Miletos and Didyma

The coastal city of Miletos (or Miletus) was especially known for the nearby sanctuary of Apollo at Didyma (also see photo below). Individuals, groups, and communities from all over Asia Minor and the Mediterranean would travel to consult the god Apollo on problems of various kinds. He would answer through the temple-functionaries in the form of poetic oracles. Among these oracular questions and responses are those made by members of associations, including a group that called itself the “friends of the god Dionysos” (IDidyma 502-503).

More legible than these remains is the plaque which a group of builders erected after consulting the oracle. When these builders had doubts about whether they should engage in certain construction work on the theatre at nearby Miletos, they turned to Apollo for advice (c. 120 CE):

Should the builders associated with . . . Epigonos–that is, the contractors for the section of the theater in which the prophet of the god, the late Ulpianus, was superintendent of works and the architect, Menophilos, assigns the work–fashion and produce the arches and the vaults over the columns or should they consider other work? The god answered: “For good uses of wise building techniques, it is expedient to consult a skillful man for the best suggestions, performing sacrifices to thrice-born Pallas and strong Herakles.” (Wiegend 1904:83 = Buckler 1923:34-36, no. 3 = Fontenrose 1988:193-94, no. 19).

Apollo provides a rather vague response regarding their architectural work but clearly advises that these craftsmen corporately perform sacrifices to deities associated with their occupation, Athena and Herakles (Hercules).

It is from this same theatre at Miletos that we have extremely important evidence for Jews (or Judeans) in the city. The theatre, as an institution, was among the most important aspects of any Greek city (polis), holding political, cultural, and social importance. The theatre was the place where the inhabitants or citizens of the city gathered either spontaneously or officially to discuss important issues and make decisions as “the people” within ancient democracy (see the discussion of the silversmiths’ riot at Ephesos, for instance). It was the place where theatrical plays were performed and where performers, singers, musicians, and dancers--like those that belonged to the famous guilds of “Dionysiac artists”--competed in various contests in honour of the gods.

In light of the importance of this institution, it was quite common to seek reserved places or seating in the theatre or in other cultural institutions like the gymnasiums, baths, and stadiums (see the discussion of the latrines in the gymnasium at Ephesos). Among those who had reserved seating in the theatre at Miletos were the “emperor-loving goldsmiths.” Most fascinating here is the reserved seating for “the Jews and God-fearers” (photo below)!

The members of the local synagogue and their Gentile (non-Jewish) adherents literally had a place for themselves within the city. One could not ask for a more concrete statement regarding the ways in which devotees of the Jewish God could, despite their monotheism in a polytheistic context, find a home within social and cultural life in the city. This picture of Jewish synagogues (like other guilds and associations) involved within the life of the city is further supported by evidence from other localities, including the bath-gymnasium at Sardis.

Although we have little information concerning Christian groups in Miletos in the first century, we do have Act’s story of Paul’s stop-over there, his long speech to the elders of the Ephesian congregation, and his “gut-wrenching” departure (Acts 20:17-38): “When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed. There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again” (verses 36-38 [NRSV]). Paul was on his way to Jerusalem . . . for the last time.