Pauline Cities by John Dominic Crossan

We can think of Pauline cities in three archaeological categories. Some are excavated—like Philippi, Corinth, and Perge; some are unexcavated—like Derbe, Lysta, and Colossae; some cannot be excavated because modern cities sit atop them—like Thessaloniki, Konya, and Damascus. But a more useful criterion for a Pauline city is not just visitation by the apostle Paul but revelation about Paul. Where can we still get, despite the vagaries of time, fundamental insights into the social matrix of his world? We might prefer, therefore, Aphrodisias, which he never visited, to Ephesus, which he certainly did.

Aphrodisias is about two hours east of Turkey’s mid-Aegean coast along the Meander Valley. The longest and most important Jewish inscription from antiquity that was discovered there in 1966 stood outside unprotected from weather until brought inside the site’s elegantly expanded museum in 2010. The marble column is useful both in itself and also for understanding Paul’s actual missionary program as distinct from Luke’s portrayal of it in Acts.

The inscription is from the early third century C.E. and originally stood at the entrance to the city’s synagogue. It records the individual names of 126 donors to the building’s construction. But the distribution of those names is truly startling: 55% are Jewish; 2% are “proselytes,” or converts; and 43% are “God-worshippers.” Only one Jewish woman, “Jael,” is mentioned, but her name tops the list as patron of the entire operation. Furthermore, the first nine “God-worshippers” on the stone’s second face are members of the “boule,” or city council.

God-worshippers (Acts 13:43; Acts 16:14; Acts 17:4, Acts 17; Acts 18:7), or God-fearers (Acts 10:2, Acts 22; Acts 13:16), were Gentiles who, out of respect for Jewish monotheism and morality, attended the synagogue regularly. With that many Gentiles as public donors at Aphrodisias, how many more were ordinary attendees? Was Aphrodisias an extraordinary exception—and, if so, why?—or were many or even most synagogues half-filled with pious Gentiles every sabbath—at least by the second century?

In light of that inscription and other evidence it may be that Paul did not go to the synagogue to convert his fellow Jews as Acts says directly—that would have been against both his mandate from God (Gal 1:16) and his agreement with the twelve disciples (Gal 2:7-9). He went instead, as Acts admits indirectly, to convert Gentile God-fearers, or God-worshippers, to Christian Judaism. Those who accepted his vision were already well instructed in Judaism, so they could understand his letters much more readily than pure Gentiles might have been able to do.

Paul’s primary focus on Gentile God-worshippers also explains why his action so exasperated his fellow Jews. He was, in effect, poaching their Gentile sympathizers. That focus also explains Paul’s astounding statement that, after only about twenty years, he had completed his task in the East and was moving to the West (Rom 15:28). Finally, and above all else, his focus on those synagogue-attending Gentiles explains why Pauline Christianity spread so fast—it did not have to introduce its converts to Judaism first.

John Dominic Crossan, "Pauline Cities", n.p. [cited 25 Sep 2022]. Online:


John Dominic Crossan

John Dominic Crossan
Emeritus Professor, DePaul University

John Dominic Crossan is an emeritus professor from DePaul University and author of numerous popular books on Jesus and the New Testament world. 

The island-filled sea between Greece and Turkey, which opens to the Mediterranean sea on the south.

The historical period from the beginning of Western civilization to the start of the Middle Ages.

A viewpoint within early Christianity that portrayed Christianity as a subset of Judaism, and therefore Christians as subject to Jewish legal restrictions.

(verb) To change one's beliefs, practices, and self-identity to those of a religion. (noun) One who has changed his or her beliefs, practices, and self-identity to those of a religion.

Dug up, often from an archaeological site.

a person who is not Jewish

The religion and culture of Jews. It emerged as the descendant of ancient Israelite Religion, and is characterized by monotheism and an adherence to the laws present in the Written Torah (the Bible) and the Oral Torah (Talmudic/Rabbinic tradition).

One who embarks on a mission of good (usually religiously motivated) works, often to a distant locale.

A religious system characterized by belief in the existence of a single deity.

Acts 13:43

43When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue ... View more

Acts 16:14

14A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her hear ... View more

Acts 17:4

4Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.

Acts 17

The Uproar in Thessalonica
1After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews ... View more

Acts 18:7

7Then he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God; his house was next door to the synagogue.

Acts 10:2

2He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.

Acts 22

1“Brothers and fathers, listen to the defense that I now make before you.”2When they heard him addressing them in Hebrew, they became even more quiet. Then he s ... View more

Acts 13:16

16So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak:
“You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen.

Gal 1:16

16to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being,

Gal 2:7-9

7On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circum ... View more

Rom 15:28

28So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain;

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