Paul F. Bork, Ph.D., is associate professor of religion at Pacific Union College, Angwin, California.


NO CHURCH of the first century A.D. received more severe rebuke from the Lord than Laodicea. This city became the symbol of all Christians living upon the earth toward the close of this world's history. Yet very little is known of the ancient inhabitants of Laodicea and their daily struggles and aspirations and, unfortunately, very little remains of the ruins of Laodicea that might en able us to learn more about them. Through the years inhabitants of the modern city of Denizli, successor of Laodicea, helped themselves generously to the ancient materials scattered over the site, making reconstruction of the city's life difficult. Plundering for gain to satisfy the thirst of antiquarians also contributed to the tragic loss—not to mention the farmer's plow, its furrows ever tightening the noose around the city site. These factors, along with the toll of centuries, have added up to a loss of information that can never again be available to us.

Fortunately, Laodicea had a sister city named Hierapolis, about five miles away. The cities were rivals in business and competed with each other socially and politically. In numerous respects their histories followed similar pat terns, allowing us vicariously to know Laodicea. They were similar in that they rose to power approximately within the same period of time, flourished and died in the same era, and probably were inhabited by the same "mix" of nationalities. Laodicea was incorporated and greatly embellished by Antiochus II in the third century B.C., and the same was done to Hierapolis by Eumenes II in the second century B.C. Both continued to develop further throughout the Roman period, and became rich and important centers. But though the ruins of Laodicea have largely disappeared, those of Hierapolis1 have remained in a remark ably good state of preservation, and their witness greatly enhances our knowledge of that period and its people.

The seven churches mentioned by John in Revelation 2 and 3, among which is Laodicea, were not the only Christian churches in Asia Minor. In fact, when we read about the many places mentioned by Paul that he and other apostles visited, we must assume that there were many Christian churches in the land known today as Turkey. God singled those seven out to be symbolic of the history of the Christian church because they typified the condition of the church as a whole then and throughout the Christian Era.

Hierapolis is mentioned along with Laodicea by Paul in his letter to the Colossians (4:13). Colossae, the city to whose Christians the Epistle to the Colossians was addressed, is also only a few miles southeast of Laodicea. The letter was hand-delivered to Colossae by one of Paul's disciples named Tychicus, and it was to be read also to the church of Laodicea (Col. 4:7, 16). Tychicus had as his traveling companion a fugitive slave named Onesimus, who lived at either Colossae or Laodicea. Tychicus also carried with him a beautiful, short letter from Paul to Philemon, whose home in one of these cities was the meeting place for one of the Christian communities.2

Hierapolis, Laodicea, and Colossae were linked by excellent Roman roads, the remains of which can still be seen in some areas. In addition to the roads, a caravan route linked them with Sardis, Smyrna, and Ephesus. Paul, John, and other apostles doubtless journeyed along these routes.

A visit to Hierapolis, now known as Pamukkale, is a never-to-be-forgotten experience. It is one of Turkey's great tourist attractions, and thousands of tourists still visit each year as they may have done in the time of Christ and John the Revelator.

For more than two thousand years this region has been known for its hot springs of waters, said to contain healing properties. Through the centuries people have believed that its waters could cure anything from rheumatism and bone ailments to brain deficiencies.3

The source of water is a subterranean network of springs extending for some fifty miles under the mountains to surface at Hierapolis at a temperature of 95 F. (35 C.) and at a flow rate of about 9,000 gallons per minute.4

The waters emerge with a heavy con tent of carbon dioxide and lime, and in the open air the carbon dioxide escapes and the water-soluble calcium bicarbonate turns into insoluble limestone.5 The results are the semblance of an enormous fairy-tale castle. Beautiful limestone formations, spectacularly crystalline white in the daytime, reflect the colors of the rising and setting sun at daybreak and in the evening. In some places there are formations twenty feet in height, which from a distance resemble huge frozen waterfalls. In many different places the thermal springs have created small, shallow turquoise pools that mirror the sky. In their warm waters it is possible to wade or to lie down and relax.

A number of hotels have been built in this area to cater to the hundreds of tourists who come to bathe in the "healing" waters. One unusual bathing pool has beneath its water pieces of ancient marble columns and beautifully carved objects, giving a swimmer the impression of floating over a submerged city.

The naturally warm water from these springs has been channeled to nearby towns since ancient times, and it is believed that Laodicea may also have received these waters. There are large numbers of insulated "pipes" lying around amid the ruins of the city. These "pipes" are actually hand-hewn stones about 36 inches square and 12 to 18 inches thick with a 12-inch hole carved out in the middle. The stones were then placed one in front of the other to form a pipe, the inside having been given a coat of terra cotta to render it less permeable. Many of these "pipes" were long ago clogged with lime deposits.

As the thermal waters from Hierapolis reached Laodicea they were no doubt only lukewarm and therefore unpalatable. John's figure of speech must have been clearly understood by the Laodiceans when he said, "So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth" (Rev. 3:16).

The ruins of Hierapolis are most impressive. Italian archeologist Paolo Verzone has spent twenty years studying and recording the remains of the city for present and future historians. His primary goal today is to restore some of the ancient structures. This task might be compared to putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle with many thousands of possible pieces scattered all around and with an unknown number still missing. These puzzle pieces of building stones vary in size and weight from one pound to several tons.

Judging from its ruins, Hierapolis was a beautiful city suited to entertain kings and queens—as historians believe that it did. Within the city a thriving school of sculpture flourished. Majestic works of art as expressed in columns, lifelike statues, and exquisitely detailed carvings on enormous buildings, as well as in smaller beauty spots, must have been a delight to the city's inhabitants and visitors. Many remnants of that art work can still be seen today.

The walled city of Hierapolis was about one mile long and a little less in width.6 The population at its height was approximately 75,000, composed mainly of Greeks, Romans, Phrygians, and Jews (Strabo xiii. 4.14). The usually well-built Roman highway that led through the city was lined with potted trees and covered sidewalks.7 Foundations and part of the walls of shop stalls are still recognizable amid the ruins. At the entrance to the city there are three enormous arches totaling 40 feet wide, again typical of Roman architecture.

The remains of one large theater is among the most impressive in all of Asia Minor. It had a seating capacity of more than 10,000 people; its width in front was more than 325 feet, with an orchestra 65 feet in diameter. Among many other ruins there are still visible remains of a library, a gymnasium, and Roman baths.

About A.D. 60 both the cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis were severely dam aged by an earthquake, which was re corded by Tacitus (Ann. xiv. 27). Laodicea was apparently so prosperous that it refused imperial financial assistance to rebuild.8 This may give us added insight into John's charge against the Laodiceans, "Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Rev. 3:17).

Professor Verzone has been able to establish an approximate date when many of the buildings of Hierapolis were erected and the purpose for which they were built. An analysis of this in formation suggests that the city witnessed a real struggle between pagan ism and Christianity. Earlier structures of the city indicate that paganism was virtually unchallenged in the first centuries of the city's existence, perhaps even into the first and second centuries A.D. The prominent religion of the city during this period was clearly pagan, with many temples and statues dedicated to Greek and Roman deities such as Apollo, Diana, and others.

The third century A.D. was apparently a period of religious transition, and the fourth- and fifth-century structures suggest that Christianity had triumphed.9 At the end of the fourth century a large Christian church was built outside the city. About the same time, or possibly a little later, the martyrium was built. This was a church building erected to the memory of Philip who, according to tradition, was martyred there in A.D. 80. The ruins of four Christian churches are still recognizable as well as several smaller chapels built in subsequent years.

Historical writings also suggest that both Hierapolis and Laodicea became strong centers of Christianity, but apparently not without conflict. Papias (died A.D. 163), Bishop of Hierapolis, was a prominent and enigmatic figure, whose absorbing interest was to record prophecies current in his day. His inter est was also absorbed in an expected messianic age when all manner of food would be produced miraculously and in abundance. 10 Papias claimed that John the disciple died rather early in life, and, therefore, by inference, according to Eusebius, disclaimed his authorship of Revelation. 11

In the year A.D. 367 the Council of Laodicea convened. Among other items, the church took measures against the teaching of the Montanists and the Quartodeciman Christians, who apparently even then were considered heretical groups. Another important event of the Council was a pronouncement on the acceptance of Scripture. The New Testament canon was reviewed, and twenty-six books were confirmed. The missing book, as might be expected at Laodicea, was the book of Revelation.12 John's use of Laodicea as an example of spiritual poverty was apparently resented by this beautiful and proud city.

At the same Council another familiar problem was implied by the following action: Canon 29 reads, "Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on the Sabbath, but shall work on that day." 13

Both Laodicea and Hierapolis were destroyed by another earthquake in 1354, and neither city was ever rebuilt. The ruins of Hierapolis remain almost undisturbed today, silent clues to its past.


1 For much of the information included in this article the author is indebted to personal interviews with Professor Paolo Verzone, archeologist at Hierapolis, and to his publication, "1'Urbanistica Di Hierapolis Di Frigia," Atti Del XVICongresso Di Storia Dela Architetura, Settembre, 1969.

2 G. Ernest Wright, Biblical Archaeology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1957), p. 50.

3 Tarhan Toker, Pamukkale (Hierapolis) (Denizli, Turkey: Sonhaber Gazetecilik), p. 8.

4 Ibid., p. 6.

5 Sven Larsen, "The Petrified Waterfalls of Hierapolis," The Illustrated London News, October 28, 1950, p. 698.

6 Verzone, op. cit., p. 4.

7 Toker, op. cit., p. 14.

8 Verzone, op. cit., p. 5.

9 Ibid., pp. 10,11.

10 Sherman E. Johnson, "Laodicea and Its Neighbors," The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. XIII, no. 1 (February, 1950).

11 F. D. Nichol, ed., The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, pp. 716, 717.

12 Charles Joseph Hefele, Histoire des Conciles d'Apres les Documents Originaux, Tome 1, 2, Letouzey et Ane, Editeurs (Paris: 1907), pp. 1026, 1027.

13 Ibid., p. 1015.

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Paul F. Bork, Ph.D., is associate professor of religion at Pacific Union College, Angwin, California.

August 1977

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