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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Laodicea

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(א has Λαοδικία everywhere. B has this form of the word in Colossians 2:1, Revelation 1:11; Revelation 3:14, but Λαοδίκεια in Colossians 4:13; Colossians 4:15-16 [the latter is the form used by almost all Gr. authors]; Lat. Laodicea [in-correctly Laodicia]).-Laodicea was an important seat of commerce in the Roman province of Asia, one of three cities in the Lycus valley which were evangelized about the same time. It was 11 miles W. of Colossae and 6 miles S. of Hierapolis. Founded probably by the Seleucid king Antiochus ii. (261-246 b.c.), and named after his wife Laodice, it was known as ‘Laodicea on the Lycus’ (Λαοδικία ἡ πρὸς [or ἐπὶ] τῷ Λυκῷ, Laodicea ad Lycum). Being some distance east of ‘the Gate of Phrygia,’ it is classed by Polybius (v. 57) and Strabo (xii. viii. 13) among Phrygian cities, while Ptolemy sets it down as Carian. It stood on a small plateau about 2 miles S. of the Lycus, and had behind it to the S. and S.W. the snow-capped mountains Salbakos and Kadmos, each over 8,000 ft. above sea-level. Designed, like the other Seleucid foundations in Asia Minor, to be at once a strong garrison city and a centre of Hellenic civilization, it occupied a strategic position on the great eastern trade-route, where the narrow Lycus gorge opens into the broad Maeander plain. ‘Formerly a small town’ (Strabo, xii. viii. 16), its prosperity dated from the peaceful time which followed the Roman occupation (133 b.c.).

‘The country around Laodicea breeds excellent sheep, remarkable not only for the softness of their wool, in which they surpass the Milesian sheep, but for their dark or raven colour. The Laodiceans derive a large revenue from them, as the Colosseni do from their flocks, of a colour of the same name’ (Strabo, xii. viii. 16).

The native religion of the district was the cult of Carian Men, whom the Hellenists of Laodicea identified with Zeus. His temple was at Attuda, 13 miles W. from Laodicea. In connexion with it, but probably in Laodicea itself, was ‘a large Herophilian school of medicine under the direction of Zeuxis, and afterwards of Alexander Philalethes’ (Strabo, xii. viii. 20). The physicians of Laodicea were skilful oculists, and a preparation for weak eyes, called ‘Phrygian powder’ (τέφρα φρυγία), was well known. Nearly the whole basin of the Maeander was subject to earthquakes (ib. 17). Imperial funds were usually given for the restoration of cities thus injured, and Laodicea accepted a grant from Tiberius after such a calamity, but of a later visitation Tacitus writes: ‘The same year [a.d. 60] Laodicea, one of the most famous cities of Asia, having been prostrate by an earthquake, recovered herself by her own resources (propriis opibus revaluit), and without any relief from us’ (Ann. xiv. xxvii.). She had long been rich and increased in goods, and had need of nothing (Revelation 3:17). More than a century before (in 51 b.c.), Cicero proposed to cash his treasury Bills of Exchange at a Laodicean bank (Ep. ad Fam. iii. 5).

Such a thriving commercial centre had great attractions for a colony of Jews. If the first settlers were sent thither by the founder of the city, or by Antiochus the Great, who is said to have planted 2,000 Jewish families in Phrygia and Lydia (Jos. Ant. xii. iii. 4), they would enjoy equal rights of citizenship with the Greeks. When Flaccus, Roman governor of Asia (62 b.c.), forbade the Jews to send contributions of money to Jerusalem, he seized as contraband twenty pounds weight in gold in the district of which Laodicea was the capital (Cicero, pro Flacco, 28). Calculated at the rate of a half-shekel for each man, this sum represents a Jewish population of more than 11,000 adult freemen, women and children being exempted. Josephus preserves a letter from ‘the magistrates of the Laodiceans to Caius Rubilius’ (circa, about 48 b.c.), guaranteeing religious liberty to the Jews of the city (Ant. xiv. x. 20).

The details of the founding of the Church of Laodicea have to be pieced together from allusions in the Acts and Epistles. St. Paul was not directly the founder. His words in Colossians 2:1, ‘I strive for … them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh,’ imply that he had not personally laboured in the Lycus valley. In his third missionary tour he did not go to Ephesus by the ordinary route of commerce, which would have brought him to the Lycus cities, but passed through ‘the upper country’ (τὰ ἀνωτερικὰ μέρη, Acts 19:1), probably by Seiblia and the Cayster valley. His influence in the former region was indirect. During his three years’ residence in Ephesus ‘all they who dwell in Asia heard the word’ (19:10). The truths which he proclaimed in the metropolis were quickly repeated all over the province, and especially in the cities along the great roads. His evangelist of the Lycus glen was Epaphras, whom St. Paul regarded as his deputy (Colossians 1:7 [Revised Version ], reading ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν instead of ὑμῶν), and whose labour on behalf of the three communities evoked a warm encomium (Colossians 4:12-13). The close relations subsisting between the churches of Laodicea and Colossae are indicated by the injunction that the Epistle to Colossians should be read in the Church of the Laodiceans, and that the Colossians should read ‘the Epistle from Laodicea.’ The latter was perhaps the canonical ‘Epistle to the Ephesians,’ which Marcion expressly names the Epistle ‘to the saints who are at Laodicea.’

The last of the Epistles to the Seven Churches of Asia is addressed to Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22). The severity of the prophet’s rebuke has made ‘Laodicean’ for ever suggestive of lukewarmness in religion. Once fervent, Laodicea became so tepid that her condition excited a feeling of moral nausea. Each of the Seven Epistles is of course concerned with a Christian church rather than with a city, but the Christians were citizens, and the spirit of the city could not be kept out of the church. The allusions to the circumstances and character of Laodicea are unmistakable. The famous commercial and banking city, too proud to accept an Empire’s aid, is invited to come to the poor man’s market and buy from the Sender of the letter (παρʼ ἐμοῦ is emphatic) gold refined by fire (Revelation 3:17-18). She who has innumerable flocks on her Phrygian hills, and whose fine black woollen fabrics are prized everywhere, has need of white garments to cover her own moral nakedness (Revelation 3:18). Her aesculapian school of medicine has no Phrygian powder for the healing of her spiritual blindness, which requires the eye-salve (collyrium) of another Physician (Revelation 3:18). Rich Laodicea, well-clothed, and well-fed, self-reliant and self-satisfied, is in danger of being rejected with loathing. Yet her absent Lord loves her, and writes her so incisively only because He hopes to find her chastened and penitent when He returns and knocks at her door (Revelation 3:19-20).

Little is known about the post-apostolic history of Laodicea. Traditions regarding Archippus, Nymphas (Colossians 4:15), and Diotrephes (3 John 1:9) are worthless. The so-called ‘Epistle to the Laodiceans’ (in Latin) is a forgery. The subscription of 1 Tim., ‘written from Laodicea, which is the chiefest city of Phrygia Pacatiana,’ has no authority. The ruins of Laodicea are many but not impressive.

Literature.-W. M. Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches, 1904, pp. 413-430; W. J. Hamilton, Researches in Asia Minor, Pontus, Armenia, 1842, i. 515f.; W. M. Leake, Journal of Tour in Asia Minor, 1824, p. 251f.; Murray’s Handbook to Asia Minor, 1895.

James Strahan.


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

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