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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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The only street referred to by name in the apostolic writings is the street in Damascus which is called ‘Straight’ (Acts 9:11). The word employed (ῥύμη, ‘lane’ or ‘alley’) hardly applies to this instance, for it was a broad, straight street on the Greek model, flanked by colonnades, on the further side of which foot-paths extended. The modern equivalent, which still retains the name, and forms the principal thoroughfare of the city, is in reality only the northern foot-way of the ancient street. The proof of this is given by the East Gate, the central and southern archways of which are now closed up; also by fragments of columns, found in houses and courtyards contiguous to the present street.

The same word is found in Acts 12:10, applied to one of the streets or lanes of Jerusalem, probably in the heart of the city, to which it appears to be appropriate (cf. article Gate). The use of πλατεῖα in Acts 5:15 is somewhat surprising; if taken in conjunction with κατὰ followed by acc. plur. it forcibly suggests alleys or lanes in which it was necessary to arrange the sick in lines. But it has to be noted that καὶ εἰς is now read, following אABD, which seems to correspond better with the likely situation. The sick were brought from narrow ways into the ‘broad places.’ A comparison with Mark 6:56 (ἐν ταῖς ἀγοραῖς; D reads πλατείαις) is instructive: applied to villages and country, no less than to cities, this would seem to denote no more than ‘open spaces,’ perhaps as opposed to courtyards. Such open spaces in cities came to be used as business centres, and were put to other uses (see especially Acts 17:17).

If we keep in view the smallness and the extreme irregularity of ancient cities, as revealed by recent excavation in Palestine, it seems best to equate ῥύμη to ‘street,’ and πλατεῖα to ‘square,’ in the modern city. The difference is greater than the similarity, however, for the average Hebrew city could boast of only one ‘broad place,’ and that was at the gate. An exception must be made for the Apostolic Age in favour of recent cities, built according to Graeco-Roman designs (cf. Damascus above). Whether a city was ancient or modern would have an important bearing on its plan.

πλατεῖα alone is used in Rev., notably always in the singular (Revelation 11:8; Revelation 21:21; Revelation 22:1). The Graeco-Roman model seems to be before the writer’s eye. Here πλατεῖα is not a broad place or square, but rather a broad street running from gate to gate. Had the symmetry been detailed there would have been found a corresponding πλατεῖα intersecting the first at right angles. Within the walls the city would thus be divided into four segments which were built over, whose streets and lanes would be dwarfed by the spaciousness of the two πλατεῖαι. This principle is carried further in the description of the Holy City, New Jerusalem, in correspondence with the number of gates (twelve).

H. B. Swete (The Apocalypse of St. John 2, London, 1907, p. 299) takes exception to the division of the verses in Revelation 22:1-2 Revised Version , and follows Authorized Version and Revised Version margin. ‘The picture presented is that of a river flowing through the broad street which intersects the city, a row of trees being on either bank.’ In John 11:8 the corpses cast out into the principal street (now generally understood of the earthly Jerusalem), and left without burial, were a purposed insult to the martyred witnesses, which was speedily avenged (John 11:11-13). Such defilement stands in marked contrast to the later picture of purity and life (water and tree).

W. Cruickshank.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Street'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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Wednesday, August 12th, 2020
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19
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