The Areopagus (Acts 17)

In Acts 17:19 Paul was taken to a meeting of the Areopagus (Rock of Ares”, another name for Athena), where he used the Greek altar to an unknown god as a point of contact to preach the gospel to the Athenians (v. 22-31). Also known in antiquity as Mars Hill (Mars is the Greek name for Ares, the Greek god of war), the site was used as an early meeting place by a council of nobility. The Council of Areopagus had ruled Athens before it became a democracy in 620 B.C. Thereafter, the power and prestige of the council declined, although it did retain some juridical prerogatives, especially the right to try those accused of murder. During the trial the accused would stand on the Rock of Insolence, while his accuser stood on the rock of No-Mercy. (This procedure was still practiced a century after Paul’s visit.) During the first century A.D. the council directed the internal affairs of Athens, especially in religious matters.

Although the location of Paul’s speech is unknown, tradition places the Areopagus itself on a rocky hill just below the Acropolis and just above the agora. This hill rises approximately 116 m. An ancient stairway carved into the rock is still used today, although centuries of wear have left the steps extremely slippery. On the crest may be seen the possible foundation of a building. Several finds suggest that the hill may have been an early religious site. On the other hand, since the council tried cases in the “Royal Stoa” (a building located at the northeastern corner of the Athenian agora), Paul’s speech may have taken place there, before the Council of the Areopagus, instead of atop Mars Hill.

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