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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Colossae

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(Κολοσσαί in the opening of the Epistle, 1:2; in the title, which is not original, there is about equal authority for Κολοσσαεῖς and Κολασσαεῖς; in the subscription the authority for Κολασσαεῖς predominates).-The name was given to an ancient Phrygian city on the S. bank of the Lycus (Churuk Su), an affluent of the Maeander. It was situated at the lower end of a narrow glen about 10 miles long. Herodotus says that at Colossae ‘the river Lycus, falling into a chasm of the earth, disappears; then, reappearing at a distance of about five stadia, it discharges itself into the Maeander’ (vii. 30). No such chasm, however, exists at Colossae, and the historian has apparently misreported what he heard of the underground passage of the river at its source, as accurately described by Strabo (XII. viii. 16).

Colossae was one of three sister cities which received the gospel about the same time (Colossians 4:13), Laodicea lying about 10 miles farther down the Lycus valley, and facing Hierapolis, which was picturesquely seated on a plateau 6 miles to the north. Behind Colossae and Laodicea rose the mighty snow-capped range of Cadmus (Baba Dagh, ‘Father of mountains’), over 8000ft. above sea-level. Commanding the approaches to a pass in this range, and traversed by the great trade-route between Ephesus and the Euphrates, Colossae was at one time a place of much importance. Herodotus (op. cit.) calls it ‘a great city of Phrygia,’ and Xenophon describes it as πόλιν οἰκουμένην εὐδαίμονα καὶ μεγάλην (Anab. I. ii. 6). But as Laodicea and Hierapolis grew in importance, Colossae waned, and in the beginning of the first century Strabo reckons it as no more than a πόλισμα (xii. viii. 13). Pliny, indeed, names it among the oppida celeberrima of Phrygia (Historia Naturalis (Pliny) v. 41), but he is merely alluding to its illustrious past. It was visited, however, by streams of travellers passing east and west, who made it conversant with the freshest thought of the time. Its permanent population consisted mostly of Phrygian natives and Greek colonists. Jews had also been attracted to the busy trade-centres of the Lycus valley, a fact which accounts for the Jewish complexion of some of the errors refuted in the Colossian Epistle. Antioch us the Great (223-187 b.c.) transplanted 2000 Jewish families from Babylonia and Mesopotamia to Lydia and Phrygia (Jos. Ant. xii. iii. 4). The freedom and prosperity which they enjoyed probably induced many others to follow them, and there is a bitter saying in the Babylonian Talmud that the wine and baths of Phrygia separated the ten tribes from their brethren (Shab. 147b, quoted by A. Neubauer, Géogr. du Talmud, Paris, 1868, p. 315). Cicero (pro Flacc. 28) speaks of the multitudo Judœorum who inhabited the district in his time.

The Church of Colossae was not directly founded by St. Paul. There is no indication that he ever preached in any of the cities of the Lycus valley. In his second journey he was debarred from speaking in Asia (Acts 16:6), the province to which Colossae politically belonged, and in his third tour ‘he went through the Galatic region and Phrygia [or Galatic and Phrygian region] in order, confirming the disciples,’ and ‘having passed through the upper country (τὰ ἀνωτερικὰ μέρη) he came to Ephesus’ (Acts 18:23; Acts 19:1). It is not impossible that-as Renan suggests (Saint Paul, Paris, 1869, pp. 331f., 356f.)-he followed the usual route of commerce down the Lycus valley, going straight to his destination without pausing to do any work by the way. But it is more in harmony with St. Luke’s carefully chosen words, as well as with the language of Col., to suppose that he took the shorter hill-read by Seiblia and the Cayster valley, a road practicable for foot passengers but not for wheeled traffic (W. M. Ramsay, The Church in the Rome. Emp. p. 94). During his three years’ residence in Ephesus, ‘all they that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks’ (Acts 19:10; cf. Acts 19:26), and it was probably at this time that the churches of the Lycus were founded. The truth proclaimed in the virtual capital of the province-the primacy of Sardis was now only nominal-was soon carried to the remotest towns and villages. Epaphras and Philemon, citizens of Colossae, were probably converted in Ephesus, and the former was speedily sent, as St. Paul’s delegate or representative (ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν, instead of ὑμῶν, is the true reading in Colossians 1:7), to evangelize his native valley. Five or six years afterwards, St. Paul, a prisoner in Rome, wrote to the Colossian Christians, of whose faith and love he had heard (Colossians 1:4; Colossians 1:9) from Epaphras and perhaps from Onesimus, but who had never seen his face (2:1). He felt as great a solicitude for them as if they had been his own spiritual children. Indirectly they were indebted to him for their knowledge of the gospel (cf. following article).

One of the non-Christian beliefs and practices which quickly threatened to submerge the Colossian Church was the cult of angels, or elemental spirits, who were supposed to intervene between a pure, absolute, unapproachable God and a world of evil. This idea proved almost ineradicable. One of the canons (the 35th) of the Council of Laodicea (held probably about a.d. 363) ran thus; ‘It is not right for Christians to abandon the Church of God and go away and invoke angels (ἀγγέλους ὀνομάζειν).… If, therefore, any one is found devoting himself to this secret idolatry, let him be anathema.’ About a century later, Theodoret, commenting on Colossians 2:18, says: ‘This disease (τοῦτο τὸ πάθος) remained long in Phrygia and Pisidia … and even to the present time oratories (εὐκτήρια) of the holy Michael may be seen among them and their neighbours.’ The Byzantine historian Nicetas Choniates-Chonae, on a spur of Cadmus, took the place of decaying Colossae-mentions τὸν ἀρχαγγελικὸν ναόν as Standing, μεγέθει μέγιστον καὶ κάλλει κάλλιστον, in or near the ancient city; and the fantastic legend of ‘the Miracle of Chonae’ (Ramsay, The Church in the Rom. Emp. p. 465f.) reflects a popular belief in the mediation of Michael to save the inhabitants from an inundation.

Literature.-W. M. Ramsay, The Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, London, 1895-97, vol. i., The Church in the Roman Empire, do. 1893, ch. xix.

James Strahan.

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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Colossae'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/c/colossae.html. 1906-1918.

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Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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