Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor

Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor September 12, 2023

One of the sources who has been a great help to me as I continue to reconstruct the story of the first-century church is Mark Wilson.

Wilson (D.Litt. et Phil., South Africa) is the founder and director of the Asia Minor Research Center in Antalya, Turkey and the Visiting Professor of Early Christianity at Regent University, Associate Professor Extraordinary of New Testament at Stellenbosch University, and Research Fellow in Biblical Archaeology at the University of South Africa.

He also serves as the English editor of the Turkish archaeological journals Adalya and Anmed and also blogs online for the Bible History Daily.

Recently, I caught up with Mark to discuss his book Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor.


How long did it take you to the write the book from the very beginning to the time you turned the manuscript into the publisher?

I began to prepare notes for my Turkey tours and guides seminars in the early 2000s. As these expanded, I realized that there was not a comprehensive guidebook available to the Jewish and Christian sites here.

It took me about a year to finalize a draft of the book as well as to choose the photographs, all taken by me, that would illustrate the volume.

Then in 2010 we were living in Istanbul so I had the opportunity to work with my publisher on the layout of the volume. Needless to say, I was extremely pleased with the publication of Biblical Turkey and its resulting reception by scholars and students around the world.

In Acts 14:21, we are told that Paul preached the gospel in Derbe and won a large number of disciples (we know later that he planted an assembly there). My question: where do you suppose he preached in Derbe? Would he have preached in a synagogue (did Derbe have one)? Or the marketplace?

Derbe was only a minor city in Paul’s day near Laranda, the major city of the district. So Derbe would not be the natural place to evangelize.

After Paul’s stoning in Lystra he needed a safe place to recover. I think someone from Derbe heard Paul’s preaching there and invited him to Derbe to recover from his injuries.

What do we know about Titus and why doesn’t Luke ever mention him in Acts?

Titus was a Gentile most probably from Antioch (Gal 2:1, 3). Why isn’t Titus mentioned in Acts? I have puzzled this myself but still can’t come up with a satisfactory answer.

Tell us about Berea.

Berea, and its modern namesake Veria, is situated on the eastern slope of Mount Bermion (modern Vermio). Mount Olympus is much farther south.

The Roman city of Dion is located at Olympus’ eastern foot. Incidentally there is a wonderful new archaeological museum in Veria with many artifacts from ancient Berea.

Did Paul arrive in Berea during the summer? (I’m referring to his second apostolic journey).

Late summer is likely for Paul’s visit since it was still sailing season. When he was forced to leave the city, local believers took him to the coastal town of Pydna where passage was secured on a ship that brought him to a port of Athens.

Would it be accurate to describe Berea as “a resort-like town of cool hills.” Some scholars say Berea was hilly, others say it was hilly AROUND the city, but flat inside of it. Which is correct?

A visit to Berea makes this clear. One enters the town by climbing 200 feet to the terraced hillside upon which the city is built at around 500 feet asl. Sections of the level ancient cardo maximus are still visible along the modern main street.

Did the Greeks go to Berea in the summertime to cool off? 

Undoubtedly so; any change in elevation from the hot and humid coast would be welcome. It’s the same situation in Antalya where I live; the locals leave for a higher elevation in the summer.

I’ve read that Berea is overlooking a river. If that’s true, which river is it?

The Haliakmon River courses just southeast of the city before flowing into the Aegean Sea.

What would you speculate the population of Berea to be? Your educated guess?

Ancient populations are hard to calculate; however, my guess is 20,000 to 25,000 people.

Would Paul have walked or taken a horse from Thessalonica to Berea?

Paul, Silas, and Timothy would have walked.

Based on all the available information we have, what is your best guestimate of the population of Iconium when Paul visited there the first time in the late 40s A.D.?”

Again, ancient demographics are difficult to calculate; maybe 20,000 to 25,000 people like Berea

I have a copy of William Ramsey’s classic work, St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen, the version you edited and that contains your added notes. You did a fantastic job with this. My final questions are about this work. Name two or three things you found in this book that shed light on the New Testament for you, particularly the story we find in Acts and Paul’s letters.

Ramsay was, of course, a pioneer in finding and documenting archaeological evidence that supports or corroborates the New Testament record. His view that the churches addressed in Galatians were the same as visited on the first journey was significant for my understanding of a South Galatian audience. His reconstruction of the sea voyage from Troas to Caesarea helped me better understand the time involved with sailing in antiquity.

Name one to three conclusions that Ramsey makes that you disagree with (if you two or three exist).

I don’t think Paul’s ship sailed up to Perga on the Cestrus River but rather landed at Perga’s port of Magydus. Also, Paul’s thorn in the flesh should not be connected to malaria but rather is related to his stoning in Lystra and its aftereffects.

Would you like to add anything else about either book?

Ramsay’s volume on the seven churches remains a classic. But his observations and conclusions must be tempered with all the new data drawn from the excavations of these cities over the past century. But his work is still a good starting point.

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