Hierapolis

HIERAPOLIS (hī'ẽr-ăp'ō-lĭs, Gr. Hierapolis, sacred city). A city mentioned only in Col.4.13. It was in the territory of ancient Phrygia but in the NT period it became a part of the Roman province of Asia. It received its name from the fact that it was the seat of worship of important deities. The location was on the right bank of the Lycus about eight miles (thirteen km.) above its junction with the Maeander. Tradition connects the apostle Philip with the church; and Papias, notable disciple of John the beloved, was born there. Great ruins survive.


HIERAPOLIS hī’ ə răp’ ə lĭs (̔Ιεράπολις, G2631, sacred city). A good contour map of Asia Minor will reveal the importance of the Lycus Valley in the communications system of the peninsula. The chief trade route from the Aegean to the Euphrates and Syria ran due E from Ephesus, Smyrna, and Miletus, up the valley of the Maeander. The central plateau of Asia Minor had to be surmounted, and the best approach to the high country, which topped 8,500 ft., was manifestly by the gentler gradients of the river valleys. The highway ran due E until it reached the so-called Gates of Phrygia. Beyond this point, where Phrygia and Caria met, the Maeander valley became difficult to negotiate and the road followed the Lycus Valley, which continued its easterly direction for some distance before bending in a more northerly direction and ascending the western slopes of the plateau. It was obvious that a highway so important would attract commerce and the population centers that commerce and trade foster.

The three cities of the Lycus Valley are mentioned in the NT; the rich and self-conscious Laodicea, Colossae, to whose church Paul wrote an important letter, and Hierapolis. Hierapolis lay across the river from Laodicea, distant six or seven m., a subsidiary town of the great markets and banking center, a spa of importance, and perhaps a residential area. It occupied a conspicuous position on an elevated ledge of the hills with gleaming white cliffs below. The surviving ruins demonstrate what an unusual building site Hierapolis was. The name of the city undoubtedly derived from the hot springs located there, a phenomenon always associated with the presence of a deity. Those familiar with any area of thermal activity, e.g., the Yosemite district, or preeminently the Rotorua district in New Zealand, will be familiar with the features that marked the topography of Hierapolis; the glazed terraces, the whitened banks covered with the chemical deposits of the heavily laden waters, even the Plutonium, as the vent of mephitic gas was called. The Karapiti Blowhole at Wairakei in New Zealand is just such a volcanic phenomenon, though a more powerful outburst, that would have defied the action that the Lycus Valley Christians took in the 4th cent. when they stopped up the Plutonium. The people of Laodicea were no doubt very familiar with the features of thermal activity in nearby Hierapolis. Two matters in the imagery of the apocalyptic letter (Rev 3) to that church are based upon it. Highly emulsified and chemically charged mud is a mark of hot springs and prob. formed a constituent of the “eye salve” for which the valley was known, and which provides the writer with an ironic point. Water “neither hot nor cold” and emetic in its quality must also have been a feature of the place. New Zealand has a similar nauseating warm soda spring near Lake Rotorua.

The church of Hierapolis was prob. founded during Paul’s Ephesian ministry, by that process of diffusion down the main roads that was a principle of his strategy. Epaphras (Col. 4:12, 13) may have been active there. Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, at the end of the 2nd cent., quotes a tradition that Philip ministered in this church. Also, John prob. served there.

In secular history, Hierapolis was the birthplace of Epictetus the Stoic. There was, according to inscrs., a Jewish community. The Jews of Hierapolis appear to have been organized in trade guilds, of which those of the purple dyers and carpet makers are known. The city recognized these organizations, and also the “congregation of the Jews,” which had its public headquarters and the power to prosecute for religious offenses, privileges that dated from a royal foundation by a Hel. king, if the word katoikia, used in this connection, has its common significance. The feasts of Unleavened Bread and Pentecost are mentioned in inscrs. The information is of interest because the close neighborhood of Laodicea makes it likely that the position of Jews in Hierapolis indicates what their standing was in the larger center.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

As the name implies, Hierapolis was a holy city. It was situated 6 miles from Laodicea and twice that distance from Colosse, on the road from Sardis to Apamea. Though its history is not well known, it seems to have been of Lydian origin, and once bore the name of Kydrara. The Phrygian god Sabazios was worshipped there under the name Echidma, and represented by the symbol of the serpent. Other local deities were Leto and her son Lairbenos. Though called the holy city, Hierapolis was peculiarly regarded as the stronghold of Satan, for there was a Plutonium, or a hole reaching far down into the earth, from which there issued a vapor, even poisoning the birds flying above. It is supposed that upon a stool, deep in the Plutonium, a priest or priestess sat, and, when under the influence of the vapor, uttered prophecies valuable to those who sought them. Though a stronghold of Satan, Hierapolis early became a Christian city, for, according to Col 4:13, the only place where it is mentioned in the New Testament, a church was founded there through the influence of Paul while he was at Ephesus. Tradition claims that Philip was the first evangelist to preach there, and it also claims that he and his two unmarried daughters were buried there; a third who was married, was buried at Ephesus. Several of the early Christians suffered martyrdom at Hierapolis, yet Christianity flourished, other churches were built, and during the 4th century the Christians filled the Plutonium with stones, thus giving evidence that the paganism had been entirely supplanted by the church. During the Roman period, Justinian made the city a metropolis, and it continued to exist into the Middle Ages. In the year 1190 Frederick Barbarossa fought with the Byzantines there.

The modern town is called Pambuk Kalessi, or cotton castle, not because cotton is raised in the vicinity, but because of the white deposit from the water of the calcareous springs. The springs were famous in ancient times because they were supposed to possess Divine powers. The water is tepid, impregnated with alum, but pleasant to the taste. It was used by the ancients for dyeing and medicinal purposes. The deposit of pure white brought up by the water from the springs has heaped itself over the surrounding buildings, nearly burying them, and stalactite formations, resembling icicles, hang from the ruins. The ruins, which are extensive, stand on a terrace, commanding an extensive view, and though they are partly covered by the deposit, one may still trace the city walls, the temple, several churches, the triumphal arch, the gymnasium and baths, and the most perfect theater in Asia Minor. Outside the walls are many tombs.