In the ancient world there were 16 cities and towns called Antioch by Seleucus Nicator, the founder of the Seleucid Empire. All were named in honor of his father, Antiochus.
The largest was Antioch in Syria, which he founded in 301 BCE. A commercial and intellectual hub, its inhabitants were noted for their caustic wit and bent for coining nicknames. The place was an ancient marvel, with nature reserves and temples dedicated to pagan deities like Daphne, Apollo and Demeter, along with a royal palace, fine carriages and other breathtaking (or, perhaps, intimidating) landmarks indicating economic wealth and power.
The first Gentile Christian Church was formed at Antioch in Syria. St. Paul made his missionary base at Antioch. Over time the significant Jewish population there didn’t appreciate Paul’s teachings about Christ (possibly also the growing number of converts to Christianity) and as a result harassed him.¹ At one point the Jewish population managed to evict Paul from the city, but that didn’t deter him from converting Hellenized Jews and Gentiles to Christianity.
At this point, the city was quite cosmopolitan, composed of Romans, Greeks, Syrians and Jews. Christians appeared in droves, most likely being called “Christians” for the very first time at Antioch.
At Antioch a school of thought formed where scripture was interpreted literally. Sort of like the uncritical fundamentalists of today.
The early city was destroyed by an earthquake in 526. Antakya is now the capital of the Hatay province in Southern Turkey.
¹ Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, ed. Allen C. Myers, 1987, p. 60-61.
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