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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Colossians - Introduction

The sparse unexcavated ruins of what had been a large and prosperous Hellenistic city are located in the valley of the river Lycus 12 miles east of Denzili in Turkey. Seleucid promotion of its neighbours Laodicea and Hierapolis in the third pre-Christian century ended Colossae's virtual monopoly of the wool production of the valley. None the less the cyclamen purple (colossinus) fleeces of Colossae (Pliny, Nat. Hist. 21.51) continued to rival the glossy black wool of Laodicea (Strabo, Geog. 12.8.6). They were the mainstay of the local economy. Access to international markets was facilitated by the location of the cities on the great ‘common highway’ linking Ephesus (120 miles west) with the Euphrates (ibid. 14.2.29). The population was mainly pagan but in 213 BCE, in order to enhance commerce and trade, Antiochus III installed 2,000 Jewish families from Mesopotamia (Josephus, Ant 12.148–53). By 62 BCE the amount of the temple tax confiscated by the Roman governor (20 pounds of gold) reveals that there were at least 11,000 adult male Jews in the Lycus valley (Lightfoot 1904: 20).

The Lycus valley was evangelized by Epaphras ( 4:13 ), a native of Colossae ( 4:12 ), who had been commissioned by Paul (see COL 1:7 ). Paul's appreciation of the contrast between his own arrival in Philippi and Thessalonica, where he had to start from scratch each time, and his experience in Corinth (Acts 18:2–3 ) and Ephesus (Acts 18:19; 1 Cor 16:19 ), where Prisca and Aquila furnished him with a well-established base, helped him to the realization that travellers returning home would be the most effective apostles. They started with built-in advantages: they did not have to look for work, they were known and trusted, they had networks of family, friends, and acquaintances, who could be guaranteed to listen, at least initially. Most, if not all, of the converts made by Epaphras were pagans ( 1:21; 2:13 ).

The volcanic springs and underground rivers alerted Strabo to the unstable character of the Lycus valley, ‘if any country is subject to earthquakes, Laodicea is’ (Geog. 12.8.16). A major earthquake hit in 60 CE (Tac., Ann. 14.27.1). Both Laodicea and Hierapolis were rebuilt, but Colossae never recovered; note the silence of Pliny (Nat. Hist. 5.105). Its long slide into oblivion terminated in the ninth century CE when the site was definitively abandoned.

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