Daily Archives: June 6, 2008

Philadelphia, the church with an open door

Philadelphia is located about 30 miles southeast of Sardis in the valley of the Cogamis, a tributary of the Hermus. The city is built on the slope of Mount Tmolus overlooking a fertile valley. Philadelphia was in the province of Lydia in Western Asia Minor.

Philadelphia stood at the place where the borders of Mysia, Lydia, and Phrygia met. “It was characteristically a border town” (Barclay). This position made it the gateway to the East. Ramsay says,

“the Imperial Post-Road of the first century, coming from Rome by Troas, Pergamum and Sardis, passed through Philadelphia and went on to the East; and thus Philadelphia was a stage on the main line of Imperial communication” (The Letters to the Seven Churches 395).

The site of ancient Philadelphia is now covered by the Turkish agricultural town of Alashehir which has a population of about 20,000. Alashehir (Red City) is named for the volcanic earth in the area (Blaiklock 122). The plain is filled with vineyards. If Philadelphia were not a Biblical city very few tourists would put forth the effort to visit it.

According to Hemer, the location had one great disadvantage.

“It lies perilously close to the region known as the Catacecaumene (“the burnt land”) of Lydia, a hilly tract to the northeast which contained volcanic cones which had been active in recent geological time. And the whole area lies in the Anatolian fault system. Philadelphia was peculiarly liable to earthquake” (Hemer, “Unto the Angels of the Churches,” Buried History 11 (1975), 166).

Trench says, “No city of Asia Minor suffered more, or so much, from violent and often recurring earthquakes.” In A.D. 17 there was a destructive earthquake in the region which affected 12 cities. Sardis suffered worst, but Philadelphia is also mentioned. The cities were exempted from direct taxation and Tiberius provided personal funds for relief (Tacitus. Annals. 2.47).

Ramsay, who spent much time in Asia, reports that “the first great shock of earthquake is not so trying to the mind as the subsequent shocks, even though less severe, when these recur at intervals during the subsequent weeks and months….” Colin J. Hemer visited Philadelphia in 1969 just a few days after an earthquake (172-73). The people would leave the city and go out into the open fields and live in tents. When all danger was passed, and they did the necessary rebuilding, they would go back into the city. Strabo reports this in A.D. 20 (Ramsay), and Hemer provides a photograph of people living in tents outside their houses in 1969.

Our photo shows the ruins of the Byzantine church. Local tradition says this building served as a cathedral dedicated to St. John the Theologian. In Turkey the minaret is positioned to be in almost every tourist photo.

Toward the end of the first century the Lord sent a letter to the church at Philadelphia (Revelation 1:11; 3:7-13). The Lord commended the church with these words:

Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Revelation 3:8