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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Italy

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(Ἰταλία)

The name was originally confined to the extreme southern point of the Italian peninsula. For the Greeks of the 5th cent. b.c. it denoted the tract along the shore of the Tarentine Gulf, as far as Metapontum, and thence across to the Gulf of Posidonia. By the time of Polybius the name had been extended to the whole peninsula, for he speaks of Hannibal crossing the Alps into Italy, and of the plains of the Padus as part of Italy (Hist. ii. 14, iii. 39, 54). At a later time, it is true, Gallia Cisalpina was officially regarded as part of Caesar’s province, and therefore not strictly in Italy, which he did not enter till he crossed the Rubicon; but from the Augustan Age onward the word had its present-day meaning. Scarcely any country has more clearly-marked and obvious boundaries.

The Latin language was inscribed upon the Cross of Christ, but none of the books of the NT were written in it. The founders of Christianity were not so greatly influenced by Italian as by Hebraic and Hellenic ideals. Nor did Italy herself dream that she had any kind of evangel for the East which she conquered. Her plain task was to give and maintain law and order everywhere, and her Imperial ideal certainly found its counterpart in the apostolic conception of a world-wide Church. But her own spiritual mission, so far as she was conscious of having one, was merely to be the apostle of Hellenism, of which she had for some centuries been the disciple.

‘The desire to become at least internally Hellenised, to become partakers of the manners and the culture, of the art and the science of Hellas, to be-in the footsteps of the great Macedonian-shield and sword of the Greeks of the East, and to be allowed further to civilise this East not after an Italian but after a Hellenic fashion-this desire pervades the later centuries of the Roman republic and the better times of the empire with a power and an ideality which are almost no less tragic than that political toil of the Hellenes failing to attain its goal’ (T. Mommsen, The Provinces of the Roman Empire2, Eng. translation , 1909, i. 253).

Some of the cities of Italy-certainly Rome and Puteoli, and probably others, though there is no definite information on the point-had felt the presence of Judaism before they were offered Christianity. Josephus mentions the Jewish colony of Puteoli in his story of the Jewish impostor who claimed to be Alexander the son of Herod (circa, about 4 b.c.). ‘He was also no fortunate, upon landing, as to bring the Jews that were there under the same delusion’ (Ant. xvii. xii. 1), and ‘he got very large presents’ from them (Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) ii. vii. 1); but Augustus himself was not so easily deceived (Ant. xvii. xii. 2). Over half a century later, the first Puteolan Christians, whose fellowship St. Paul enjoyed for a week on his way to Rome (Acts 28:14), were evidently drawn from that same Jewish community and its proselytes. The presence of a great Jewish colony in Rome, dating from the time when Pompey brought his prisoners of war from Jerusalem, is abundantly attested by Latin historians and poets. It is equally certain that they made many proselytes. The swindling of Fulvia, ‘a woman of great dignity, and one that had embraced the Jewish religion’ (Ant. xviii. iii. 5), by another Jew of the baser type was the signal for an outburst against the whole colony in the time of Tiberius (Tac. Ann. ii. 85; Suet. Tiber. 36). According to Acts 18:2 Claudius went the length of expelling all the Jews from Rome (cf. Suet. Claud. 25). Even if his decree only amounted to the interdicting of their assemblies (Dio Cassius, lx. 6), this milder measure would doubtless cause a great exodus from the city. Some of the exiles merely emigrated to the neighbourhood, perhaps to Aricia (for the evidence sec E. Schürer, History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] ii, ii. [1885] 238), but others went abroad. This was the occasion of the journey of Aquila and Priscilla ‘from Italy’ to Corinth (Acts 18:2).

Italy was the destination of the prisoner Paul when he made his appeal to Caesar (Acts 27:1). The narrative of his journey from point to point-Caesarea, Myra, Melita, Puteoli, and then overland by the oldest and most famous of Roman roads, the Via Appia-illustrates the fact that ‘most of the realms of the ancient Roman Empire had better connections than ever afterwards or even now.’ Dangers could not be wholly avoided, but ‘travelling … was easy, swift, and secure to a degree unknown until the beginning of the nineteenth century’ (L. Friedländer, Roman Life and Manners under the Early Empire, 1908, i. 268).

In Hebrews 13:24 ‘they of Italy’ (οἱ ἀπὸ τῆς Ἰταλίας) join the writer in sending salutations. οἱ ἀπό denotes persons who have come from the place indicated (cf. Matthew 15:1, Acts 6:9; Acts 10:23). It is a mistake to imagine that the writer was himself in Italy, and that he was thinking of the Italian Christians around him there. On the contrary, the phrase implies that the author was absent from and writing to Italy, while there were in his company natives of Italy who had embraced Christianity, and who desired to be remembered to their believing compatriots in some part of the home-land. It is not an equally safe, but still a plausible, conjecture that Italy-probably Rome-was the writer’s own home (see article Hebrews, Epistle to the).

James Strahan.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Italy'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/i/italy.html. 1906-1918.

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