By Tom Yoder Neufeld, Tour Leader
We are now in Greece after an intense four days in Western Turkey, an area once known in biblical times as Asia Minor. We hit the road running, beginning our first day with an early morning visit to what is the most impressive archaeological site in Turkey—Ephesus. Here we were saw the grandeur of Roman era buildings, reminding us of the urban world into which Paul took the gospel. The imposing theatre reminded us of the riots of the silver smiths that brought Paul and his companions into the theatre. Perhaps as important, a visit to the terrace houses allowed us to reflect on house churches in Paul’s day.
Our next stop, Aphrodisias, the city devoted to the goddess of love, Aphrodite, gave us an opportunity to see the “Roman imperial theology” on full display in the reliefs of the caesars of the Julian-Claudian dynasty (Augustus, Claudius, Nero, etc.) who reigned during Paul’s day. The mix of deification of rulers and of peace through the subjugation of nations is powerfully expressed in the sculpture of this city.
The bus travel afforded opportunity to do Bible study, reflecting on Paul’s letters as they related to the area: Ephesians and Colossians.
Day 2 had us visiting in close order Hierapolis (mentioned in relation to Epaphras, Paul’s coworker) and Laodicea, where we were particularly impressed by the fifth century church that has just been opened to the public. Here, as in Ephesus, we were able to see a cruciform baptistry. We made a brief stop to the as yet unexcavated site of Colossae, and then went on to Sardis. In Sardis we visited the impressively large ruin of the synagogue, which could once accommodate 1000 persons. Even though we have no evidence that Paul was ever in Sardis, the synagogue is a striking reminder of the prominence of the Jewish community in many of the urban centres of Paul’s day, as reflected in the accounts in Acts. Again we used the opportunity to do Bible study on the bus.
Day 3 was our last whirlwind day in Turkey. We visited the acropolis (high city) of Pergamum, the city where parchment was first invented and which established a library to rival that of Alexandria in Egypt. Again, while there is no evidence of a connection to Paul in our records, the visit allows us to fill in the picture of Paul’s world.
The day ended with a brief set of flights to Thessaloniki, where the Greek leg of our trip began. More on that later.
Tired by happy, we’re becoming fast friends on this pilgrimage. Praise be to God!