The meaning of Antioch, In Syria in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
(2) Antioch in Syria.—In 301 BC, shortly after the battle of Ipsus, which made him master of Syria, Seleucus Nicator rounded the city of Antioch, naming it after his father Antiochus. Guided, it was said, by the flight of an eagle, he fixed its site on the left bank of the Orontes (the El-'Asi) about 15 miles from the sea. He also rounded and fortified Seleucia to be the port of his new capital. The city was enlarged and embellished by successive kings of the Seleucid Dynasty, notably by Seleucus Callinicus (246-226 BC), and Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 BC). In 83 BC, on the collapse of the Seleucid monarchy, Antioch fell into the hands of Tigranes, king of Armenia, who held Syria until his defeat by the Romans fourteen years later. In 64 BC the country was definitely annexed to Rome by Pompey, who granted considerable privileges to Antioch, which now became the capital of the Roman province of Syria. In the civil wars which terminated in the establishment of the Roman principate, Antioch succeeded in attaching itself constantly to the winning side, declaring for Caesar after the fall of Pompey, and for Augustus after the battle of Actium. A Roman element was added to its population, and several of the emperors contributed to its adornment. Already a splendid city under the Seleucids, Antioch was made still more splendid by its Roman patrons and masters. It was the "queen of the East," the third city, after Rome and Alexandria, of the Roman world. About five miles distant from the city was the suburb of Daphne, a spot sacred to Apollo and Artemis. This suburb, beautified by groves and fountains, and embellished by the Seleucids and the Romans with temples and baths, was the pleasure resort of the city, and "Daphnic morals" became a by-word. From its foundation Antioch was a cosmopolitan city. Though not a seaport, its situation was favorable to commercial development, and it absorbed much of the trade of the Levant. Seleucus Nicator had settled numbers of Jews in it, granting them equal rights with the Greeks (Ant., XII, iii, 1). Syrians, Greeks, Jews, and in later days, Romans, constituted the main elements of the population. The citizens were a vigorous, turbulent and pushing race, notorious for their commercial aptitude, the licentiousness of their pleasures, and the scurrility of their wit. Literature and the arts, however, were not neglected.
In the early history of Christianity, Antioch occupies a distinguished place. The large and flourishing Jewish colony offered an immediate field for Christian teaching, and the cosmopolitanism of the city tended to widen the outlook of the Christian community, which refused to be confined within the narrow limits of Judaism. Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch, was one of the first deacons (Acts 6:5). Antioch was the cradle of GentileChristianity and of Christian missionary enterprise. It was at the instance of the church at Antioch that the council at Jerusalem decided to relieve GentileChristians of the burden of the Jewish law (Acts 15). Antioch was Paul's starting-point in his three missionary journeys (Acts 13:1 ff.; Acts 15:36 ff.; Acts 18:23), and thither he returned from the first two as to his headquarters (Acts 14:26 ff.; Acts 18:22). Here also the term "Christian," doubtless originally a nickname, was first applied to the followers of Jesus (Acts 11:26). The honorable record of the church at Antioch as the mother-church of GentileChristianity gave her a preeminence which she long enjoyed. The most distinguished of her later sons was John Chrysostom. The city suffered severely from earthquakes, but did not lose its importance until the Arab conquest restored Damascus to the first place among Syrian cities. Antioch still bears its ancient name (Antakiyeh), but is now a poor town with a few thousand inhabitants.
C. H. Thomson
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