From Thessaloniki to Athens

 

"As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea,"  fifty-seven miles west-southwest (about a three-day journey). Their companion, Timothy, is not mentioned; possibly he stayed in Thessaloniki or went back to Philippi and later rejoined Paul and Silas in Berea.

 

In the footsteps of Paul — from Thessaloniki to Berea

 

Berea (modern Veroia or Veria)

First recorded in 500 BC, Berea belonged to the kingdom of Macedon and, in 168 BC, it became part of the Roman province of Macedonia. Its modern-day successor, Veroia, is pleasantly situated on the slope of the Bermios range in the valley of the Haliacmon River (below).

veroia View

Below, Restored Jewish synagogue (All the Jews in Berea were murdered when they were shipped them off to concentration camps by the Nazis during the German occupation of Greece in World War II).

Synagogue in Berea, modern Veroia

Below, monument with mosaics commemorating the visit of Paul to Berea.

Monusment to Paul

Below, mosaic depicting a man asking Paul to preach the gospel in Macedonia.

Paul's call to preach in Macedonia mosaic

Below, mosaic depicting Paul preaching in Berea.

mosaic depicting Paul preaching in Berea

Below, preserved section of the Roman road in Veoria.

roman road preserved in Veoria

 

Paul preaches the Gospel in Berea

"On arriving [in Berea, Paul and Silas] went to the Jewish synagogue." There, Paul found sympathetic ears for his ideas, presumably because the synagogue included upper-class Greek converts (God-fearers), both male and female.

"They received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men" (Acts 17:11-12).

The names of at least one of his converts is known: Sopater, son of Pyrrhus, who accompanied Paul to Jerusalem seven years later.

But the harmony depicted in Acts did not last. When the hostile  Jews of Thessaloniki heard that Paul was preaching in Berea, they followed him and stirred up the people against him. While Silas and Timothy stayed behind, Paul was quickly escorted out of town, some twenty miles to the coast.

Below, snowy conditions on road south of Veoria.

snowy conditions on road south of Veoria

Paul and his escort then traveled south to Athens, either by boat or via the road along the coast, and those accompanying him returned to Berea to instruct Silas and Timothy to rejoin Paul as soon as possible.

 

Paul in Athens

54 AD - While waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him, Paul had the chance to wander the streets and public areas of one of the great cities of the ancient world.

Athens lies on a small plain extending southward to the Saronic Gulf, a branch of the Aegean Sea. The city center, seven miles from the coast, forms a single metropolitan area with the port of Piraeus. Athens is surrounded by mountains; most are of limestone or marble, from which the ancient buildings of the city were constructed.

There is evidence of human occupation at the site before 3000 BC. In ancient times the city was called "The Athenses," a plural name since it began as a group of villages. In the 6th century BC the city was the scene of the world's first attempt at democratic government. In 86 BC, the Roman general Sulla burned the city's arsenals and shipyards, and leveled its walls when the city attempted to break away from Rome. After the sea battle near Actium, Greek in 31 BC, in which Athens sided with Mark Antony, emperor Augustus (27 BC-14 AD) punished Athens by taking away its right to grant citizenship and mint coins, and the proconsul would administer the province from Corinth. By the time of Paul, Athens was considered a university town and seat of intellectualism. Although fallen from its former greatness of the 5th century BC, when it was renowned for its philosophers, artists, artists, playwrights and statesmen, it was still the most famous intellectual center of the Roman Empire. It was famous for its temples, statues and monuments, but it had lost its position as a political and commercial power to Corinth.

 

Following in the footsteps of Paul — Athens

Below, modern Athens, a city of over 4,000,000

Athens satellite view with tags of locations

Below, Athens Acropolis (from Greek akron, "edge" or "summit," and polis, "city") - Where Athens itself began; a 512-foot-high hill in the center of the city. From the Acropolis, one can see virtually all of Athens, except for its furthest urban sprawl. Beyond lie the protective mountain ranges, famous today as in antiquity for fine marble and honey. It is easy to see why this abrupt, steep-sided rock, was chosen as the first citadel of ancient Athens. Once fortified, it was virtually impregnable, although defenders were hampered by the lack of water. Still, the Acropolis was a fitting home for the virgin warrior goddess, Athena. Many of the temples built there were shrines to Athena.

Athens acrolpolis

Propylea - Monumental entrance to the Acropolis (below). To reach the Acropolis, Paul, like all visitors today, ascended a monumental staircase on the west side. It had been built by the emperor Claudius less than ten years before Paul's arrival. The Propylea sits on a wedge-shaped rock whose irregularities governed of the building itself. The terrain may have defeated the project, which was never completed. In essence, the propylea has a central hall flanked by two wings, one of which contained a gallery, with many pictures by the legendary artist Polygnotos depicting both legendary and historical figures. ** (See note at bottom of page)

Propylea, monumental entrance to acropolis

Below, Temple of Athena Parthenos (virgin); familiarly known as the Parthenon Dedicated in 438 BC, the Parthenon is 238' long, 111' wide, and 65' high, with 8 Doric columns on its short sides and 17 on its long sides. There is scarcely a straight line in the entire building. The architects realized that straight lines can create clumsy optical illusions: verticals bend, horizontals sag. To compensate for such tricks of the eye, each column bows at the center (known in Greek as "entasis") and each horizontal rises gradually in the middle. Every column slants inward slightly to give the impression of soaring height (if the axes of each column were extended upward, they would meet a mile overhead). It took ten years to construct and fifteen to sculpt the decoration. In its prime, the Parthenon was decorated with great bronze rosettes and painted in red and blue. The natural honey-hue of the Parthenon marble was hidden in antiquity. Visitors will have to decide whether they are disappointed, or relieved, not to have seen the Parthenon and its neighboring temples bedecked with color. ** (See note at bottom of page)

Temple of Athena Parthenos (virgin); familiarly known as the Parthenon

The Parthenon's main function was to house a 30-foot-high gold and ivory statue of Athena (below). Most of the damage seen today is the result of an attempt by the Venetians to seize the Acropolis back from the Turks in 1687. The Turks used the Parthenon as a powder magazine and the Venetian commander lobbed an artillery shell through the roof and blew it apart.
30-foot-high gold and ivory statue of Athena

Below, Erechtheum (built between 421 and 406 BC) and located to the north of the Parthenon - Dedicated to the goddess Athena Polis (Athena of the City) and the god Poseidon Erechtheus, the ancient patron of the city. (Erechtheus was a mythical hero later identified with Poseidon).

Erechtheum

Tradition says the Erechtheum was built on the very spot where Athena and Poseidon had their contest for possession of Athens.

It is famous for the six Maidens (their proper name) holding up the roof of the porch on the south side of the temple with their heads. They are more popularly called "Caryatids" (below) after the beautiful women of Karyai on the Peloponnese Peninsula. Those seen today are copies. This porch had no entrance; it was intended only to balance the building. Within the temple was an ancient wooden idol and an olive wood statue of Athena Polis. Like the great statue of Athena in the Parthenon, this statue also received a new robe at the time of the Panathenaic festival. ** (See note at bottom of page)

Caryatides close up

Below, Odium of Herodes Atticus (160-174 AD) - One of two theaters located on the south slope of the Acropolis. ** (See note at bottom of page)

Herodes Atticus theater

Below, Theater of Dionysus - Also located on the south slope of the Acropolis and dedicated to Dionysus, the god of wine, fertility, and revelry. The birthplace of Greek drama. ** (See note at bottom of page)

Theater of Dionysus

Ancient Agora - The Athens agora began as a large public area on either side of the sacred way leading from the western city gate to the Acropolis. Later it functioned primarily as the center of commercial life; markets were held there, and it was the site of transactions of all kinds. In later times the agora also became a religious center with temples, altars and commemorative statues. In the hillside south of the agora were springs that were piped down into sheltered draw basins (fountain houses). Along the western side a nondescript group of rooms housed the Athenian council before the construction of a theater-like assembly hall (bouleuterion) and the circular building (tholos) in which the council members ate their meals.

Ancient agora

Roman Agora (below) - Roman leaders, beginning with Julius Caesar, built their own agora, or forum, as an extension of the ancient agora. As seen today it is a mixture of monuments from different eras. The agora was a colonnaded courtyard with shops, al equal in size, on the east side, which were rented by traders. Other traders sold goods in the remaining free space.

Roman agora

The most famous structure in the Roman Agora was the "Tower of the Winds," (below) an octagonal building, with representations of the eight major winds. The structure featured a combination of sundials, water clock and a wind vane.

Tower of the winds in the Roman agora
 

Paul preaches the Gospel in Athens

(The account of Paul's stay in Athens is found in Acts 17:16-34; 18:1)

The episode in Athens address an important question: How do you tell the Gospel message to those who are ignorant of God, the Bible, the Messiah and the resurrection? With Jews in their synagogues Paul shared a common background, but when speaking in the Athens Agora or meeting with the city council he had to face the problem of communicating to a people who were neither Jews nor God-fearers, but pagans. Yet he found a common ground which enabled him to make contact-our common humanity and our common world-both gifts of a benevolent Creator.

As Paul passed the time in Athens waiting for Silas and Timothy, he toured the city, but he became "greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols." According to the Greek writer Plutarch (c.46-c.120 AD), there were twenty-thousand statues of gods in Athens, and Roman satirist Petronius stated it was easier to find a god in Athens than a man; the city was full of idols. It was said that Athens had more idols than all of the remainder of Greece combined. There was the altar of Eumenides (dark goddess who avenges murder) and the Hermes (statues with phallic attributes). There was the altar of the Twelve Gods, the Temple of Ares (or Mars, the god of war), the Temple of Apollo Patroos. Paul would have seen the image of Neptune on horseback, the sanctuary of Bacchus, the forty foot high statue of Athena, the mother goddess of the city. All kinds of Muses and gods of Greek mythology were represented. It is little wonder that Paul was overwhelmed by what he saw.

Paul spent some of his time debating with the Athenian Jews and God-fearers in the city's synagogue. He also headed for the agora, or marketplace (below, Odeon of Agrippa, a large concert hall in the ancient agora), to talk with anyone who would listen. Apparently there were many willing to do so because Acts adds that "all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas" (Acts 17:21).

odeum of agrippa in greek agora

Among the audience were a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who "began to dispute with him."

The Epicureans, named for their founder, Epicurus, believed the gods were too remote to influence the world, and that death utterly ended all existence. They stressed that taking the gods out of the picture opened the way to intellectual pleasure as the ultimate goal in life (new-age atheists?).

The Stoics were named for the stoa poikile ("painted porch"}, the roofed colonnade in the agora where Zeno, their founder, taught (a Greek Orthodox church now occupies the site). They believed that God existed in everything and that people should live in accord with nature, recognizing their own self-sufficiency and independence. Restraint from all emotion, they stated, brought true happiness and wisdom. They refused to show joy or sorrow (like Spock on Star Trek).

These philosophers initially scorned Paul, calling him a "babbler" (Greek spermologos), literally a bird that picks up seeds, implying that he went around collecting intellectual tidbits. Some even thought that when he spoke of "Jesus and the resurrection" ("anastasis") he was referring to a pair of new gods. Yet they invited him to appear before the Aeropagus to explain his doctrine.

The Areopagus was the city's governing council and it met at a 377-foot-high rocky hill immediately northwest of the Acropolis called the Aeropagus, or "hill of Ares," from which it took its name. ** (See note at bottom of page)

Areopagus

The Romans knew Ares, the Greek god of thunder and war, as Mars, and today the Aeropagus is familiarly known as Mars Hill. Steps cut in the rock (below) lead to the top. ** (See note at bottom of page)

Areopagus

Centuries earlier the Athens council governed a powerful city-state. But by the time of Paul it retained jurisdiction only over educational and religious matters, including the introduction of foreign divinities.

Areopagus meeting
 

Paul honored a request by the Athens council to explain his beliefs. Standing before the Aeropagus he told the Athenians that as he strolled around the city he had seen one of their altars inscribed, "TO AN UNKNOWN GOD" (see right column). He used this as a starting point for his sermon, stating that the God he spoke of "does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else" (Acts 17:24-25).

He also spoke about the resurrection of the dead, and some of the council members sneered and mocked him. Although several schools of philosophy believed in the immortality of the soul, the Greeks regarded the idea of "bodily" resurrection as completely ludicrous. But some of those in attendance wanted to hear more. A few were convinced, including "Dionysus, a member of the Aeropagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others."

After this meeting, Paul left Athens via the Sacred Way and traveled westward along the Saronic Gulf to Corinth...

 

Continue to Corinth