Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1)

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The city of Thessalonica was founded in 315 B.C. at the head of the Thermaic Gulf on the Aegean Sea. Thessalonica was a military and commercial port that became the capital of the Macedonian province in 146 B.C. Paul wrote letters to churches in at least two Macedonian cities, Thessalonica and Philippi. Thessalonica became a free city in 42 B.C. as a reward for assisting Mark Antony and Octavian (later called Augustus) in a military engagement with Brutus and Cassius, the leading assassins of Julius Caesar, at the battle of Philippi. As a port city located on the Via Egnatia, a road that ran through the major cities of Macedonia, Thessalonica became a major centre for trade and arts. It had both a large Roman and a sizeable Jewish population.

Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian believers hints that the Christians there suffered persecution from their own countrymen (1 Thessalonians 2:14). Whether this persecution came primarily at the hand of Jews or Gentiles in the region is uncertain. Archaeological and historical records indicate the presence of temples to Roman gods and various oriental cults. Inscriptions discovered in the city also give evidence of Jewish settlements there during the Roman period.

Because an active, modern city (Thessaloniki) exists on the site, little remains of the ancient city (or is available for excavation).The Arch of Galerius commemorates a Roman victory over the Persians, dating to the late third century A.D., but only one section of the original remains. A Roman forum has been unearthed, but it may have been in use no earlier than the second century A.D. Archaeologists are aware, however, that a first century A.D. arch, called the Vandar Arch, once existed in Thessaloniki. It was torn down in 1867, but an inscription from the arch is now on display in the British Museum. It mentions officials called politarches, a Greek word Luke used to designate the Thessalonian officials (Acts 17:6). Since no previous usage of this word has been found in Greek literature, scholars had once wondered whether Luke’s usage of the term was an error. In light of this controversy, the location of the inscription proved to be a significant step in illustrating the precision of Luke’s account, a fair number of occurrences of this otherwise elusive word in inscriptions from the general area have since been documented.


 

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