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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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a city of Upper Syria, on the river Orontes, about twenty miles from the place where it discharges itself into the Mediterranean. It was built by Seleucus Nicanor, about three hundred years before Christ; and became the seat of empire of the Syrian kings of the Macedonian race, and afterward of the Roman governors of the eastern provinces; being very centrally and commodiously situated midway between Constantinople and Alexandria, about seven hundred miles from each, in 37 17' north latitude, and 36 45' east longitude. No city perhaps, Jerusalem excepted, has experienced more frequent revolutions, or suffered more numerous and dire calamities, than Antioch; as, besides the common plagues of eastern cities, pestilence, famine, fire, and sword, it has several times been entirely overthrown by earthquakes.

In 362, the emperor Julian spent some months at Antioch; which were chiefly occupied in his favourite object of reviving the mythology of Paganism. The grove at Daphne, planted by Seleucus, which, with its temple and oracle, presented, during the reigns of the Macedonian kings of Syria, the most splendid and fashionable place of resort for Pagan worship in the east, had sunk into neglect since the establishment of Christianity. The altar of the god was deserted, the oracle was silenced, and the sacred grove itself defiled by the interment of Christians. Julian undertook to restore the ancient honours and usages of the place; but it was first necessary to take away the pollution occasioned by the dead bodies of the Christians, which were disinterred and removed! Among these was that of Babylas, a bishop of Antioch, who died in prison in the persecution of Decius, and after resting near a century in his grave within the walls of Antioch, had been removed by order of Callus into the midst of the grove of Daphne, where a church was built over him; the remains of the Christian saint effectually supplanting the former divinity of the place, whose temple and statue, however, though neglected, remained uninjured. The Christians of Antioch, undaunted by the conspiracy against their religion, or the presence of the emperor himself, conveyed the relics of their former bishop in triumph back to their ancient repository within the city. The immense multitude who joined in the procession, chanted forth their execrations against idols and idolaters; and on the same night the image and the temple of the Heathen god were consumed by the flames. A dreadful vengeance might be expected to have followed these scenes; but the real or affected clemency of Julian contented itself with shutting up the cathedral, and confiscating its wealth. Many Christians, indeed, suffered from the zeal of the Pagans; but, as it would appear, without the sanction of the emperor.

In 1268, Antioch was taken by Bibars, or Bondocdar, sultan of Egypt. The slaughter of seventeen thousand, and the captivity of one hundred thousand of its inhabitants, mark the final siege and fall of Antioch; which, while they close the long catalogue of its public woes, attest its extent and population. From this time it remained in a ruinous and nearly deserted condition, till, with the rest of Syria, it passed into the hands of the Ottoman Turks, with whose empire it has ever since been incorporated.

To distinguish it from other cities of the same name, the capital of Syria was called Antiochia apud Daphnem, or Antioch near Daphne, a village in the neighbourhood, where was a temple dedicated to the goddess of that name; though, in truth, the chief deity of the place was Apollo, under the fable of his amorous pursuit of the nymph Daphne; and the worship was worthy of its object. The temple stood in the midst of a grove of laurels and cypresses, where every thing was assembled which could minister to the senses; and in whose recesses the juvenile devotee wanted not the countenance of a libertine god to abandon himself to voluptuousness. Even those of riper years and graver morals could not with safety breathe the atmosphere of a place where pleasure, assuming the character of religion, roused the dormant passions, and subdued the firmness of virtuous resolution. Such being the source, the stream could scarcely be expected to be more pure; in fact, the citizens of Antioch were distinguished only for their luxury in life and licentiousness in manners. This was an unpromising soil for Christianity to take root in. But here, nevertheless, it was planted at an early period, and flourished vigorously. It should be observed, that the inhabitants of Antioch were partly Syrians, and partly Greeks; chiefly, perhaps, the latter, who were invited to the new city by Seleucus. To these Greeks, in particular, certain Cypriot and Cyrenian converts, who had fled from the persecution which followed the death of Stephen, addressed themselves; "and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord."

When the heads of the church at Jerusalem were informed of this success, they sent Barnabas to Antioch, who encouraged the new disciples, and added many to their number; and finding how great were both the field and the harvest, went to Tarsus to solicit the assistance of Paul. Both this Apostle and Barnabas then taught conjointly at Antioch; and great numbers were, by their labours during a whole year, added to the rising church, Acts 11:19-26; Acts 15:22-35 . Here they were also joined by Peter, who was reproved by Paul for his dissimulation, and his concession to the Jews respecting the observance of the law, Galatians 2:11-14 .

Antioch was the birthplace of St. Luke and Theophilus, and the see of the martyr Ignatius. In this city the followers of Christ had first the name of Christians given them. We have the testimony of Chrysostom, both of the vast increase of this illustrious church in the fourth century, and of the spirit of charity which continued to actuate it. It consisted at this time of not less than a hundred thousand persons, three thousand of whom were supported out of the public donations. It is painful to trace the progress of declension in such a church as this. But the period now referred to, namely, the age of Chrysostom, toward the close of the fourth century, may be considered as the brightest of its history subsequent to the Apostolic age, and that from which the church at Antioch may date its fall. It continued, indeed, outwardly prosperous; but superstition, secular ambition, the pride of life; pomp and formality in the service of God, in place of humility and sincere devotion; the growth of faction, and the decay of charity; showed that real religion was fast disappearing, and that the foundations were laid of that great apostasy which, in two centuries from this time, overspread the whole Christian world, led to the entire extinction of the church in the east, and still holds dominion over the fairest portions of the west.

Antioch, under its modern name of Antakia, is now but little known to the western nations. It occupies, or rather did till lately occupy, a remote corner of the ancient enclosure of its walls. Its splendid buildings were reduced to hovels; and its population of half a million, to ten thousand wretched beings, living in the usual debasement and insecurity of Turkish subjects. Such was nearly its condition when visited by Pococke about the year 1738, and again by Kinneir in 1813. But its ancient subterranean enemy, which, since its destruction in 587, never long together withheld its assaults, has again triumphed over it: the earthquake of the 13th of August, 1822, laid it once more in ruins; and every thing relating to Antioch is past.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Antioch'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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