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HTS Theological Studies

versão On-line ISSN 2072-8050
versão impressa ISSN 0259-9422

Herv. teol. stud. vol.64 no.2 Pretoria Jun. 2008


Syncretism in the church of Philippi



Eduard Verhoef1

Maartensdijk, The Netherlands




It has been known for a long time that the history of Christianity has seen the incorporation of syncretistic elements. This is not at all exceptional. On the contrary, in order to grow, any religion necessarily fits in with the existing frame of reference. It is hardly surprising then, that elements of Hellenistic hero worship were adopted in the veneration of the Christian martyrs. Over a century ago, E Lucius presented several examples of such phenomena in his book, Die Anfänge des Heiligenkults in der christlichen Kirche (1904), arguing that Christian churches adopted several rituals and ideas from older pagan cults. Indeed, excavations in Philippi have revealed a connection in the first decades of the fourth century between the Christian cult and the cult of a certain Euephenes, son of Exekestos. He was probably an initiate into the mystery cult of the Kabeiroi. This can only mean that in Philippi as elsewhere syncretistic elements must have crept in. In the beginning of the fourth century the Basilica of Paul was added onto the Hellenistic shrine, so that the buildings shared one wall. In the first half of the fifth century this Basilica was replaced by the bigger Octagon. A baptistery was constructed, and the Hellenistic heroon was incorporated into these buildings. Around this time the cult of the Hellenistic hero Euephenes was supplanted by the veneration of the Christian hero par excellence, the apostle Paul.



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1 Dr Eduard Verhoef, Maartensdijk, the Netherlands, participates in the research project "Biblical Theology and Hermeneutics", directed by Prof Dr Andries G van Aarde, honorary professor of the Faculty of Theology, at the University of Pretoria. The author would like to thank Mrs Dra J W van Arenthals for her critical remarks on this text.
2 Perhaps a third word could partly be read: –νος. Cf Pilhofer (2000:334-336).
3 In Homer the adjective εὐηφενής, very rich, is used. Polyaenus (2th century AD) used the slightly different name Εὐήφενος twice.
4 More authors made a connection between Samothrace and the Kabeiroi; see Lewis (1959:70-95).
5 It is fascinating to realise that the word "great", used for the θεοὶ μεγάλοι, in Hebrew could be rendered by rbk and in later Arabic by 'kabīr'. Both words remind of the name Kabeiroi; see also Job 34:17; 36:5 where rbk is used for God. But an etymological connection between the name Kabeiroi and a Semitic word cannot be proven. Burkert (2002:58-59) thinks this connection to be very probable; but see Beekes (2004:474-476).
6 Karadima-Matsa & Dimitrova (2003:337) seem to think that this man is named Isidoros Nikostratou.
7 For the enthusiastic report on the discovery of this inscription see Pelekanidis (1975:99-102).
8 Gounaris argued in 1984 that this church "était consacrée à St. Paul, fondateur de l'Église de Philippes" (Gounaris 1984:138).
9 Pelekanidis (1980a:107) and Bakirtzis (1998:42) also argued that this church was called after the apostle Paul.
10 For the exact location of this inscription see Pelekanidis (1978a:72).
11 A later expansion of the Octagon (Mentzos & Pelekanidou 1990:604) does no have any consequences for this article.
12 According to Mentzos (1995:525-530) it was a Byzantine hydraulic clock.
13 See Jerome, Contra Vigilantium 9 and Letter 109.
14 The sanctuary of Asclepius in Athens continued to be popular until the second half of the fifth century (Price 1999:168-169).
15 In the same way the Greek gods sometimes got other functions in Asia Minor (Pilhofer 2006:144-145).
16 It is fascinating that in Thessaloniki the cult of Kabeiros was probably succeeded by the cult of Saint Demetrios (Vitti 1996:92; Bakirtzis 1997:508; Tzanavari 2003:230).

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