(Epistle to the Colossians, Philemon 10,23)
Along a main inland road from
Ephesus to the Euphrates River, Colossae shared the beauty of the Lycus Valley
with its sister cities: Hierapolis (12 miles northwest) and Laodicea (12 miles
west). The original roads from Ephesus and Sardis joined there, and this
defensible and well-watered hill became a strategic point in antiquity.
Declining in importance by the time of Paul’s Epistle to them, they had
already been surpassed in size by the other Lycus Valley cities. Strabo lists
Colossae with smaller villages, not with major cities. The city received an
Epistle because of the unique and insidious errors taking hold there, not becaue
of its size. The site is abandoned today, near the village of Honaz.
By the C5BCE, Herodotus noted the
“large city of Phrygia”. The center of a large and prosperous textile and
wool industry, Xenophon remarked this was “a well populated city, large and
wealthy”. The dark red wool from the region took the special name “colossinium”.
The attraction of wealth and industry brought together a mix of Jews, Phrygians,
and Greek traders. This combination no doubt helps the modern reader of
Colossians account for the variety of philosophies addressed in the corrective
The gospel probably arrived in Colossae with Paul’s preaching in Ephesus (cp. Acts 19:10) on the Third Mission Journey. Perhaps Epaphras, the Lycus Valley’s own evangelist heard Paul at Ephesus and returned with the message. It is impossible to know for sure, but it seems as though Paul had not yet visited at the time of the writing of the Epistle to the Colossians. Philemon and his slave Onesimus apparently were both natives of Colossae. The omission of any reference by Paul to the great earthquake of 60 CE, causes many scholars to believe Paul had not yet heard the news, or the Epistle predates the quake (Tacitus records the quake, Annals 14.27). Epaphras visited Paul during his house arrest, and brought news of the Lycus Valley to Paul, refreshing him during the imprisonment.