Lycos Valley (Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis)

There were three main cities in the Lycos valley: Laodicea, Colossae, and Hierapolis. The former two are well-known to readers of the New Testament. Among the messages to the “angels” of the seven churches in Revelation is the prophet’s letter to the church at Laodicea (left: remains of the theatre at Laodicea). The letter makes local references to the luke-warm waters that flowed from natural springs in the area (as opposed to the hot-springs at nearby Hierapolis) in order to characterize the behaviour of Christians there: “I [one like a Son of Man] know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are luke-warm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev 3:15-17 [NRSV]).

The reference to wealth in this passage suggests that these Laodicean Christians were fully involved in the city’s economy as merchants or traders, like those who mourn when Rome (“Babylon”) falls (in Revelation chapter 18). They would have worked alongside businessmen like those in the guild of “Romans and Hellenes of Asia” (probably bankers) that we hear of in a first-century inscription from this locale (IGR IV 860). Another letter that was read by the Christians at Laodicea a few years later was Colossians, and it seems that Christian groups in these three cities of the Lycos valley maintained important contacts (Colossians 4:13, 16).

The letter to the Christian congregation at nearby Colossae (Colossians) also raises concerns about the activities of Christians there, but this time the issue seems to centre not on economics, but on their worldview, especially their view of Christ and other cosmic beings (elemental spirits, authorities, angels). The author speaks of a “philosophy” among these Christians which, he felt, undermined the significance of Christ and magnified the significance of other cosmic or supernatural beings. This group of Christians seemed to be concerned about living an ascetic life-style of “self-abasement” and about drawing on the protection of “angels” (supernatural messengers) over against other harmful “powers” and “authorities” in the universe: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. . . Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking. . . If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?” (Colossians 2:8-10, 16-18, 20). This seems to reflect a type of Christianity in the region which blended local practices, Judaism, and Christianity in order to form an overall view of the world that was concerned with protecting oneself from the harmful spiritual powers that were active within the universe. We know from inscriptions that there were similar concerns to draw on the protection of angels, the messengers of the gods (or God), among “pagans” and Jews in Asia Minor. In fact, there was one “pagan” association in Dorylaion (further north) which called itself the “friends-of-angels association” (see NewDocs VI 31). They, like some of the Christians at Colossae, were concerned to gain the protection of such benevolent forces.

Hierapolis’ abundant hot-springs, cascading down the surrounding mountains, were renowned in the region, and remain so today. Although less is known about Christians in first-century Hierapolis, we at least know a little about the overseer (bishop) of the congregation in the second century, named Papias. Sadly, only fragments of Papias’ writings have survived to us, and they reveal little about Christianity in Hierapolis specifically. We do learn from him that the daughters of the apostle Philip were active as prophetesses in the region.

Women’s leadership and prophecy in the congregations was a hotly debated issue in Asia Minor, as the opposing views of the Pastoral epistles (1-2 Timothy, Titus) and the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla show. On the one hand, the author of 1 Timothy can state that a woman “should learn in silence with full submission” and that he “permit[s] no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent” (1 Timothy 2:11-12 [NRSV]). On the other, the story of Paul and Thecla has Thecla, a devoted disciple of Paul, baptize herself in the midst of impending martyrdom! And Paul affirms this woman’s decision to “go and preach!” The controversy continued in the region with the so-called Phrygian movement (also known as Montanism) in the late-second century, which stressed the need for an ascetic life-style and the work of the Holy Spirit through prophecy. The movement readily accepted the leadership of women (like Maximillia and Priscilla) and respected their prophecies concerning the imminent end of the world and the establishment of the New Jerusalem on earth, which was expected to descend from heaven down to the village of Pepuza.

More is known about the Jewish gathering in Hierapolis. Several inscriptions refer to the group, which used self-designations common to other associations, including the terms “settlement” (katoikountes) and “people” (laos) (CIJ 775-76). The latter monument reads: “The grave and the burial ground beneath it together with the base and the place belong to Aurelia Glykonis, daughter of Ammianos, and her husband Marcus Aurelius Alexander Theophilos, also known as Aphelias, of the people of the Judeans. They will be buried in it, but it is not lawful for anyone else to be buried in it. If this is violated, the guilty one will pay a fine of 1000 denaria to the people of the Judeans. A copy of this inscription was placed in the archives.” (see photo).

Perhaps even more interesting is an inscription from the late-second or early-third century which I discuss at length in the book. In it a wealthy man named Glykon follows common custom in Hierapolis by leaving behind funds for local guilds to take care of his grave on Jewish and Roman holidays. What is most interesting here is that Glykon himself seems to have been a Jew (or God-fearer) and that he left this endowment to “pagan” guilds, the purple-dyers and the carpet-weavers (see the inscriptions further below).

In connection with purple-dyeing it is worth mentioning Lydia from Thyatira, who dealt in purple goods and, it seems, was instrumental in founding a Christian congregation at Philippi in Macedonia: “A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us [Paul and his traveling companions]; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us” (Acts 16:14-15). Purple-dyeing was most important in the production of clothing for the elites, as purple was the sign of royalty and honour.

The following are some other inscriptions on monuments from Hierapolis that illustrate burial practices and the activities of guilds in the city, especially the purple-dyers. For further discussion of the burial practices of associations see my book.

The most sacred guild of purple-dyers honoured Tiberius Claudius Zotikos Boa, the foremost civic commander, honour-loving contest director, clerk of the temples which are in Asia, esteemed ambassador and high-priest, and benefactor of the homeland (IHierapJ 41; white marble stone; probably III CE).

Grave of Aurelius Zotikos Epikratos . . . Zotikos and him. I leave behind 150 denaria to the guild of nail-workers for the yearly grave-crowning ceremony, but if they fail to provide the service, then the guild of copper-smiths will do so. But if they fail to provide the service, the funds are to be given to the purple-dyers for superintendence of the grave. It is not lawful for anyone else to be buried here, and if this is violated the offender will pay 500 denaria to the most sacred elders’ organization, 500 denaria to the most holy treasury and the same to the one prosecuting the case. A copy of this inscription was placed in the archives. And it will be given . . .  (IHierapJ 133).

The grave and the place beneath it belong to Marcus Aurelius Aegillus, Marcus Aurelius Aelianus Aegillus, and Marcus Aurelius Akindynos Drakontios. The brothers, Aelianus and Akindynos, will be buried in it. But it is not lawful for anyone else to be buried or to bury another here. If someone opens or obtains the grave, he will pay a fine of 500 denaria to the board of chairs of the purple-dyers or to the superintendents of the year. Whatever inheritance I left behind, I left it so that, out of the interest, the ones who have inherited it may enjoy themselves each year at my tomb, and the yearly interest will be 144 denaria (IHierapPenn 23).


Read more about associations at Hierapolis in the following article: