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Public drama was apparently unknown in Old Testament Israel except for possible worship activities and only arrived with the Greeks after 400 B.C. As a symbol of Greco-Roman culture, the presence of theaters in Palestine was a constant reminder of Greek and Roman control of the Jewish state. Herod I built numerous theaters in the Greek cities during his reign in Palestine (37–4 B.C.). Their presence, especially near the Temple in Jerusalem, continually infuriated the Jews. Outside of Israel and across the Roman Empire, theaters flourished. Public performances began with a sacrifice to a pagan deity, usually the patron god of the city. Dramas and comedies included historical or political themes and were often lewd and suggestive. The semi-circular seats of the theater rose step fashion either up a natural hillside or on artificial tiers. A facade of several stories (as high as the uppermost seats) was decorated with sculptures and stood behind the stage. The general public sat in the higher seats, farther back, but wealthier patrons were given seats lower and closer to the stage. A large central area was reserved for the local governor or ruler. Theaters varied in size. Those in small towns held approximately 4,000 persons, while larger theaters, such as that in Ephesus where Paul was denounced (Acts 19:29 ), were capable of holding 25,000 or more. See Greece; Rome.

David Maltsberger

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Theater'. Holman Bible Dictionary.​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​t/theater.html. 1991.