Daily Archives: July 14, 2008

Pella of the Decapolis

The Jerusalem Post recently published an article about Pella under the title “Head for the hills.” The article is interesting, but is mostly speculation over whether Christians from Jerusalem found refuge in the Pella area at the time of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70). It is not uncommon to find serious mistakes in articles of this type. They seem to be done hurriedly to meet a deadline. The article leaves the impression that Christ instructed the disciples “to reside for a while at Pella.” Here is the quotation:

“Christ having instructed them to leave Jerusalem and retire from it on account of the impending siege… to reside for a while at Pella.”

In fact, Eusebius says that the disciples were warned in advance, and that they fled to Pella. I have no stock in Eusebius, but see no reason to doubt what he says about this. Here is the statement from Eusebius:

The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella.

Anyway, if you would like to read the JP article, click here.

A few months back I prepared a short article for Biblical Insights about Pella, and thought I would share it with you here.


Pella was one of the cities of the Decapolis (Mt. 4:25; Mk. 5:20; 7:31). Pella is not mentioned in the Bible by name, but the location on the eastern side of the Jordan (Perea; “beyond the Jordan”) makes it likely that Jesus visited the area (Mt. 19:1; Mk. 10:1).

The term Decapolis was used to describe a group of ten cities established by the Greeks. Many of them claimed to have been founded by Alexander the Great. The number of cities may have been ten at some time, but the exact number varies from list to list. The cities include Abila [Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, Lk. 3:1], Gadara [Umm Qeis], Gerasa [Jerash], Hippos, Philadelphia [Amman], Scythopolis [Beth-shan], Pella, et al. These cities are located mostly south of the Sea of Galilee, and all except Scythopolis are east of the Jordan River. Damascus is included in some lists. In the first century A.D. they were part of the Roman province of Syria.

The cities of the Decapolis reflected the Hellenistic culture that had dominated the area since the days of Alexander. Jesus’ ministry took him “beyond the Jordan [east]” to “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Mt. 4:15; Isa. 9:1). It is here that we find a sizable number of swine (Mt. 8:28-34).

When Paul left Damascus to go away into Arabia, he would have traveled through the Decapolis area. And again on the return (Gal. 1:17).

Eusebius, the fourth century church historian of Caesarea Maritima, says that the church at Jerusalem, having been previously commanded by a divine revelation, left the city before the Romans destroyed it in A.D. 70. He says they fled to Pella (HE 3.5.5). This would have been in response to the teaching of Jesus recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.

From a rest house above the mound one has a wonderful view of the tell and of the area to the west. From that point one can see (in the haze) Mount Gilboa, the Jezreel Valley (to the far right in our photo), and the city of Beth-shan across the Jordan Valley. The valley on the south side of Pella may have been the valley through which the Midianites fled from Gideon (Jud. 7). Surely the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead would have come through this valley to take the body of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth-Shan (1 Sam. 31:11-12).