In a region where most artifacts remain in the field, the enormous work of documenting and analyzing the early history of Christianity is open to original research. Often the first scholar to reach isolated communities in remote parts of Turkey who guide his work, Dr. Mark Fairchild has visited and researched over 300 ancient sites throughout Turkey that date back to the Hellenistic (Greek) and Roman periods and taken over 200,000 photographs capturing the remains of churches and Christian homes in remote locations. The second edition of Christian Origins in Ephesus and Asia Minor adds the current research underway on the cities of Priene and Tripolis in western Turkey to Dr. Fairchild’s work, documenting isolated and previously unstudied sites across eastern Turkey, some that have not been visited in the past 1,400 years.
If that hasn’t already whet your appetite for this fascinating book, Dr. Fairchild has graciously answered our burning questions about his book as well as about his unique experiences in such an archaeologically rich region.
1. What made you realize that there was need for a book like Christian Origins in Ephesus and Asia Minor?
I have traveled in Turkey for the last twenty years. When I first came to Turkey very little archaeological work was being done in the land. However, Turkey has come around and more recently many more of the sites are being excavated by Turkish and international archaeologists. Today, the Turkish universities are training their own archaeologists and preparing to explore even more of their ancient sites. Scholarship has not kept up with all of the developments at these sites and the little that has been published is not sufficient to give a holistic understanding of these ancient cities. I realized that there was a need to document and report these exciting developments.
2. This book was originally first published in 2015. What are the differences between the first and second editions?
Archaeological work at several of these sites in Turkey is progressing so fast that an update was necessary. Additionally, I added two new sites that were not included in the first addition.
3. Some of the locations you discuss have less evidence of Christianity than others. How did you decide whether to include places where evidence was scarce?
In Acts 19:10 Luke tells us that Paul taught at Ephesus in the school of Tyrannus for two years. During that time Paul trained his disciples and sent them into the surrounding cities, towns and villages. As a result, Luke claimed that ‘all of Asia heard the word of the Lord.’ We know that Paul focused upon cities and towns with a Jewish population. Thus, it seems probable that places near Ephesus with Jewish populations were evangelized. In other instances, we have early Christian writings that tell us that a church was established at that place during the first century.
4. Which location discussed in the book was your favorite to visit? Why?
I am frequently asked this question and it is a hard question to answer. It is almost like asking which child you favor. I think all of these sites are fascinating to visit. All of the sites have something different to offer and I like them for their uniqueness. If you forced me to pick, I would choose three: Ephesus, Laodicea and Assos.
5. Christian Origins in Ephesus and Asia Minor covers a wide range of material, from archaeology to the biblical record to the present-day status of various cities and ruins. There’s a lot there, but what do you most want people to take away from the book?
Ancient Anatolia (modern Turkey) has been the neglected Biblical land. When we think of the ‘holy land’ or the land of the Bible, we typically think of Israel or perhaps Greece. However outside of the Gospels, most of the New Testament pertains to places in modern Turkey. Even biblical scholarship regarding the New Testament generally contains little geographical and archaeological data from these areas in ancient Anatolia. Biblical atlases contain few maps of these lands (generally only one or two) and the maps contain little detail.
6. You mention some ongoing archaeological digs. Have there been any recent discoveries that you wish you could have included?
Yes, I am currently writing an article with the director of excavations at Nicaea. An underwater church from the fourth century was recently discovered offshore in Iznik Lake. This early church may be connected to the Council of Nicaea. Likewise, I met with the director of excavations at another site mentioned in the book and he showed me current work on what may be an early synagogue. I cannot reveal more at this point.
7. What have you been up to since Christian Origins was first published in 2015?
I travel to Turkey at least once every year and have been in Turkey three times (11 weeks) this year alone. I wrote an article on recent discoveries in Laodicea for the Biblical Archaeology Review (2017) and am currently preparing another one. I am working on another book dealing with the apostle Paul’s life and activity shortly after his conversion. Paul returned to Cilicia (in southeastern Turkey) for about 6-8 years and although Acts mentions little of this time, Paul was active in ministry throughout Syria and Cilicia. Additionally, I have had several speaking engagements in addition to my teaching responsibilities at Huntington University.
Gathering together a wealth of information, original photographs, and detailed maps of the region, Christian Origins in Ephesus and Asia Minor describes the progress and perils of the developing Christian community as it struggled to find its way in a hostile world. This volume provides crucial context for the biblical account with historical information gathered from ancient literary sources, archaeological discoveries, and a variety of early Christians, charting the growth and development of the early Christian church as ministry from the community at Ephesus produced Christian congregations throughout Asia Minor.
Mark R. Fairchild (Ph.D., Drew University) is the Luke J. Peters Professor of Biblical Studies at Huntington University. He has visited and researched over 300 ancient sites throughout Turkey that date back to the Hellenistic (Greek) and Roman periods.