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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Thyatira

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(Θυάτειρα, neut. pl. [Note: plural.] )

Thyatira was a busy commercial city of northern Lydia, close to the southern border of Mysia. Situated a little to the south of the mountain ridge which is the watershed of the Caicus and the Hermns (Strabo, XIII. iv. 4), it controlled the traffic of the open and fertile valley of the Lycus, which flows S.W. to join the Hermus. Doubtless an old Lydian settlement, it retained its Lydian name, but its history begins with its refounding by Seleucus Nicator, the first of the Seleucid kings of Syria, who saw the advantage of establishing garrison cities and centres of Greek culture throughout his dominions, which extended from Western Asia to the Indus. The refounded city, ‘a colony of the Macedonians’ (Strabo, loc. cit.), was intended as a defence against Lysimachus, the master of northern Asia Minor. Some of the 2,000 Jewish families whom Antiochus the Great deported from Mesopotamia and Babylonia to Phrygia and Lydia (Jos. Ant. XII. iii. 4) must have been settled in Thyatira. In the Roman period the town became an important station on the overland route by the Hellespont (Dardanelles) to the East. It lay midway between the once royal cities of Pergamos and Sardis, but its own significance was always purely mercantile. It owed its prosperity to the manufacture of woollen goods, and especially to its dyed fabrics. An interesting evidence of the spiritual influence of the Jews in Thyatira is furnished by the fact that St. Paul’s earliest European convert, the proselyte Lydia, is described as ‘a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira’ (Acts 16:14). Many scholars think that ‘Lydia’ was not her proper name but her ethnic designation-‘the Lydian.’ It was probably at her home in the Lycus Valley that she had been attracted to the lofty theism and pure morality of Judaism, and, on going to Philippi as the agent of a house of Thyatiran manufacturers and dyers, she naturally sought out the fellowship of the Jewish proseuche.

Purple had a much wider meaning in ancient than in modern times. The purple of Thyatira was probably the well-known turkey-red, made from the madder-root which grows abundantly in that region.

The native deities of Thyatira, as appears from inscriptions on coins, were the male and female Tyrimnos and Boreitene, whom the Ionian settlers identified with Apollo and Artemis. Christianity was probably brought to the city at the time of St. Paul’s prolonged mission in Ephesus (Acts 19:10; Acts 19:26). Sown by whatever hand, the seed took firm root there and steadily grew. There was no ensuing decline of the Church’s ‘love and faith and ministry and patience,’ her last works being more than her first (Revelation 2:18). Thyatira had, however, a, perplexing moral problem to solve, and it is the handling of this question that makes the letter to the church of Thyatira (Revelation 2:19-29) the longest and in some respects the most obscure of all the Messages to the Seven Churches. Like the craftsmen of mediaeval Europe, those of many towns in Asia Minor were united in gilds, called ἔργα or ἐργασίαι. Inscriptions prove that no city had more flourishing societies of this kind than Thyatira, the workers in wool and linen, the tanners and bronze-smiths, the dyers and potters, and so on, all having their separate gilds. When the new religion was firmly established and became a real power in the city, the burning question of the hour came to be the attitude of the Christian society to the gild. Could the new and the old live peaceably side by side? One section of the church was led by a prominent and influential woman, admired by the weaker minds of the community as worthy to rank with those prophets whose oracular utterances in the primitive Church almost rivalled the inspired words of the apostles. The watchword of this party was hearty fellowship between the church and the gild. Throwing themselves with equal zest into the life of both, they no doubt justified themselves with specious arguments. All labour, they said, is sacred, the strong collective activity of the gild no less than the feebler service of the lonely toiler. It cannot be wrong for members of the same craft to associate themselves in order to defend and promote their common interests, as well as to assist one another in days of sickness and misfortune. To enlightened Christians no real harm can come from initiation into the gild with the conventional pagan rites, from partaking of food sacrificed to idols, and even from witnessing the riotous mirth of the heathen orgies. And in the name of liberty some so-called Christians of Thyatira evidently went still further, maintaining that a plunge into occult ‘depths,’ an experience of unnamed immoralities, could affect only the vile body, while it was powerless to soil or harm the pure immortal soul.

Writing in the name of Christ to the church of Thyatira, St. John uses the scathing language of indignant scorn, the piercing invective of wounded love. Leaving unanswered the theoretical question whether the gild might conceivably be so Christianized that the believing artisan might conscientiously seek its protection and share its fellowship, he keeps his eye on the actual situation. To him it is clear as daylight that no servant of God can become, or remain, a member of the gild as it is-steeped in idolatry and immorality. The union of the Christian Church with the pagan association is nothing less than treason to Christ; in the language of Hebrew and Christian Puritanism, it is fornication or adultery (Revelation 2:20-22). The ‘prophetess’ of the Thyatiran church is denounced as a new Jezebel, all the more subtly dangerous because she is not, like the first, a fanatical heathen defender of nature-worship, but a philosophical and sentimental dabbler in it, who is using her intellectual gifts to ‘teach and seduce’ the followers of Christ, reviving the old fallacy, ‘ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.’ To the indignant prophet of the Apocalypse this kind of reasoning is infernal; the ‘depths’ of experience into which members of the church of Thyatira are being initiated are the ‘depths of Satan’ (Revelation 2:24). He warns the coadjutors and youthful victims of the Thyatiran ‘prophetess’-called ‘her lovers’ and ‘her children’-that they will see the couch of pleasure changed into the bed of sickness and disease, and find that no sophistry can prevent sin from working death (Revelation 2:22-23). All antinomian progress is retrogression; every ascent ‘beyond good and evil’ is a disastrous fall.

‘Set the maiden fancies wallowing in the troughs of Zolaism,

Forward, forward, ay and backward, downward too into the abysm’

(Tennyson, Locksley Hall Sixty Years After, 145-146).

Outside the gate of Thyatira, as an inscription (CIG [Note: IG Corpus Inscrip. Graecarum.] , 3509) proves, there stood the shrine of a Chaldaean sibyl, whose name, Sambethe, was doubtless familiar to the whole town, and of whose sooth-saying St. John may well have heard. E. Schürer suggested (in Theol. Abhandlungen, Carl von Weizsäcker zu seinem 70ten Geburtstage gewidmet, Freiburg i. B., 1892, p. 39 f.) that this may have been the Jezebel denounced in the letter, but the theory has not found acceptance. That the writer of the Apocalypse may have seen some likeness between the two clever women, the sibyl and the ‘prophetess,’ each of whom had a large following in Thyatira, is not improbable; but the Jezebel whom the Church did wrong to suffer (v. 20), and who had been granted time to repent (v. 21), was clearly regarded by him as being not outside but inside the Christian community. Ak-hissar, as Thyatira is now called, is a large town of mud houses, almost hidden from view by the luxuriant vegetation of its gardens. The ruins are of no great importance.

Literature.-W. M. Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia, London, 1904; C. Wilson, in Murray’s Handbook to Asia Minor, do., 1905, p. 84 f.

James Strahan.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Thyatira'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/t/thyatira.html. 1906-1918.

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Wednesday, November 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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