A Historical Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 1

Society and Religion in Central Asia Minor in the Time of St. Paul

Chapter 18

The Jews in South Galatia

ONE influence on the development of the South Galatian cities must be dwelt upon as specially important in the religious point of view. That is the power of the Jewish settlers.

The Greek foundations in that region were almost wholly of Seleucid origin. In the west and west-central parts of Phrygia there were many Greek cities of Pergamenian origin, but not in the east. Lycaonia had never been a practically effective part of the Pergamenian realm; and Pisidian Phrygia was actually declared free by the Romans in 189. 1 Those same regions had to be most strenuously maintained and strengthened as the backbone of the Seleucid dominion in Asia Minor.

The Jews were a class of settlers or colonists2 especially favoured by the Seleucid kings. Seleucus Nicator granted them the citizenship and equal rights with Macedonians and Greeks, both in his capital (Syrian Antioch) and in his new founded cities generally. In those cities, of course, Macedonians and Greeks constituted a species of aristocracy, with rights of governing superior to those of the rude old native population in the Seleucid garrison cities. Seleucus, therefore, placed the Jews among the “most favoured colonists” in all his new foundations.

That does not mean that new Jews might at any time go to settle with such rights in any of these Seleucid cities. Greek cities did not permit strangers to come and settle as citizens: strangers ranked only as “resident aliens,”3 enjoying merely some rights of commerce and personal safety. But citizenship was jealously guarded, and only in special cases by a special act of the city was a resident alien permitted to acquire it.

What Seleucus Nicator did was to introduce bodies of Jews into his cities generally, granting to these settlers the highest class of rights in the city where they were planted.

No privileges would have satisfied Jewish settlers, unless they guarded their religious customs and peculiarities. This Seleucus was careful to do. A striking example, as Josephus4 mentions, was connected with those distributions of oil wholly or partly at state expense, which were among the privileges of citizens in Greek cities: Jews would not use oil made by Gentiles, and Seleucus ordered that his Jewish settlers should receive an equivalent in money. That right was confirmed to them by his successors, and the Greeks in Syrian Antioch vainly attempted to have it abolished by the Romans about A.D. 68.

The whole body of privileges guaranteed to the Jewish settlers in the Seleucid colonies seems to be referred to in an Apameian inscription as “the law of the Jews”.5 It included some provision for the proper safe-guarding of Jewish graves. Some others may be recovered by observing the difficulties which the dislike and jealousy of their Greek fellow-citizens tended to throw in their way subsequently.

The right of safe and unimpeded passage from city to city in their pilgrimages to Jerusalem was peculiarly important: detention for even a day or two might frustrate the object of their journey.

They also desired the right of sending large sums of money to Jerusalem. The cities regarded this as a spoliation of their land for the benefit of a foreign land; and resented the conduct of settlers who made money and then exported it. Moreover, it might seriously disturb the financial equilibrium of the state to remit quantities of bullion out of the country.

Such and many other rights were guaranteed by Seleucus Nicator to his Jewish colonists, and confirmed by his successors. Antiochus the Great, who about B.C. 210-200 sent 2000 Jewish families from Babylonia to strengthen his power in the cities of Lydia and Phrygia, was specially emphatic in guaranteeing their rights as well as in granting them lands; and he speaks of the strong liking which his predecessors had entertained for the Jewish settlers.

This exceptionally favoured position explains why the Seleucid monarchs, who were hated in Palestine as the abomination, found their Jewish colonists loyal and devoted. These colonists had nothing to depend on except the royal support and favour. They were naturally not beloved by the ancient Phrygian and Lycaonian population, whose lands and position had been to a large extent seized by the Seleucid settlers, and they were not popular with their fellow-settlers, who, like the Greeks in all time, hated their Jewish rivals in trade and in the royal favour.

That the Jewish colonists acquired great power in Lycaonia and southern Phrygia generally cannot reasonably be doubted. The circumstances of the time, with brisk intercourse and a large volume of trade, suited the peculiar Jewish instinct for finance and the management of large business operations; and their favourable position in the great garrison cities along the trade-routes, with special rights even beyond their fellow-citizens, enabled them to take full advantage of their opportunities.

Almost the only direct evidence that is preserved to us on the subject is found in the Acts: the Jews are represented there as exercising great influence on the magistrates in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra.

The natural probabilities of the case entirely confirm the accounts in Acts. The Jews must have been rich; and the rich are always powerful, whether they be popular or unpopular. But, beyond this, evidence derived from epigraphy or history hardly exists, because it is difficult to distinguish the Greeks from the Jews in that country. The Greek language was, of course, indispensable, and became universal among them. All Jews bore Greek (or in later times Roman) names; and it is only in rare cases that Jewish families can be identified. Recent discoveries have made possible a beginning in this subject; and, if exploration be continued, there is good prospect of making progress in it. But as yet the attempt to work the evidence of inscriptions into a sketch of the Jewish position in Southern Galatia and Phrygia6 is too speculative to be used here; and it is not necessary for the study of the Epistle to enter on the subject. It may, however, be said in a word, that the Jews are likely to have exercised greater political power among the Anatolian people, with their yielding and easily moulded minds, than in any other part of the Roman world; and future discovery will probably prove this, confirming in part the rather bold inference already made from the inscriptions.

Prosperity was not the atmosphere most conducive to strict religious purity among the Jews; and the Phrygian Jews were no exception. In many respects there was a considerable relaxation of religious practice among them, as is shown in detail elsewhere.7 Paul could confidently appeal to the knowledge of his Gentile converts that the Jews did not fulfil the law.

But it was not merely in material power and prosperity that the large Jewish element affected the history of Phrygia. It also exercised a strong influence on thought and religion. That is clearly shown in Acts. In Antioch there were many devout proselytes; and the synagogue was crowded with a Gentile audience, Act 13:44. The lofty purity of the Jewish faith had a powerful attraction for a people like the Phrygians.8 There was a strong inclination to Judaism in the Phrygian and Galatian cities before Paul entered the country. Many of his converts had certainly been attracted to the synagogue first, and to Paul afterwards. The first attraction, overpowered for a time by the second, was always liable to revive.

Moreover, there was a natural preference for the more Semitic form of Christianity. This is a very important fact. There is no reason to think that the hatred, which always seems to exist between Jews and Greeks, was equally strong between Jews and Phrygians or Lycaonians. That hatred is partly the result of racial antipathy, and partly due to the keen competition between rivals in trade and in methods of trading. Many modern stories are current in the country as to the varying methods of Jew and Greek; and though these are usually comic and exaggerated, they point to a deep-seated difference of mental attitude and nature. No one who has come in contact with the humble Greeks and Jews of the country wonders at the strong dislike between them: education, of course, tends to smooth away strong diversities and to produce at least a superficial similarity, and creates new habits of mind and interest that are much the same in different races.

But the case was different between Jews and Phrygians. There was, of course, at the beginning a natural dislike among the dispossessed Phrygian population for the newcomers settled among them; but it was not likely to survive through generations, without some permanent cause to keep it alive. Just as there was no lasting hatred of the Greek settlers, but rather admiration and imitation, so it is not probable that the Phrygians were repelled long by the Jews.

There was no strong racial antipathy between them. The Phrygian or the Lycaonian was much more Oriental in type than the Greek. Habit and surroundings fostered in them the character that is least like the Western barbarian and most like the Asiatic. As you gaze on the gorgeously dressed Lycaonian king who is represented on the ancient rock-sculpture at Ibriz in the act of worshipping the simple rustic God, the giver of corn and wine, you recognise an almost typical Semite; and the peasant who acts as your guide wears the same style and shape of dress as the husbandman god (except the modern fez), and is in many cases strikingly like him in type. The type which the Anatolian plateau develops is markedly Asiatic; and there is no natural antipathy between it and the Semite. So in modern times the Jew has been on far more friendly terms with the Turkish peasantry than he has been with the Greeks, and better treated before Turkish law than before the law and government of most European countries.

Again, there was little of the keen commercial rivalry between Phrygian and Jew that there was between Greek and Jew: the Anatolian nature has always been far too easy going and easy tempered.

At the present day, almost exactly the same problem is presented in the country as in the centuries immediately before and after Christ. The so-called Osmanli Turk shows fundamentally the old Anatolian type: though the gravity and restraint and dignity of Mohammedanism in common life have been substituted for the enthusiastic licence of the old Phrygian ritual — with a certain corresponding change in the character of the men. The Greek of the coast lands is essentially of the old Greek type, with certain slight changes caused by Christianity.

There is no better preparation for understanding on their historical side the Epistle to the Galatians, who represent the type of the Anatolian plateau, and the Epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians, who represent the Greek of the coast lands, than a study of the two contrasted modern types.

Asia Minor is the Debatable Land, in which Orientalism and Occidentalism have often striven for mastery. Under the early Roman Empire, and again at the present day, a vigorous Occidentalism is striving, apparently with every prospect of success, to subdue the plateau. The groundstock on the plateau is not antipathetic to Western organisation and order, though it is strongly antipathetic to the Western barbarian. But it is far more sympathetic to Orientalism; and whenever it seems to have assimilated Occidental thoughts and ways, it tends to remould them to an Oriental form. The deep-lying Orientalism always recurs. The Western conqueror triumphs, and before he is aware, when he turns his back for a moment, his results have melted into the old type. See p. 449.

Such was Paul’s experience. Such is his complaint. “You are removing so rapidly” (he writes to them) back to the old type, “you are turning back again to the old rudiments” (Gal 1:6, Gal 4:9). His words are exactly the same that unconsciously the historical student finds himself employing about the people in other relations.

Such was the experience of every century in the Christian time. Every heresy in Anatolia recurred to a more Oriental and specially Judaistic type; and at last Phrygia and Galatia reverted to Semitic Mohammedanism. In some parts of Asia Minor a larger proportion of the population preserved their Christian faith; but in Phrygia there were hardly more than four or five scattered remnants in small villages who remained true to Christianity throughout the Turkish government. There are Zille, a village beside Iconium, Bermenda beside Philomelion, Khonas close to Colossae, and a small body in Apollonia-Sozopolis: these preserve an unbroken Christian tradition. But it is doubtful if Phrygia can show a fifth.


[1] Strabo, p. 577: what he says about Antioch may be applied to the whole region. In 190 it was one of the districts whose fate was doubtful; see Polybius, XXII 5, 14.

[2] κάτοικοι.

[3] μέτοικοι, πάροικοι.

[4] Ant. Jud., XII 3, I, 119.

[5] Cities and Bisk, of Phrygia, II, p. 668, and No. 399 bis

[6] Cities and Bish. of Phrygia, II, pp. 647 ff, 667 ff.)

[7] Cities and Bish. of Phrygia, loc. cit.: cp. Act 19:13.

[8] Compare on p. 449 the picture of them quoted from Sozomen.

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