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Miletus

 

Miletus, near the coast of western Turkey, was one of the most important cities in the ancient Greek world, but eventually declined due to the silting up of its harbors. St. Paul stopped at Miletus on his Third Missionary Journey, on his way back to Jerusalem. There are many well-preserved ruins to be seen at the site, including a Temple of Apollo, a Byzantine church, and an important inscription relating to Jews.

 

In the Bible

 

Miletus was one of St. Paul's stops on his Third Missionary Journey. According to Acts 20:16-38, Paul was on his way back to Jerusalem, and in a hurry because he wanted to reach the holy city by the day of Pentecost. Coming from Troas, he bypassed Ephesus but paused at Miletus and called for the elders of Ephesus to come meet him there. His lengthy farewell speech to them included a quote of the otherwise unknown saying of Jesus, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." He said he would probably not see them again, for "the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me." The elders wept to hear this, they prayed and embraced, and then brought him to the ship where he sailed for Jerusalem. Paul's speech on this occasion is his only recorded sermon delivered exclusively to believers.

Another visit to Miletus is suggested by 2 Timothy 4:20, which describes Paul leaving Trophimus in Miletus due to illness.

 

What to See

 

It is difficult to imagine that Miletus was once situated on a peninsula, with three harbors on the west and one on the east. Today, the harbors have silted up to such an extent that the ruins of Miletus are located in a broad plain 5 miles inland.

A good place to start your tour of Miletus is from a ruined Byzantine castle on a hill behind the theater. This provides a good view of the widely scattered ruins and the original coastline around Miletus (which can only be seen from up here). The city walls were massive - more than 30 feet thick in places - but were stormed by Alexander the Great in his conquest of the city.

In St. Paul's time, Miletus had two main harbors. The Theater Harbor was where the original Cretan inhabitants settled. The theater faced it, to the southwest, where the ticket office now stands. The Lion Harbor was guarded by two marble lions, one of which can still be seen.

 

Below the Byzantine castle is a Hellenistic heroon, a monumental tomb to honor a local hero who was deified. On the west side of the vaulted tomb chamber are five small niches to hold the remains of family members. In the center of the tomb's floor is a rectangular hole for sacrifices.

 

Miletus' theater is large, with a facade of 460 ft (140 m) and a present height of 100 ft (30 m) high. It was originally built in the 4th century BC, but modified and enlarged under Emperor Trajan in the 2nd century AD to seat 25,000 spectators. Also added in the Roman period was a third floor to the stage building, which was decorated with columns and hunting scenes with Eros. In the center of the first two rows, four columns designated a special box for the emperors.

In the theater is an important inscription. On the fifth row of seats are the words (in Greek): "For the Jews and the God-fearers." This reinforces Josephus' report about tolerance for Jews at Miletus. It is also significant in indicating a sizeable Jewish community and one that participated in the theater, unthinkable among more conservative Palestinian Jews. Some experts believe the inscription is better translated "For the Jews [called] God-fearers," referring to non-Jews who joined the Jewish community but continued to attend the theater. [More Info]