Category Archives: Places in Turkey

The Martyrium (Memorial Chapel) of Philip at Hierapolis (Turkey)

Hierapolis is mentioned only once in the New Testament (Colossians 4:15) where Paul states that Epaphras was working there and in nearby Laodicea.

Memorial (Pilgrimage) Church Dedicated to Philip

Early Christian tradition states that Philip, along with his daughters, settled at Hierapolis.  It is probable that Philip the Apostle (= disciple of Jesus) is the actual person, although a confused tradition suggests that it was Philip the Evangelist (see his activities in the book of Acts).

Pilgrims’ Path Leading Up to the Martyrium of Philip

Tradition also states that Philip was martyred and buried here at Hierapolis.  On a hill northeast of the city a Martyrium—a memorial that was a focus of pilgrimage—was built in the fifth century AD.  In July 2011, the excavator, Francesco D’Andria announced that he had discovered the very Tomb of Philip in the vicinity.

I have posted 18 high-resolution images of the Martyrium of Philip.  Click Here to view.

July 4 in USA — Lycian League — A Model for the Founding of the USA

QUICK — what was the Lycian League?  Not many of us know, but Alexander Hamilton and James Madison knew!  Yes, the “Lycian Confederation” is mentioned four times in the Federalist Papers that were produced between 1787–1788 (#9, 16, 45).  Over 2,000 years ago it met in Patara—the same place where Paul and Luke changed ships on their way to Jerusalem (Acts 21:1-3).

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View of the exterior of the reconstructed Council Chamber (Bouleuterion) at Patara
January 2014 — Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

So what was the Lycian Confederation/League?  First, Lycia was/is a geopolitical region located along the Mediterranean Coast of modern Turkey, often called the Turquoise Coast­ because of its beauty! (see map below) The 23 cities that made up the Confederation/League were located along the Mediterranean coast or in the nearby rugged Taurus Mountains (but the number of cities varied from time to time).

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View of the interior of the Council House at Patara
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

The Lycian Confederation is the first known democratic union in history!  One of the features of this Confederation is that they committed themselves to be governed by a central assembly (Greek: synedrion) that they themselves elected.  However, in fairness, the larger cities were allotted more representatives than the smaller ones.  Large cities such as Xanthos, Patara, Myra, Pinara, Tlos, and Olympos were allotted three representatives each (the maximum allowed).

The Lycian Confederation met at Patara—almost certainly in the Bouleuterion pictured above.  It was thus here (at the out-of-the-way site of Patara) that proportional representative government first got its start.  And, it was not until the founding of the United States (2,000 years later!!) that this concept was revived in the US House of Representatives (note the semi-circular seating arrangement of its chamber)!!

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The Rugged Taurus Mountains and the Mediterranean Coast of Lycia
The cities of the Lycian Confederation were located along the coast or in the mountains
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The league itself may go back to around 205 B.C.  This early form of the league would have had the power to decide questions of war, peace, and alliances.   In 168 B.C., while still under Roman control, the Romans allowed these cities to still assemble together to govern themselves as a unit—but the power to decide questions of war, peace, and alliances were now Rome’s prerogative.

This body elected persons who administered the Lycian League for a year at a time.  The council elected judges.  Voted proportional taxes.  A league court decided disputes between the cities.

189_PataraMapI have posted 5 photos of this historic meeting place on my web site,
both before and after it was excavated/reconstructed.

For a great summary article on the Lycian League and Patara see the article in Saudi Aramco World 2007.

Jews, Proselytes, and God-Fearers at Aphrodisias

In the New Testament, particularly in the book of Acts and in the ministry of the Apostle of Paul, Jews, Proselytes, and God-fearers are mentioned (see for example Acts 2:11; 6:5; 13:16, 26, 43; 17:4, 17).  Because of Paul’s activities in Asia Minor (= modern Turkey), Christian scholarship has been interested in finding evidence of these groups in that area.  Unfortunately, there is little archaeological indication of first-century Judaism in the region.  However, synagogues from the Late Roman Period have been found at sites such as Sardis, Priene, Andriace, etc.  And later inscriptions mentioning “God-fearers” have been discovered at Miletus and Sardis.

At Aphrodisias a unique find related to the Jewish presence in the city was discovered—that mentions all three categories noted above.  It is a 9 ft. tall marble block that was found during the construction of the Aphrodisias Museum.

This 9 ft. tall marble block lists over 120 donors to a synagogue. Click on this and following images to Enlarge and/or Download—and to read the Greek Inscription.

The marble block is engraved on two sides—both visible in the photo.  It is a list of over 120 donors to a synagogue and is composed of three categories of names—all males: Jews, recent converts to Judaism (proselytes), and unconverted members of the synagogue community (“godfearers;” theosebeis).  It evidently dates to ca. AD 350–500) and probably served as a doorpost in a synagogue.  (Please see below for sources used in this blog post)

There are about 121 names on this front side of the marble block.

This main list is divided into two sections—see the blank space between the upper and lower portions of the list. First come men who have distinctly Biblical names or names favored by Jews, such as Benjamin, Judas, Joseph, Jacob, Samuel, Zachary, and names such as Amantios (loving), Eusabatios (the good Sabbath).

The second portion of the list is headed with the word theosebeis (“god fearers” ΘΕΟΣΕΒΙΣ ) who are gentiles who have a strong chosen affiliation with Judaism but who are not themselves Jews. They have traditional Greeκ-Roman names such as Alexandros or Eutychos.

Several local councilors head the list of god fearers, and ten of the Jews and seventeen of the God-fearers list their professions. They are all tradesmen who range from food-providers to painters to leather-workers, to sculptors and builders. The pillar probably stood outside the local synagogue and is a striking testimony to the proud place of the Jewish community in the city, to continuing fluid religious interaction in the fourth century AD, and especially to the high valuation of craft professions among this group of like-minded monotheists. (from the description in the Aphrodisias’ Museum)

This is a view of the “side” of the inscribed pillar.

This side also lists the names of members of the Jewish community and includes “14 men with predominantly Hebrew names (including three proselytes) and two Godfearers.” (Chaniotis, p. 40)

Compare the quality of this side inscription with that on the front of it. Chaniotis argues the ‘these two distinct carving styles suggest that the inscription on the front face was carved first, when the stone was still lying flat on the ground and was fully accessible to the engraver, while the text on this side face was carved at a later date—once the pillar had already been installed in the synagogue and the engraving had to be completed from atop a ladder.’ (p. 40)

For detailed pictures of this Inscription see Here.


Chaniotis, Angelos. “Godfearers in the City of Love.” Biblical Archaeology Review 36, no. 3 (May/June 2010): 32–44, 77.

Fairchild, Mark R. Christian Origins in Ephesus & Asia Minor. Istanbul: Arkeoege, 2015.

Aphrodisias: The Theater and Its Artifacts

Like any respectable Greco-Roman City, Aphrodisias had a theater.  It is very well preserved because the “modern” village of Geyre was built on the theater and the acropolis and preserved what was underneath the village.  Geyre was moved to a different location around 1960 and some 120 ft. of debris under it was excavated away to reveal the theater.

View looking southeast at the interior of the theater at Aphrodisias, and beyond that, in the upper left of the image the Theater Agora.

In the theater, note that the seating area is slightly larger than a perfect semicircle.  This was characteristic of Greek, as opposed to Roman, theaters.  The brown semicircle is where the orchestra was located.  Note the high wall ringing it.  The orchestra was remodeled during the reign of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161–180) and turned into a venue for animal and gladiatorial contests.  Left of the center of the image the remains of the stage area and behind it, the first of the three levels of the skene are visible—with the Doric columns.

Originally the theater could hold 10,000 people.  The lower portion of the cavea is preserved.  Note the staircases that the divide the cavea into sections (cunei).

The theater was originally built by Ioulos Zoilos, a slave that was freed by Octavian who became a benefactor of the city— in the first century BC.  An inscription on the stage wall describes this.

Although it is well-known that theaters were filled with statues, at Aphrodisias some well-preserved statues were found in the theater.  Some samples follow:

This is a larger than “life-size” statue of a marble Muse holding a theatrical mask.

Muses were thought of as inspirational goddesses of poetry, lyric songs, and myths—a fitting piece to be installed in the theater of Aphrodisias.

This is a statue of one of the leading citizens of Aphrodisias.

Leading citizens were always on the alert to promote their, and their family’s, status—so what better place than the frequently-visited theater to remind the people of the town of your beneficence!   The statue dates to the second century A.D.

This statue is of a “life-size” Diadumenos (diadem-bearer).  It is a copy of an original bronze statue by Polyclitus in the 5th century BC.

The theme is that of an athlete who is tying the ribbon on his head that marks the winner of athletic contests (a diadem).  The figure is contrapposto with his weight on his right leg and the left leg slightly flexed.  His head is slightly inclined to his right in a contemplative mood.  This marble statue of a young athlete was found in the theater of Aphrodisias and dates to around AD 200.  Some original color survives in his eyes and hair.

A photograph of a large statue of Nike, the goddess of victory that was found by the skene in the theater of Aphrodisias.

And of course, all of the theaters would have been adorned with statues of gods and goddesses.  This Nike dates to the late first century BC and is one of the earliest marble statues produced at Aphrodisias.


So now we can begin to visualize how the one theater mentioned in the New Testament might have been “decorated.”

Aphrodisias — City of Love and City of Marble

Aphrodisias — One of the most beautiful antiquity sites in Turkey.

The Monumental Gate (tetrapylon) at Aphrodisias. Click on images to Enlarge and/or Download.

Many groups that have visited Turkey have visited Laodicea, one of the seven churches of Revleation (chaps. 1-3).  While in the area they visit nearby Hierapolis and sometimes unexcavated Colossae.  However, because of time constraints, rarely is Aphrodisias visited.

Aphrodisias is an extensively excavated and beautifully restored Greco-Roman city that is located about 25 miles west southwest of Laodicea/Denizli in Turkey.  It was named after its patron deity—Aphrodite (= Venus, the goddess of love).  Because of its wonderful marble quarries, it was a center of sculpture carving for the Roman Empire.  Because of these things, it is sometimes called “the city of Love” and/or “the city of Marble.”  It was excavated in 1904-1905 and continuously from 1962 until the present.  The main excavator, Kenan Erim died and is buried at the site.  It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017.   Over the next few posts, I would like to share with you some of the wonders of this site, as well as some insights that we can gain from it.

First of all, the city of Aphrodite must have a temple to the goddess of love—Aphrodite!

The Tetrapylon was a monumental gateway to the Sanctuary of Aphrodite built ca. AD 200.  This gateway led from a main north-south street into a large forecourt in front of the Temple.  Its decoration has a richness typical of the second century AD.  A complete scientific reconstruction (anastylosis) of the monument was completed in 1991.  It was made possible by the extraordinary preservation of the structure — 85% of its original marble blocks survive.

View looking northwest at the Monumental Gateway ( = tetrapylon) that was the main entrance into the Temple of Aphrodite Complex from the east.

The above image is a view of the exterior of the Tetrapylon.  The stone pavement in the foreground was the main north-south street that ran in front of the gate.  On the left, behind the gateway, where the person is standing, was the forecourt of the Sanctuary of Aphrodite.  Note the variety of columns on plinths: plain columns, spiral columns, and fluted columns.

The Temple of Aphrodite was the main temple of Aphrodisias and was begun in the late first century BC.  Zoilos, a leading citizen of Aphrodisias who also sponsored the construction of the Agora and Theater, paid for the initial construction.  In the second century AD, the temple was enclosed in an elaborate colonnaded court, framed by a two-storied columnar façade on the east, and by porticos on the north, west, and south.

View looking north northwest at the south side of a large Byzantine Church that was built over the former temple of Aphrodite.

The church was built around AD 500.  The church was constructed by reusing many materials from the temple of Aphrodite.  All the columns that are visible are from their position in the church.  In the lower-left foreground, the stubs of columns are from the portico that surrounded the church.  The church remained in use until the Seljuk conquest of the region around Aphrodisias in about AD 1200.

This larger-than-life statue of Aphrodite was found in the Bouleuterion (Council House).  It dates to the second century AD.

The head of Aphrodite was veiled and she wears a heavy casing (ependytes) on which are, from top to bottom, the Three Graces, the Moon and the Sun, Aphrodite on a sea-goat, and Eros figures sacrificing at an incense altar.

Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and fertility (= Roman Venus). The original Aphrodite was done by Praxiteles for the city of Knidos in the fourth century B.C.  A much more common presentation of the deity is illustrated below.

Statue of Aphrodite with an inscribed shield.

This statue of Aphrodite is from Perga and is made of marble and is about 6.4 ft. high fand dates to the second century A.D. If you click the “Download” button the Greek inscription on the shield is clearly visible.

This “type” of Aphrodite is also found at Aphrodisias as the example from the Sculptor’s Workshop below shows.

This is an unfinished statue in marble of a naked Aphrodite seated on a rock.

This unfinished piece dates to the second or third century AD.

Previously, I have written briefly about the significance of the Temple of Aphrodite at Corinth in relationship to the Corinth that Paul visited—see Here.

For additional images of the Temple of Aphrodite and the Byzantine Church at Aphrodisias see Here. 

Pliny Persecutes Christians – A.D. 112

Were the early Christians really persecuted?  How many Christians were there in the Roman Empire in the early 2nd century A.D.?

Bithynia

Click on Map to Enlarge

In a previous post I commented on the importance of Pliny’s (Roman governor of Pontus and Bithynia) description of early Christians.  In his letters to the Roman Emperor Trajan (ca. A.D. 112) he asks what he should do with these people known as “Christians.”  This letter (see below) tells us at least two important things.

First of all regarding persecution(s):

  1. It does not seem that Christianity was outlawed by the Romans, yet it was considered subversive.
  2. The best “charge” that he could come up with was that they were “stubborn and obstinate”—i.e., they would not worship the gods nor burn incense to the Emperor.
  3. Pliny was not seeking out Christians to persecute them, but others were making accusations against them.
  4. Pliny came up with a “test” to see if they really were Christians.
    1. They needed to invoke the gods (with a formula dictated by Pliny)
    2. They needed to offer a prayer with incense and wine to the image of the Emperor.
  5. If they didn’t pass the test and were not Roman citizens they were to be executed.

The Romans seemed perplexed with what to do with these people.  They were not like traditional rebels for they did not take up arms against the state.

Secondly, the letters can be interpreted to indicate that there may have been many Christians in the province that he governed.  Pliny writes:

For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it.

He seems to indicate that because of the Christians, the traditional gods were being neglected (cf. the situation at Ephesus: Acts 19:23–41), but because of his efforts the worship of the gods was increasing again:

It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found.

This can lead to the conclusion that Christianity was rapidly expanding, at least in the area governed by Pliny, but the extrapolated numbers do not agree with the general scholarly opinion that only about 1 or 2% of the total Roman population was “Christian” in the second century A.D. (see Reed p. 141).

Reed, Jonathan L. The HarperCollins Visual Guide to the New Testament — What Archaeology Reveals About the First Christians. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

–   –   –   –   –   The Relevant Text from Pliny the Younger Follows   –   –   –   –   –

Pliny, Letters 10.96-97
Pliny to the Emperor Trajan

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

Continue reading

What Were the Early Christians Like?

One of the earliest sources describing Christians is

Amisus-01that of Pliny the Younger who was the Roman “governor” of Pontus and Bithyna from A.D. 111–113 — very possibly describing the Christian community in Amisus.  He does this writing to the Roman Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98–117) asking him how to deal with the relatively new group.

Pliny writes this fascinating description of Christian (ca. A.D. 112):

that they [called Christians in the preceding paragraph] were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food.  —  (Pliny Letters 10.96–97)

This text does not say from where he was writing but in the paragraphs before those asking about Christian he mentions the people of Amisus (see map above) and in a paragraph after (99) he mentions Amastris.  Thus, many have concluded that he penned these words describing Christians in Amisus.

The modern Turkish city of Samsun is partially built over the ruins of Amisus.  At Amisus there is an ancient citadel (acropolis) and several large tumuli that contain burials from the Hellenistic/Roman Periods.

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The modern port of Samsun — Ancient Amisus — where Christians were persecuted by the Roman governor Pliny
Click on Image to Enlarge

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Two Tumuli (burial mounds) at Samsun (ancient Amisus)
They date roughly from 300 B.C. to 30 B.C. and were thus one hundred years old by the time Pliny wrote to the Roman Emperor Trajan

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The marvelous head of a bronze statue from the first century A.D.
Click on Image to Enlarge

This finely crafted bronze statue, dating to the first century A.D., probably graced a villa of one of the elite residents of ancient Amisus.  Bronze statues from antiquity are very rare—for usually they were melted down and recycled.  Marble copies of bronze statues are much more common.  To view the complete statue Click Here.

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A well-preserved mosaic from the acropolis of Amisus. In the four corners are depictions of the four seasons. In the center (upside down) are Achilles and Thetis.

Artemis of Ephesus

In the July/August 2016 edition of The Biblical Archaeology Review there is a survey article entitled “Archaeology Gives New Reality to Paul’s Ephesus Riot” by James R. Edwards.  The article deals with the riot that is described in Acts 19:23–41.

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The BAR article is very informative, but it is to be noted that the recent book by Gary Hoag Wealth in Ancient Ephesus and the First Letter to Timothy: Fresh Insights from Ephesiaca by Xenophon of Ephesus is not mentioned.  Hoag’s book is considered as a “game changer” that goes into the details of how Artemis was worshiped at Ephesus AND it deals with some very problematic passages in 1 Timothy (2::9–15; 3:1–3; 6:1–2a; 6:2b–10; 6:17–19)!

The book is expensive and will be of interest to scholars—but it is also accessible to an informed layperson.  For a great overview of the content of the book and some of its conclusions see the review by Lucy Peppiatt that was posted by Scot McKnight.

I was particularly interested in how actual data related to the site of Ephesus helps in interpreting the following:

1Tim. 2:9     I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,  10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

1Tim. 2:11     A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.  12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.  13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.  15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (NIV)

I totally agree that the book is a “game changer” and for starters, commend Peppiatt’s review as a starting place.

The Roles of the Roman Emperors

Groups traveling to Turkey will often fly into Istanbul and spend a day or two there before continuing on to other parts of the country.   One of the stops in Istanbul is typically the world-class Archaeological Museum located near the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace.  For students of the Bible it houses some extremely important artifacts.  The main ones are located on the top floor of the museum including the Siloam Tunnel Inscription, The Second Temple Warning Inscription, and the Gezer Calendar (the first two from Jerusalem).

Bronze Statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (r. AD 117-138)
In Toga depicting him as “the first citizen” of Rome
Archaeological Museum in Istanbul
For additional information about this statue Click Here

When walking up to visit the gallery containing these precious objects you will usually pass a bronze statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian.   Because the lighting in the room is typically not too good, and the room really looks “dated,” most groups will bypass this statute.

However, it is worthy to pause for a minute or two to view it.  First of all, it is very rare to have a statue preserved in bronze from ancient times!  Most of the statues that are preserved are marble copies from the Roman Period—but here a real bronze original is on display.  And secondly, it is worthy to notice the dress of the emperor—in a toga that depicts him as the first among Roman Citizens.

On other statues, for example several on display in the Archaeological Museum in Antalya,

Roman Emperor Hadrian in Military Garb
Depicting him as the head of the Roman armies
Antalya Archaeological Museum
From Perge — Second Century AD
For additional information about this image Click Here

Hadrian is depicted in military garb as the head of the Roman army

Roman Emperor Hadrian in the Nude — Reflecting His Divine Status
Antalya Archaeological Museum
From Perge – near Antalya
For additional information about this statue Click Here

and in others he appears in the nude—depicting his divine status!

Thus back at the bronze statue in the Istanbul Museum, this is a great place  to begin to introduce your group to the various roles played by the Roman Emperors—for certainly you will be “bumping into them” again and again in your travels in Turkey.

Adada and Paul’s First Journey

AdadaAdada is a well–preserved Roman city located 40 mi. north of Perge on the road that led from Perge to Pisidian Antioch.  It is probable that Paul and Barnabas passed through the city as they traveled south, descending from Pisidian Antioch to Attalia (see below).

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This well preserved temple at Adada was dedicated to the Roman Emperors
Three temples dedicated to the Emperors have been found at Adada
Click on Image to Enlarge

The city minted its own coins in the first century BC and it was very prosperous during the rules of the Roman Emperors Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius (ca. AD 98–160).

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Remains of the Roman Forum — The massive “staircase” is more probably a seating area where the council of Adada could meet.
Click on Image to Enlarge

The remains at Adada include a Forum, a theater, and temples to Roman Emperors!

AdadaMapTHYDr. Mark Wilson notes that there were two routes that connected the Pamphilian Plain (Perge and Attalia) with Pisidian Antioch.  He suggested that Paul and Barnabas took the western route, the via Sebastia, from Perge to Pisidian Antioch but followed the quicker, but steeper central route on their return journey south to Perga (Acts 14:25)—thus passing through Adada on their return journey.

Wilson, Mark. Biblical Turkey — a Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor. Istanbul: Ege Yayinlari, 2010, p. 106.

To view 24 high resolution images of Adada, along with commentary, Click Here.