The Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries

by Adolph (von) Harnack
translated and edited by James Moffatt
Second, enlarged and revised English edition;
London: Williams and Norgate / New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1908 (from the 2nd German edition).
Theological Translation Library, volumes 19-20

From the German, Die Mission und Ausbreitung des Christentums in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten (1902, revised 1906, 1915, and finally 1924)

[experimental greek] ?????

[[Book 4, Chapter 3, section 2 (page 120 = 2nd German ed p. 98) (scanned and proofed, Elana Newberger 4/2004), edited RAK 5/2004; checked by Francisco Lameiro 2/2005; Greek added,  some ETs still needed]]



As we learn from Acts, Christianity reached the cities of Phoenicia at a very early period. When Paul was converted, there were already Christians at Damascus (Acts 10.2, 12 f., 19); [[121]] for Christians in Tyre see 21.4, for Ptolemais see 21.7, for Sidon 27.3, and in general 11.19.\2/

\1/ Phoenicia, as a special province, separated from Syria by Septimius Severus, was equivalent to Phoenicia proper with the adjoining interior eastward, but without Auranitis, Batanea, and Trachonitis, which Diocletian added to the province of Arabia (cp. signatures of Nicaea, and Marquardt's Staatsverwalt., 1. pp. 264 f.). That an ecclesiastical province of this name existed in 231-232 C.E. is proved by Jerome, Ep. 30.4: "Damnatur Origenes a Demetrio episcopo exceptis Palaestinae et Arabiae et Phoenicis atque Achaiae sacerdotibus."-Cp. Maps 3., 4.

\2/ In the pseudo-Clementine Homilies, the island of Aradus (12.12), Orthosia (12.1), and Paltus (13.1), the frontier-town between Syria and Phoenicia, are all mentioned. Whether Christians existed there at that early date is uncertain.

The metropolitan position of Tyre, which was the leading city in the East for manufactures and trade, made it the ecclesiastical capital of the province; but it is questionable if Tyre enjoyed this pre-eminence as early as the second century, for at the Palestinian synod on the Easter controversy Cassius, the bishop of Tyre, and Clarus, the bishop of Ptolemais, took counsel with the bishops of AElia and of Caesarea (Eus., H.E., 5.25), to whom they seem to have been subordinate.\3/ On the other hand, Marinus of Tyre is mentioned in a letter of Dionysius of Alexandria (ibid., 7.5.1) in such a way as to make his metropolitan dignity extremely probable. Martyrs in or from Tyre, during the great persecution, are noted by Eusebius, 8.7.1 (8.8), 8.13.3 (bishop Tyrannion), Mart. Pal., 5.1 (Ulpian: a common name in Tyre; the famous jurist and this martyr were not the only Tyrians who bore this name), 7.1 (Theodosia, the woman martyr). Origen died at Tyre and was buried there. It is curious also to note that the learned Antiochene priest Dorotheus, the teacher of Eusebius, was appointed by the emperor (Diocletian, or one of his immediate predecessors) to be the director of the purple-dying trade in Tyre (Eus., H.E., 7.32). A particularly libellous edict issued by the emperor Daza against the Christians, is preserved by Eusebius (9.7), who copied it from the pillar in Tyre on which it was cut, and the historian's work reaches its climax in the great speech upon the reconstruction of the church at Tyre, "by far the most beautiful in all Phoenicia" (10.4). This speech is dedicated to Paulinus, bishop of Tyre, in whose honor indeed the whole of the tenth book of its [[122]] history is written. Unfortunately we get no information whatever, in this long address, upon the Christian community at Tyre. We can only infer the size of the community from the size of the church building (which may have stood where the ruins of the large crusading church now astonish the traveller; cp. Baedeker's Palestine, pp. 300 f.). Tyre as a Christian city was to Phoenicia what Caesarea was to Palestine. It seems to have blossomed out as a manufacturing and trading center during the imperial age, especially in the third century. A number of passages in Jerome give characteristic estimates of its size and importance.

\3/ Phoenicia was then attached to Syria; it was not a separate province of the empire. We should expect the local bishops to associate with those of Syria during the second century, but this was not so. Were they specially invited to the Palestinian synod, or did they take part in its proceedings as regular members? In the matter of Origen, they were at one with the bishops of Palestine (cp. p. 120, note 3), while the Syrian bishops seem to have condemned Origen.

In Sidon, Origen stayed for some time (Hom. 14.2, in Josuam), while it was there that the presbyter Zenobius (Eus., H.E., 8.13.3) died during the great persecution, as did some Christians at Damascus (9.5).

Eleven bishops, but no chor-episcopi, were present at the council of Nicaea from Phoenicia; namely, the bishops of Tyre, Ptolemais, Damascus, Sidon, Tripolis, Paneas, Berytus, Palmyra, Alassus\4/, Emesa, and Antaradus.\5/

\4/ Where is this town to be sought for? Perhaps the name is misspelt. Perhaps we are to think of Alalis on the Euphrates (N.E. of Palmyra), for the province of Syro-Phoenicia reached thus far, probably, in the third century.

\5/ The last-named is not quite certain (see Gelzer, op. cit., pp. 65. f.). Perhaps a twelfth still falls to be added, if the Θελέη of some MSS is genuine, and if we may identify it with "Thelsea," or "Thelseae," near Damascus (Itin. Ant., 196.2). So far as I am aware, we cannot tell where to look for the Phoenician locality mentioned by Eusebius in Vit. Const. 4.39: Ταὐτὸν δὲ καὶ ἕτεραι πλείους διεπράττοντο χῶραι, ὡς ἡ ἐπὶ τοῦ Φοινίκων ἔθνους αὐτοῦ βασιλέως ἐπώνυμος, ἧς οἱ πολῖται δυσεξαρίθμητα ξοάνων ἱδρύματα πυρὶ παραδόντες τὸν σωτήριον ἀντικατηλλάξαντο νόμον (ΕΤ= ). What was it called? Constantinople? Constantine?

Already (under Palestine) I have noted that Jewish Christians also resided in Paneas (on which town see, too, Eus., H.E., 7.17.18).\6/

\6/ This passage at any rate leads us to infer that Christians existed there, whether the well-known statue (see above, vol. 1. p. 119, and Philostorg., H.E., 7. 3) really was a statue of Christ, or was merely taken to represent him.

Tripolis is mentioned even before the council of Nicaea (in Mart. Pal. 3., where a Christian named Dionysius comes from Tripolis); the Apostolic Constitutions (7. 46) declare that Marthones was bishop of this town as early as the apostolic age; while, previous to the council of Nicaea, Hellenicus, the [[123]] local bishop, opposed Arius (Theodoret, H.E., 1.4), though Gregory, bishop of Berytus, sided with him (loc. cit.; for Berytus, see also Mart. Pal. 4. The local church was burnt under Julian; cp. Theod., H.E., 4.22).

Eusebius (8.13) calls Silvanus, at the period of the great persecution, bishop, not of Emesa but of "the churches round Emesa" (τῶν ἀμφὶ τὴν Ἔμισαν ἐκκλησιῶν ἐπίσκοπος).\7/ Emesa thus resembled Gaza; owing to the fanaticism of the inhabitants, Christians were unable to reside within the town itself, they had to quarter themselves in the adjoining villages. Anatolius, the successor of Silvanus, was the first to take up his abode within the town. Theodoret (H.E., 3.7), writing of the age of Julian, says that the church there was νεόδμητος. With regard to Heliopolis we have this definite information, that the town acquired its first church and bishop, thanks to Constantine, after 325 C.E. (cp. Vita Constant., 3.58, and Socrat., 1.18).\8/ The Mart. Syriacum mentions one martyr, Lucian, at Heliopolis. Christians also were deported (Mart. Pal., 8.2) by Daza to Lebanon for penal servitude.

\7/ In 9.6 he is simply called bishop, and he is said to have been martyred by Daza after an episcopate of forty years.

\8/ Eusebius emphasizes the unprecedented fact of a church being founded and a bishop being appointed even at Heliopolis. Then he proceeds: "In his zealous care to have as many as possible won over to the doctrine of the gospel, the emperor gave generous donations for the support of the poor at this place also, so as even thus to stir them up to receive the truths of salvation. He, too, might almost have said with the apostle, 'Whether in pretence or in truth, let Christ anyhow be proclaimed.'" How tenaciously paganism maintained itself, however, in Heliopolis (which was still predominantly pagan in the sixth century) is shown by Schultze, op. cit., 2. pp. 250 f. On the local situation towards the close of the fourth century, note the remark of Peter of Alexandria (Theod., H.E., 4.19): "In Heliopolis no inhabitant will so much as listen to the name of Christ, for they are all idolaters…..The devil's ways of pleasure are in full vogue there…..The governor of the city himself is one of the leading idolaters" (cp. Sozom., 5.10, 7.15). As late as 579 the pagans were still in the majority at Heliopolis, but shortly before the irruption of Islam the local church had got the upper hand.

One martyrdom makes it plain that there were Christians at Byblus. --Further, and finally, we must recall an interesting inscription, dated in the year 318-319 C.E. (630 of the Seleucid era), which was discovered at Deir Ali (Lebaba), about three [[124]] miles south of Damascus, by Le Bas and Waddington. It runs as follows:-

Συναγωγη Μαρκιωνιστων κωμ(ης)
  Λεβαβων του κ(υριο)υ και σω(τη)ρ(ος) Ιη(σου) Χρηστου
προνοια(ι) Παυλου πρεσβ(υτερου) -- του λχ' ετους.\9/

["The meeting-house of the Marcionists, in the village of
Lebaba, of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Erected by the forethought of Paul a presbyter -- In the year 630."]

\9/ Insc. Grec. et Latines, 3. 1870, No. 2558, p. 582; cp. Harnack in Zeitschr. f. wiss. Theol. (1876), pp. 103 f.

Thus there was a Marcionite community near Damascus in the year 318 (319) C.E. (Already, p. 109, we have found a Marcionite bishop in Palestine about the same period.)

At Choba (Kabûn), north of Damascus, there were also numerous Jewish Christians in the days of Eusebius (cp. above, p. 103).

We have no information in detail upon the diffusion and density of the Christian population throughout Phoenicia.\10/ Rather general and satisfactory information is available for Syria, a province with which Phoenicia was at that time very closely bound up; even the Phoenician tongue had long ago been dislodged by Syriac. From the letters of Chrysostom and the state of matters which still obtained in the second half of the sixth century, however, it is quite clear that Christianity got a firm footing only on the seaboard, while the inland districts of Phoenicia remained entirely pagan in the main.\11/ Yet it was but recently, not earlier than the third century, that these Phoenician-Hellenic cults had experienced a powerful revival.

\10/ On Constantine's destruction of the temple of Aphrodite at Aphaka, in the Lebanon, see Vita Const., 3.55; Sozom., 2.5.

\11/ They show (especially those dating from 406-407 C.E.) that missionary operations were carried out in the interior of Phoenicia then, as they are to-day in purely heathen lands. There must have been populous towns and districts where Christianity was as yet entirely unknown, or where the local inhabitants would not tolerate it.

The situation is quite clear; wherever Christianity went, it implied Hellenizing, and vice versa. Christianity, in the first instance, only secured a firm footing where there were Greeks. The majority of the Phoenician towns where Christian bishops [[125]] can be traced, lay on the coast; i.e., they were towns with a strong Greek population.\12/ In the large pagan cities, Emesa and Heliopolis, on the other hand, Christians were not tolerated. Once we leave out inland localities where "heretics," viz., Marcionites and Jewish Christians, resided, the only places in the interior where Christians can be found are Damascus, Paneas, and Palmyra. Damascus, the great trading city, was Greek (cp. Mommsen's Röm. Gesch., 5. p. 473; Eng. trans., 2. 146); so was Paneas. In Palmyra, the headquarters of the desert-trade, a strong Greek element also existed (Mommsen, pp. 425 f.; Eng. trans., 2. 96 f.). The national royal house in Palmyra, with its Greek infusion, was well disposed not towards the Greek but towards the scanty indigenous Christians of Syria, as may be inferred from the relations between Paul of Samosata and Zenobia, no less than from the policy adopted by Rome against him.\13/ The overthrow of this metropolitan bishop meant a victory for Hellenism.

\12/ The names of the Phoenician bishops and Christians known to us are Greco-Roman, with two exceptions. Bishops Zeno, AEneas, Magnus, Theodorus, Hellenicus, Philocalus, Gregory, Marinus, Anatolius attended the council of Nicaea; the bishop of Alassus alone has a Semitic name, "Thadoneus" (not given in Pape-Benseler), while "Zenobius" may be the Greek form of a Semitic name. It was in Phoenicia as in Palestine; Christianity appears as a Greek religion.

\13/ For the great catholic federation of churches must at that time have been felt to be a Greco-Roman institution, and consequently a menace to Palmyra.