Churches In The Lycus River Valley In Turkey

The Church at Laodicea in Asia Minor

by David Padfield

Laodicea was the chief city of the Lycus River Valley region. The full name of the city was Laodicea ad Lyceum (Laodicea on the Lycus). The city was originally known as Diospolis ("the City of Zeus").

The Greek deity considered to be the greatest of the Olympian gods. Homer, the Greek poet, often called Zeus "the father of gods and men," the ruler and protector of all.

The city was founded between 261 and 253 B.C. by Antiochus II Theos, king of Syria, and named in honor of his wife, Laodice (Laodike). "The early population of the city probably consisted of natives of the area, Hellenized Greeks and veteran soldiers in the army of Antiochus II" (Fatih Cimok, A Guide to the Seven Churches, p. 88).

The city became part of the kingdom of Pergamon and later passed into Roman hands in 133 B.C. Cicero, the famous Roman orator and statesman, served as governor of the province, residing mostly in Laodicea.

Laodicea was a great center of banking and finance (Rev. 3:14-21). It was one of the wealthiest cities of the ancient world! When Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake in 60 A.D., they refused aid from the Roman empire and rebuilt the city from their own wealth. "One of the most famous cities of Asia, Laodicea, was in the same year overthrown by an earthquake and without any relief from us recovered itself by its own resources" (Tacitus, Annals, 14:27).

"The city was at the crossroads of north-south traffic between Sardis and Perga and east-west from the Euphrates to Ephesus. Laodicea quickly became a rich city, rich enough to be able to rebuild itself without outside help after the destructive earthquake of 60 A.D. In common with many of the Hellenistic cities there was a prosperous Jewish colony established there well before the Christian era. The city's reputation was for its money transactions and the good quality of raven-black wool grown in the area." (Blake and Edmonds, Biblical Sites in Turkey, p. 139-140).

Laodicea was a great center for the manufacturing of clothing—the sheep which grazed around Laodicea were famous for the soft, black wool they produced. Laodicea was well known for it's school of medicine.

"One of the principles of medicine at that time was that compound diseases required compound medicines. One of the compounds used for strengthening the ears was made from the spice nard (spikenard? an aromatic plant). Galen says that it was originally made only in Laodicea, although by the second century A.D. it was made in other places also. Galen also described a medicine for the eyes made of Phrygian stone. Aristotle spoke of it as a Phrygian powder. Ramsay tries to explain what kind of medicine it was by saying it was not an ointment but a cylindrical collyrium that could be powdered and then spread on the part affected. The term used by John in Revelation is the same that Galen uses to describe the preparation of the Phrygian stone. Would not these medicinal concoctions be a reason why John cautions the Laodiceans to buy 'ointment for your eyes so that you may see' (Revelation 3:18)?" (Blake and Edmonds, Biblical Sites in Turkey, p. 140).

"The principal deity worshipped in Laodicea was the Phrygian god Men Karou, the Carian Men. In connection with this god's temple there grew up a famous school of medicine, which followed the teachings of Herophilus (330-250 B.C.) who began administering compound mixtures to his patients on the principle that compound diseases require compound medicines." (Otto F.A. Meinardus, St. John of Patmos, p. 125).

Two of the doctors from Laodicea were so famous that their names appear on the coins of the city (Zeuxis and Alexander Philalethes).

The hot springs at Hierapolis, just six miles across the Lycus River valley and to the south, are probably what John had in mind when he spoke of lukewarm water (Rev. 3:15-17). No other city on the Lycus Valley was as dependent on external water supplies as Laodicea. Water was also piped in through an aqueduct from Colosse.

"The lukewarmness for which, thanks to this letter, the name of Laodicea has become proverbial, may reflect the condition of the city's water supply. The water supplied by the spring ... was tepid and nauseous by the time it was piped to Laodicea, unlike the therapeutic hot water of Hierapolis or the refreshing cold water of Colossae (Rudwick and Green 1958); hence the Lord's words, 'Would that you were cold or hot!'" (The Anchor Bible Dictionary).

"Water piped into Laodicea by aqueduct from the south was so concentrated with minerals that the Roman engineers designed vents, capped by removable stones, so the aqueduct pipes could periodically be cleared of deposits." (John McRay, Archaeology And The New Testament, p. 248).

Our Lord did not accuse the brethren in Laodicea of apostasy, nor with following some false prophet or engaging in emperor worship. The church is accused of being "lukewarm"—this is the only congregation about which the Lord had nothing good to say!

The remains of the city are basically unexcavated, so most of what we know about the history of the city comes from written sources. The remains of two theaters, one Greek and one Roman, are on the northeastern slope of the plateau. A large stadium which also served as an amphitheater, dedicated by a wealthy citizen to the Roman emperor Vespasian in 79 A.D., can be found on the opposite end of the plateau. The stadium was used for both athletic contests and gladiatorial shows. Archaeologists discovered a life-sized statue of the goddess Isis in the ancient nymphaeum, or monumental fountain.

The Gate to Ephesus, triple-arched and flanked by towers, was devoted to the Emperor Domition (81-96 A.D.). On the south-west side stand a number of buildings built under Vespasian (69-79 A.D.). An aqueduct bringing water into the city ended in a 16 foot tall water tower which distributed water throughout the city.

"An inscription erected by a freed slave from Laodicea was dedicated to Marcus Sestius Philemon. It will be recalled that a Philemon who owned the slave Onesimus (Philem. 10) was a leader in the church of Colossae. We cannot identify this Philemon with the slaveholdper to whom Paul wrote, but the coincidence of the inscription from the same area is intriguing, especially since it refers to the manumission of a slave." (John McRay, Archaeology And The New Testament, p. 247).

What can you learn from these churches? Laodicea took great pride in her financial wealth, yet the Lord told them to buy "gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich." Laodicea took pride in its clothing, yet the Lord told them to buy "white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed." Laodicea took pride in its eye medicine, yet the Lord told them to buy "anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see."

The Lord promised to "dine" ("sup" KJV) with the one who would hear His voice and open the door (Rev. 3:19-20). "The word translated sup is deipnein and its corresponding noun is deipnon. The Greeks had three meals in the day. There was akratisma, breakfast, which was no more than a piece of dried bread dipped in wine. There was ariston, the midday meal. A man did not go home for it; it was simply a picnic snack eaten by the side of the pavement, or in some colonnade, or in the city square. There was deipnon; this was the evening meal; the main meal of the day; people lingered over it, for the day's work was done. It was the deipnon that Christ would share with the man who answered His knock, no hurried meal, but that where people lingered in fellowship. If a man will open the door, Jesus Christ will come in and linger long with him." (William Barclay, The Revelation Of John, Vol. 1, pp. 147-148).

Are you willing to open the door for your Savior?

For further study