A deadly 7.2 magnitude earthquake has drawn renewed global attention to Turkey. For archaeologists and early church scholars, the country was already a renewed focal point. A surge of archaeology projects in the country have uncovered more of the Christian legacy of Paul and other early evangelists. But archaeologists from the U.S. and other countries face growing barriers put up by Turkish authorities.
Turkish archaeologist Mehmet Ozhanli of Suleyman Demirel University recently reported the discovery of a fourth-century church in the ruins of Antioch of Pisidia, the scene of a pivotal moment in the history of the early church. Here Paul chose to extend his missionary message of salvation to Gentiles. Paul also delivered his longest recorded sermon (Acts 13:16-41).
The ancient church, a converted pagan temple and the fifth church uncovered so far near the modern city of Yalvac in central Turkey, represents one of the first communities of Gentile Christians.
"That number of churches in one city is not unique," said Regent University professor Mark Wilson who runs the Asia Minor Research Center in Antalya, approximately 125 miles south of Yalvac. "Laodicea had as many, if not more, [and] another church has been discovered there recently."
But Ozhanli's find does represent a surge in biblical discoveries in Turkey; no surprise, given that two-thirds of the New Testament was written either in Turkey or to churches or people in Turkey, said Wilson. Italian archaeologist Francesco D'Andria has just reported the discovery of the tomb of Philip, one of the original 12 apostles, in Hierapolis in southwestern Turkey.
Wilson said that in 1990, the total number of excavations was 38. Last year more than 200 excavations took place, according ...