Reflections on the Trip of a Lifetime: Day 8 Hierapolis, Pamukkale Pools, Colossae, Laodicea
Hierapolis, Pamukkale Pools, Colossae, Laodicea
Hierapolis is mentioned in the Bible only once, in Colossians 4:13.
As you approach Hierapolis, you walk through a huge area of tombs, called the Necropolis (city of the dead). It is the graveyard. I was fascinated, and took way too many photographs. Had I known what lay beyond, I would have rushed through. As it was, I enjoyed the Necropolis section of the tour.
Much of the damage has been done by earthquakes over the years, rather than any other particular reason. Of course, there have been grave robbers, but they aren’t interested in displacing hundreds of tonnes of granite if they can avoid it.
One type of tomb is called a tumulus. It is round, and forms a small hill.
Then came the city gates, and the main roadway. It was spectacular.
But wait, there’s more!
We saw the most amazing theatre.
… and then the church of St Philip, who is said to have been martyred in Hierapolis (according to Eusebius).
Every time we turned a corner there was something else to say “wow” to. This time it was the Pamukkale Pools. Wow.
Colossae was, as I posted on facebook that day, “the least colossal site yet’. It is essentially one big hill, which is not excavated. There are just a couple of scattered remains, but given the mentions in the New Testament, it is quite ironic that Hierapolis is so magnificent, and Colossae so easily mistaken for any other mound of dirt!
Anyway, the view was nice from up there…
This site now has a special place in my heart…
Initially, it seemed like any other archaeological site: Interesting, but with familiar features.
Then you step into the temple…
The site has a glass ceiling that you walk on, and look down to see the workmen restoring the elements below! Imagine our surprise… especially the young lady among us who happened to be wearing a skirt.
But the highlight…
This is what makes Laodicea memorable for me. This theatre simply beckoned me. I went down there, opened up my voice, and preached a little taste of the message that Paul would first have brought to the area (there’s no way to know for sure the Paul came here, but every reason to suppose he did… that said, he probably would not have spoken in the theatre but in the synagogue, but hey, a little license here?)
I can’t recall exactly, but it went something like this:
I bring news from Jerusalem.
A man forgiving sins in the name of the God of the Jews, and claiming to be the son of that God, was killed by the Jews for blasphemy, but God raised him from the dead before many witnesses.
This man whom God raised from the dead instituted a new covenant between God and men. Under this covenant the sins even of Greeks, Persians, and all other peoples can be forgiven through faith in him.
Come! Be reconciled to God! Be joined to the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by your faith. You are no longer excluded by the Law of Moses. Come one, come all, and be reconciled to God!
… or words to that effect.
Then I cried a little… Why? Destiny. It just feels so right to preach like that.
I don’t know when the next time will be, but I look forward to the next time I get to preach at full volume like that again. Spare me the microphones, I can easily address 15,000 people in a proper amphitheatre, and you can eyeball every one of them. Please God, let it happen.
Engagement with the Text
The text for the day was Colossians 1-2. It specifically mentions the churches in Colossae and Laodicea. That’s not what I went away contemplating, however. I was pondering the nature of the Gospel message that Paul brought to the area. I was thinking about how differently we present the Gospel in churches today, and I was pondering to what extent that might be a problem.
Much of what Paul warns against in that text, in terms of superstition, philosophical arguments, and prohibitive legalism, can be found in our churches today to varying degrees. In the same way, much of what he commends, in terms of holy living, is frequently watered down and rarely found.
Sometimes texts like this make me wonder how many of our modern church leaders would really be able, or indeed willing, to stand up and make the same exhortations. One can only do so if one’s life is exemplary, demonstrating the fruits that one is exhorting the people to.
Laodicea is also one of the Seven Churches of John’s Apocalypse:
‘And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation:
‘I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, 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. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.
I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.
To the one who overcomes I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.’
– Revelation 3:14-22
We learned that after a major earthquake, Hierapolis and other cities accepted the Roman Empire’s offer of money to help them rebuild. Laodicea, by contrast, did not. In a society defined by patron/client relationships, this is a bold gesture. Commentators suggest that this gave Laodicea a reputation for saying, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing”. This is a spiritually disastrous posture, of course, when the ultimate client/patron relationship of a community is with God!
Whether the references to hot and cold relate in any way to the Pamukkale or other hot springs in the area remained unclear to me. The intention behind the reference to temperatures was ultimately to refer to some kind of lack of commitment anyway, irrespective of the metaphor’s origin. I wonder if it could have been as simple as an allusion to the middle class spiritual inertia that modern churches experience in the West today…? Nothing has really changed, after all, in the human condition. There is nothing new under the sun.
Other posts in this series:
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