When we mention Damascus, immediately the name of the apostle Paul comes to mind. The three cities, Damascus, Antioch, and Tarsus, have been coupled together in this series so that we can see them with Paul in mind.
It should be pointed out that Damascus is a blend of the old and new even today. All 3 of these cities have this in common. They have been continuously inhabited, and since people are living in them, there are not many ruins from the 1st century in them. Damascus is the oldest, continually inhabited city in the world today.
This Roman gate is at the west end of the "Straight Street". This is one of several remains of the Roman occupation during the time of the apostle Paul and the time of Jesus. The other side of the gate gives us some idea of the durable nature of Roman buildings. Romans were very fond of building triumphal arches and gates. The "Straight Street" was the most important street in the city of Damascus. We are interested in these Roman times, especially since Jesus and the apostle Paul lived during that period. We ought to keep in mind; however, that Abraham saw the city of Damascus. This same city was conquered by David (1 Chronicles 18:5-8). Elisha, the great prophet of God, anointed Hazael to be its first king (1 Kings 19). It was the home of Naaman, the leper, whom Elisha healed. This story is found in 2 Kings 5. Naaman said that he had rather dip into the two beautiful rivers of Damascus, the Pharpar and the Abana, than in the river of Jordan. Both of these rivers are around the city of Damascus today. Paul was baptized in Damascus, and he escaped for his life from this city.
We begin our journey now on the "Straight Street". It lives up to its name because it is the longest and straightest street in all the ancient cities of Bible times. Paul stayed on this street in the house of a man named Judas. It was to this house that Ananias came and preached the gospel of Jesus Christ unto him. The great story of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus is found in Acts 9.
Here we see one of the many streets that join the "Straight Street". Damascus is a crowded city. It has been called one of the most oriental cities of the Bible lands. It is a city for Muslim worship.
Another of these many side streets reminds us much of the city of Jerusalem, with its ancient stone buildings and its crowded streets. The elevation of Damascus is 2,300 feet above sea level. It is literally an oasis in the middle of the Syrian Desert. The elevation of Jerusalem is 2,650 feet above sea level. The nights of both of these cities are pleasant even in the summer time.
Here we have a long look at this interesting street. We see all kinds of traffic on it: automobiles, donkey drawn carts, and people carrying heavy loads. The population of Damascus today (2004) is 1.5 million people.
As we continue on the "Straight Street", we come to one of several covered markets. Inside are shops of all kinds, which sell a large variety of oriental goods. We are going to pass through this covered area.
We are inside the market now. The Arab name for "market" is "suq." It reminds us much of the Roman forum area. This was where business was transacted. Within the market most of the traffic was people walking.
We come now to the eastern gate, which is almost at the end of the "Straight Street". It is another Roman gate. Damascus was one of ten cities that are called the "cities of Decapolis". Mark 5 and 7 and Matthew 4 make reference to the cities of the Decapolis. "Deca" means "Ten" and "polis" means "city": the "Ten cities".
We take a closer look at the Roman gate. Rome probably lost control of the city of Damascus to the Nabatean king, Aretas IV. He appointed a governor over Damascus. It was during this period that Paul escaped through the window in the wall. He was let down in a basket. In 2 Cor. 11:32 he makes reference to this difficult time in his life, when as a new Christian, his life was so threatened that he had to escape.
The lower part of this wall is ancient; the upper part of this wall is reconstructed. The wall at one time encompassed the whole city. The city is too large for the wall to encircle it today.
Guides are eager to show you the window in the wall from which Paul was let down in a basket. This is the traditional spot. Of course, we do not have any idea where this took place. We do know that it was quite common in ancient times for houses to be built on top of a wall or in the side of a wall. It would have been possible for Paul to have been lowered from a place like this.
These Roman arches form an entrance to another market in the area of the "Straight Street". In the top right hand corner of our picture you can see the dome of the great Omayyad Mosque.
The Omayyad Mosque was built on the site where once stood the Temple of Hadad. Hadad was the Syrian god called the "thunderer". He was the god of the storm. This temple was originally built in 1000 B.C. Naaman, no doubt, would have gone with his king to this place. Romans later built a temple to Jupiter here. This wall and entrance were part of that original Roman temple.
These arches are thought to have been part of the Propylea of the Jupiter temple. These arches were standing in the time Paul. They form the long entrance way to this beautiful mosque that is built on the site of the ancient temple.
The enormous courtyard of this great mosque is paved with marble. It is a beautiful thing indeed. A mosque is a Muslim house of worship. Their prophet was Mohammed who came in about 632 AD. Their holy book is called the "Koran". It contains many passages from the Old Testament.
This is the main entrance to the Omayyad Mosque. Theodosius, was the Roman emperor that ruled from 370-395 AD. He built a Christian church here and dedicated it to John the Baptist. Tradition has said that John's head was buried here. Guides are happy to point that out to Christian visitors, but there is no way to verify this.
The ceiling at the entrance to this beautiful mosque is decorated with great mosaics of glass, pearl, gold and silver.
Now we have a closer look at the entrance. The wall in the other side of this is part of this part of the Roman wall that was built in the 1st century.
As we pass from this area of ancient Damascus we see a small Roman arch. Our guide did not know what its significance was, but simply said, "It's Roman." These are found in several places in the city.
This is our last slide on the city of Damascus. I think this pretty well tells the story of this city today: the ancient is swallowed up by the modern. This Roman wall is incorporated into part of this present structure. There are not very many ruins from New Testament times in modern Damascus. The city has been continuously inhabited and so the people have taken the ancient buildings and incorporated them into their own. This then is the great city in which Paul was converted to Christ and began his great missionary work of preaching New Testament Christianity.
We now move to the city of Tarsus.
We see before us the beautiful countryside as we approach the city of Tarsus. Paul said in Acts 21:39 that Tarsus was "no ordinary city."
An ancient feature of the city of Tarsus is what the local people of today call the "Tomb of Sardanapolis". They claim that he was a Syrian ruler who came to Tarsus.
History is silent on this tomb, and the name of Sardanopolis is not to be found in any historical record any place. This probably was a Roman tomb or temple and was built in the 1st century.
This structure is on a grassy plain outside the city. Archaeologists have not found anything to give us any indication as to its origin, who built it or what its purpose was. The first reference, historically, is on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III. Tarsus was taken by him in the 9th century BC. Another interesting feature of the Black Obelisk, which is in the British Museum, is a picture of Jehu, who was a king of Israel.
These houses are part of the oldest section of Tarsus today. Local guides point out that this is where Paul lived, but there is no way to verify this.
However, there is one thing from the New Testament time that is of interest to us, and that is this Roman arch. This arch is called the "Arch of Cleopatra". Mark Antony was in Tarsus for some time. Cleopatra met him here in 37 BC. She sailed up the Cydnus River to the center of the city, and it is said that she passed through this arch on the first meeting with Mark Antony.
Here we have the other side of Cleopatra's Arch. You can see from the age of this structure that it dates to the 1st century. Tarsus is ten miles from the Mediterranean. Its elevation is about 120 feet above sea level. In New Testament times Tarsus was located on the Cydnus River. The Emperor Julian changed the course of the river so that it flowed along the east side of the city, and that is where the river runs today. It no longer passes through the center of town.
This ancient well is, of course called "Paul's Well". It is in the area of ancient houses. We have no way of knowing whether this old well was even there during the time of Paul.
This is the wheel for drawing water out of the well.
Citizens of Tarsus are always interested in meeting new visitors. Tarsus was difficult to reach. It was accessible only by ship. The population of Tarsus today is about 256,000. It is thought that the population of Tarsus during the New Testament time was half a million but this may be an exaggeration. Many of the citizens of Tarsus received their citizenship into the Roman Empire by decrees of various Roman officials, such as Pontius Pilate, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony and Augustus. Paul's parents, living there and being Jews, probably received their Roman citizenship from one of these rulers.
We look now at the beautiful Cydnus River. A Roman aqueduct spans this river in the distance.
Tarsus is on the Cilician Plain. It was one of 3 university cities in Roman times. Paul probably received some of his great education here at this university city. Athens, Greece and Alexandria, Egypt were the other 2 leading university cities.
The aqueduct can be seen again in the distance, as it stretches for 10 miles across the Cilician plain
We close our visit to Tarsus by seeing another of the Crusaders' fortresses that were built in the 11th or 12th centuries. This again is outside the city of Tarsus and gives us some idea of the beautiful landscape.
We now come to the city of Antioch. Damascus is where Paul was converted, Tarsus was his home town, and Antioch is the city where he began his first missionary journey.
This first scene of Antioch gives us a view of the mountains and plains around the city. Paul would have come around the northwest corner of the Mediterranean Sea. Antioch was in Syria in the New Testament time.
This mountainous area has a lot of vegetation and is good for farming. Antioch, like Damascus and Tarsus, will have little to show us from New Testament times. Extensive excavations have not yet taken place. No doubt, this city holds many buried treasures from New Testament times.
The population of Antioch today is 125,000.It is called "Antakya". The present city occupies the same site as the ancient city. Antioch was founded in 300 BC by Seleucus I, also called "Nicator". It is the most famous of the 16 cities built by Nicator in honor of his father, who was named Antiochus. All of these cities bear the name "Antioch".
This is built at the foot of Mount Silpius. There are a number of caves in the mountain that surround this city.
We are going to climb to a cave that could have been used by early Christians as a place of worship. Here again the local guides are hard pressed to show tourists things from early Christian times, so they show sites that are traditional.
This long stairway leads to a large cave that early Christians might have used as a meeting place. This front portion was probably added several hundred years ago.
The people who built this church named it "St. Peter's", giving more importance to Peter's visit to Antioch than Paul's. You will recall that Peter came to Antioch for a discussion with Paul over the acceptance of Gentiles into the fellowship of the church.
In the rear of this cave is an escape route that goes out the other side of the mountain. The passage way is so small that a person would have to crawl through it in several places. This could very well have been used by Christians for an escape route during times of persecution.
In Antioch there is a fine museum that contains a number of relics from Hittite times. The Old Testament makes approximately 50 references to the Hittites. Critics of the Bible once said that no such people ever existed. This is a column base from Hittite times. There are two lions carved upon it to support the column.
This is the head of an ancient Hittite deity. This comes from the 11th century BC. All Hittite artifacts in this museum came from two periods, the 11th and the 9th centuries BC.
This well-preserved Hittite altar gives us some idea of what altars would have looked like in ancient times. The sacrifice would have been placed on the flat top area.
This Hittite Storm god would have been worshipped in times of peril.
These 2 lions' heads are different from the ones we saw that supported the base of a column. These come from the 11th century BC, while the others were from the 9th century BC. These formed the entrance to a throne.
This beautiful column base was built by Hittites in the 9th century BC. The Hittites figure very prominently in Old Testament history. Abraham purchased the cave of Machpelah from a Hittite. Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, whom David took, was a Hittite. The city of Antioch was built where Hittites had lived. These people of Antioch were very receptive to the gospel when Paul preached to them. He worked with the church there for more than a year before he began his first missionary journey.
This would have been the city hall or city square. Antioch was captured by the Romans in 64 BC. The Romans later made it a free city. It became the Roman capitol of the province of Syria. In fact, it became the third largest city in the Roman Empire. It was called "Antioch the Great," or "Queen of the East," or "Antioch the Beautiful."
This is the Orontes River. Antioch was distinguished from the other 15 sister cities that bore the same name, because it was situated on the Orontes River and so was called "Antioch on the Orontes". Antioch had street lighting. We are told that there were fountains at several intersections. Like many Greek cities, there were colonnades on either side of the streets for protection from sun and rain. Antioch was also noted for its roses, and from these roses was produced a sweet-smelling perfume. Chrysostom, the golden orator of early New Testament times, tells us that the city had a population of about 800,000 persons. This could be an exaggeration. It was probably more nearly half a million. It was one of the chief cities of the Roman Empire.
Antioch has a beautiful setting. It is approximately 16 miles from the sea. Its seaport was Seleucia. Paul and Barnabas took their first missionary journey from this city. Upon their return they made a report to the church in Antioch. Barnabas took John Mark with him on the second journey, while Paul chose Silas. He was later joined by Luke, Timothy, and Titus. Paul's third journey began form this great city. Antioch rivaled Jerusalem in importance, for it was there that Jews and Gentiles who had been converted assembled together for the first time. It is no wonder that the Holy Spirit reserved the great name Christian to be called upon the people of this 1st century city. "And the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch" (Acts 11:26)"
Original text and slides from "Bible Cities and Geography", ©1974 Star Bible Publications. Unlawful to duplicate or reproduce in any form or manner. Used by permission. Various edits and new audio recordings by the Bible Study Center 2006-2014.
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