, where it turned northward, becoming "The Marble Road." This portion of the street then ran along the full length of the eastern side of the marketplace to the theater. At the theater it became Stadion Street and continued northward. A 36-foot- (11 -meter-) wide colonnaded street was built from the theater to the harbor, almost 2,000 feet (610 meters) to the west. It was named the Arcadian Way for the emperor Arcadius, who commissioned it at the end of the fourth century. This may, however, actually be an embellishment of an already-existing street that stood here in the time of John, because, first, a Hellenistic gate has been found on the axis of this street at the harbor end, and, secondly, a street from the harbor to the theater must certainly have been one of the first building projects of the city.

It is not difficult to imagine the impressions one must have received while walking through this city and observing its religious institutions. Foremost would have been the overwhelming beauty of the temple of the Ephesian Artemis, one of the "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World." Today there is virtually nothing left of the famed structure except portions of the foundations constructed by Croesus, recently discovered sections of the north and south faces of Croesus' building, and part of the great altar on the west side of the temple.

Ephesus: the Marble Road with the restored facade of the Library of Celsus, left background.

The marketplace

When John was in the city, it had two centers of activity—a civic forum on the hill to the east and a commercial marketplace near the harbor. The commercial agora or market was 360 feet (110 meters) square, surrounded by shops and double-aisled stoas or porches. It was renovated by both Augustus and Nero, and some of the shops still remain intact on its south side. On the east side is an elevated doubled-aisled stoa or porch with Doric colonnades of the time of Nero, 5.5 feet (1.6 meters) high, with steps on the northern and southern ends. Walking along this stoa provided an excellent view of both the road on the east and the lower market on the west.

Considerable archaeological work is being done in this lower commercial marketplace, including the restoration of an eastern gate and, along the south perimeter, the uncovering and reconstruction of shops that were used by local merchants. Paul, and Priscilla, and Aquila (Acts 18:2-3), who were leather-workers who made tents and other products of leather, probably worked in these kinds of shops in the market areas of cities they visited. The apostle John may also have worked here. The southeast gate of the market, called the Mazaeus and Mithridates Gate, is identified as having been built by these two men in 4 or 3 B.C., by inscriptions in both Greek and Latin above the arches.

Mazaeus-Mithridates Gates, near possible site of lecture hall of Tyrranus, 

Lecture hall of Tyrannus 

Adjacent to the Mazaeus and Mithridates Gates, on the east, an auditorium or lecture hall has been identified that is mentioned in a first-century A.D. inscription found nearby. It is of interest because Luke states that Paul reasoned daily in Ephesus in the lecture hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9), and this structure may have been that lecture hall. Little, if any, of the actual structure has yet been found. However, portions of a Hellenistic circular platform, which was destroyed when the auditorium was constructed, have been found.

The agora

There was also a state agora in the upper eastern part of Ephesus, measuring 525 feet (160 meters) in length. It lay at the southern foot of Mount Pion. It was bordered on the north by a 65-foot- (19-meter-) wide basilica, which was a building used for civic purposes. The structure stood several steps above the open square to the south and was bordered by colonnaded aisles. It contained rather unique Ionian bull's-head capitals on its colonnades. A bronze dedicatory inscription, in Greek and Latin, includes the names of Augustus and Tiberius, along with those of Artemis and the People, thus dating it to the Early Imperial period. Meetings of the law courts probably took place here, just across the street from the town hall in which state affairs were conducted.

The town hall

The religious and political center of the city was the town hall (prytaneion). Various banquets, ceremonies, and receptions were held there, in addition to meetings for the purpose of conducting political business. This building was the office of the "town clerk," the

Town hall—office of the town clerk of Ephesus.

head of the municipality of Ephesus. When Paul was in Ephesus, the town clerk went from the town hall to the theater adjacent to its north side to placate the mob gathered there in loud protest at the work of Paul (Acts 19:35-41). Several inscriptions found in the city refer to this office.

The theater in Ephesus 

The theater is still standing across the street from the commercial marketplace. Originally built in Hellenistic times as a Greek theater, it was modified into a Roman theater and enlarged under both Claudius (A.D. 41-54) and Nero (A.D. 54-68) about the time Paul was in the city. The first two storeys of the Roman stage were built in Nero's reign. The cavea, or auditorium, would seat 24,000 on three levels of twenty-two rows each, reaching a height of almost 100 feet (30 meters). The stage wall was enlarged to three storeys in height by the time the apostle John was there.

The mob's protest against Paul was economically based, motivated by the loss of income experienced by the silversmiths, who, as a result of Paul's teaching against idolatry, were selling fewer silver images of Artemis (the Roman Diana). Two of her beautifully sculpted statues, which were excavated in the town hall, are housed in the museum in nearby Seljuk. These statues of Artemis reveal an emphasis on fertility, portraying on their chests either multiple breasts or eggs. The larger statue, twice life size, was sculpted in the reign of Domitian (81-96), during the time John was

The great theater in Ephesus, with a striking view to the site of the ancient harbor.

in Ephesus. A Greek and Latin inscription found in the theater tells how a Roman official provided a silver image of this goddess and other statues, which, as was customary, were displayed in the theater when civic meetings were held there.

The stadium

Remains of a stadium have been found north of the theater, identified by an inscription as having been rebuilt in the reign of Nero. A circular area at its eastern end was designated for gladiatorial fights and the baiting of animals. This is of interest in the study of the life of Paul because he stated in 1 Corinthians 15:32, which was written from this city, that "humanly speaking I fought with beasts at Ephesus." It is not likely that Paul rurally fought animals in this arena, first, because Paul was a Roman citizen and could not be forced to engage in such activity, which was usually reserved for slaves and captives. (He used the privileges provided by his citizenship under arrest in both Philippi, Acts 16:37, and Caesarea Maritima, Acts 25:11.) And, secondly, if he was illegally or mistakenly put in this stadium and "fought beasts" he surely would have mentioned his miraculous delivery from death in 2 Corinthians 11, and Luke would have referred to it in Acts. Perhaps Paul meant by his comment that the "beasts" with whom he struggled in Ephesus were of a "human nature."

It is noteworthy that among Paul's "friends" in Ephesus, there were political figures of wealth and power, called "asiarchs" by Luke. Strabo wrote in the first century that Ephesus was "as well peopled as any other city in Asia by people of means; and always some of its men hold the chief places in the province, being called asiarchs." Asiarch inscriptions have been found in more than forty cities throughout Asia. The recent monumental publication of the repertorium of inscriptions from Ephesus containing 3,500 (both those known previously and new ones) has brought the number of asiarchs mentioned in Ephesus to 106, including both men and women.

The fact that Paul could be the friend of such Roman officials indicates that the Roman Empire at this time was not hostile to the Christian faith. It may also imply that the wealthy and educated people of Ephesus were not opposed to Paul. John may not have been exiled later by imperial decree of Rome but by some proconsul in Asia over a local issue.

Private houses

Some of the most recent discoveries in Ephesus are in the housing complex on the south side of Curetes Street, the main thoroughfare, where both upper and lower economic classes of society lived, the apartment housing for the lower classes being located adjacent to the large impressive villas of the wealthy. Since the church could not legally own property in the first century, it had no church buildings. Christians met house to house and conducted their worship in small apartments and in the larger homes of well-to-do members, as indicated in the last chapter of Paul's letter to the church in Rome.

The interiors of some of these large villas testify to the considerable wealth of the city and provide space enough in their atria (courtyards) for Christians to assemble for worship and study in what may be called house churches. Paul's friends among the wealthy and influential asiarchs may have lived in such accommodation.

On Curetes Street, first floor shops opened on to a colonnaded paved street with apartments built above them. The sidewalk between the shops and stone pavement was beautifully inlaid in mosaic patterns. A staircase is still preserved with entrances to the apartments along the side. If the apostle John stayed in Ephesus itself, he probably lived in a unit of this kind, unless he was wealthy or had wealthy friends; or he may have lived out in the nearby countryside in a farmhouse. Early church records give us no knowledge of his residence.

The apartments were multi-storied units with a single apartment per floor. Normally they had no running water, so that access to public latrines across the street was necessary. These small apartments had few windows and very little light. For a church group meeting in such cramped conditions, in a room lit by oil lamps which emit fumes, a situation like the one described in Troas, just north of Ephesus (Acts 20), was almost inevitable. Eutyches. while listening to Paul speak, fell out the window and was picked up dead on the street below. It is

Large statue of Artemis in Seljuk Museum.

significant that in this connection Luke records that: "There were many lights in the upper chamber where we were gathered." Perhaps the lack of ventilation was responsible for this young man's choice of a window for a seat. It is also possible that on this occasion this particular group may have been meeting in a rented hall, since Paul's presence may have necessitated a larger place.

Temple-Warden inscription in Ephesus theater. Ephesus is mentioned as Temple-Warden three times in this inscription on a monumental stone in the upper section of the theater. The inscription is well preserved and can easily be read: "Ephesus, the first and greatest metropolis of Asia and three times Temple-Warden ..."

The apostle John at Ephesus

According to the fourth century author Eusebius, the apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos from Ephesus during the reign of the emperor Domitian (81-96), returned to Ephesus under the Emperor Nerva (96-98), and died there under Trajan (98-117). The Church of St. John, on a hill northeast of the city, is not earlier than the fourth century, though there are second-century legends that place the burial of John under the apse of this building. Several temples dedicated to emperors during the period of John's residence in Ephesus have been found. A temple of Domitian stood adjacent to the state agora, on its west side. It contained a colossal cult statue of Domitian, which would have been 16 feet (4.8 meters) high sitting, and 23 feet (7 meters) high standing. Thus some of the buildings at Ephesus that date to this time would coincide with the presence of John. The Book of Revelation is set against the background of provincial Asia at this time.

Worship of the Roman emperor through an imperial cult had been authorized for the provinces of Asia and Bithynia in 29 B.C. under Augustus. Probably in the reign of Domitian, some time in the late first century, Pergamum, Smyrna, and Ephesus, three cities that were seats of emperor worship, became officially designated "temple-keepers." This title was used in the theater by the town clerk at Ephesus (Acts 19:35) when he said: "the city of Ephesus is the guardian [temple-warden] of the temple of the great Artemis". Some other cities, along with Pergamum, Smyrna, and Ephesus, built two such temples and were designated as "Twice Temple-Wardens."

A brothel, identified by inscriptions at the entrance, which was located at the main intersection of the city (Curetes Street and the Marble Road), was constructed at the time John was in Ephesus. A Christian lady named Scholastica renovated the structure around A.D. 400 and made it into a bathhouse. A large public latrine was discovered there. It contained non-partitioned seats and used large amounts of water brought in from a Roman aqueduct through underground clay pipes.

A number of other civic structures utilized the water supply of Ephesus. One of these was the huge harbor gymnasium and bath constructed on the east side of the harbor north of the Arcadian Way. The bath was built largely in the reign of Emperor Domitian and was completed a few years later under Emperor Hadrian.

Due to its recent impressive reconstruction south of the lower agora, the library of Celsus is one of the most prominent civic structures in Ephesus today (see page 219). Celsus was consul in A.D. 92, while John was there, and later he became proconsul of Asia. The library stood adjacent to the major southern gates entering the market area but was also sandwiched between the brothel on the east and the temple of Serapis on the west. Such a location would be unthinkable in modern society, but it should be remembered that sacred prostitution was a part of the religion of ancient Roman society, and social prostitution was an acceptable part of the pagan culture. It was an impressive building, located in full view of the street intersection as it led to the courtyard and into the Mazeus and Mithridates Gates. According to Greek and Latin inscriptions on the wings of the front steps, the library was constructed between A.D. 110 and 135 by the son of Celsus, in honor of his father. It was multi-storied and contained storage for manuscripts on different levels.

The book of Revelation and the Ephesian theater

One of the most fascinating studies now being made in connection with Ephesus and the book of Revelation involves the Ephesian theater, the largest in the ancient Greek world. Discussions revolve around the question of how Revelation is put together. Why did John choose to present his vision on Patmos to the Greek and Roman world of his day

Temple-Warden inscription (foreground) in Ephesus theater.

the way he did? His book is not like the ordinary genre of apocalyptic literature in several ways. On the one hand, it does not utilize such essential apocalyptic themes as pseudonymous authorship, secrecy, and historical periodization, while on the other hand, it employs prophecy and a use of the Old Testament not found in other apocalyptic literature of the period. So it is rather unique in the ancient world.

It has been argued that, to present his Patmos vision, John adapted the genre of Greek tragedy, choosing this approach because this

Symbols indicating the nearby brothel at the main intersection of Ephesus (Curetes Street and Marble Road).

The theater in Aspendos. Roman theaters were built with no more than five openings onto the stage from the back wall, as can be seen in the one still well preserved in Aspendos on the southern coast of Turkey.

medium was very familiar to the Christians in Ephesus, and the other seven churches in Asia, and because he was not able to express his extraordinary visual experience in ordinary prose. He needed a dramatic medium and the timeless poetic forms of Greek tragedy were well suited to capture his cosmic visions of another world. He wanted to stun his audience with the power of his images and visions, but because of Roman persecution, he had no hope of ever producing on stage the drama he had seen. So perhaps he adapted the format of Greek tragedy—making innovative adaptations in the process—and wrote Revelation as though the dramatic revelation he received were being acted out on the stage of this theater.

Although most of the stage is now missing from the Ephesian theater, enough of it has been preserved to allow archaeologists to determine that Ephesus had not only the largest theater in the ancient world, but was also the only one to have seven openings on to its stage. It is suggested that John's constant use of the number seven in Revelation was in order to accomodate this stage in presenting his vision. It is further suggested that the use in Revelation of poetical stanzas in frequent responses to a speaker may reflect the customary role of choruses, which were situated in the orchestra below the stage. Some studies have suggested that the Gospel of Mark may also have been written on this same pattern of Greek tragedy, though there is no evident connection to a particular theater.


Smyrna is the second city of the seven churches of Asia. Overlooking the beautiful Gulf of Izmir, it was situated about 35 miles north of Ephesus on the main road to Pergamum. The city was probably the birthplace of the Greek poet Homer. Unfortunately almost nothing of the New Testament city is still standing. We are therefore dependant upon literary descriptions for our knowledge of its structures. Strabo, the first-century geographer, called it "the most beautiful of all" the cities along the coast, describing it as having streets paved with stone and as much as possible laid out in straight lines. Excavations have revealed a 33-foot- (10-meter-) wide well-paved street, running east-west, which may have been a part of the Sacred Way. For the benefit of pedestrians, it had a roof over the pavement along the side.

Smyrna contained a gymnasium near the harbor, a stadium on the west, a theater on the northwest slope of Mount Pagos, a cormmercial agora near the docks, a harbor that could be closed, a state agora on the hill above the city, and a library.

A provincial temple of Tiberius was erected here, the city having been selected from eleven competing cities for the honor of housing the Imperial Cult. Thus it was first given the title neokoros, "Temple-Warden," under the emperor Tiberius. In the second century, the city was referred to as the "second neocorate of the Augusti," establishing that it had received the honor again under the emperor Hadrian, just after the death of the apostle John.

Nothing remains of the theater or the stadium, and the commercial Forum has not been identified. The state Forum, however, the only part of the city that has been excavated, is well preserved. It contained a rectangular piazza, 425 feet by at least 250 feet (130 meters by 76 meters), bordered on two sides, and perhaps three, by two-storied triple porticoes (colonnaded porches). The north side was enclosed by a huge basilica, which also had two storeys. It had a rostrum (public speakers platform) at its west end. Beneath it ran a magnificent vaulted basement, the arched ceilings of which supported the floor above. The area was also covered with inscriptions of various periods.


Pergamum, the next city mentioned in Revelation, was beautifully situated 16 miles from the Aegean Sea, where it was served by the port city of Elaea. The city sat on a precipitous mountain of rock, 1,165 feet (355 meters) above sea level, looking southward over the broad fertile valley of the Caicus River. The acropolis stronghold was thus impregnable except from the south, and it was on this southern slope that the city was eventually built in an upper and middle section. The population of the city in the Roman period is estimated at 100,000 to 200,000, similar to that of both Ephesus and Smyrna. The city's structures that are visible today are largely from either the tremendous original building program of Eumenes II,

Altar of Zeus in Pergamum.

the ruler of Pergamum in the second century B.C., or the renovations by the emperors Trajan and Hadrian in the second century A.D.

The upper city contained facilities that would have been frequented by city officials, military personnel, educators, and worshipers. Here were located two palaces, residences of officers, and the barracks and arsenals of the military the foundations of which can still be seen.

Here, too, were the doric temple of Athena with its large precinct, built by Eumenes II, and the Trajaneum, a Corinthian temple built by Hadrian in honor of the emperor Trajan very near the time of the death of the apostle John. The discovery of colossal heads of both emperors indicates that they were both worshiped here. A statue of Hadrian, found in the excavations of Pergamum, is in the museum at Bergama (modern Pergamum). Both of these temples are beautifully reconstructed in a model of the city that is displayed in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

The 10,000-seat theater in Pergamum.

Altar of Zeus

The most imposing structure on the mountain is the altar of Zeus, built by Eumenes II, though little remains to day of its original magnificence. The altar dominated the southern end of the upper city where there was a magnificent view of the valley below. It was a large marble structure, almost square in shape, 112 feet by 118 feet (34 meters by 36 meters). A magnificent partial reconstruction of this altar is also exhibited in the museum in Berlin.

Most of the huge frieze is still preserved on the sides of this reconstructed altar. It is 365 feet long by 7.5 feet high (34 meters by 2.2 meters) and was constructed of 118 panels. It depicts a battle between gods and giants, probably symbolizing the victory of the people of Pergamum over the Galatians. Ekrem Akurgal, the eminent Turkish archaeologist, calls it "the most significant artistic achievement of the Hellenistic age."

The opinion of many scholars is that the altar was dedicated to Zeus and Athena Nike (goddess of victory) and may have been the object of the reference to Pergamum in Revelation 2:13 as the place "where Satan's throne is." The assumption is that this huge and impressive pagan altar may indeed have been that "throne of Satan."

However, the book of Revelation was evidently written in the context of emperor worship (the Imperial Cult), and it is more likely that Pergamums temple of Augustus, the first provincial temple built to a Roman emperor in Asia Minor, was the "throne of Satan" in that verse. That temple of Augustus has not yet been identified in the excavations, but some coins minted in Pergamum portray the temple on one side and the head of Augustus on the other.


In the second century B.C., Eumenes II built his world-renowned library against the eastern side of the north porch of the Athena temple precinct. Portions of the library are still standing, although the southern wall has disappeared. This library, and the one in Alexandria, Egypt, were the two greatest in

The Sacred Way leading to the Asklepeion, Pergamum.

the world at that time. Dio Cassius wrote in the late second century that the volumes of the Pergamum library were "of the greatest number and excellence," and Plutarch in the early second century referred to 200,000 volumes in its collection. The invention of parchment was attributed to the city of Pergamum. Parchment is specially treated animal skin on which ancient scrolls were written, and the Greek and Latin word, pergamena, translated into English as "parchment," derives from the city's name.

The theater

An impressive theater with 10,000 seats was built on the mountainside overlooking the Caicus Valley. It was erected in the third century B.C., was renovated in the Roman period, and was functioning when Revelation was written. An 800-foot- (244-meter-) long terrace resembling a street ran north in front of the theater and led to the adjacent temple of Dionysus. Religion was never out of sight for the ancients, it was an ever-present, all-pervasive influence on their thinking and conduct. In his sermon on Mars Hill in Athens, the apostle Paul stated that the Athenians were "in every way" very religious, an observation prompted by his "passing along and observing" their "objects of worship" and "altars" in the market place (Acts 17:22-23).

The Asklepeion

Most of the buildings now visible in the lower part of Pergamum were constructed in the second century A.D. very soon after John wrote about the city. They include an amphitheater, which would seat 50,000, and a theater slightly south of it, which would hold 30,000 spectators. Farther west, at the end of a 2,700-feet- (823-meter-) long Corinthian colonnaded street, lay the Asklepeion, which was 60 feet (18 meters) wide, including the colonnaded areas on each side. Dedicated to Asklepios Soter, the god of healing, the facility was a medical clinic of the ancient world, where medicine was practiced in the context of pagan idolatry and superstition. The Asklepeion of Pergamum represented the cutting-edge of medical technology in the New Testament period, although it had been founded much earlier. Under Hadrian, shortly after the time of John, the building was developed and was so magnificent that it was included in some lists of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

The Asklepeion of Pergamum ranked equally with other well-known centers of Asklepios, such as the one on the island of Cos, off the southwestern coast of Asia Minor, and the ones in Greece at Epidauros and Corinth, all of which are partially preserved. Some of the votive offerings to this pagan god that were used in these medical facilities have been excavated and may be seen by special permission in a private room of the museum in Corinth. These include ceramic models of human body parts. A model corresponding to the afflicted part of the sick person's body was brought to the temple with an appropriate offering in the belief that Asklepeios would heal that organ or limb. There was no perceived incompatibility between science and religion in the ancient world, or, for that matter, between religion and any activity of everyday life. That is a comparatively modern phenomenon.


The next city on the postal route, and the next one in the order presented in Revelation, is Thyatira, just east of Pergamum. The modern Turkish village is alive with activity, limiting excavation possibilities to a few vacant sites, such as vacant lots or the yards of various homes.

Archaeologically, Thyatira has remained untouched except for a brief period of work from 1968 to 1971. It was a city with numerous trade-guilds, especially those of the textile industry. Evedently the guild of dyers was especially prosperous. Women, of Thyatira today work in a number of these industries, as they did in New Testament times when Lydia, a seller of purple dye and a resident of this city, was converted by Paul in Philippi (Acts 16:14).

The best purple dye was obtained from the murex shellfish, which were available along much of the eastern Mediterranean seaboard. Phoenicians harvested the shells for the dye, which eventually also became an important part of the textile industry in Asia Minor. Since purple was the color of royalty, this dye was very expensive, and we may assume that Lydia, whose trading ventures had taken her as far as Philippi, was a wealthy woman.


Sardis, the fifth of the seven cities addressed in the book of Revelation, had a population in the first century estimated at 120,000. The city was located in the Hermus Valley, the broadest and most fertile of all the river-basins of Asia Minor, and lay to the west of its acropolis, which stood on a projecting spur of Mount Tmolus. The Pactolus River, famed for its gold, flowed beside the temple of Artemis. According to early literary sources, a tragic earthquake hit the area in A.D. 17, and Sardis was one of the most severely hit cities.  Although impressive

Synagogue and gymnasium-bathhouse in Sardis.

Byzantine-level remains of a gymnasium and adjoining synagogue have been partially reconstructed, the imperial Roman city of New Testament times is largely unexcavated.

Synagogue and gymnasium-bathhouse The remains of the synagogue are post-fourth century. Beneath the synagogue, however, there are Hellenistic and Roman levels that date back to the time of the apostle John. The beautifully reconstructed Byzantine period gymnasium-bath in the northern part of the city was built upon remains of an earlier structure, the western section of which was probably built in the last half of the first century in the time of John, or shortly thereafter in the first half of the second century.

A colonnaded, approximately 50-foot- (15-meter-) wide main avenue (the Marble Road) was built from the Pactolus River eastward for 4,600 feet (1,402 meters), running adjacent to the south side of the gymnasium area. The avenue was probably begun under Tiberius and finished under Claudius, and so would have been there in the time of the apostle John.

The avenue was paved with marble blocks and had a raised pedestrian sidewalk along its southern side. The colonnade bordering the early Roman street was probably 16 feet (4.8 meters) wide. This street ran very near the ancient Persian Imperial Road from Susa in Persia to Sardis. A north-south street intersected the Marble Road at the southeast corner of the bath-gymnasium complex, providing the axis for the east-west division of the city. Sardis was not laid out on the typical grid system of ancient Roman roads.

The temple and houses 

The temple of Artemis was one of the most impressive structures in ancient Sardis. It was probably begun in the third century B.C. and went through three building phases, the last covering the century and a half after the A.D. 17 earthquake. The 328-foot- (100-meter-) long temple was surrounded by Hellenistic columns of Ionic design, some of which survived the earthquake and were used in the post A.D. 17 Roman reconstruction following the earthquake and a later flood.

Substantial evidence for residential housing in Roman Sardis has been recently found on the south side of the Marble Road, immediately south of the bath-gymnasium. Excavation reports describe them as modestly constructed terrace houses with small courtyards; they resemble the Hanghciusem (slope houses) in Ephesus, discussed above. The architecture represented in this temple and these houses is typical of the architecture John would have seen all over Asia in both civic and religious buildings.


The New Testament city of Philadelphia, the sixth on the ancient postal route, lies beneath the modern city of Alasehir and has never been excavated. Alasehir has a small population because it is still subject to constant earthquakes as it has been since the first century. According to the first-century geographer Strabo,  the entire Meander Valley was prone to seismic activity. As recently as 1969 Alasehir was near the epicentre of an earthquake.


Laodicea, the last of the seven cities on the semi-circular route, was situated almost 100 miles due east of Ephesus, at the eastern end of the Lycus Valley. It was destroyed by earthquakes in the reigns of Augustus Caesar (27 B.C.-A.D. 14), Tiberius Caesar (A.D. 14-37), and Nero (A.D. 54-68). The city had become prosperous enough to rebuild itself following the A.D. 60 quake, and the book of Revelation depicts the church in Laodicea as saying, "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing" (Revelation 3:17).

Laodicea had not been excavated until 2003 and its ancient remains have to be interpreted largely from coins and inscriptions. Only a few traces of the city wall and its gates are still visible, and a monumental street has been uncovered. Portions of a Greek and Roman theater are preserved, along with a small Roman odeion (recital hall), which lies still unexcavated beside the road. About 15 feet (4.5 meters) of a water tower still stand, along with several miles of an aqueduct.

Revelations letter to the Laodiceans (3:16) comments on the conduct of the city saying, "Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth" (NKJV). This figure of speech may have been prompted by the fact that Laodicea was located only six miles from Hierapolis, a famous resort city that stood on a limestone hill with putrid warm springs whose water was channeled into the city. The water there was excellent for swimming but unsatisfactory for drinking. The Laodiceans would have been familiar with the natural response of spewing the water of nearby Hierapolis out of one's mouth after tasting it.






Keith Hunt