Roman-Persian frontiers, where the exchange of ideas as well as goods was a basic aspect of life. The religious situation is vividly seen in the archaeological remains of the city of Dura Europos on the middle Euphrates river, destroyed in 256 ce during Sassanian Persian incursions. Temples of Greek, Roman, Parthian and Palmyrene deities have been excavated, as well as three small religious buildings formed out of converted private homes in the western part of the city: a Mithraeum, a Jewish synagogue and the earliest surviving Christian church (see Fig. 6, below). The latter two contain brilliant, and extensive, frescoes of biblical narratives. When the Persian army relocated Christian captives into Persian territory during these same battles, there were already established Christian communities to receive them.3
Early communities, early literature
Antioch itself served as a kind of anchor connecting Syria to the larger Roman empire; certainly, it played that role administratively for successive Roman emperors. Because of the prominence given to Antioch in the New Testament, because of its relative proximity to Jerusalem, and because of the strength of its Jewish community, scholars have taken Antioch as a primary centre for Christianity's earliest development. Scholars have argued for Antioch as the provenance in which the gospel of Matthew was produced between the years 80 and 90 ce. The most ecclesiastically oriented of the canonical gospels, Matthew gives considerable attention to the problems of church organisation and structure. For similar reasons, many have argued that the Didache, perhaps the earliest Christian rule book, produced late in the first century, also came from Antioch or its surrounds. With the letters of Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, written early in the second century (probably between 107 and 117) while he was en route to his martyrdom in the city of Rome, a more concrete sense of Antioch as a centre of apostolic, ecclesiastical authority appears.
Ignatius was the earliest proponent of a tripartite ecclesiastical hierarchy.4 But Ignatius' letters argued further for particular theological themes that would soon become characteristic of Antiochene Christianity. Against docetic or Gnostic ideas that Christ was a divine saviour whose humanity and death had been illusory, and against the Judaising view of Jesus as a pious man perhaps divinely inspired like the prophets of old, Ignatius insisted on Jesus Christ as truly Son and Word of God (Ign. Eph. 7; Magn. 8-10). Certain that such a
3 Brock, 'Christians in the Sasanid empire'.
Was this article helpful?