Paul on the Road to Assos (Asia Minor/Turkey)

Please don’t miss the important discussion in the comments to this post.

Towards the end of Paul’s Third Missionary Journey on his way to Jerusalem Paul stopped for about at week at (Alexandria) Troas (Acts 20:5-12; map below).  From there he walked by foot from Troas to Assos while his seven companions traveled by sea to Assos (Acts 20:13–14).

TWNAAS24

A portion of the well-preserved Roman Road that leads, 31 mi., from Troas to Assos — See image below for instructive details
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

AssosRomanRoad-01

PelagiosAssos

Paul probably walked south from Troas to the Smintheion area and then turned east to Assos — the 31 mi. journey took over 2 days to complete
Enhanced map from the Pelagios Map Project — See Reference Below

The distance from Troas to Assos, “as the crow flies,” is about 21 miles while the Roman Road south out of Troas through the Smintheion areaa and then east to Assos covers a distance of about 31 mi.  Thus the walk must have taken him at least two days.

The Bible does not say why Paul chose to walk instead of taking the ship but Dr. Mark Wilson suggests that Paul may have received a prophetic word at Troas that imprisonment would await him in Jerusalem (compare Paul’s message at Miletus to the elders from the Ephesian church; Acts 20:22-23).  Wilson suggests that he may have been reflecting on the impact of this in light of his recent successes:

  • Three productive years at Ephesus and the spread of the gospel throughout the province of Asia
  • Recent resolution of the conflicts at Corinth
  • Successful fund-raising for the relief of the Jerusalem Church

Wilson goes on to compare the reflective agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42) to Paul’s solitary reflective walk from Troas to Assos:

“So somewhere on the road between the harbor  at Troas . . . and the city gate at Assos Paul apparently accepted his personal cup of suffering.”
(Wilson, Biblical Turkey, p. 360)

References

Map from Pelagius Map Project (free).  [This is the most accurate map of Turkey during the Classical Period based upon the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Classical World; $376]

“In-Site — Paul’s Walk to Assos,” p. 360 in Biblical Turkey — A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor.  This 398-page book is filled with Wilson’s wonderful descriptions and insights on numerous biblical and extra biblical sites in Turkey.

For additional high-resolution images of Assos click Here and Here.

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8 responses to “Paul on the Road to Assos (Asia Minor/Turkey)

  1. Another possible reason for the walk while the others sailed was to make certain no one was laying in wait for him on board the ship. Paul chose to go by foot from Greece to Philippi with a large group of men instead of sailing for Syria. The journey from Philippi to Troas may have been secure because of a known Christian sailor. I think Paul may have been as wise as a serpent yet harmless as a dove regarding this arrangement. His friends could feel out the situation on board to make sure Paul would not have been ‘set up’ from persons from Greece who had caught up with the travelers and posed as a passenger on board the ship waiting to ambush Paul at a vulnerable time.

  2. squeaky2 is on the right track, I think. The “plot of the Jews” of Acts 20:3 may have been nothing more than to tell the Romans that they did not consider Paul’s collection to be a part of the official temple tax and that it was therefore illegal. The questionable legality of the collection then explains why Acts does not mention it and it also explains the circuitous route that the group took. They split the party twice. Presumably in each case the money was carried by the larger group while Paul, who would have been under suspicion my the authorities, travelled separately. These manoeuvres seem designed to protect the collection. I have discussed these matters in more detail here.

  3. The comments of both responders are interesting to consider. The possibility that Paul walked to avoid a threat from another passenger is improbable. How much more vulnerable to ambush would he have been walking alone to Assos. At least in the company of his eight companions (including Mr. “We”) he had protection. We are told in 20:6 why the company split: Paul remained in Philippi to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread with Lydia and others there. The ship from Neapolis to Troas would have been a more regular vessel plying this room. It was from Troas southward that he undoubtedly had the assistance of a Christian or friendly captain because of the changes of itinerary that Paul was able to make.
    Richard’s article regarding the role of the collection in this journey is interesting but is filled with hypotheticals. First, Acts 20:3 does not suggest to me that the plot involved the collection. Epiboulē is used four times in Acts, the first (9:24) and last (23:30) are explicitly said to be plots against his life. I think 20:3 and 20:19 should also be understood this way. Point 3 states that it is surprising that Paul found out about it. However, he had friends in the Jewish community in Corinth who undoubtedly warned him about such a threat, in the same way his nephew (23:16) was similarly able to warn him about the conspiracy by the Jews in Jerusalem (23:12). That the Jews in Corinth somehow placed a tail on the apostolic party as they traveled through Macedonia who was informing the Roman authorities about this potentially illegitimate collection seems a far-fetched. Certainly Paul or someone in his party would have recognized such a snitch and had someone in the Macedonian churches detain him in some way. If the situation of the collection was so precarious, why did Paul chose to delay nearly a week in Miletus where there was probably a Jewish community and where Jews of Ephesus might follow the elders down to Miletus to attempt to kill him again (he mentions earlier plots in his speech; 20:19). Finally, equating Titus with Timothy, while an interesting proposal to solve the problem why Titus is not mentioned in Acts, does not work either. Titus was with Paul in Antioch early (Gal 2:1, 3) and was never circumcised; Timothy joined the second journey and was circumcised (Acts 16:1-3).

    • Thanks for your detailed comments, Mark. This is scholarly interaction at its best.

      I agree with you that it if the threat against Paul was unrelated to the collection then he would have been safer to travel with the other 7 men on their private boat than to travel alone overland. It would not have been difficult for them to take it in turns to keep watch while the others slept on board. I also share squeaky2’s concern that Jewish Macedonians such as Aristarchus would have wanted to celebrate the feast with family and friends in Macedonia.

      I think there must have been a good reason to split the party (both times) since travel was uncertain and communication was difficult. If either group had been delayed by sickness or weather or been diverted by the winds to a different port, then it would have taken some to re-establish contact. Arranging a rendezvous did not always work, as Paul knew (2 Cor 2:12-13).

      You make an interesting point about Epiboulē possibly implying that the threat to Paul was very serious. However, you would need to show also that Paul would not have been in such serious trouble if he had been caught in the act of trying to deliver the collection. That is to say, you would need to show that the word Epiboulē implies a level of threat to Paul that is incompatible with the collection theory.

      Any Jews in Corinth who wanted to assault Paul could have jumped him in a dark alley or commissions a thug to do it. Such a deed could have been arranged without the involvement of many people and with little risk that Paul would get wind of it. The plot against Paul in Acts 23:12-13 is a very different situation. Paul was being guarded by the Romans and the plot required “more than forty” people. It is not surprising that the information came to Paul’s attention. So the fact that Paul heard about the plot of Acts 20:3 does support the theory that it was a threat to the collection using the Roman authorities rather than merely a threat to Paul’s person. However, I concede that it is not a strong argument.

      You wrote “That the Jews in Corinth somehow placed a tail on the apostolic party as they traveled through Macedonia who was informing the Roman authorities about this potentially illegitimate collection seems a far-fetched”. However, I am not saying that the Jews put a tail on Paul. They only need to inform the Roman authorities in Corinth of Paul’s intentions. The Romans could then have told the port authorities in Macedonia and perhaps even in Troas to arrest Paul if he attempted to sail with a collection.

      In answer to your point about Miletus, it was further from any province that participated it the collection, so Paul may have been in less danger there. Also, the elders who came from Ephesus would scarcely have told opponents that they were visiting a man who was delivering an illegal collection! I know of no evidence that there were Jews in Miletus or that, if there were, they knew about Paul’s collection, or that he ever showed his face in town.

      Concerning the Titus-Timothy hypothesis, you will need to read the evidence here. Titus was uncircumcised at the time of Paul’s Jerusalem visit, and so was Timothy, so there is no contradiction there. Gal 2:4-5 looks suspiciously like Paul’s denial that his circumcision of Titus-Timothy demonstrated that he had yielded to the agitators and now preached circumcision (Gal 5:11). Do follow the links to the more detailed arguments.

  4. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the interaction and your thoughts concerning Paul’s arrangement and coordination in traveling this section.

    You have not totally convinced me however that your analysis is correct. I want to ask you several questions and then further propose why wariness may be the most plausible overriding reason for Paul’s arrangement.

    You state that the reason for Paul to stay in Philippi was to celebrate The Passover Feasts (Passover, Barley Presentation, Unleavened Bread). The evidence seems scant: why would not the others have thought it important to join in this observation with Paul? How do you know that Lydia, a traveling merchant was now still located in Philippi? Why would it not be a better solution for the bulk of the traveling party to go ahead and secure arrangements at Troas while Paul stayed in safe Philippi until then?

    The threat at Troas could possibly be identified with 2Tim. 4.13-14 and may have been varied in that probably both Jews and Pagans wanted to harm the apostle. If Timothy was warned to avoid Alexander the coppersmith with the Troas region, Gentile opposition can be concluded.

    When Paul finally did arrive in Jerusalem (Acts 21.20-21), there were reports against him probably from many parts of the Greek world from the observant Jews celebrating Pentecost. Yes, Paul later mentions the main prosecutors as Jews from the Province of Asia but this does not exclude others since the opposition from unbelieving Jews was virtually from every area and this opposition was connected and somewhat organized it seems.

    Also, how do you know Paul stayed “nearly a week” at Miletus? Troas and Tyre, yes, but Miletus?

    Sleeping on a confined ship would have been a security issue I think.

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